Native American Legends
The story of the great Chenoo, as told by the Passamaquoddies
A Passamaquoddy Legend
What the Micmacs call a Chenoo is known to the Passamaquoddies
as a Kewahqu' or Kewoqu'. And this is their origin.
When the k'tchi m'téoulin, or Great Big Witch, is
conquered by the smaller witches, or M'téoulinssisk,
they can kill him or turn him into a Kewahqu'. He still fights,
however, with the other Kewaquiyck. When they get ready to
fight, they suddenly become as tall as the highest trees; their
weapons are the trees themselves, which they uproot with great strength.
And this strength depends upon the quantity or size of the piece
of ice which makes the heart of the Kewahqu'. This piece
of ice is like a little human figure, with hands, feet, head, and
every member perfect.
The female Kewahqu' is more powerful than the male. They make a
noise like a roaring lion (pee'htahlo), but sharper (shriller)
and more frightful. Their abode is somewhere in Kas mu das doosek,
in some cold region in far Northern Canada.
In summer time they rub themselves all over with poo-pooka-wigu,
or fir balsam, and then roll themselves on the ground, so that everything
adheres to the body, moss, leaves, and even small sticks. This was
often seen of old by Indian hunters.
Once a newly married Indian couple had, according to Indian custom,
gone on the long fall and winter hunt. One day when the man was
away an old Kewahqu' came and looked into the wigwam. The wife was
frightened, but she made up her mind at once: she called him Mittunksl,
or "my father." The old Kewahqu' was very proud to be called father.
When she heard her husband returning she ran out and told him that
a great Kewahqu' was in the camp, and that he must call him M'sil
hose, or "father-in-law." So going in he did this, and the Kewahqu'
was still more pleased. So they lived with him, and hunted with
him. He was very skillful in the chase. When they came to broad
and deep waters the Kewahqu' would swim them with his son-in-law
on his back. He could run faster than any wild animal.
One day he told his children to go away to a great distance. "There
is a great female Kewahqu' coming to fight me. In the struggle I
may not know you, and may hurt you." So they went away as fast and
as far as they could, but they heard the fighting, the most frightful
noises, howls, yells, thundering and crashing of wood and rocks.
After a time the man determined to see the fight. When he got to
the place he saw a horrible sight: big trees uprooted, the giants
in a deadly struggle. Then the Indian, who was very brave, and who
was afraid that his father-in-law would be killed, came up and helped
as much as he could, and in fact so much that between them they
killed the enemy. The old Kewahqu' was badly but not fatally hurt,
and the woman was very glad her father came off victorious. She
had always heard that a Kewahqu' had a piece of ice for a heart.
If this can be taken out, the Kewahqu' can be tamed and cured. So
she made a preparation or medicine, and offered it to him. He did
not know what it was, nor its strength, so he swallowed it, and
it gave him a vomit. She saw something drop, so quietly picked it
up: it was the figure of a man of ice; it was the Kewahqu's heart.
She, not being seen or noticed, put it in the fire, when he cried,
"Daughter, you are killing me now; you destroy my strength." Yet
she made him take more of the medicine, and a second heart came
out. This she also put on the fire. But when a third came he grabbed
it from her hand, and swallowed it. However, he was almost entirely
Another time an Indian village was visited by a Kewahqu', but he
was driven away by magic. The people marked crosses on the
trees where they expected the Kewahqu' to come. There was a great
excitement among the Indians, expecting to hear their strange visitor
with his frightful noises. It was the old people who gave the advice
to mark crosses on the trees.
Another time an Indian of either the Passamaquoddy or Mareschite
tribe was turned to a Kewahqu'. The last time he was seen was by
a party of Indian hunters, who recognized him. He had only small
strips of clothing. "This country," he said, "is too warm for me.
I am going to a colder one."
This story from the Passamaquoddy Anglo-Indian manuscript of Mitchell
supplies some very important deficiencies in the preceding Micmac
version. We are told that the heart of the Chenoo is of ice
in human figure. This human figure is that of the Kewahqu' himself,
or rather his very self, or microcosm. It is this, and not the liver,
which is swallowed by the victor, who thus adds another frozen "soul"
to his own. Of the three vomited by the Kewahqu', two were the hearts
of enemies whom he had conquered. He could not give up his own,
however. It is much more according to common sense that the woman
should have given the cannibal the magic medicine which made him
yield his heart than that he should voluntarily have purged himself.
In the Micmac tale he merely relieves his stomach; in the Passamaquoddy
version he, by woman's influence, loses his icy heart.
It is interesting to observe that the use of the Christian cross
is in the additional anecdote described as magic.
It is the main point in the Chenoo stories that this horrible being,
this most devilish of devils, is at first human; perhaps an unusually
good girl, or youth. From having the heart once chilled, she or
he goes on in cruelty, until at last the sufferer eats the heart
of another Chenoo, especially a female's. Then utter wickedness
ensues. It is more than probable that this leads us back to some
dark and terrible Shaman superstition, older than we can now fathom.
There is a passage in the Edda which its translator, Thorpe, thinks
can never be explained. "I believe," he writes, "the difficulty
is beyond help." The lines are as follows:-
"Loki scorched up
In his heart's affections,
Had found a half-burnt
Loki became guileful
from that wicked woman:
thence in the world
are all giantesses come."
Of which Thorpe writes, "The sense of this and the following line
is not apparent. They stand thus in the original: Loki of hiarta
lyrdi brendu, fann hann hâlfsvidthin hugstein konu, for
which Grimm (Myth. Vorrede 37) would read Loki ât hiarta
lundi brenda, etc., Lokius comedit cor in nemore assum, invenit semiustum
mentis lapidem mulieris." Whatever obscurity exists here, it
is evident that it means that Loki, having become bad, grew worse
after having got the half-burnt stone of a woman's soul. That is,
his own heart, half ruined, became utterly so after he had added
to it the demoralized hugstein, soul-stone, thought-stone,
or heart of a woman. If we assume that stone and heart are
the same, the difficulty vanishes. And they are one in the Chenoo,
who, like Loki, illustrates or symbolizes the passage from good
to evil, which a German writer declares is quicker than thought,
or that very same Hugi which the Norse myth puts forwards
as swiftest of all runners. Loki, not as yet lost, gets the stone
heart of a giantess, and becomes an utter devil at once. The Chenoo
becomes an utter devil when he has swallowed the thought-stone
of a giantess, and so does Loki.
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