Oochigeas and the Invisible Boy
An Abenaki Legend
There was once a Malicete Indian village on the edge of a lake in the land of the Wabanaki, and in this village lived three sisters. The two older girls, Oona and Abit, were handsome and proud, but the youngest, whom they called Oochigeas, was timid and plain. She suffered much from the selfishness of her sisters, but bore all their ill-treatment without complaint.
Because these girls had no parents, they were given meat by the tribe's hunters in return for making pottery. Through much practice, they had become the best makers of pots in the village. And this is how they made them. First Oona, the eldest, wove a basket from ash splints, then Abit lined it with wet clay. Finally, it was given to the youngest girl to harden in the fire. As the clay slowly baked, the wind blew the fire into Oochigeas' face, and in time her hair was singed close to her head and her face covered with burns. And that is why her sisters mocked her with the name of Oochigeas, which means "little scarred one."
Now Glooscap the Great Chief knew all his People. He saw the misery of Oochigeas and pitied her, and he scowled at the cruelty of her sisters, yet he did nothing. And this was something that Marten, his servant, could not understand.
"My elder brother," said Marten, "though she is plain, her heart is kind. Can you not help her?"
"We will see," said the Great Chief with a wise nod. "Oochigeas must help herself first. Kindness is a great virtue, but courage is the first rule of my People."
Now on the far side of the lake, remote from the village, there lived an Indian youth called Team, who had the wonderful power of making himself invisible. To all save his sister he was as the rustle of a leaf in the forest, a sigh of wind in the treetops, or a breath of air in the heavens. His name meant "moose" and the moose was his totem, or charm, that gave him his power. Having this magical power, Team needed no bow and arrow. He could walk straight up to game, without being seen or heard, and slay it with his bare hands. One day, Team's sister appeared in the village.
"My brother is tired of living alone," she said to the people. "Team will marry the first girl who is able to see him."
Now, though no person had seen Team, or knew if he was tall or short, fat or thin, plain or handsome, yet they knew of his magic power and his great success in hunting. To the Indians, who live by hunting, a brave who can keep meat in his lodge all the time is admired above all others. He is a kind of prince. It is no wonder that every maiden in the village yearned to become the bride of the Invisible Boy. All the unmarried maidens were eager to try their fortune and, one after another, each made a visit to the lodge across the lake. And, one after another, each came back disappointed. At last, all had made the attempt except the three Sisters.
"Now it is my turn," said Oona. "I'm sure I shall be able to see him."
"You indeed!" sniffed Abit. "I'm as likely to see him as you are. Why should you go first?" "I am the eldest!" "Team is sure to want a younger woman!"
The two sisters glared at each other.
"You needn't think I shall let you go alone," declared Oona angrily. "Then we'll go together," said Abit. And so they did. Dressing themselves in their finest robes, they set off for the lodge across the lake. Team's sister received them kindly and took them to the wigwam to rest after their journey. Then, when it was time for her brother's return, she led them to the shore.
"Do you see my brother?" she asked. The two girls gazed eagerly out over the lake. They saw a canoe approaching, but though it moved swiftly through the water, it appeared to be empty! No paddle could be seen, for whatever Team held or wore became also invisible.
Abit thought to herself that she would pretend to see him, and Team's sister would never know the difference. "I see him!" she cried. And Oona, not to be outdone, echoed, "Yes! I see him too!" Team's sister knew that at least one of the girls lied, for only one maiden would be allowed to see her brother and that would be his future bride.
"Of what is his shoulder strap made?" she asked. The two girls thought for a moment. They knew that, generally, Indians used rawhide or withe for their shoulder straps. "A strip of rawhide," guessed Abit. "No--withe!" cried Oona.
Then Team's sister knew that neither had seen her brother and she resolved to punish them for their dishonesty. "Very well," she said quietly. "Come to the wigwam and help me prepare my brother's supper."
The two girls were anxious to know which of them had given the correct answer, so they followed Team's sister and helped her prepare the meal. Each hoped that she alone would see Team when he came. When all was ready, the sister of Team warned the girls not to sit in her brother's place but to remain on her side of the fire. Then, looking up, she greeted her brother, but the girls could see no one.
"Take my brother's load of meat," she told Abit, who looked around her in dismay. As long as the meat was on Team's shoulder, it could not be seen. Suddenly, a great load of venison dropped from nowhere on Abit's toes. Abit screamed and ran from the lodge in pain and fright. Now Team's sister told Oona to remove her brother's wet moccasins and put them to dry. Of course Oona could not do so. A pair of wet moccasins came suddenly sailing through the air and slapped her across the face. Then Oona too ran away, crying with mortification.
"My bride is a long time coming," sighed Team. "And those were very fine looking girls." "Patience, my brother. You must have one who is brave and truthful, as well as lovely, and such a one has not come yet." Abit and Oona returned home to vent their rage and spite on poor Oochigeas. To escape their cruelty, she fled to the woods and there, in a secluded spot, relieved her heart with tears. But when there were no tears left, and her spirit had been calmed by the peace of the forest, Oochigeas began to think. Now that her sisters had failed, she was the only maid left in the village who had not tried to see the Invisible Boy. Yet, if her fine sisters had failed, what chance had she, poor and plain as she was? A great hunter like Team would not wish a scar-faced girl like Oochigeas for a bride. All the same, hope stirred in her breast. Her heart began to beat fast at the thought of going to Team's lodge. She had no fine clothes to wear. Her sisters might try to stop her. The people would laugh. It would take courage. Her mind was made up!
Oochigeas gathered sheets of birch bark and cut out a gown and cap and leggings, and sewed them together with grass. The clothing was stiff and awkward, and it crackled when she walked, but it covered her. Then she went home and found a pair of Oona's discarded moccasins. They were huge on her small feet and she had to tie them on by winding the strings around her ankles. She was truly an odd-looking sight, and her two sisters stared at her in amazement. "Where are you going in that ridiculous outfit?" Oona asked. "I am going to Team's lodge," answered Oochigeas. "What! You foolish girl! Come back!" "Oh, let her go," said Abit. "Let the people see her and she'll come back soon enough, in tears."
Oochigeas' way lay through the village, and the men and boys shouted and jeered at her. "Shame, shame!" "Ugly creature!" "See how her burned hair sticks out from her cap!" "Why does she wear birch bark instead of skins?" "Come back, Oochigeas. Where do you think you're going? To see Team?" And they laughed so hard they rolled on the ground. But, though her heart burned with shame, Oochigeas pretended not to hear, and walked on with her head high, until she was out of their sight. Then she hurried through the woods and around the edge of the lake, trying not to think of the ordeal ahead. Doubtless Team's sister would laugh at her too. Still she went on, and came at last to the lodge and saw Team's sister at the door.
"I have come," gasped Oochigeas before the other could speak, "I have come--to see Team--if I can." And she looked pleadingly at Team's sister. "Come in and rest," said the sister of Team gently, and Oochigeas nearly wept at the unexpected kindness, but she managed to retain her dignity as they waited in silence for the sun to go down. Then Team's sister led her to the lake.
"Do you see my brother?" she asked. Oochigeas looked and saw a canoe, empty. She heard the dip of a paddle and the swish of the water at the bow, but though she gazed with all her might, she saw no one. She whispered with a sinking heart, "No, I cannot see him."
"Look again," urged Team's sister, out of pity, and be cause the girl had so far been truthful. Oochigeas gazed once more at the canoe, and suddenly gave a gasp.
"Oh! Yes! Now I see him!" "If you see him," said Team's sister quickly, "of what is his shoulder strap made?" "Why it is made of a rainbow," marveled Oochigeas, and Team's sister knew her brother had found his bride. She led the girl back to the wigwam and stripped off her ugly clothes, bathed her, and dressed her in doeskin, then gave her a comb to tidy her hair.
"Alas," thought Oochigeas, "I have so little hair to comb," but as she drew the comb against her head, she found to her amazement that her hair had grown suddenly long and thick. Moreover, the scars had gone from her face. She was beautiful!
Then the handsome Team came, laughing, and crying out, "At last I've found you, my lovely bride." And he led her to the wife's place in the wigwam. And from that day on, Oochigeas and Team, and Team's sister, lived out their days in peace and happiness. Far away on Blomidon, Glooscap looked at Marten with a wise smile. He had known all along, you see, that Oochigeas had courage under her gentleness, and a brave spirit makes all things possible. And so it happened.
Return to Abenaki Legends