|In vision questing, an essential and personal "kinship" with the Animal Peoples can be initiated, a kinship that will benefit both human and animal peoples alike. And in that kinship a most important gift is given, a suumesh song.
Traditionally both young boys and girls would go during the summer to the nearby mountains to seek a guardian spirit. Having taken a Sweat House ceremony, the young person would be under the direction and care of an elder member of the family. He would be instructed to stay at the "prayer circle," a rock formation located at the mountain site, for the duration of the fast, which can last from a couple of days to as many as three or four days. While not drinking nor consuming food during the fast, the young person might be told to bathe in the lake’s waters each day. It would be a cleansing and renewal act, and an acknowledgment of the important spirit beings associated with Lake Coeur d’Alene. Most of the important fasting sites surround this lake, which is located in the heart of Coeur d’Alene country.
If the boy’s sacrifice is judged worthy, an Animal Spirit, such as an Eagle, Elk, or Wolf, might appear and give a suumesh song. That particular Animal Spirit could remain with the individual his entire life, offering guidance and spiritual protection. The faster would learn the actual song associated with his guardian spirit, as well as under what circumstances it is to be used. Songs are forms of prayer and help direct the spiritual power associated with the guardian spirit to specific ends. A song might be intended for a healing, hunting, or gambling purpose. It might be used to welcome a new day or even bring the rains to help nurture the roots and berries, and the deer and elk. Or the song may simply be intended to be sung for the welfare and health of the family members. In all instances, the suumesh song is to be respected and cared for, never used casually or for purposes not intended. It is to be sung during the winter Jump Dances, else the individual be inflicted with "spirit sickness." If a suumesh song is not cared for properly, the guardian spirit would leave the individual and "bad luck" would likely follow. A suumesh song is one of the most important gifts that can be acquired from the Animal Peoples, solidifying the kinship relationship between human and Animal peoples.
Traditionally, suumesh songs also entitled individuals to be acknowledged and relied upon for special leadership roles. Because of his or her particular suumesh, a person might be called upon to help coordinate the rituals prior to communal deer hunt or root gathering, the rituals connected with the burial of the dead, or healing ceremonies themselves. Both men and women could become "healers." In former times, illness was often attributed to either an "object" having been "shot" into the individual or to "soul loss." A healer would use his or her songs to locate the affiliation and begin the healing process. In the instance of being shot, a "sucking tube" would be used to extract the "object" from the sick person. But it was said that "soul loss" was typically untreatable, resulting in death.
Because of the intensely spiritual and personal qualities associated with suumesh songs, we have elected not to present audio clips of these particular songs.
© Coeur d'Alene Tribe 2002
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