Tumilkoontaoo, Or The Broken Wing
A Micmac Legend
An Indian family lived on the seashore. They had two sons; the eldest of these was married, and had many small children. They lived by fishing; they chiefly caught eels.
It came to pass that the weather was so stormy that they could not fish. The wind blew terribly night and day; the waves were like dancing, hills. Hunger made them fierce. One day the father told his boys to walk along the shore and see if no fish had been cast on the beach.
A young man went; he went far along; and as he went the wind was ever worse; it blew so fiercely that he could hardly stand. It seemed to come from a point of land. He resolved to pass it, and when there he saw the cause of the tempest. Upon a kwesopskeak'--a high and rocky ledge, a bold cliff, but surrounded by the water--sat the Wind-Bird, or storm-sagamore himself, flapping his wings, and thereby raising all the wind.
Then the young man, who was brave and wise, resolved to outwit the wind-god. And approaching him and addressing him as Nikskamich, "My grandfather," he inquired, "are you cold!" And he answered, "Nay;" but the young man insisted that he must be suffering, and offered to carry him on his back to the main-land. And the offer being accepted, he carried the mighty bird from one weedy, slippery rock to another, up and down, jumping anon, and wading through the pools. But at the last rock he, with full intention, stumbled and fell as if by accident, yet managed it so well as to break one of the wings of the eagle, as he indeed meant to do. Yet he made great show of being very sorry, and, having set the wing, bade the bird keep quiet, and not move his wings for many days; not till the wound was healed should he stir them. "Sit still, Nikskamich," he said, "and I will bring you food; I will be attentive; you shall want nothing." And the god sat still: there was a calm on the water; no leaves moved in the forest; there was no wind in all the world.
The young man went home; there was not a breeze, the canoe went smoothly over the sea, the eels could be seen in the depths, the Indians caught fish by thousands; never before had they caught so many. And the sagamore of the birds sat still; the Wind-Bird waited to get well; the young man fed him every day.
There can be too much of what is good; good turns to evil, sweet to sour. After many days of quiet calm the sea was covered with Ogokpegeak, a scum which is caused by sickness among the fish, and which is thrown off by them, for they suffer in still water. Then the fisherman can no longer look down into the sea; then he cannot use the spear.
Then the young man, examining the wing of the storm-bird, said, Grandfather, it is much better; move it but a little now, that I may see!" So he moved it; he gave a flap, and lo! a slight ripple passed over the surface of the sleeping sea. And striking lightly with his wings, again there came a breeze, and the Ogokpegeak, or the scum, was blown away, and the Indians fished again, and all was well.
So they had the Wind-Bird for a friend, and the sea was smooth or stormy as they willed. But these Indians wished for more than they could manage. They grew tired of catching small fish; they wanted whales. "Let us go and catch the Bootup!" said the elder brother. "How will you take him?" asked the younger. "I will entice him with the peepoogwokan," said the elder, "with my pipe." So he sat by the sea; he played on the pipe; he played, but no whale came. So they went back to their small fishery.
This is manifestly the beginning and end of a very ancient Indian mythical tale. The Micmacs have tacked on to it a ridiculous fragment of an indifferent French nursery tale, without an end and without any connection with the Indian beginning. The tradition is probably entirely Eskimo. Among the Greenlanders there is a caste of whale-fishers, separate and apart, and this story, in its second stage, was applied to teach, Ne sutor ultra crepidam,--that all should stick to their trades, and that though a sorcerer might rule the winds it did not follow that he could win the whales.
I have spoken before of the curious identity of the Indian storm-king, or Wind-Bird, with that of the Norse Hrosvelgar. When among the Chippewas, west of Lake Superior, I met with a white man who had received the name of Thunder-Bird from the Indians still further west.
The magicians of all countries, be they of Africa, Asia, or North America, are invariably represented by travelers as holding their flock in subjection, and never being doubted as to power or skill. But there are skeptics or Agnostics among the men of the woods as well as among those of civilized cities. There are shrewd fellows who cannot only detect impostors, but turn their tricks to their own advantage.
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