Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Algonquin Spring by Rick Revelle

In Algonquin Spring, Revelle picks up the story six years after the Haudenosaunee raid that saw Mahingan's wife Wabananang captured and most of his warriors massacred. Revelle tells his story alternating between various narrators.

Tall Man

The story opens in what is present day Newfoundland. Tall Man, and his three companions are Beothuk who are hunting when they encounter men unlike any they've ever seen before. The have red hair and beards and wear bright coloured clothing. Both groups of hunters encounter the same caribou but Tall Man's group is attacked and he and his companion Whale Bone are captured. Tall Man finds he can understand their captors Oysten and Visate. They are put into a large boat with many more red-haired men and forced to row, heading south, far away from the Beothuk's land.

Eight days later, they arrive at the mouth of the present day Vaureal River on Anticosti Island where the group spends  days fishing. Tall Man knows they are stocking up for their voyage home, and he tells Whale Bone they must try to escape before the strangers finish this task or they will likely be killed. The strangers want to add a bjorn (bear) to their stores and so they take Tall Man and Whale Bone with them into the forest. Opir discovers six warriors busy gutting a bear and the strangers decide to kill them and take the bear. However, all of the strangers are killed because Tall Man and Whale Bone decide to help the native warriors. Whale Bone is killed but Tall Man is taken in by the two native warriors, Matues (Porcupine) and E's (Clam) who survived the attack and whom he learns are Mi'kmaq. With them is a small man, Apistanewj whom Tall Man had saved. Their home is in Gespe'g on the coast. Matues and E's tell Tall Man that they were on the island as part of their initiation into manhood and that they have others waiting for them at a camp nearby. At this camp, Matues and E's explain to Jilte'g what happened in the forest and introduce Ta's'ji'jg and Nukumi (Grandmother) to Tall Man and Apistanewj. The small party travels in Mi'kmaq sea canoe from the island to the coast, escaping the Eli'tuat ship with the help of a pod of whales.

On land they journey inland through the forest to the Mi'kmaq winter camp. At the camp, Tall Man creates much interest. E's tells their chief Gaqtugwan Musigisg about the deadly encounter with the Eli'tuat. An elder Mi'kmaq declares that Tall Man is Glooscap. Tall Man accepts this, wondering what his destiny will be. As the winter ends, the Mi'kmaq are in dire need of food and this leads Gaqtugwan Musigisg to send Glooscap, Apistanewj, E's, Matues, Ta's'ji'jg and Jilte'g to hunt for food.  He believes their village will be safe with only eight warriors as it is too early in the spring for the Haudenosaunee to attack. Unfortunately, the village is attacked and destroyed by a group of Stadacona and Haudenosaunee warriors and Nukumi and ten children are taken captive. Glooscap and his party return to find the village and several women and children who survived because they were away from the camp. Ta's'ji'jg is badly injured when he tries to cut down what he thinks is his father's stuffed skin.  Glooscap decides to track the Haudenosaunee party and to free Nukumi and the women and children. At this time another Mi'kmaq party led by Jigjigi arrives. Although they cannot supply Glooscap with warriors, they agree to take the survivors to the summer camp along the coast. However, one of their warriors, Crazy Crow decides he will accompany Glooscap. As they begin to track the Haudenosaunee, it soon becomes apparent they will be drawn into an epic battle that only one side can win.

Mahingan

Further east, at the same time Tall Man is captured by the Eli'tuat, Mahingan and his family band of nineteen are wintering near a waterfalls. This band includes his little son Anoki, his brother Kag and his wife Kinebigokesi, their twin sons Makwa and Wabek, his brother Mitigomij, his sister Wabisi, the two warrior women Agwaniwon and Kina Odenan and their friend Kanikwe, as well as a Wabanaki family and two young Ouendat (Huron) warriors, Odingwey and Kekek. In February, Mitigomij comes to Mahingan and tells him he has heard and elk in the woods above the falls and he suggests they try to run him down because the meat will help them survive the remainder of the winter. Mahingan agrees and divides their group into two; Mitigomij will take the two Ouendat warriors, the twins and the two warrior women and their friend along with seven aminosh up the escarpment to show them where to begin their quest for the elk. Meanwhile Mahingan and his son Anoki will go to check the fish nets further downstream.

At the river, Mahingan encounters three young Susquehannock warriors attempting to rob the net. He notices that they are emaciated and weak. After hauling in the nets and loading the toboggan with the fish, Mahingan feeds the three warriors who are named, Sischijro, Oneega and Abgarijo. The three who are brothers tell Mahingan that they were captured by the Haudenosaunee, led by Corn Dog. They also tell him of a beautiful, intelligent and fearless Algonquian woman named Wabananang whom Corn Dog has ordered to be left alone as he plans to use her in revenge for an old enemy. Oneega also reveals that  Corn Dog has a close friend who is very tall and is a Mi'kmaq whom they call Winpe. Corn Dog has a huge number of warriors from various tribes, the Abenaki, Delaware, Mahican and Pennacook tribes and that after raiding the Mi'kmaq he plans to attack the Algonquins.

Kanikwe and his group track the elk but are attacked by a group of Haudenosaunee and Hochelagan warriors whom they manage to kill but not without losing Kekek. They are assisted in defending themselves with the help of Mitigomij and his black panther. Mitigomij warns Kanikwe that Corn Dog is up to something. Eventually Kanikwe and Mahingan meet up and tell each other what both have experienced. After this Mahingan decides that they need to determine Corn Dog's exact location so they can plan for his attack. But first his family group must journey to Asinabka (present day Chaudiere Falls) where they will spear sturgeon, walleye and sucker.  On their journey to Asinabka, Mahingan almost loses Anoki who falls into the river; he is saved by Mahingan's wolf, Ishkodewan. However Mahingan begins to feel that he has an important quest to undertake, that of bringing back his wife Wabananang and their daughter. This feeling is reinforced by a dream, and so Mahingan asks for warriors to accompany him once the spring fishing is completed. With seventeen warriors, four women and his son Anoki, Mahingan sets out to reclaim his wife and confront Corn Dog.

Corn Dog

Corn Dog is determined to avenge the death of his friend Panther Scar by Mahingan at the Battle of the Waterfall six years earlier. During the winter he has been raiding along the St. Lawrence, capturing warriors to strengthen his band. His plan is to have the Hochelagan and Stadacona Nation to join him in the spring, first to attack and destroy the Alonquin allies, by crossing the Kamatarwanenneh (the St. Lawrence River) to raid the Mi'kmaq and Wabanaki. This will prevent them from aiding the Algonquin. He will then attack the Bark Eaters, killing Mahingan and his brother Mitigomij. Corn Dog plans to use Mahingan's wife who has been a captive to lure Mahingan into attacking him.

In the spring, Corn dog meets Seven Dogs, the old chief of the Hochelagans to tell him his plan. Seven Dogs agrees but will not attack until June after his people have recovered from the hard winter. Corn Dog returns to his village, Ossernenon to obtain the permission of the Clan Mother to go to war. Corn Dog's Clan Mother of the Turtle Clan sets out to meet with the Clan Mother of the Wolf and Bear Clans to decide on the war chief. Eventually Corn Dog is sent to the Mohawk capital of Tionnontoguen where he is given the antlers of the war chief. He is allowed only one hundred warriors and ten women from the three villages. Contests are arranged to select the warriors and the women. Wabananang and her daughter Pangi Mahingan enter one of these,  the gruelling foot race through the forest even though Corn Dog tells her it isn't necessary as she will be travelling with them. However, Wabananang wants her seven-year-old daughter to also qualify because she knows that if she escapes and does not return to the Haudenausee village, her daughter will be adopted into a family and she will never see her again.

Corn Dog and his war party set out, first going to the healing springs at Saratoga and then after a six day journey arrive at the Stadacona village to add warriors. However Corn Dog is furious when he is given only fifteen warriors by the old war chief and when  he learns that the Mi'kmaq are now alerted to the possibility of attacks when the chief allowed some of his warriors to attack them. It is a foreshadowing of things to come as Corn Dog heads into battle against the Algonquin tribe and his enemy Mahingan.

Mahingan and his warriors stumble upon a group of  Mi'kmaq hostages being held by the Stadacona and Haudenosaunee. The same group is also attacked by Glooscap and Crazy Crow. Meanwhile, Wabananang along with her daughter has escaped Corn Dog's war party and is heading towards Mahingan, and the final deadly confrontation between the two arch enemies.

Discussion

Revelle weaves together the three storylines of Mahingan, his arch-enemy Corn Dog, and the Beothuk, Tall Man/Glooscap and his Mi'kmaq friends. Eventually all three of these characters meet in what becomes a consummate battle between deadly rivals. This battle forms the exciting cliffhanger ending to the novel and sets the stage for the final novel in the trilogy.

As with the first novel, Revelle includes considerable detail about the culture of the indigenous peoples of Ontario and Eastern Canada. In this novel the author reveals more about the Mohawk nation, the People of the Flint, to the south of the Great Lakes and introduces readers to the Beothuk who were the aboriginal people of Newfoundland. In Algonquin Spring, readers learn how the Mokawk way of life was quite different from the Algonquins in that they lived in large communities of longhouses protected by wooden stake palisades and planted fields with what were called the three sisters: corn, squash and beans. While the Algonquins made summer and winter camps, the Haudenosaunee tended to remain in an area for a period of time. The Beothuk of Newfoundland are shown to be a peaceful people who keep to themselves and rarely war with other tribes unless forced to.

The author also presents other aspects of indigenous culture including descriptions of the use of natural remedies to heal wounds and other ailments. For example Mahingan mentions how the Mi'kmaq suffer from eye irritation due to being in smoky wikuoms during the winter and how the center of the mountain maple twigs are used as a poultice to relieve the irritation. When the warrior Ta's'ji'jg is severely wounded his wounds are treated with resin and yarrow. "Matues started a fire and heated the resin just enough that Apistanewj could work it over the wounds to seal the skin and halt the bleeding. The resin would be warm when it was applied, soothing the wound while sealing it. The yarrow he had applied before the resin. After sealing the cuts with the pine resin, Apistanewj laid the bark over the lesions. After cutting pieces of leather from our clothing to wrap around the bark, the task was complete." The warrior was then given cedar tea "to help soothe his pain and heal him from the inside."

The incorporation of cultural detail into the story means the indigenous peoples are portrayed in an authentic way. They are intelligent and caring towards their children, the injured and sick, in harmony with their environment taking what they need,  but also brutal and cunning in warfare.  Revelle doesn't shy away from describing the realities of warfare. In a battle with a Hochelagan, the Algonquin warrior Kanikwe narrates what happens; "I became engaged in hand-to-hand struggle with a man at least six-inches taller than myself...I grasped the club that I kept in my waistband, and as my foe made another thrust, I stepped aside and hit him flush in the face. Blood spattered all theway up my arm and I could hear the sound of breaking bone and his gasping for air. The warrior dropped to one knee and I buried my knife into his neck, with only the handle preventing the weapon from going any deeper. He turned and looked at me, spat out some teeth, smiled, and dropped on his side with a gush of air leaving his body. I reached down and cut off the ear nearest to me, putting it into the pouch where I carried the rest of my vanquished opponent's ears..."

Yet not all are like the Algonquin or Mohawk. This is shown through the character of Tall Man from the Beothuk, indigenous people who lived in what would eventually be called Newfoundland. Tall Man/Glooscap is horrified at the cruelty of the Haudenosaunee when he returns with the Mi'kmaq to find their village devastated. "After entering the burning remains of the site, I eyed two charred bodies tied to a post in a fire pit, burned beyond recognition. It was everything I could do to hold back a gagging reflex. My people very rarely went to war, and when we did, it was with the Inuit. Neither side in those conflicts ever chose to inflict this kind of cruelty." Torture by fire, running the gauntlet, and the removing of fingers and fingernails are some of the cruelties described in the novel.

Algonquin Spring is populated by many interesting characters, one of the strengths of this novel.  More is revealed about characters from the first novel, in particular Corn Dog and Mahingan's brother, Mitigomiji who is revealed to have special powers that explain why he is able to travel over land quickly. There are several new characters, the most important being Tall Man who is revealed to be Glooscap, an important figure in Mi'kmaq culture. Perhaps the most interesting new character is Crazy Crow whose back story is engaging and who adds considerable interest to the storyline. Revelle also incorporates some aboriginal mysticism into the story with suggestion that Mitigomiji is a shape-shifter and Crazy Crow's talking crow who leads Wabananang to safety.


As with the first novel in the Algonquin Quest series, maps would have been very helpful in placing both the locations of the various tribes and perhaps even documenting their journeys. Revelle also includes an excellent Author's Note that sets up the context for the continuing story of Mahingan and his ongoing conflict with Corn Dog as well as various glossaries for terms in several indigenous languages. It's quite obvious that Revelle has undertaken considerable research for his novel. 

Algonquin Spring presents a fascinating and informative snapshot of life in North America before the arrival of the Europeans and is a fine second novel, with a strong plot - something often lacking in middle novels of a trilogy and a colourful cast of engaging characters.

Book Details:

Algonquin Spring by Rick Revelle
Toronto: Dundurn Press   2015
290 pp.


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