The Education of a Cajun Traiteuse - Faith Healer - Part II
It's said that history, is best told by the people who lived the stories. I was blessed to have several family members who, thanks to longevity, were around long enough to share the history of not only our family -- but of the times in which they lived. The oral history of both our family's Cajun culture and our native peoples culture, was traditionally their way of passing down both history and cultural practices.
In Part One of the Education of a Cajun Traiteuse, namely the story of my early childhood education, as a faith healer -- You began to hear the story of how my great-grandfather, Emile Evariste Navarre, started his mentoring program with my mother, Virginia.
They had a great time together, but she had very little interest in the things of the past and the matters of healing. Skipping school was a hobby of hers, and anything that had to do with studying, just wasn't her. However, she adored her Grandpere, and she made real sure, that my own childhood was spent learning -- all that she regretted not having listened to.
Emile was passionate about many things, and one of them was the lies we teach our children about history. Today, we know the practice as revisionist history, and most educated adults know that all of us were at some time, taught a version of our country's history -- that wasn't true. The practice still goes on today.
Each year, we send our children and grandchildren to school to learn half truths at best, about the history of our country and the rest of the world. Some examples of many that could be given:
- Our children hear of Paul Revere, but seldom hear that he only rode a paltry twenty miles. Some children today don't usually get the chance to hear about Israel Bissel, who rode farther and alerted more people.
- Our children hear made up stories about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, passed down for so many generations, that many Americans still believe it is the truth.
- The claim that the Pilgrims' were the first successful colony in North America -- Why couldn't they just admit it was the first English permanent settlement in a country that had already held successful Spanish, Polish, and French thriving communities?
For Emile, the history in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren's books was an outrage. There was and still is virtually no mention of our Acadian or Cajun history, French history, or native Indian history -- and what little was mentioned, was in his eyes grossly inaccurate.
This presented him with a headache and a moral problem. As a reminder, he kept a torn page from his youngest son's school book (which I still have), it read:
"But we are glad to know that the English were not heartless. they gave the Acadians every chance possible, and that, at least, when the time came, the Acadians could stay no longer, they were dealt with as fairly as it was possible in a time of sorrow and pitiful woe...."
To address these subjects with both Virginia and myself was a quandary. He didn't want us to get in trouble with our teachers by teaching us conflicting history and above all, he didn't want to lie to us either. He solved that problem by a kind of flashback history lessons, waiting until we were older to tell us the whole truths and the complete story.
Revisionist history is a controversial topic. Do you know who wrote the history you believe? Do you ever think about the history you were taught, and wonder if it was the whole truth?
There are many who believe that history is the stories of only the conquerors, or more simply put -- those who were in power. Those in power, of course, tend to tell "history" from their viewpoint, whitewashing and failing to mention anything that might be embarrassing or derogatory to themselves and their allies.
Huron Shell Belt
A Cajun Traiteuse Must Know the Truth
That night long ago brought Emile to Virginia's room earlier than usual. He wanted to be sure to begin his lessons before he heard the sleepy sound of her voice, droning the pious Catholic route verses his wife and Father Charles had taught her.
In the corner of her room stood an important looking well-worn cypress trousseau - a hope chest, intended for Virginia. Normally, it was kept locked. After clearing her toys from the top, Emile brought out a key and slowly released the locker's mysterious contents. Never having seen inside, Virginia's eyes were wide with excitement.
The contents were an odd assortment, not at all what one might suspect. It was stuffed full of the kind of things others might consider worthy of the burn barrel. The first layer revealed: Rolled up maps, a curious purple and white belt that appeared to be made of shell, and a long carved bat with a large ball on one end.
He took out one of the rolled up maps, he pointed to a place on the map that is now in the heart of Quebec, Canada. He let Virginia hold the shell beaded belt and the odd bat, as he began to tell this story:
Cajun Traiteuse - Painting by artist - George Rodrigue
Native Peoples Creation Stories
There are as many different versions of the story of creation as there were tribes and clans within the various tribes. They were and primarily still are handed down by mouth to mouth, generation to generation.
If you listen between the lines and the simple imagery, there is a common theme, a common story of mankind trying to piece together -- how we came to be on this planet. No doubt the creation story that Catherine handed down in our family was heavily influenced by the fact that her people were known as the Village of the Believers.
In my mind, this one has always been a fusion of native legend and of their interpretation of Catholic priest's lessons on Christianity. I dared not question Emile about the possibility that the story of Cain and Abel, might not be mixed up with God and the Devil.
There is a lot of controversy about sharing our stories, whether is right or wrong to share it with people who are not of us. Emile taught me that we should share our gifts because he recognized that if we don't, they may be lost to future generations, much like our spoken languages have been.
An Ouendat Woman of the Past
Emile began simply, "While other native nations played important parts in the overall Acadian history, it is important for you to understand the role of native peoples to the Navarre Acadian story."
"You see, you are a direct descendant of two native tribes that intermarried with your Acadian relatives. What's more, many other Acadian families with surnames like: Babin, Coutrier, Daigle, Lirette, Malbreaux, Robichaux, and several others -- not all directly related to our family -- all shared these blood lines. You are holding in your hands a belt made by Catherine Annennontak's mother, Jeanne Otrihoandit. The bat was the weapon of her father, Nicolas Arendanki,"
Starting to get sleepy, Virginia's attention suddenly riveted awake to the realization that the many whispers she'd often heard about her maybe being an "Indian" could be true. In 1940, there was still a separation of white students from all other races in the Arizona School System. Because of this, Virginia wondered, "did this mean if anyone found out -- she would be shipped off to the Arizona Indian School? Biting her lip, too scared to ask, she continued to intently listen to her grandfather. (As stated in Part I -- She indeed had reason to worry and was later sent to the Indian school).
"I am not just a traiteur and you will not be just a traituese, our knowledge of healing comes from a much older people. Because of them we are also -- Arendi wanes-- native shamans. They were here in North America when our Acadian ancestors arrived. You cannot become a traiteuse,until you know their stories -- their history -- their truths. It is their healings that added to our own knowledge that became a gift from Dieu. God, wanted our people to love each other. He wanted our medicines to be one."
"Just like I taught you, compassion and courage is part of healing and being a healer -- but also is the knowledge of history and the mysteries revealed by our native ancestors."
Emile fingered the two feet long, intensely purple and white beaded belt from the trunk. Pointing to the plum colored beads, he patiently commented, "These were made from quahog clams, the glassy white ones from whelk shells. They are strung together on wild hemp fibers between buckskin thongs. There are more than two thousand graine -- beads in this ceinture -- belt. The edging is of red-stained porcupine quills. It is very old. It belonged to my gron gron grandmere and she was Catherine's daughter.
This is the story, she told my father, who told it to me. He said:
"Each time we met, she began the stories of our people by firmly stating, "I, Catherine Annennontak, am a woman of my past. My ways are those of my grandparents. I am an Ouendat, who was born to be a Arendi wane - a shaman - part spiritual visionary, sometimes a healer, and when I have to be a sorcerer. My personal name, is Ya ronaq'a'wi (She is floating in the sky). Before I tell you the story of creation, I must tell you this:"
"There are two ways of living -- honoring the old customs, or adopting the newer prevailing ways. Everybody in this land has to follow one or the other. Each of us have to make up our mind as to which path we will follow."
"I have picked up just a little of these new things, only those that seemed helpful to me. So, it has happened in this way, that I too, have become mixed - belonging more to the time where we are now living, than belonging to our ancestors. This would not make my family proud."
"In the past, our attire was made of tanned hides. But today, there is no more game here. So, our way of dress had to disappear. Long ago, we ate well on all kinds of game. We grew our own corn. Now, that too is all a thing of the past. That is what happened to me, one Indian woman. . . . And that is also what will happen to the rest of you. We've all made our choice, or it was made for us by circumstances. Now we must live with what it will do to us as a people."
In the Land of the Ouendake
"Before, we called ourselves the "Ouendat," and we referred to our traditional homeland, as "Ouendake." Originally, I came from the first and largest clan of our tribe, the "Attignousntan" - the Bear" clan. Later, I would come to live among the "Hatindia Sointen" (Lorette Huron), but that story is for another day."
"Many people today do not realize that Huron and Wyandot are the same people. Still more, do not appreciate that there were more than a dozen Iroquoian-speaking tribes calling themselves, "Wendat" meaning "island people." Our French family, however, labeled us the "Huron" - a belittling name, from their word "hure" meaning "hooligan" and worse."
When Others Changed Our History and Beliefs
"When my husbands people came (the French), their priests told us, we should learn new ways to live and work. In time, we believed them, because we had no choice. Still, in our hearts we knew the truth. The old traditions of the times past, sadly, are now only talked about. That is all"
"Far worse, we have now forgotten most of the ways of our people, even our language, just like your own children are now forgetting your language and the ways of their ancestors."
"It makes me said to know that the many kinds of animals of long ago, are the only well-known subjects of our stories. Today, the children who hear the stories, have never even seen them -- sometimes not even in picture books."
From the Whispers of Our Ancestors
"Now, if I wanted to speak of all the new ways and new things that people use that are not good, it might take a lifetime. There would be a number of accounts to tell here, to show how they have come to harm all of us. Just look around at all the things in your life and ask yourself, 'Does this new thing make me happy or make my life better?'"
On the other hand, there are quite a number of changes, I suppose, that each of us could really be welcome. We could talk more about this but I'm old and it would tire me. I do not wish to say any more. It would not be worth my while. So, I will just tell my story in the way that I learned it, from the lips of my father and the ghost whispers of his ancestors. In the telling of all of our people's stories, this is the first story we learn, is the one of our creation."
Corn of Many Colors, More Valuable Than Gold
Our Story of Creation
"Our people were living beyond the aronhia - sky. Their patch of corn was just large enough to produce a meal a day. A foolish but Divine woman, named Aataensie, whose job it was to collect the daily harvest, hacked down the corn stalks and brought them home."
"Thus, she wasted the entire corn harvest. That is why the great Oki, being irritated with her, cast her down through an opening in the sky."
"She fell through the heavens. Below, there was nothing, but water everywhere. No land was in sight. Wild geese, swimming about there, beheld something falling. The Gander said, Let us go there, something is coming from above!' So they went together, and the woman fell upon their backs, without even touching the water. After she remained a long time there, the Geese said, 'We are tired!' The Gander answered, 'Someone else should now take care of her.'"
"The Big Turtle than swam to the surface of the water and took the woman upon her back. Ma cu at'a - the Toad, soon came up with just a small bit of dirt. She gave it to the woman and said, Just put some of it all around the Turtle's shell, in the water.'"
"So, the woman did and then the land began to develop around her. Quite soon, it had become rather large. The woman did not need the turtle any longer to carry her. She lived on the island."
Catherine Annennontak's Daughter's Pain
Many native peoples have been wiped off the face of the planet by having contracted European and other foreigner diseases. Chickenpox and measles being two of the worst diseases, that they had no buildt in immunities against.
Catherine Annennontak's daughter was a bedridden, the ninety year old woman, when she whispered: "I have a toothache that won't go away." Now, given she'd had no teeth for decades, Emile's mother knew that wasn't true. In pain and mentally feeble, what she was trying to say was: "Once again, I have the shingles virus."
Shingles (aka herpes zoster shingles) is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, that she caught more than fifty years earlier. She wasn't alone, more than one million people every year experience shingles disease. Even more surprising, anyone who has had the chickenpox, is in jeopardy for an outbreak. Commonly, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, HIV, and cancer at the most risk.
This disease occurs when the varicella zoster virus moves to the roots of your spinal nerve cells and remains there in an inactive position. Later in life, the virus may become active again when a person is under physical or emotional stress. The reactivated virus causes the shingles.
Taouiscaron and Louskeha
"In those days, the children were not born as they are now. Whenever a child was desired, our people had just to think about it. Children where found anywhere, even in hollow trees. The woman went out to chop wood."
"There, she found two babies, both boys. The first one she picked up, she considered the elder and named him, Taouiscaron. The next one was the younger brother, whom she called Louskeha."
"The woman soon found out that as they grew up, there was a great difference in the actions of her sons. It became more and more evident, that one boy was good and the other boy was bad."
"The elder brother, Taouiscaron, was always creating things on earth that were good. The younger one was extremely mean. Far worse, the younger boy would tear down the good things made by his brother."
"Their job was to prepare the earth so that humans could live on it. But, they soon hated each other.
"So, they separated, with each one taking his own portion of the earth to prepare."
Symptoms of Shingles
Generally, the shingles symptoms are similar to that of a common flu virus. The symptoms of shingles appear in stages:
First, you may feel a tingling, burning, throbbing, or stabbing pain on one side of your body. (Your skin can be very painful or itch to the touch). You may have a headache, fatigue, digestive problems, or sudden chills.
Next, a rash of small fluid-filled blisters appears two to three days after the initial pain. They line up like a distinctive belt or band of soldiers, from spine to chest on one side of the body. These blisters contain the virus which is still contagious to those who have never had chickenpox. Therefore, avoid physical contact with others, especially pregnant women and newborn infants. Remember, individuals who have had chickenpox cannot get shingles from you.
Then, the blisters will scab over after a few days and drop off over the course of a few weeks. Once the blisters have crusted over, the virus isn't contagious.
If this is the first outbreak of the shingles virus, the moment you suspect you might have shingles, you should seek medical attention for proper identifying the condition. Seek help at your local clinic or primary care physician. Early medical intervention at the start of an outbreak, can reduce the pain, and severity of the rash.
Additionally, it is absolutely important to seek immediate medical help if the pain and the rash occurs if:
- You or someone close to you, has a weakened immune system;
- The rash is widespread and painful;
- The rash does not heal after two to three weeks;
- The sores seem to be spreading to other parts of your body;
- It is near yours eyes, nose, forehead;
- You develop pain in your face, or the inability to move one or more facial muscles;
- You notice changes in your vision;
- You have a headache or stiff neck;
- You experience dizziness, weakness, or hearing loss;
- You feel mentally confused.
The Good Brother
"First Taouiscaron, the good brother, made animals that were of use to human beings. He made the dove, the mockingbird, and the partridge. However, the bad brother,Louskeha, made hideous animals, ferocious and frightening. He made wolves and bears, and snakes of giant size. He made enormous mosquitoes, the size of fat turkeys."
"Taouiscaron made the maple trees, the sap of which dripped pure syrup, running easily from tapped trees. It took only a little boiling made it into sugar. Evil Louskeha poured water into the trees, so that there was no more syrup, only sweet water, as we now find it. So today, it is only by long and patient boiling, that we can reduce it into syrup."
Now, Oki - the Great One, decided to create other people on this earth, that is, just two more persons. As he had also brought forth fruit trees, Oki spoke to the first man and woman, saying, "You must not touch the fruit of this tree!'"
But Iouskeha, the younger brother, said to the woman, 'Why can't you eat the fruit of that tree?' She answered, 'Oki has forbidden it.' Iouskeha responded with, 'If you eat the fruit of the tree, you shall be wise.'
Then, the serpent, who was listening near by, having been made by the Taouiscaron, but rendered evil by his younger brother, came to the woman and said, 'You should eat the fruit of the tree.'"
"This is when the woman was persuaded to eat the fruit. In turn, she tempted the man to taste it. It had not yet been swallowed by the man, when Oki appeared. What are you doing?' he asked. There was no answer.
As they were feeling shame, they ran off and him themselves. Oki said, 'You shall have to work hard for your corn and then, you shall die.'"
"From that time on, the people began to sin, just as they continue to do since those ancient times. There was neither death, nor sorrow, before that.
Now, people are wicked and there is nothing but trouble everywhere. The two sons of Aataensie, were God and the Devil."
Treatment of Shingles
Common treatments are soaking and blisters with cool, wet compresses of aluminum acetate solution; not bandaging; use over-the-counter pain relievers and analgesic creams; applying cornstarch or baking soda; and letting the blisters fall off naturally.
Additionally, your physician may prescribe Acyclovir (Zovirax), acyclovir (Famvir) and Val acyclovir (Valtrex).
In the Land Where Dreams Escape to the Land of the Forgotten
Emile seeing that Virginia was close to falling asleep, said:
"She turned to me with these last words, 'Over time, each time this story is told, the details of the legend may change, because no two story tellers will remember it the same. No two generations will hear it the same. Maybe the story will have different animals, maybe the brothers will be known by different names, but the story itself will remain the same - not just for our people and all the others.'"
A few minutes later, Emile replaced the items withdrawn from the chest. While doing so, he hummed an ancient Huron lullaby handed down for generations in both he and Hirma's families. The words to it were long forgotten. As he closed the lid, his thoughts were heavy on the distant imprint of those obscure words. Words deeply felt, but too far away in the past to hear.
Virginia's dreams that night were vivid with Huron crooked mouth masks taunting puppy dogs in a gumbo stirred with war clubs. However, Emile's visions were clouded with the remembrance of her Indienne nation ancestor's contributions to the art of healing, along with their historical contributions and achievements. They were just as equal in his mind, as their Acadian and Cajun counterparts.
In Every Faith Healer's Medicine Bag
In every faith healer's medicine bag were various dried teas. Emile's best potions for various ailments were often based in the ingredients of peppermint and lemon balm.
The Final Words Handed Down by Catherine Annennontak
"In the old days, we kept our stories to ourselves and did not share them with other peoples. They had their own stories. But when I married my French husband (Jacques Courtrier), our stories became one."
"My grandfather's story of creation was not the same as the one taught to me. By my blood, and that my French husband, Jean Marie, you my child - are both an Arendi wane and a French Traiteuse. My gift to you is the ability to share both people's accounts. No one person or no one people, own the story of creation. It will be as they hear it, remember it, and believe it, however different to each pair of ears."
Wendake, Québec, Canada
The Burning of Ouendat Village
Emile Always Insisted That A Supply of Peppermint Be Planted
Lemon Balm - Another Healing Garden Plant
These are simple old time folk remedies and I make no guarantee as to either their effectiveness, or their safety. Information provided is strictly for general knowledge. Consult your physician before deciding, if these remedies or any other such treatments are right for you.
Cajun traituese secret tips for relieving the symptoms of shingles.
Other than by prayer, there is no cure for shingles. However, great relief can be gained by topically applying the following cures:
- Take fresh or dried peppermint leaves and mash them thoroughly
- Brew them, making a strong tea, one that is much too strong for drinking enjoyment (2 teaspoons of crushed leaves to one cup of water)
- Apply this liquid when cooled to room temperature to the affected area.
- For stubborn cases, small amounts of grated licorice root.
Lemon Balm Cure:
- Only use dried lemon balm leaves that have been stored for at least a year in an airtight container
- Brew tea. using one teaspoon of crushed leaves and one cup of hot hot water
- Leave leaves in water for 20 minutes
- Strain and serve 1/2 to patient, reserving other half
- Use other half once cooled as a wash for the affected area
Prescribing an Oatmeal Bath Cure (only for mild cases):
- First add uncooked oatmeal to the bathwater
- After the bath, gently dab blisters dry and apply an oatmeal and water paste to the lesions
For All Shingles Patients:
- Drink large amounts of pear juice and eat pears
Skunk Cabbage, Which Has An Unpleasant Odor
Skunk Cabbage appears in swamps from Alaska to California and across the United States in early spring. The individual flowers are very small and are crowded together on a fleshy stalk.
This stalk, the flowers and the leaf-life organ that at first envelops them are golden yellow, and the young plant is thus conspicuous and attractive in appearance, though its skunk-like odor discourages close acquaintance.
The leaves are smooth and bright green and grown from the underground stem. They are broad and extremely large, often reaching a height of more than three feet, thus forming the most conspicuous feature of the plant in the summer.
This plant belongs to the Arum plant family, which comprises also of the Eastern Skunk Cabbage and the Jack-in-the-pulpit.
Catherine Annenontak's Skunk Cabbage Cures
From the medicine bag of Catherine Annenontak, came cures for several illnesses. One plant she used was the common skunk cabbage. Skunk cabbage is a short plant, with a particular or peculiar odor, when one breaks or tears a leaf off the plant. It primarily grows in marshes and other wet lands.
Native peoples commonly used it to cure respiratory illnesses, mental problems, rheumatism, and sore throats. It should be noted while that it cannot be eaten raw without causing burning -- the leaves are dried for both medicinal purposes and to be put in potions, soups and stews. Additionally, be absolutely sure to understand that the roots are poisonous.
"In order to say a true thanks to the Creator, you have to know who your people are. It is a personal journey to find not only who they are; but where you are; Learn what your personal gifts are, that they gave you -- in order to share them. For in sharing them, you achieve your true destiny upon earth."
Denis dit Jospeh Courtrier, son of Catherine Annennontak
1643 Hymn by Jean De Brebeuf - The Huron Carol
More by this Author
Overcoming the challenges of living beyond natural disasters was all part of my education in becoming a Cajun traiteuse (faith healer). Learn what it takes to be a part of this mysterious world of a lost folk art.
Trained by a Cajun Great Grandpere I learned in childhood common folk remedies. Some of them I've seen work, some not. Come explore with me, a few of these "cures."
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