Native American Legends
How Glooskap had a great frolic with Kitpooseagunow, a mighty giant who caught a whale
A Micmac Legend
N'kah-nee-oo. In the old time. Glooskap came to Pulewech
Munegoo (Micmac: Partridge Island), and here he met with Kitpooseagunow,
whose mother had been slain by a fearful cannibal giant. And it
was against these that he made war all his life long, as did Glooskap.
Whence it came to pass that they loved one another, which did not
at all hinder them from having a hearty and merry encounter, in
which they missed but little of killing one or the other, and all
in the best natured way in the world.
Now, having come to Pulewech Munegoo, the lord of men and beasts
was entertained by Kitpooseagunow. And when the night came, he who
was born after his mother's death said to his guest, "Let us go
on the sea in a canoe and catch whales by torchlight;" to which
Glooskap, nothing loath, consented, for he was a mighty fisherman,
as are all the Wabanaki of the seacoast.
Now when they came to the beach there were only great rocks, lying
here and there; but Kitpooseagunow, lifting the largest of these,
put it on his head, and it became a canoe. And picking up another,
it turned to a paddle, while a long splinter which he split from
a ledge seemed to be a spear. Then Glooskap asked, "Who shall sit
in the stern and paddle, and who will take the spear?" Kitpooseagunow
said, "That will I." So Glooskap paddled, and soon the canoe passed
over a mighty whale; in all the great sea there was not his like;
but he who held the spear sent it like a thunderbolt down into the
waters, and as the handle rose again to sight he snatched it up,
and the great fish was caught. And as Kitpooseagunow whirled it
on high, the whale, roaring, touched the clouds. Then taking him
from the point, the fisher tossed him into the bark as if he had
been a trout. And the giants laughed; the sound of their laughter
was heard all over the land of the Wabanaki. And being at home,
the host took a stone knife and split the whale, and threw one half
to the guest Glooskap, and they roasted each his piece over the
fire and ate it.
Now the Master, having marked the light, which was long in the
heaven after the sun went clown, said, "The sky is red; we shall
have a cold night." And his host understood him well, and saw that
he would make it cold by magic. So he bade Marten bring in all the
fuel he could find, and all there was of the oil of a porpoise;
and this oil he so multiplied by magic that there was ten times
more of it. And they sat them down and smoked, and told tales of
old times; but it grew ever colder and colder. And at midnight,
when all was burnt out, Marten froze to death, and then the grandmother,
but the two giants smoked on, and laughed and talked. Then the rocks
out-of-doors split with the cold, the great trees in the forest
split; the sound thereof was as thunder, but the Master and he who
was born after his mother's death laughed even louder. And so they
sat until the sun rose. Then Glooskap said to the dead woman, "Noogume,
numchahse!" Grandmother, arise!" and to his boy, "Abistanooch
numchahse!" "Marten, arise!" and they arose, and went about
And the morning being bright, they went forth far into the forest
to find game. But they got very little, for they caught only one
small beaver, and Glooskap gave up his share of this to Kitpooseagunow.
And he, taking the skin, fastened it to his garter, whence it dangled
like the skin of a mouse at the knee of a tall man. But as he went
on through the woods the skin grew larger and larger and larger,
till it broke away by its own weight. Then the giant twisted a mighty
sapling into a withe, and fastened it around his waist. But it still
grew apace as he went on, till, trailing after, it tore down all
the forest, pulling away the trees, so that Kitpooseagunow left
a clean, fair road behind him.
And when the night came on they fished again, as they had done
before; and again it was said, but this time by the host, "The sky
is red; we shall have a cold night." So they heaped up wood more
than the first time, but now it was far colder. And soon the boy
was dead, and the grandmother also lay frozen. But when the sun
rose the Master brought them back to life, and, bidding good-by
to Kitpooseagunow, went his way.
The most striking feature, however, of this legend is its Norse-like
breadth or grandeur and its genial humor, which are very remarkable
characteristics for the fictions of savages. Its resemblance to
the Scandinavian tales is, if accidental, very remarkable. The two
heroes are, like Thor and Odin, giant heroes who make war on Jötuns
and Trolls; that is, giant-like sorcerers. It is their profession;
they live in it. No one can read Beowulf without being struck by
the great resemblance between Grendel, the hideous, semi-human night
prowler, and the Kewahqu', a precisely similar monster, who rises
from the depths of waters to wantonly murder man. I do not recall
any two beings in any other two disconnected mythologies so strangely
similar. The fishing for the whale re-calls that which is told in
the Older Edda (Hymiskvida, 21), where Hymir succeeds in hooking
two of these fish:--
"Then he and Hymir rowed out to sea. Thor rowed oft with two oars,
and so powerfully that the giant was obliged to acknowledge they
were speeding very fast. He himself rowed at the prow."
If the reader will compare this account of the Edda with the Micmac
story, he cannot fail to be struck with the great resemblance between
them. It is even specified in both that the hero, though a guest,
paddles. And in both instances the host catches a whale. Now compare
with this the legend of Manobozho-Hiawatha, who merely catches the
great sunfish, and is swallowed by it. Does it not seem as if the
Western Indians had here borrowed from the Micmacs, and the Micmacs
from the Norse? Whether this was done directly or through the Eskimo
is as yet a problem. It may also be noted that both in the Edda
and in the Micmac story, it is declared that one of the giants picked
up the boat and carried it.
It may be observed that most of these Indian traditions were originally
poems. It is probable that all were sung, while they still retained
the character of serious mythical or sacred narrative. Now they
are in the transition state of heroic tales. But they unquestionably
still retain many passages of very great antiquity, and it is not
impossible that Eskimo and even Norse songs are still preserved
in them. In this tale the following coincidences with passages in
the Elder Edda (Hymiskvida) are remarkable. In both the host asks
his guest to go with him to catch whales, to which the latter assents.
"We three tomorrow night
Shall be compelled
On what we catch to live.'
Thor said he would
On the sea row."
Kitpooseagunow picks up the heavy canoe, with its oars and a spear,
and carries them.
grasped the prow
quickly with its hold-water,
lifted the boat
together with its oars
and scoop ;
bore to the dwelling
the curved vessel."
Glooskap, asks which of the two shall take the paddle, and which
sit in the stern. Hymir inquires,--
"Wilt thou do
half the work with me?
either the whales
home to the dwelling bear,
Or the boat
Kitpooseagunow drew up a whale.
"The mighty Hymir,
two whales drew
up with his hook."
After this whale-fishing, the Scandinavian giants at home have
a trial of strength and endurance. Thor throws a cup at Hymir. This
cup can only be broken on Hymir's head, which is of ice, and intensely
"That is harder
than any cup."
This is therefore an effort on the part of Thor to overcome Cold.
Hymir is the incarnation of Cold itself.
"The icebergs resounded
as the churl approached;
the thicket on his cheeks
In shivers flew the pillars
At the Jotun's glance."
That is, the frost cracks the stones and rocks. In the Indian tale
the two giants try to see which can freeze the other. In both there
is distinctly a contest, In the Norse tale Strength or Heat fights
Frost; in the American, Frost is battled with by Frost as a rival.
It may be observed that the Indian tale is far from being perfect,
and that in all probability the whole of it includes a fishing for
It is plainly set forth in the Edda that Cold may be overcome by
a magic spell. Thus Groa (Grougaldr, 12) promises her son a rune
to effect this:--
"A seventh (charm) I will sing thee
If on a mountain high
frost should assail thee,
deadly cold shall not
thy body injure,
nor draw it to thy limbs."
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