Pe­jipug / Win­ter has ar­rived

The Mi’kmaq Tourist

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage - MARY LOUISE BERNARD

Hello February, and to all! I’ve been on hia­tus from writ­ing the past few months. Not that I wanted to. Life at times can get ex­tremely hec­tic, and how do you slow down from hol­i­days, birth­days and cold morn­ings, while rac­ing to catch up with the day? Or, is it just Apig­na­jit creep­ing up on me.

In our Mi’kmaq cul­ture and tra­di­tions, February has al­ways been highly re­spected and an­tic­i­pated. Why February, you ask? It’s the cold­est month of the year. Also, that furry ro­dent we have so much faith in pops out of it’s den to tell whether win­ter will linger on or that we’ll ac­tu­ally see mayflow­ers in May, not June.

Be­fore such things as ground­hog days came into play, we the Mi’kmaq had our own way of cop­ing with the fierce cold and some­times un­re­lent­ing winds of February. That’s prob­a­bly why I live in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Apig­na­jit (February) .

I must have been around seven when my mother an­nounced, “Mary it’s time we go feed Apig­na­jit”. Like any seven-year-old I was ex­cited to go yet there was this un­der­ly­ing fear of what was out there that we had to go feed. I re­mem­ber walk­ing out into the night as my mother car­ried a plate of left­over fish, pota­toes and some ban­nock in one hand and a dimly lit flash­light in the other. I prayed silently that it would not burn out while I hung onto to her coat tail as we strug­gled through the deep snow to go feed Apig­na­jit.

It was cold, and the wind was singing an eerie, ghostly howl that sent shiv­ers down my spine. We made our way into the woods - not to far, but far enough so that Apig­na­jit would not be dis­turbed as it feasted on our of­fer­ing.

My mother and I packed the snow down to a hard sur­face and then placed the food on the snow. Then, with a creepy feel­ing, I heard my mother call out its name “Apig­na­jit!” in a voice I sel­dom heard her use. As she spoke to Apig­na­jit, she spoke words I had never heard be­fore. When she fin­ished speak­ing she turned to me and said, “Lis­ten.” There we stood in si­lence as we lis­tened to the wind, trees, and felt Apig­na­jit. She then turned and took my hand as we laughed and played in the snow all the way home. That first ex­pe­ri­ence has stayed with me since then. Maybe it was the fear of not know­ing what to ex­pect. Was Apig­na­jit an an­i­mal, a bird or a spirit? I soon learned it was all three.

Even with such cold around us, Ge­sig/win­ter was also a good time for us. Fam­i­lies and friends would gather not around the fire but around an­other plate which held 6 pieces of bone placed on a blan­ket on the floor, along­side a small bun­dle of sticks. I’ll tell you more on that on my next ar­ti­cle, I bet­ter head out and feed Apig­na­jit. I hope it likes mac­a­roni!

Happy Ge­sig/win­ter.

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