The changing of Mikjikj
A Micmac Legend
In an Indian village in the Old Time, there once lived a Míkmaq named Mikjikj who was an old bachelor, very shabby and poor and, truth to tell, somewhat lazy. He lived all alone, having no wife to care for him, and his neighbors paid him no attention, for he was neither rich nor clever nor wise. Yet he bore his wants with great good humor, and Kluskap loved him for his cheerful, easy ways.
One day Kluskap came to the lodge of Mikjikj in the form of an ordinary Míkmaw. Mikjikj hailed him with delight, for he was lonely and any stranger who came to his wigwam was sure of a welcome. He gave Kluskap the guest's place at the fire, shared with him his supper of fresh salmon and, after the meal, the two sat on either side of the fire, smoking and laughing and telling stories. Finally they sat together in contented silence until, suddenly, Kluskap asked his host why he had never married.
"Too lazy," Mikjikj admitted with a grin. "And now what maid would look at me, a homely old fellow with all his clothes full of holes!"
"You need a wife to mend those clothes," said Kluskap, "but first, I must turn tailor." And handing his magic belt to Mikjikj, he bade him put it on. No sooner was the belt clasped about the old fellow's waist than Mikjikj felt a change come over him. He looked down at himself in amazement. He was no longer a shabby old man, but a young and handsome brave in fine clothing.
"By the tail of the Beaver!" cried Mikjikj. "You can make a man over as easy as a suit of clothes!" But Kluskap shook his head.
"Not so. The outside of a man is easy, but the inside is another matter. It is hard to make over the whole of a man. Otherwise, I would not be so long at work in the world." Then Mikjikj knew his guest was Kluskap and was greatly alarmed.
"Fear not, Mikjikj," said the Great Chief, with a twinkle in his eye. "I am your friend. See now, I have done my part. The rest is up to you."
Then Mikjikj saw that Kluskap had played a fine trick on him. He had taken away his excuse for sitting about all day doing nothing. Now the lazy Mikjikj must stir himself to find a bride.
"Very well, Master," he said with his usual good humor "I see my easy days are over. I shall get me a wife to keep me from idleness. But tell me, how long will my new form last?"
"As long as you are a man," said Kluskap. "Now, listen. There is a feast being held in the next village. Go there and choose a bride. I will await you here."
So Mikjikj went to the feast and the people made the handsome stranger welcome, inviting him to dance. They danced in the Mi'kmaq fashion, moving around in a circle stamping their feet and uttering sharp cries, while a man in the center set the time on a cheegumakun, which is a drum of bark beaten with a stick.
Beyond the ring of male dancers sat the women watching. Mikjikj looked at them as he danced and saw the girl he wanted, the fairest of all in the village -- Mahia, the Chief's youngest daughter. He knew immediately that no one else would do. He danced closer and ever closer to Mahia each time around the circle, until at the seventh round he was near enough to toss a small chip into her lap. Now this, in Míkmaq custom, was how a man declared his love. If the maid disdained him, she would frown and toss the chip away over her shoulder. If she returned his interest, she would smile and throw the chip back to him.
The dancers circled again, and once more Mikjikj drew near the Chief's daughter. To his joy, she smiled and flung the chip into his hands.
Mikjikj went straight to the Chief of the tribe and, looking meaningfully at Mahia, said, "I am tired of living alone." This is how the Míkmaw ask for a girl's hand in marriage.
"You are a brave man," said the Chief, giving him a strange look, "but if it is your wish, you may have her. Come to the highest place, my son-in-law." And in this way Mikjikj and Mahia were married.
While his bride and her family prepared the wedding feast, Mikjikj hurried back to his own village to tell Kluskap of his good fortune, but Kluskap did not look happy.
"You have chosen unwisely, my friend," he said.
"Mahia is the loveliest maid in the village!" cried Mikjikj.
"For that reason," said Kluskap, "all the young men desire her. None have dared so far to ask her hand in marriage, for it is known that whoever wins her will be killed by the rest."
"Alas," sighed Mikjikj, "I am not much of a fighter. And I never like to exert myself unless it is absolutely necessary. However, I must have Mahia. Tell me what I must do."
"It is hard, as I told you, to change the whole of a man, but I can do even that. Are you willing to be changed?"
"Certainly," cried Mikjikj, "so long as I may have Mahia all my days."
"Very well," said Kluskap. "Do as I tell you, and before this day is through, you will be changed--and because you are patient and tough, you will be changed into a creature very hard to kill. Now listen closely."
Then Kluskap told Mikjikj that after the wedding feast there would be games. During the games, the young men would seek to slay him by crowding and trampling him to death.
"When they do this," said Glooscap, "it will be near your father-in-law's lodge, and to escape them you must jump over it."
Mikjikj was about to protest that he could never jump so high, but remembered in time that with Kluskap all things were possible.
"You will jump once, twice, three times," said the Great Chief, "and the third time will be terrible for you. But it must be. If you are patient and brave, no matter what happens, then you will become chief over a new race, and bear up a great nation."
Now all happened as Kluskap had foretold. The wedding of Mikjikj and Mahia was celebrated with a fine feast and dancing, and afterwards the young men played games. In the last game, the young men crowded against Mikjikj and tried to trip him. Then Mikjikj leapt like a bird over the Chief's lodge and all the braves gasped with astonishment. Soon recovering from their surprise, however, they drew their knives and hurried to the far side of the lodge, but once more Mikjikj soared over the peak of the lodge.
"You'll have to jump high to catch me!" he cried merrily, and jumped for the third time.
This time, alas, Mikjikj caught on the crossed poles at the top of the lodge and hung there, helpless, dangling over the smoke-hole. The black smoke rolled up and enveloped him, staining his flesh and stinging his eyes.
"Oh, Master," groaned Mikjikj, "you are killing me!"
"Not so," he heard Glooscap say. "I am giving you new life. From this time, you will have no fear of knives. You will be able to roll through fire and never feel it. You will live in water as well as upon land."
Now the people could not see what was happening be cause of the smoke, nor could they understand the words of Kluskap, for he was invisible and spoke in a strange tongue which only Mikjikj could understand. Then the smoke rolled away and they saw Mikjikj again, but terribly changed. His head was green, his hands and feet all wrinkled, and his back was a hard shell streaked with smoke stains. He had become a turtle!
No one had ever seen such a creature before, but they knew it must be Mikjikj and they were just as determined as ever to kill him. So, thrusting poles up from inside the lodge, they knocked him down.
Now, although Mikjikj was no longer a man, and no longer handsome, he was as good-humoured as ever. He held no grudge against Kluskap for turning him into an animal and thought it a very good joke. Remembering what the Great Chief had foretold, he decided to turn the joke on the people who were trying to kill him. So he pretended to be terribly frightened, begging the young men with tears in his eyes not to kill him.
They, seeing his shell was much too hard to pierce with a knife, made to cut off his head--but Mikjikj pulled his head into his shell out of harm's way. Then the braves decided to kill him by fire.
"No, no--please don't burn me," begged Mikjikj with pretended terror. "Anything but that!"
But the heartless youths built a huge fire and flung him into the midst of the flames. To their amazement, the turtle turned over lazily and went to sleep, and when the fire had burned down a little, he woke and called for more wood, saying he was cold! Angrily, the young men dragged him from the fire and declared they would drown him instead. Hearing this, Mikjikj began to struggle mightily.
"Oh, oh! Please don't do that. Shoot me with arrows, burn me with fire, but don't drown me! You don't know how I dread water!"
The braves laughed and dragged him to the water's edge. Mikjikj fought lustily, tearing up trees and roots and screaming like a madman, but they bore him into a canoe and paddled out beyond the breakers where the water was deep. Then they flung him into the water and watched him sink.
"Now we are rid of him," they said, and returned to shore to tell Mahia her husband was dead. Poor Mahia ran to the water's edge and wept for her lost bridegroom.
On the following day, the braves saw something on a rock far out at sea. Deciding it might be something good to eat, they went a-fishing, but as they came near the rock, they saw it was Mikjikj stretched out lazily in the sun!
"As you see, my friends," he laughed at them, "I am enjoying my new home," and, rolling over into the water, he dived down into the green depths, as all turtles do when danger approaches. Then the young men knew they were defeated and had no power over him.
However, though Mikjikj was now safe from his foes, he was even lonelier than he had been before Kluskap changed him. The fish and the gulls were his only companions, and he longed for speech with his own kind.
"Oh, Kluskap," he sighed in his loneliness, "you promised I should have Mahia for my wife and become chief over a new nation."
There was no reply, but as he rose to the top of the waves and looked around, Mikjikj saw a gray-green shape swimming towards him and heard a familiar voice.
"It is I," the voice said, "Mahia, your wife." The voice came from another turtle. Kluskap had changed Mahia too.
Now in the course of time Mahia gave Mikjikj many fine children. And so, as Kluskap had promised, Mikjikj became father and chief over a new race--the race of turtles--and never was lonely again.
And there, kespeadooksit--the story ends.
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