Mi'kmaq history and people: The Four Directions
Pjila'si (welcome). Of great significance to the Mi’kmaq is the number four. It speaks of balance in the four directions and plays a very important role in many aspects of our culture and can be seen in many different traditions and rituals. It is a natural part of Mother Earth.
Prayers are of key importance usually involving the four directions and the Mi'kmaq give thanks to the elements that each of the directions represent:
- Praying to the North that represents the cool and refreshing northerly breeze. Participants celebrate the time to prepare for death and renewal.
- Praying to the South, where thanks is given for the warmth and the rain it has to offer. It represents the summer and a time of youth and learning.
- Praying to the East where the sun rises, signifies the beginning of life, and spring.
- Praying to the West represents the rise and chatter of the thunder. It also stands for peace, serenity, patience, and wisdom. It honours maturing and participation in the advancement of the people.
Then we have the four seasons of the year:
It is vitally important for the Mi'kmaq to live the four seasons to the fullest. Every day is a sacred day. Any day is a special day to hold a traditional ceremony. The Mi'kmaq feel spring is the most important season of all. It represents a new beginning for all of earth's creations and this is shared by many other cultures across the world.
- siwkw (Spring) - when the leaves began to sprout, the wild birds appeared, the fawns of moose reached a certain size within the mother, and seals bore their young;
- nipk (Summer) - when the salmon spawned and the birds molted;
- toqa’q (Autumn) - when the birds migrated; and
- kesik (Winter) - when the weather became very cold, the snow fell and the bears began to hibernate.
There are those that believe that there is an eagle that represents each of the four directions:
The spotted and marsh eagles stay within the directional boundaries each represents, but the bald eagle has no boundaries. It represents the Mi'kmaw tribe of the east.
The four directions are also represented as a red cross of the Mi'kma'ki (the Mi’kmaq Nation) flag. The cross also refers to mankind and infinity. The flag is sanctioned by the Grand Council (Santé Mawiómi). There is much symbolism with the white (Wapék) of the flag denoting the purity of Creation, the Star (Nákúset) representing the forces of the day, and the moon (Tepkunaset) representing the forces of the night.
- the spotted eagle,
- the marsh eagle,
- the bald eagle and the
- golden eagle.
At the sacred fire, they pray to the four cardinal directions, giving honour to the times of human life. Also very important to Mi’kmaq culture are the four colours of:
These are given equal value in these rites, as are the four elements:
- red, and
Likewise, the principal idea of the Medicine Wheel is that an individual is a whole with four parts:
- air, and
For an individual to be complete or whole all four components must be supported. Hence we see the importance, in this brief article, that our people were and are very spiritual and in tune with Mother Earth and her cycles. Welálin (thank you).
- the mental,
- spiritual, and the
Compiled by Saqamaw Jasen S. Benwah
St. George's Bay, NL.
Website Copyright © 2004 Jasen Sylvester Benwah