Native American Legends
An Ojibwa Legend
Lake St. Clair, Manabozho saw a number of ducks, and he thought
to himself, "Just how am I going to kill them?" After
a while, he took out one of his pails and started to drum and sing
at the same time.
The words of the song he sang were, "I am bringing new songs."
When the ducks saw Manabozho standing near the shore, they swam
toward him and as soon as he saw this, he sent his grandmother ahead
to build a little lodge, where they could live. In the meantime,
he killed a few of the ducks, so, while his grandmother started
out to build a shelter, Manabozho went towards the lake where the
ducks and geese were floating around and around. Manabozho jumped
into a sack and then dived into the water. The ducks and geese were
quite surprised to see that he was such an excellent diver, and
came closer and closer.
Then Manabozho challenged them to a contest at diving. He said
that he could beat them all. The ducks all accepted the challenge,
but Manabozho beat them. Then he went after the geese and beat them
too. For a time he was alternately diving and rising to the surface,
all around. Finally he dived under the geese and started to tie
their legs together with some basswood bark.
When the geese noticed this, they tried to rise and fly away, but
they were unable to do so, for Manabozho was hanging on to the other
end of the string. The geese, nevertheless, managed to rise, gradually
dragging Manabozho along with them. They finally emerged from the
water and rose higher and higher into the air. Manabozho, however,
hung on, and would not let go, until his hand was cut and the string
While walking along the river he saw some berries in the water.
He dived down for them, but was stunned when he unexpectedly struck
the bottom. There he lay for quite a while, and when he recovered
consciousness and looked up, he saw the berries hanging on a tree
just above him.
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
greatly reduced. 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.
After this Manabozho began traveling again. One time he feasted
a lot of animals. He had killed a big bear, which was very fat and
he began cooking it, having made a fire with his bow-drill. When
he was ready to spread his meat, he heard two trees scraping together,
swayed by the wind. He didn't like this noise while he was having
his feast and he thought he could stop it. He climbed up one of
the trees and when he reached the spot where the two trees were
scraping, his foot got caught in a crack between the trees and he
could not free himself.
When the first animal guest came along and saw Manabozho in the
tree, he, the Beaver, said "Come on to the feast, Manabozho
is caught and can't stop us.--- And then the other animals came.
The Beaver jumped into the grease and ate it, and the Otter did
the same, and that is why they are so fat in the belly. The Beaver
scooped up the grease and smeared it on himself, and that is the
reason why he is so fat now. All the small animals came and got
fat for themselves. Last of all the animals came the Rabbit, when
nearly all the grease was gone - only a little left. So he put some
on the nape of his neck and some on his groin and for this reason
he has only a little fat in those places. So all the animals got
their fat except Rabbit. Then they all went, and poor Manabozho
got free at last. He looked around and found a bear's skull that
was all cleaned except for the brain, and there was only a little
of that left, but he couldn't get at it. Then he wished himself
to be changed into an ant in order to get into the skull and get
enough to eat, for there was only about an ant's meal left.
Then he became an ant and entered the skull. When he had enough
he turned back into a man, but he had his head inside the skull;
this allowed him to walk but not to see." On account of this
he had no idea where he was. Then he felt the trees. He said to
one, "What are you?" It answered, "Cedar." He
kept doing this with all the trees in order to keep his course.
When he got too near the shore, he knew it by the kind of trees
he met. So he kept on walking and the only tree that did not answer
promptly was the black spruce, and that said "I'm Se'segandak"
(black spruce). Then Manabozho knew he was on low ground. He came
to a lake, but he did not know how large it was, as he couldn't
see. He started to swim across. An Ojibwa was paddling on the lake
with his family and he heard someone calling, "Hey! There's
a bear swimming across the lake." Manabozho became frightened
at this and the Ojibwa then said, "He's getting near the shore
now." So Manabozho swam faster, and as he could understand
the Ojibwa language, he guided himself by the cries. He landed on
a smooth rock, slipped and broke the bear's skull, which fell off
his head. Then the Ojibwa cried out, "That's no bear! That's
Manabozho!" Manabozho was all right, now that he could see,
so he ran off, as he didn't want to stay with these people.
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