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Montagnais Religion [archive]

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Montagnais Religion

According to the Montagnais, the world was created long ago by Atachecam, then later rebuilt after a great flood by Messou. Little is known about Atachecam or how he created the world; he is simply the creator of the world. Much more is known about Messou, however.

One day Messou was out hunting when his lynxes went into a great lake and became stuck there. Messou looked all over but couldn't find them, when a bird came along and said it had seen his lynxes go into the lake.

Messou went into the lake to rescue the lynxes, but this caused the lake to overflow and flood the whole wold. Very surprised by this, Messou sent a raven to find a piece of ground that he could use to rebuild the earth, but the raven returned unsuccessful. He next sent an otter down into the depths of the waters to search for a piece of ground, but it too was unsuccessful. Finally Messou sent a muskrat and it returned with a little piece of ground that Messou used to rebuild the earth. Messou then got revenge on whatever had been holding his lynxes, married a muskrat, and the children they had then repopulated the earth.

These children became the great and powerful elders of all creatures. Each animal had its own elder that they were children of. These elders were believed to be very large; the beaver elder was said to be about the size of a cabin. Seeing an elder in a dream meant the hunt for that animal would be good.

The elders were not the only spirits the Montagnais believed in. Nipinoukhe and Pipounoukhe were the bringers of the seasons. They shared the earth as their home and flipped back and forth between sides as the seasons changed. Nipinoukhe was associated with spring and summer while Pipounoukhe was associated with winter.

When the Montagnais needed to know what the future would bring, such as if their hunts would be good or their war plans would go well, they would consult Khichicouai. Khichicouai would communicate the future through dreams or visions; in Black Robe the Algonquin chief's visions of where he would die would have been brought by this spirit.

Manitou was the one who protected people in combat. Those under his protection lived through a battle while everyone else would die. Warriors would hope that Manitou would watch over them and not their enemies. While Manitou himself was not particularly evil, his wife is what could be considered the equivalent of the European idea of the devil. It was she tat caused disease and death; if Manitou's wife didn't kill people, they wouldn't die.

Actually, another Montagnais legend says that one of the tribes had once received a package from Messou that contained the gift of immortality. Unfortunately, his curious wife opened the package and man has been subject to death ever since.

The Montagnais believed that everything had an immortal soul that traveled to the afterlife, located far off to the west. To supplement the old wood the the souls would eat for nourishment along the way, the Montagnais would sprinkle food over their dead. The Milky Way was the path of these souls to the afterlife.

Additional Reading

  Native Indian myths
  Montagnais tribe
  Subarctic Indians
  Labrador Indians

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