Native American Legends
Turtle gets a Shell
An Anishnabe (Anishinabe) Legend
It was one of those days when Nanaboozhoo was in a strange mood.
He had just awakened from a deep sleep that was disturbed by the
noisy quarreling and scolding of the blue jays. He was a bit cranky;
his sleep was disturbed and besides that, he was hungry. His first
thought was to down to the village and find something to eat.
Entering the village, he came across some men cooking fish. They
had their camp located close to the water and Nanaboozhoo spied
many fish cooking over a fire. Now, being very hungry, he asked
for something to eat. The men were happy to give him some, but cautioned
him that is was hot. Not heeding their warning, he quickly grabbed
the fish and burned his hand. He ran to the lake to cool it off
in the water. Still unsteady from his deep sleep, he tripped on
a stone and fell on Mi-she-kae (turtle) who was sunning on the beach.
At that time, Mishekae was not as we know her today. She had no
shell and was comprised of soft skin and bone.
Turtle complained loudly to Nanaboozhoo to watch where he was going.
Now, Nanaboozhoo felt ashamed of his clumsiness and apologized to
Mishekae. He wondered, "what can I do to make it up to her?"
He wanted to do something to help his friend. "I'll have to
sit and think it over,"he thought, as he followed the path
back to his wigwam.
Sometime later, he returned to the beach and called for Mishekae.
Turtle poked her head through the soft beach mud. Nanaboozhoo picked
up two large shells from the shore and placed one on top of the
other. He scooped up Mishekae and put her right in the middle, between
Nanaboozhoo took a deep breath and began. "You will never
be injured like that again." he said slowly. "Whenever
danger threatens," he continued, "you can pull your legs
and head into the shell for protection"
Nanaboozhoo sat beside his friend on the beach and told Mishekae
his thoughts. "The shell itself is round like Mother Earth.
It was a round hump which resembles her hills and mountains. It
is divided into segments, like martyrizes that are a part of her;
each different and yet connected by her."
Mishekae seemed very pleased with and listened intently. "You
have four legs, each representing the points of direction North,
South, East and West." he said. "When the legs are all
drawn in, all directions are lost. Your tail will show the many
lands where the Anishnabek have been and your head will point in
the direction to follow. "You will have advantages over the
Anishnabek," he went on. "You will be able to live in
the water as well as on land and you will be in your own house at
Mishekae approved of her new self and thanked Nanaboozhoo for his
wisdom. Moving now in a thick shell, she pushed herself along the
shore and disappeared into the water.
So, ever since that accident long ago, Turtle has been special
to the Anishnabek. To this day, she continues to grace Mother Earth,
still proudly wearing those two shells.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends