Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More People Sing More Good

This is from Jaime De Angulo's description of his anthropological field work among the Pit River Indians of Modoc County, CA in 1921. Living among the people, he meets an old Indian named Blind Hall whom he had met years before, and Blind Hall says:

"I remember you, I remember your voice -- I am pretty sick now, dropped my shadow on the road [when the buggy overturned], can't live without my shadow, maybe I die, I dunno...... I doctor myself tonight. You white man, you stay, you help, you sing too. More people sing more good. Sometime my poison very far away, not hear. Lots people sing, he hear better."

Then Jaime relates,

"Blind Hall called his medicine 'my poison.' The Indian word is damaagome. Some Indians translate it in English as 'medicine,' or 'power,' sometimes 'dog' ( in the sense of pet dog or trained dog). That evening, we all gathered at sundown. Jack Steel, an Indian from Hantiyu who usually acted as Blind Hall's 'interpreter,' had arrived. He went out a little way into the sagebrush and called the poisons. 'Raven, you, my poison, COME!....Bullsnake, my poison, come.....Crablouse, my poison, cooome......You all, my poisons, COOOME!!' It was kind of weird, this man out in the sagebrush calling and calling for the poisons, just like a farmer calling his cows home.

"We all gathered around the fire; some were sitting on the ground, some were lying on their side. Blind Hall began singing one of his medicine-songs. Two or three who knew that song well joined him. Others hummed for a while before catching on. Robert Spring said to me, 'Come on, sing. Don't be afraid. Everybody must help.' At that time I had not yet learned to sing Indian fashion. The melody puzzled me. But I joined in, bashfully at first, then when I realized nobody was paying any attention to me, with gusto."

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