The Longhouse Society in Kahnewake has announced the Ohki:we for the year. This is an annual celebration to honor "those who have gone before us" by celebrating the entire night with them. The evening begins before sundown with traditional songs. After giving of gifts, the feasting begins and then social dancing continues until just before dawn when the morning songs conclude. (I was happy to see a note in this article which said that out of respect for those who have health problems, smoking inside the Longhouse is not considered acceptable unless ceremonial in nature.)
There was a time when the earth was still new and was inhabited by great serpents. For a period of time there was peace between the serpents and the humans. There arose among these serpents one who decided that it would be the leader of all life on earth. A battle broke out between the serpents and the humans. Because of their tremendous size and power, the serpents were able to move about, easily destroying the villages of the humans and killing many.
As word of this fighting spread to the other villages, the people became afraid for their lives. Some decided to flee to other areas while others set about trying to create defense to protect themselves. as this fighting went on, more and more villages were destroyed and more people were killed. A great panic took hold of the people.
Word spread to other villages that the leaders were to gather to council to try to find a way to destroy these serpents. The leaders and their people journeyed to the meeting site and gathered together to see if there was a plan they could devise which could protect them. For days the people met. No one seemed able to come up with a plan to defeat the serpents. y It happened one night that a young boy and girl were given a dream in which the spirits of many of the people who had been killed spoke to them. The told the two young ones "We have learned of a way to destroy these serpents. Through our working together there will be enough power to bring them to an end. In the morning when you rise, gather the people together and explain what we are going to tell you. We will show you a ceremony which can be used to bridge the gap between our worlds. When the people gather together they are to burn tobacco; they are to call our attention. When we hear this, we will prepare ourselves to journey back to your world. The only way for us to journey from this place to yours and not get lost in between is if the people sing a song which will guide us to the place you have gathered."
They gave this song to the two young people. "It is most important that the women join with the men in singing this song. The women have a voice that is high and of good quality which can guide us to the place you have gathered. The secret in defeating these serpents lies in our joining together again as families to work together to bring about their end."
The next morning the two young people approached the people and told them what they had been instructed to do. Together they sang the songs they were given the night before. The people prepared themselves for this ceremony. The young people were told in their dreams that the journey from the other side is long and when the people arrive they will be hungry. They asked that their relatives prepare food for them. They were to join together to partake of this food before they went to battle with the serpent.
Over the next few days, the people made their preparations for this ceremony. Those who were singers sat with the young people to learn the music they had been given. The others busied themselves preparing foods and preparing the site for the ceremony to happen.
Finally the time came when they were ready. As the sun set the speaker stepped forward. He burned tobacco and called to the ones who had gone ahead of the people to return and join the relatives they left behind because their assistance was greatly needed.
When the speaker finished, the singers began the songs and as the voices of the women raised up into the sky, those who had gone ahead could hear this sweet beautiful music of their relatives and they began journeying toward the sound. As those who had gone on before drew nearer, a cold chill covered the area. As the chill moved across the land, fog rose up and the people had to add more wood to the fire to keep warm. They continued to sing. As they sand they realized they were joined by the ones who had gone on before.
Here and there people caught glimpses of loved ones who had gone on ahead out of the corner of their eyes. The people could feel the power of those who came to join them. When the music was finished words of acknowledgement were spoken welcoming those who had returned and the feast began.
So it was that the man who had been chosen to be the speaker stood up and spoke in a voice that was not his own. "Relatives our time here is short, we can remain with you only until the first light of day. The work we must do must be carried out now. We know the place where the leader of the great serpents lives and we must journey there together. We who have gone on ahead can enter into his body but it is not enough. You must also attack him from outside. In this way we can bring about his end. We must move quickly and we must move now."
All who had gathered together journeyed to the place where the leader of the serpents lived. Because of his size he had chosen a place with a large valley so he would have plenty of room to rest when he returned from attacking the villages.
When they arrived there, he was sleeping. They approached quietly. As they approached, the people could see other beings had joined them. These other beings had not agreed to the leadership of the serpent.
Across the field they saw wolves running, headed to the same place they were going. Above them they could hear the wings of birds flying, headed to this same place. Here and there they caught sight of bears as they moved towards the same place. The people came to understand that his serpent was not solely a threat to them. The serpent's ambition was a threat to all the beings of the earth.
As they looked about the valley they could now see that the serpent was surrounded by all the different beings and themselves. It must have been that the serpent sensed the presence of all the beings because he suddenly awoke. As he opened his mouth to speak the people saw a white cloud stream forth into his mouth and the serpent began to thrash about. He howled in pain. The people realized that the ones who had gone before had entered the serpent. They knew this was their signal to attack.
All the people together with all the other beings who had gathered there rushed the great serpent. The great serpent continued to fight and thrash about in his own defense. In its thrashing it crushed many humans, animals and birds. Finally, they defeated it.
As it breathed its last breath the white cloud reappeared and came out of its mouth. The speaker turned to the people and spoke again in a voice not his own, "We have accomplished a great thing here. Your grandfathers will be coming soon with the daylight and they will attack the remainder of the serpents. With their leader gone their power will be broken and they will be driven underground. We have to leave now and return to the place we now live. Again we need your assistance. We would like one last dance with you while we are here. One last time to hear the songs you were given before we start our journey back. If in the future, such treats should ever arise again, we would be prepared to come again to help you. Many of us now realize how much we have missed you and we know many of you miss us. We think it would be appropriate that at least once a year we visit with each other for at least one night. You have felt and seen the cold we travel on."
The people agreed that his would be a good thing. It was true for many of them that they had missed those who had gone on ahead. This would give them something to look forward to. It would ease the pain for the loss of their loved ones knowing there would be a coming together for at least one night each year. All the people gathered together for the final songs. They joined together their spirits and their voices and in this way they helped the ones who had gone before to start their journey on the sky road home.
As the eldest brother rose in the east they saw to the west a great gathering of clouds take shape and one of the people said "Look, our grandfathers are gathering to chase the serpents". As they watched, the grandfathers moved across the land sending powerful bolts of lightning, striking the serpents whenever they were. The serpents were hit with such force that they were pushed underground. Even the place where the great serpent lay was covered by the dust of the grandfathers were picking up with their breath. Soon there was no visible sign of the great serpent. All that remained was a huge hill that now filled the valley where he liked to rest.
The people returned to their villages, free and content that this terrible time was now over. since that time, just before winter's end , the people gather together and invite those who have gone on ahead to return for one night. This is a night of joy and sorrow. It is a time for us to gather and to honour and to respect those who have gone on ahead of us. In each spring the grandfathers return from the west with their purifying and energizing rains. The power of their lightning still holds the serpents underground so they can never return to the surface and terrorize the earth again. From time to time some of you on earth will be picked to carry on the work of preparing for the feast. Some of you will be chosen to sing, some will be chosen to speak, some will be chosen to be helpers who will carry the duty of remembering the songs and preparing the foods and gathering the people together for this time.