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Glooscap and his People

An Algonquin Legend

In the beginning, there were just the forest and the sea; no people and no animals.

Then Glooscap came.

Where this wondrous giant was born and when, none can tell, but he and his brother Malsum came from somewhere in the Sky to the part of North America nearest the rising sun. There, anchoring his canoe, he turned it into a granite island covered with spruce and pine. He called the island Uktamkoo. (the land we know today as Newfoundland) This, in the beginning, was Glooscap's lodge.

The Great Chief Glooscap looked and lived like an ordinary man except that he was twice as tall, twice as strong, and possessed great magic. He was never sick, never married, never grew old, and never died. He had a magic belt which gave him great power, and he used this power only for good. Malsum, his twin brother, also great of stature, had the head of a wolf and the body of an Indian. Malsum knew magic too, but he used his power for evil.

As Glooscap set about his work, the air was fragrant with balsam and the tang of the sea.

First, out of the rocks, he made the Little People; the fairies, or Megumoowesoos. These were small hairy creatures who dwelt among the rocks and made such wonderful music on the flute that all who heard it were bewitched.

From amongst the Megumoowesoos, Glooscap chose a servant, Marten, who was like a younger brother to him.

Next Glooscap made men. Taking up his great bow, he shot arrows into the trunks of ash trees. Out of the trees stepped men and women. They were a strong and graceful people with light brown skins and shining black hair. Glooscap called them the Wabanaki, which means "those who live where the day breaks."

In time, the Wabanaki left Uktamkoo and divided into separate tribes and are today a part of the great Algonquin nation, but in the old days, only the Micmacs, Malicetes, Penobscots and Passamaquoddies, living in the eastern woodlands of Canada and the United States, were Glooscap's People.

Gazing upon his handiwork, Glooscap was pleased and his shout of triumph made the tall pines bend like grass.

He told the people he was their Great Chief and would rule them with love and justice. He taught them how to build birch bark wigwams and canoes, how to make weirs for catching fish, and how to identify plants useful in medicine. He taught them the names of all the Stars, who were his brothers.

Then, from among them, he chose an elderly woman whom he called Noogumee, or grandmother, (a term of respect amongst Indians for any elderly female.) Noogumee was the Great Chief's housekeeper all her days.

Now, finally, out of rocks and clay, Glooscap made the animals: Miko the squirrel, Team the moose, Mooin the bear, and many, many others. Malsum looked on enviously, thinking he too should have had a hand in creation. But he had not been given that power. He whispered an evil charm, and the remainder of the clay in Glooscap's hands twisted and fell to the ground in the form of a strange animal. This animal was not beaver, not badger, not wolverine, but something of all three, and capable of taking any of these forms he chose.

"His name is Lox!" said Malsum triumphantly.

"So be it," said Glooscap. "Let Lox live amongst us in peace, so long as he remains a friend." Yet he resolved to watch Lox closely, for he could read the heart and knew that Lox had Malsum's evil in him.

Now Glooscap had made the animals all very large, most of them larger and stronger than man. Lox, the trouble maker, at once saw his chance to make mischief.

He went in his wolverine body to Team the moose and admired his fine antlers, which reached up to the top of the tallest pine tree. "If you should ever meet a man," said Lox, "you could toss him on your horns up to the top of the world."

Now Team, who was just a little bit stupid, went at once to Glooscap and said, "Please, Master, give me a man, so I can toss him on my horns up to the top of the world!"

"I should say not!" cried Glooscap, and touched Team with his hand. The moose was suddenly the size he is today.

Then Lox went in his badger form to the squirrel and said, "With that magnificent tail of yours, Miko, you could smash down every lodge in the village."

"So I could," said Miko proudly, and with his great tail he swept the nearest wigwam right off the ground. But the Great Chief was near. He caught Miko up in his hand and stroked the squirrel's back until he was as small as he is today.

"From now on," said his Master, "you will live in trees and keep your tail where it belongs." And since that time Miko the squirrel has carried his bushy tail on his back.

Next, Lox put on his beaver shape and went to Mooin the bear, who was hardly any bigger than he is today, but had a much larger throat.

"Mooin," said Lox slyly, "supposing you met a man, what would you do to him?" The bear scratched his head thoughtfully. "Eat him," he said at last, with a grin. " I'd swallow him whole!" And having said this, Mooin felt his throat begin to shrink.

"From now on," said Glooscap sternly, "you may swallow only very small creatures." And today the bear, big as he is, eats only small animals, fish and wild berries.

Now the Great Chief was greatly annoyed at the way his animals were behaving, and wondered if he should have made them. He summoned them all and gave them a solemn warning:

"I have made you man's equal, but you wish to be his master. Take care, or he may become yours!"

This did not worry the troublemaker Lox, who only resolved to be more cunning in the future. He knew very well that Malsum was jealous of Glooscap and wished to be lord of the Indians himself. He also knew that both brothers had magic powers and that neither could be killed except in one certain way.

What that way was, each kept secret from all but the Stars, whom they trusted. Each sometimes talked in the starlight to the people of the Sky.

"Little does Malsum know," said Glooscap to the Stars, "that I can never be killed except by the blow of a flowering rush." And not far off, Malsum boasted to those same Stars, "I am quite safe from Glooscap's power. I can do any thing I like, for nothing can harm me but the roots of a flowering fern."

Now, alas, Lox was hidden close by and overheard both secrets. Seeing how he might turn this to his own advantage, he went to Malsum and said with a knowing smile, "What will you give me, Malsum, if I tell you Glooscap's secret?"

"Anything you like," cried Malsum. "Quick, tell me!"

"Nothing can hurt Glooscap save a flowering rush," said the traitor. "Now give me a pair of wings, like the pigeon, so I can fly."

But Malsum laughed instead.

"What need has a beaver of wings?" And kicking the troublemaker aside, he sped off to find a flowering rush. Lox picked himself up furiously and hurried to Glooscap.

"Master!" he cried, "Malsum knows your secret and is about to kill you. If you would save yourself, know that only a fern root can destroy him!"

Glooscap snatched up the nearest fern, root and all, and just in time: his evil brother was upon him, shouting his war cry. All of the animals (who were angry at Glooscap for reducing their size and power) cheered Malsum, but the Indians were afraid for their Master.

Glooscap braced his feet against a cliff, and Malsum paused. For a moment, the two crouched face to face, waiting for the moment to strike. Then the wolf-like Malsum lunged at Glooscap's head. Twisting his body aside, the Great Chief flung his weapon. It went swift to its target, and Malsum leapt back, but too late. The fern root pierced his envious heart, and he died.

Now the Indians rejoiced, and the animals crept sullenly away. Only Lox came to Glooscap, impudently.

"I'll have my reward now, Master," he said, "a pair of wings, like the pigeon's."

"Faithless creature!" Glooscap thundered, knowing full well who had betrayed him, "I made no such bargain. Be gone!" And he hurled stone after stone at the fleeing Lox. Where the stones fell (in Minas Basin) they turned into islands and are there still. And the banished Lox roams the world to this day, appealing to the evil in men's hearts and making trouble wherever he goes.

Now Glooscap called his people around him and said, "I made the animals to be man's friends, but they have acted with selfishness and treachery. Hereafter, they shall be your servants and provide you with food and clothing."

Then he showed the men how to make bows and arrows and stone tipped spears, and how to use them. He also showed the women how to scrape hides and turn them into clothing.

"Now you have power over even the largest wild creatures," he said. "Yet I charge you to use this power gently. If you take more game than you need for food and clothing, or kill for the pleasure of killing, then you will be visited by a pitiless giant named Famine, and when he comes among men, they suffer hunger and die."

The people readily promised to obey Glooscap in this, as in all things. But now, to their dismay, they saw Marten launch the Master's canoe and Noogumee entering it with Glooscap's household goods. Glooscap was leaving them!

"I must dwell now in a separate place," said the Great Chief, "so that you, my people, will learn to stand alone, and become brave and resourceful. Nevertheless, I shall never be far from you, and whoever seeks me diligently in time of trouble will find me."

Then, waving farewell to his sorrowful Wabanaki, Glooscap set off for the mainland. Rounding the southern tip of what is now Nova Scotia, the Great Chief paddled up the Bay of Fundy.

In the distance, where the Bay narrows and the great tides of Fundy rush into Minas Basin, Glooscap saw a long purple headland .It looked like a moose swimming, with clouds for antlers, and he headed his canoe in that direction.

Landing, he gazed at the slope of red sandstone, with its groves of green trees at the summit, and admired the amethysts encircling its base like a string of purple beads.

"Here I shall build my lodge," said Glooscap, and he named the place Blomidon.

Glooscap dwelt on Blomidon a very long time, and during that time did many wonderful things for his People.

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