Native American Legends
The Jealous Father
A Cree Legend
Once there was an old man named Aioswé who had two wives.
When his son by one of these women began to grow up, Aioswé
became jealous of him.
One day, he went off to hunt and when he came back, found marks
on one of the women (the co-wife with his son's mother) which proved
to him that his son had been on terms of intimacy with her.
One day the old man and the boy went to a rocky island to hunt
for eggs. Wishing to get rid of his son, the old man persuaded him
to gather eggs farther and farther away from the shore. The young
man did not suspect anything until he looked up and saw his father
paddling off in the canoe. "Why are you deserting me, father?
"Because you have played tricks on your stepmother,"
answered the old man.
When the boy found that he was really left behind, he sat there
crying hour after hour. At last, Walrus appeared. He came near the
island and stuck his head above the water. "What are you crying
for, my son?" said Walrus.
"My father has deserted me on this island and I want to get
home to the mainland. Will you not help me to get ashore?"
the boy replied.
Walrus said that he would do so willingly. "Get on my back,"
said Walrus, "and I will take you to the mainland." Then
Walrus asked Aioswé's son if the sky was clear. The boy replied
that it was, but this was a lie, for he saw many clouds. Aioswé's
son said this because he was afraid that Walrus would desert him
if he knew it was cloudy. Walrus said, "If you think I am not
going fast enough, strike on my horns [tusks] and let me know when
you think it is shallow enough for you to get ashore, then you can
jump off my back and walk to the land."
As they went along, Walrus said to the boy, "Now my son, you
must let me know if you hear it thunder, because as soon as it thunders,
I must go right under the water." The boy promised to let Walrus
know. They had not gone far, when there came a peal of thunder.
Walrus said, "My son, I hear thunder." "Oh, no, you
are mistaken," said the boy who feared to be drowned, "what
you think is thunder is only the noise your body makes going so
quickly through the water." Walrus believed the boy and thought
he must have been wrong.
Some time later, there came another peal of thunder and this time,
Walrus knew he was not mistaken, he was sure it was thunder. He
was very angry and said he would drop Aioswé's son there,
whether the water was shallow or not. He did so but the lad had
duped Walrus with his lies so that he came where the water was very
shallow and the boy escaped, but Walrus was killed by lightning
before he could reach water deep enough to dive in. This thunderstorm
was sent to destroy Walrus by Aioswé's father, who conjured
for it. Walrus, on the other hand, was the result of conjuring by
his mother, who wished to save her son's life.
When Aioswé's son reached the shore, he started for home,
but he had not gone far before he met an old woman, who had been
sent as the result of a wish for his safety by his mother (or was
a wish for his safety on his mother's part, personified). The old
woman instructed the lad how to conduct himself if he ever expected
to reach his home and mother again. "Now you have come ashore
there is still a lot of trouble for you to go through before you
reach home," said she, and she gave him the stuffed skin of
an ermine (weasel in white winter coat). "This will be one
of your weapons to use to protect yourself," were her words
as she tendered him this gift, and she told him what dangers he
would encounter and what to do in each case.
Then the son of Aioswé started for his home once more. As
he journeyed through the forest he came upon a solitary wigwam inhabited
by two old blind hags, who were the result of an adverse conjuration
by his father. Both of these old women had sharp bones like) daggers;
protruding from the lower arm at the elbow." They were very
savage and used to kill everybody they met. When Aioswé's
son approached the tent, although the witches could not see him,
they knew from their magic powers that he was near. They asked him
to come in and sit down, but he was suspicious, for he did not like
the looks of their elbows.
He thought of a plan by which he might dupe the old women into
killing each other. Instead of going himself and sitting between
them he got a large parchment and fixing it to the end of a pole,
he poked it in between them. The old women heard it rattle and thought
it was the boy himself coming to sit between them.
Then they both turned their backs to the skin and began to hit
away at it with their elbows. Every time they stabbed the skin,
they cried out, " I am hitting the son of Aioswé! I've
hit him! I've hit him!" At last, they got so near each other
that they began to hit one another, calling out all the time, "I
am hitting the son of Aioswé!" They finally stabbed
each other to death and the son of Aioswé escaped this danger
When the young man had vanquished the two old women he proceeded
on his journey. He had not gone very far when he came to a row of
dried human bones hung across the path so that no one could pass
by without making them rattle. Not far away, there was a tent full
of people and big dogs. Whenever they heard anyone disturb the bones,
they would set upon him and kill him. The old woman who had advised
Aioswé's son told him that when he came to this place he
could escape by digging a tunnel in the path under the bones.
When he arrived at the spot he began to follow her advice and burrow
under. He was careless and when he was very nearly done and completely
out of sight, he managed to rattle the bones. At once, the dogs
heard and they cried out, "That must be Aioswé's son."
All the people ran out at once, but since Aioswé's son was
under ground in the tunnel they could not see him, so after they
had searched for a while they returned. The dogs said, "We
are sure this is the son of Aioswé," and they continued
At length, they found the mouth of the hole Aioswé's son
had dug. The dogs came to the edge and began to bark till all the
people ran out again with their weapons. Then Aioswé's son
took the stuffed ermine skin and poked its head up. All the people
saw it and thought it was really ermine. Then they were angry and
killed the dogs for lying.
Aioswé's son escaped again and this time he got home. When
he drew near his father's wigwam, he could hear his mother crying,
and as he approached still closer he saw her. She looked up and
saw him coming. She cried out to her husband and co-wife, "My
son has come home again."
The old man did not believe it. "It is not possible,"
he cried. But his wife insisted on it. Then the old man came out
and when he saw it was really his son, he was very much frightened
for his own safety. He called out to his other wife, "Bring
some caribou skins and spread them out for my son to walk on."
But the boy kicked them away. "I have come a long way,"
said he, "with only my bare feet to walk on."
That night, the boy sang a song about the burning of the world
and the old man sang against him but he was not strong enough. "I
am going to set the world on fire," said the boy to his father,
"I shall make all the lakes and rivers boil." He took
up an arrow and said, "I am going to shoot this arrow into
the woods; see if I don't set them on fire." He shot his arrow
into the bush and a great blaze sprang up and all the woods began
"The forest is now on fire," said the old man, "but
the water is not yet burning." "I'll show you how I can
make the water boil also," said his son. He shot another arrow
into the water, and it immediately began to boil. Then the old man
who wished to escape said to his son, "How shall we escape?"
The old man had been a great bear hunter and had a large quantity
of bear's grease preserved in a bark basket. "Go into your
fat basket," said his son, "you will be perfectly safe
Then he drew a circle on the ground and placed his mother there.
The ground enclosed by the circle was not even scorched, but the
wicked old man who had believed he would be safe in the grease baskets,
was burned to death.
Aioswé's son said to his mother, "Let us become birds.
What will you be?" "I'll be a robin," said she. "I'll
be a whisky jack (Canada jay)," he replied. They flew off together.
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