The White Wampum

by Emily Pauline Johnson


 

OJISTOH


 

I AM Ojistoh, I am she, the wife
Of him whose name breathes bravery and life
And courage to the tribe that calls him chief.
I am Ojistoh, his white star, and he
Is land, and lake, and sky—and soul to me.
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Ah! but they hated him, those Huron braves,
Him who had flung their warriors into graves,
Him who had crushed them underneath his heel,
Whose arm was iron, and whose heart was steel
To all—save me, Ojistoh, chosen wife
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Of my great Mohawk, white star of his life.

Ah! but they hated him, and councilled long
With subtle witchcraft how to work him wrong;
How to avenge their dead, and strike him where
His pride was highest, and his fame most fair.

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Their hearts grew weak as women at his name:
They dared no war-path since my Mohawk came
With ashen bow, and flinten arrow-head
To pierce their craven bodies; but their dead [Page 1]
Must be avenged. Avenged? They dared not walk
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In day and meet his deadly tomahawk;
They dared not face his fearless scalping knife;
So—Niyoh!*—then they thought of me, his wife.

O! evil, evil face of them they sent
With evil Huron speech: “Would I consent

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To take of wealth? be queen of all their tribe?
Have wampum ermine?” Back I flung the bribe
Into their teeth, and said, “While I have life
Know this—Ojistoh is the Mohawk’s wife.”

Wah! how we struggled! But their arms were strong.

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They flung me on their pony’s back, with thong
Round ankle, wrist, and shoulder. Then upleapt
The one I hated most: his eye he swept
Over my misery, and sneering said,
“Thus, fair Ojistoh, we avenge our dead.”
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And we two rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,
I, bound with buckskin to his hated waist,
He, sneering, laughing, jeering, while he lashed
The horse to foam, as on and on we dashed.
Plunging through creek and river, bush and trail,
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On, on we galloped like a northern gale.
At last, his distant Huron fires aflame
We saw, and nearer, nearer still we came. [Page 2]

I, bound behind him in the captive’s place,
Scarcely could see the outline of his face.
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I smiled, and laid my cheek against his back:
“Loose thou my hands,” I said. “This pace let slack.
Forget we now that thou and I are foes.
I like thee well, and wish to clasp thee close;
I like the courage of thine eye and brow;
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I like thee better than my Mohawk now."

He cut the cords; we ceased our maddened haste.
I wound my arms about his tawny waist;
My hand crept up the buckskin of his belt;
His knife hilt my burning palm I felt;

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One hand caressed his cheek, the other drew
The weapon softly—"I love you, love you,"
I whispered, "love you as my life."
And— buried in his back his scalping knife.

Ha! how I rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,

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Mad with sudden freedom, mad with haste,
Back to my Mohawk and my home, I lashed
That horse to foam, as on and on I dashed.
Plunging thro' creek and river, bush and trail,
On, on I galloped like a northern gale.
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And then my distant Mohawk's fires aflame
I saw, as nearer, nearer still I came,
My hands all wet, stained with a life's red dye,
But pure my soul, pure as those stars on high—
"My Mohawk's pure white star, Ojistoh, still am I." [Page 3]
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* God, in the Mohawk language. [back]