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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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Mishosha, or the Magician and His Daughters
A Chippewa Tale


by Bamewawagezhikaquay - Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
From Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's Literary Voyageur

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Woman of the Sound that Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky
January 31, 1800 - May 22, 1842

'Mishosha' is not a myth, which conveys important cultural information such at the origin of a clan totem, but was meant for entertainment during long winter evenings in the lodge. Set on Grand Island in Lake Superior, there are repeated trials of Magic, and the story is discursive, as Ojibwa stories often are. But lodge stories were also meant for edification. 'Mishosha' teaches proper behavior when one is angry, it suggests that bravery and aggressiveness against a foe will be rewarded, it reinforces the proper way rituals and spells, and it describes how some personal guiding spirits, or manidog, are more powerful than others. Most importantly, it describes how abandoned child of thoughtless parents can overcome adversity. This theme, that of the 'forsaken brother,' is one of the most common in Great Lakes Indian literatures, perhaps because of the wars and resulting population shifts that plagued the region for centuries.

In an early age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants in the earth than there now are, there lived an Indian, who had a wife and two children, in a remote situation. Buried in the solitude of the forest, it was not often that he saw any one out of the circle of his own family. Such a situation seemed favorable for his pursuits, and his life passed on in uninterrupted happiness, till he discovered a wanton disposition of his wife.

This woman secretly cherished a passion for a young man whom she accidentally in the woods, and she lost no opportunity of courting his approaches. She even planned the death of her husband who, she justly concluded, would put her to death should he discover her infidelity. But this design was frustrated by the alertness of her husband, who having cause to suspect her, determined to watch narrowly to ascertain the truth before he should come to a determination how to act. He followed her secretly one day at a distance, and hid himself behind a tree. He soon beheld a tall, handsome man approach his wife and lead her away.

He was no convinced of her crime, and thought of killing her the moment she returned. In the meantime he went home and pondered his situation. At last he came to the determination of leaving her forever, thinking that her own conscience would in the end punish her sufficiently, and relying on her maternal feelings to take care of the two boys, whom he determined to leave behind.

When the wife returned she was disappointed in not finding her husband, having concerted a plan to dispatch him. When she saw that day after day passed and he did not return, she at last guessed the true cause of his absence. She then returned to her paramour, leaving the tow helpless boys behind, telling them that she was going a short distance and would return, but determined never to see them more.

The children thus abandoned soon made way with the food that was left in the lodge and were compelled to quit it in search of more. The eldest boy possessed much intrepidity, as well as great tenderness for his little brother, frequently carrying him when he was weary, and gathering all the wild fruit he saw. Thus they went deeper into the forest, soon losing track of all traces of their former habitation, till they were completely lost in the labyrinths of the wilderness.

The elder boy fortunately had a knife with which he made a bow and arrows, and was thus able to kill a few birds for himself and his brother. In this way they lived some time, still pressing on they knew not where. At last they saw an opening in the woods and were shortly after delighted to find themselves on the borders of a broad lake. Here the elder boy busied himself picking the seed pods of the wild rose. In the meanwhile the younger amused himself by shooting some arrows into the sand, one of which fell into the lake. The elder brother, not willing to lose his time making another, waded into the water to reach it. Just as he was about to grasp the arrow, a canoe passed by him with the rapidity of lightening. An old man, sitting in the center, seized the frightened youth and placed him in the canoe. In vain the boy addressed him. "My Grandfather" (a term of respect used for old people) "pray take my little brother also. Alone, I cannot go with you, he will starve if I leave him." The old magician (for such was his real character) laughed at him. Then giving his canoe a slap and commanding it to go, it glided through the water at inconceivable swiftness. In a few minutes the reached the habitation of Mishosha, standing on an island in the center of the lake. Here he lived with his two daughters, the terror of all the surrounding country.

Leading the young man up to the lodge, "Here is my eldest daughter," said he, "I have brought a young man who shall become your husband." The youth saw surprise in the countenance of the daughter, but she made no reply, seeming thereby to acquiesce in the command of her father. In the evening the overheard the daughters in conversation. "There again!" said the elder daughter, "our father has brought home another victim, under the pretence of giving me a husband. When will his enmity of the human race cease, or when shall we be spared witnessing such scenes of vice and wickedness, as we are daily compelled to behold."

When the old magician was asleep, the youth told the elder daughter how he had been carried off and compelled to leave his helpless brother on the shore. She told him to get up and take her father's canoe, and using the charm he had observed; it would carry him quickly to his brother. That he could carry him food, prepare a lodge for him and return by morning. He did in everything he had been directed, and after providing for the subsistence of his brother, told him that in a short time he should come for him. Then returning to the enchanted island he resumed his place in the lodge before the magician awoke.  Once during the night the Magician awoke, and not seeing his son-in-law, asked his eldest daughter what had become of him. She replied that he had merely stepped out and would be back soon. This satisfied him. In the morning, finding the young man in the lodge, his suspicions were completely lulled. "I see, my daughter, you have told me the truth."

As soon as the sun rose, Mishosha thus addressed the young man. "Come, my son, I have a mind to gather gull egg's. I am acquainted with an island where there are great quantities, and I wish your aid in gathering them." The young man saw no reasonable excuse and getting into the canoe, the magician gave it a slap, and bidding it to go, in an instant they were at the island. They found the shore covered with gulls' eggs, and the island surrounded with birds of this kind. "Go my son," said the old man, "and gather them, while I remain in the canoe." But the young man was no sooner ashore than Mishosha pushed his canoe a little from the land and exclaimed: "Listen ye gulls! You have long expected something from me. I now give you and offering. Fly down and devour him." Then striking the canoe left the young man to his fate.

The birds immediately came in clouds around their victim, darkening all the air with their numbers. But the youth, seizing the first that came near him and drawing his knife, cut off its head, and immediately skinning the bird, hunt feathers as a trophy on his breast. "Thus," he exclaimed, "will I treat every one of you who approaches me. Forbear, therefore, and listen to my words. It is not for you to eat humans as food. You have been given by the Great Spirit as food for man. Neither is it in the power of that old magician to do you any good. Take me on your backs and carry me to his lodge and you shall see that I am not ungrateful."

The gulls obeyed, collecting in a cloud for him to rest upon, and quickly flew to the lodge, where they arrived before the magician. The daughters were surprised at his return, but Mishosha conducted as if nothing extraordinary had taken place.

On the following day he again addressed the youth, "Come, my son," said he, "I will take you to and island covered with the most beautiful pebbles, looking like silver. I wish you to assist me in gathering some of them. They will make handsome ornaments, and are possessed of great virtues." Entering the canoe, the magician made use of his charm, and they were carried in a few moments to a solitary bay in an island where there was a smooth sandy beach. The young man went ashore as usual. "A little further, a little further," cried the old man, "beyond that rock you will find some finer ones." Then pushing his canoe from land, "Come, great king of fishes," cried he, "you have long expected an offering from me. Come and eat the stranger I have put ashore on your island." So saying he commanded his canoe to return, and was soon out of sight. Immediately a monster fish shoved its long snout from the water, moving partially on the beach, and opening wide his jaws to receive his victim.

"When," exclaimed the young man, drawing his knife and placing himself in a threatening attitude, "when did you taste human flesh? Have a care of yourself. You were given by the Great Spirit to man, and if you or any of your tribes taste human flesh, you will fall sick and die. List not to the words of that wicked old man, but carry me back to his island, in return I shall present you a piece of red cloth." The fish complied, raising his back out of water to allow the young man to get on. Then making his way through the lake landed his charge safely at the island before the return of the magician.

The daughters were still more surprised to see him thus escape a second time from the arts of their father. But the old man maintained his taciturnity. He could not, however, help saying to himself, "What manner of boy is this who ever escaped from my power? His spirit shall not however save him. I will entrap him tomorrow. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

The next day the magician addressed the young man as follows: "Come my son," said he, "you must go with me to procure some young eagles. I wish to tame them. I have discovered an island where they are in great abundance." When they had reached the island, Mishosha led him inland until they came to the foot of a tall pine upon which the nests were. "Now, my son," said he, "climb up this tree and bring down the birds." The young man obeyed. When he had with great difficulty got near the nest, "Now," exclaimed the magician, addressing the trees, "stretch out yourselves and be very tall." The trees rose up at command. "Listen eagles," continued the old man, "you have long expected a gift from me. I now present you this boy, who has the presumption to molest your young. Stretch forth your claws and seize him" So saying he left the young man to his fate and returned.

But the intrepid youth, drawing his knife and cutting the head off of the first eagle that menaced him, raised his voice and exclaimed, "Thus will I deal with all who come near me. What right have you, ye ravenous birds, who were made to feed on beasts, to eat human flesh? Is it because that cowardly old canoe-man has bid you do so? He is an old woman. He can neither do you good nor harm. See, I have already slain one of your number. Respect my bravery, and carry me back that I may show you how I shall treat you."

The eagles pleased with his spirit, assented, and clustering together thick around him formed a seat with their backs and flew off towards the enchanted island. As they crossed the water they passed over the magician, lying half asleep in his canoe.

The return of the young man was hailed with joy by the daughters, who now plainly saw that he was under the guidance of a strong spirit. But the ire of the old man was excited, although he kept his temper under subjection. He taxed his wits for some new mode of ridding himself of this youth who has so successfully baffled his skill. He next invited him to go a-hunting.

Taking his canoe, they proceeded to an island and built a lodge to shelter themselves during the night. In the meanwhile the magician cause a deep fall of snow with a storm of wind and severe cold. According to custom, the young man pulled off his moccasins and leggings and hung them to dry. After he had gone to sleep the magician, watching for his opportunity, got up, and taking one moccasin and one legging, threw them into the fire. He then went to sleep. In the morning, stretching himself as he arose and uttering an exclamation of surprise, "My son," he said, "what has become of your moccasin and legging? I believe this is the moon in which fire attracts, and I fear they have been drawn in." The young man suspect the true cause of his loss, and rightly attributed it to a design of the magician to freeze him to death on a march. But he maintained the strictest silence, and drawing his conaus (medicine bag) thus communed with himself: "I have faith in the Manito who has preserved me thus far, I do not fear that he will forsake me in this cruel emergency. Great is his power, and I invoke it now that he may enable be to prevail over this wicked enemy of mankind."

He drew on the remaining moccasin and legging, and taking a dead coal from the fireplace, invoke his spirit to give it efficacy, and blackened his foot and leg as far as the lost garment usually reached. He then got up and announced himself ready for the march. In vain Mishosha led him through snows and over morasses, hoping to see the lad sink at every moment. But in this he was disappointed, and for the first time they returned home together.

Taking courage from this success, the young man now determined to try his own power, having previously consulted with the daughters. They all agreed that the life the old man led was detestable, and that whoever would rid the world of him would entitle himself to the thanks of the human race.

On the following day the young man thus addressed his hoary captor. "My grandfather, I have often gone with you on perilous excursions and never murmured. I must now request that you accompany me. I wish to visit my little brother and to bring him home with me." The accordingly went on a visit to the mainland and found the little lad in the spot where he had been left. After taking him into the canoe, the young man again addressed the magician: "My grandfather, will you go and cut me a few of those red willows on the bank. I wish to prepare some smoking mixture. "Certainly, my son," replied the old man, "what you wish is not very hard. Ha, ha, ha, do you think me too old to get up there?" No sooner was Mishosha ashore than the young man, placing himself in the proper position struck the canoe with his hand, and pronounce the charm, N'chimaun Poll, the canoe immediately flew through the water on its return to the island. It was evening when the two brothers arrived and carried the canoe ashore. But the elder daughter informed the young man that unless he sat up and watched the canoe and kept his hand upon it, such was the power of their father, it would slip off and return to him. Panigwun watched faithfully till near the dawn of day, when he could no longer resist the drowsiness, which oppressed him and fell into a short doze. In the meantime the canoe slipped off and sought its master, who soon returned in high glee. "Ha, ha, ha, my son," said he, "you thought to play me a trick. It was very clever, but you see I am too old for you."

A short time after, the young man again addressed the magician. "My grandfather, I wish to try my skill in hunting. It is said there is plenty of game on an island not far off, and I have to request that you will take me there in your canoe." They accordingly went to the island and spent the day hunting. Night coming on, they put up a temporary lodge. When the magician sunk into a profound sleep the young man got up, and taking one of the Mishosha's leggings and moccasins from the place where they hung, threw them into the fire, thus retaliating the artifice before played upon himself. He had discovered that the foot and leg were the only vulnerable parts on the magician's body. Having committed these articles to the fire, he besought his Manitou that he would raise a great storm of snow, wind and hail and hen laid himself down beside the old man. Consternation was depicted on the countenance of the old man when he awoke in the morning and found his moccasin and legging missing. "I believe, my grandfather," said the young man, "that this is the moon in which fire attracts, and I fear your foot and leg garments have been drawn in." Then rising and bidding the old man follow him; he began the morning hunt, frequently turning to see how Mishosha kept up. He saw him faltering at every step and almost benumbed with cold, but encouraged him to follow saying, we shall soon get through and reach the shore, although he took pains at the same time to lead him in a round-about ways, so as to let the frost take complete effect. At length the old man reached the brink of the island where the woods are succeeded by a border of smooth sand. But he could go no farther; his legs became stiff and refused motion, he found himself fixed to the spot. But he still kept stretching out his arms and swinging his body to and fro. Every moment he found the numbness creeping higher. He felt his legs growing downward like roots; the feathers on his head turned to leaves; and in a few seconds he stood a tall and stiff sycamore, leaning towards the water.

Panigwun leaped into the canoe, and pronounced the charm, was soon transported to the island, where he related his victory to the daughters. They applauded the deed, agreed to put on mortal shapes, became wives to the two young men, and forever quit the enchanted island. And passing immediately over to the mainland, they lived lives of happiness and peace.

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