Native American Legends
A Menomini Legend
While Manabozho was once walking along a lake shore, tired and
hungry, he observed a long, narrow sandbar, which extended far out
into the water, around which were myriads of waterfowl, so Manabozho
decided to have a feast.
He had with him only his medicine bag; so he entered the brush
and hung it upon a tree, now called "Manabozho tree,"
and procured a quantity of bark, which he rolled into a bundle and
placing it upon his back, returned to the shore, where he pretended
to pass slowly by in sight of the birds. Some of the Swans and Ducks,
however, recognizing Manabozho and becoming frightened, moved away
from the shore.
One of the Swans called out, "Ho! Manabozho, where are you
going?" To this Manabozho replied, "I am going to have
a song. As you may see, I have all my songs with me." Manabozho
then called out to the birds, "Come to me, my brothers, and
let us sing and dance." The birds assented and returned to
the shore, when all retreated a short distance away from the lake
to an open space where they might dance.
Manabozho removed the bundle of bark from his back and placed it
on the ground, got out his singing-sticks, and said to the birds,
"Now, all of you dance around me as I drum; sing as loudly
as you can, and keep your eyes closed. The first one to open his
eyes will forever have them red and sore."
Manabozho began to beat time upon his bundle of bark, while the
birds, with eyes closed, circled around him singing as loudly as
they could. Keeping time with one hand, Manabozho suddenly grasped
the neck of a Swan, which he broke; but before he had killed the
bird it screamed out, whereupon Manabozho said, "That's right,
brothers, sing as loudly as you can." Soon another Swan fell
a victim; then a Goose, and so on until the number of birds was
Then the "Hell-diver," opening his eyes to see why there
was less singing than at first, and beholding Manabozho and the
heap of victims, cried out, "Manabozho is killing us! Manabozho
is killing us!" and immediately ran to the water, followed
by the remainder of the birds.
As the "Hell-diver" was a poor runner, Manabozho soon
overtook him, and said, "I won't kill you, but you shall always
have red eyes and be the laughing- stock of all the birds."
With this he gave the bird a kick, sending him far out into the
lake and knocking off his tail, so that the "Hell-diver"
is red-eyed and tailless to this day.
Manabozho then gathered up his birds, and taking them out upon
the sandbar buried them--some with their heads protruding, others
with the feet sticking out of the sand. He then built a fire to
cook the game, but as this would require some time, and as Manabozho
was tired after his exertion, he stretched himself on the ground
to sleep. In order to be informed if anyone approached, he slapped
his thigh and said to it, "You watch the birds, and awaken
me if anyone should come near them." Then, with his back to
the fire, he fell asleep.
After awhile a party of Indians came along in their canoes, and
seeing the feast in store, went to the sandbar and pulled out every
bird which Manabozho had so carefully placed there, but put back
the heads and feet in such a way that there was no indication that
the bodies had been disturbed. When the Indians had finished eating
they departed, taking with them all the food that remained from
Some time afterward, Manabozho awoke, and, being very hungry, bethought
himself to enjoy the fruits of his stratagem. In attempting to pull
a baked swan from the sand he found nothing but the head and neck,
which he held in his hand. Then he tried another, and found the
body of that bird also gone. So he tried another, and then another,
but each time met with disappointment. Who could have robbed him?
he thought. He struck his thigh and asked, "Who has been here
to rob me of my feast; did I not command you to watch while I slept?"
His thigh responded, "I also fell asleep, as I was very tired;
but I see some people moving rapidly away in their canoes; perhaps
they were the thieves. I see also they are very dirty and poorly
dressed." Then Manabozho ran out to the point of the sandbar,
and beheld the people in their canoes, just disappearing around
a point of land. Then he called to them and reviled them, calling
them "Winnibe'go! Winnibe'go! " And by this term the Menomini
have ever since designated their thievish neighbors.
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