Nik-a-nong - Algonquin Legends of South Haven

The book "A History of Van Buren County" by Oran W. Rowland includes a chapter "Algonquin Legends of South Haven, By Chief Pokagon" which reads as follows:



By Chief Pokagon.

No more for us the wild deer bounds;
The Plough is on our hunting grounds.

Our traditional account of South Haven given us by ki-os-ag (our forefathers) was held as sacred by them as Holy Writ by the white man. Long, long bi-bong (years) ago Ki-ji Man-i-to (the Great Spirit) who held dominion of Mi-shi-gan (Lake Michigan) and the surrounding country, selected Haw-was-naw a place at the o-don (mouth) of Maw-kaw-te (Black river) as his seat of government. His royal throne (Ki-tehi-wik) was located on the highest point of that neck of land lying between Maw-kaw-te river and Lake Michigan. This high point of land was called Ish-pem-inz, meaning a high place.

Here it was that Ki-ji Man-i-to worked out the grand conceptions of his soul. With giant strides he scattered broadcast along the shore, a day’s journey northward, a multitude of beautiful stones of various colors, shape and size, that in sunshine outshone tehi-be-kan-a (the galaxy on high). No such charming stones elsewhere could be found around all the shores of the Great Lake. He also planted in saw-kaw (the forest) the most beautiful woodland flowers that ever bloomed on earth and filled all the trees with birds that sang the sweetest songs that ever fell on mortal ears.

He also made a great mit-ig-wa (bow) at least ten arrow flights in length and laid it along the beach. He then painted it from end to end with beautiful lines, of various hues, that outshone the countless stone he had scattered along the shore. While thus at work a cyclone from the setting sun swept across the great lake. Waw-saw mo-win (lighting) flashed across Waw-kwi (the heavens) An-a-mi ka (thunder) in concert with ti-gow-og (the roaring waves) rolled their awful burden on the land. The earth shook. Hail and rain beat against Him. But he stood in his majesty, rolled away and the setting sun lighted up the passing storm. He then picked up the giant bow he had made, bending it across mi-ka-tik (his knee). Then with his breath he blew a blast that swept it eastward between the sun and clouds. As there as it stood each end resting upon the trees, it painted them all aglow, which, in contrast with their robes of green, added still more glory to the scene.

As he gazed upon its beauty and grandeur, arching the departing storm, He shouted in triumph above the roaring waves, saying in tones of thunder “Kaw-ka-naw in-in-I nash-ke nin-wab-sa aw-ni-quod (All men behold my bow in the cloud). See it has no mit-ig “Bim-ins-kwan ke-ma pin-da-wan (bow, arrow, string or quiver). It is the blow of peace. Tell it to your children’s children that Ki-ji-Man-i-to made and placed it there, that generations yet unborn, when they behold it, might tell their children that Ki-ji-Man-i-to placed it there, without arrow, string or quiver, that they might know he loved peace and hated war.” The tradition above given was handed down to us by a tribe of Au-nish-naw-be-og (Indians) that lived in Michigan before my people, the Pottawattamies. They were called Mash-ko-de (Prairie tribe), on account of their clearing up large tracts of woodland and living somewhat as farmers. They were said to be very peaceful, seldom going on the warpath. The O­ttawas, who have always been very friendly with our people tell us they drove them out of this country and nearly exterminated them about four hundred years ago. We had great reverence for their traditions, as we occupied the land of their principal odena (village) about Black river. We named it Nik-onong, which was derived from two Algonquin words “nik” (sunset) and o-nigis (beautiful).

It was lovely, as well as an important place, Ki-tchi Mi-kan, the great trail, over which for ages all the northern and western tribes went around Lake Michigan to and from the great prairies of the west passed near this place. Traces of that great highway may still be seen along the grand sweep of country near the great lake between the Black and Kalamazoo rivers. In the dense forest north, south and east of us were great numbers of deer, elk and bears; while ducks, geese and swans clouded our waters, which were swarming with fish.

One half a mile walk north of our village was a sacred camping ground where we celebrated “Tchi-be-kan A-ke-win (our yearly six days’ feast for the dead). During this feast bonfires were built along the shore, casting a lurid light far out into the lake and painting the crested waves all aflame. Children, young men and maidens, fathers and mothers, went about the camp, feasting and saluting one another, throwing food into the fire, and as it was being consumed, would sing,

“Nebaw-baw tchi baw win (We are going about as spirits feeding the dead).”

Nik-a-nong, in its day, was quite a manufacturing town. Large quantities of white birch bark were brought there by canoe loads and, as it never decays, was buried in the earth for use or trade when called for. Out of this wonderful manifold bark our fathers made canoes, hats, caps, wigwams and dishes for domestic use, and our maidens tied with it the knot that sealed the marriage vow. Sis-si-ba-kwat (maple sugar) was also made and kept in large quantities near this place and sold to southern and western tribes for wampum or in exchange for pi-jis-ki-we-win (buffalo robes). South Haven of the white man, with all its shipping, docks and cottage-crowned shores, does not compare with Nik-o-nong of the red man, with its deep wildwoods, and wigwamed shores. As tradition informs us, here our fathers lived for many generations in the lap of ease and planty; but after the advent of the white man Nature frowned upon us; our forests were cut down; the game became scarce and kept beyond the arrow’s reach; ke-go (the fish) hid themselves in deep waters; the woodland birds no more cheered us with their songs; the wild flowers bloomed no more. All, all has changed, except the sun, moon and stars; and they have not, because their God, and Ki-tehi Man-ito (our God), hung them beyond the white man’s reach. Pokagon does not wish to complain; still in nin-ode (his heart) their lingers a love for Nik-o-nong, the o-de-na of his fathers. And now in old age, as with feeble steps and slow he is passing through the open door of his wigwam into Waw-kwin (the world beyond) he must sing in his mother tongue, his last song on earth: “Nik-o-nong, nik-o-nong nin-im-en-dam mi-notch-sa bi-naw ki-kaw-ka-kaw-ka-naw kike-tchi-twan-in nin-sa-gia. Nik-o-nong, nik-o-nong, nik-o-nong (I yet shall behold Thee in all Thy glory).”

Chief Simon Pokagon