Saturday, March 17, 2012

A song-cousin, a counterpart, a reflected image

"...But I got none of these responses from the Ihalmut. The unadorned fact that I, a white man and a stranger, should voluntarily wish to step across the barriers of blood that lay between us, and ask the People to teach me their tongue, instead of expecting them to learn mine - this was the key to their hearts. When they saw that I was anxious to exert myself in trying to understand their way of life, their response was instant, enthusiastic, and almost overwhelming. Both Ootek and Ohoto, who was called in to assist in the task, abruptly ceased to treat me with the usual deference they extend to white strangers. They devoted themselves to the problem I had set them with the strength of fanatics.

To begin with, Ootek taught me the meaning of the word Ihalmut. When I had mastered its meaning by the aid of devious drawings executed in sand, Ootek stood Ohoto in one place, then placed me a few feet away to the south. Now he pointed to Ohoto, and repeated "Ihalmut" over and over again with a remarkable excess of emotion in his voice as he spoke. At last he came over, took me by the arm, and led me to the side of Ohoto. Both men now beamed at me with the anxious expressions of people who hope their acts have been understood, and fortunately I did not disappoint them. I understood. I was no longer a stranger; I was now a man of the Ihalmut, of the People who dwell under the slopes of the Little Hills.

It was an initiation so informal, so lacking in the dramatic gestures, that for a little while its deep significance was not clear to me. It was some time before I discovered that this simple ceremony of Ootek and Ohoto had not only made me an adopted man of the land, but had also given me a relationship with both men. I became their song-cousin, a difficult relationship to define, but one that is only extended on the most complete and comprehensive basis of friendship. If I wished, I might have shared all things that Ootek and Ohoto possessed, even to their wives, though this honor was not thrust upon me. As a song-cousin I was a counterpart of each man who had adopted me. I was his reflected image, yet cloaked in the full flesh of reality.

Of course, under the law, it was assumed that  I would reciprocate to the fullest, and had I been born an Ihalmio I would have given the reciprocity without any thought. Yet as a white man I unconsciously refused it to both Ohoto and Ootek times without number, but never did they feel the need to retaliate by withdrawing any of the privileges of the relationship they had so freely extended to me."

Page 120, 'People of the Deer', Farley Mowat

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