The Algonquin legends of New England include the folklore and myths of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Wabanaki, and Penobscot tribes, as well as Cree and others.
Characters of the Algonquin legends:
Glooskap (also spelled Nanabosho, Glooskabe, Gluskabe, Wisakedjak, Nanabozho, Wenaboozhoo, Nanabush, Manabush, Gluskabe, Wisaka, and several other ways) – A giant, also known as a transformer, the principal folk hero of Algonquin legends. He is featured in about two thirds of their legends. His name literally means Liar, because it is said that when he left earth he promised to return but has never done so.Manabozho is the hero’s name in the Anishinabe tribes, Glooscap is his name among the Wabanaki tribes, and Wisaka/Wisakejak are his names among the Cree and Central Algonquian tribes.
There are a few cultural differences between the three heroes (for example, Nanabosho is associated with rabbits while the other two are not; Glooscap and Nanabosho were raised by important grandmother figures, while Wisakedjak is usually described as a loner.) However, they are generally very similar figures, and many of the same stories are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.
Nanabosho, Glooscap, and Wisakejak all play the role of trickster in some Algonquian stories, but are more important as teachers and benefactors of humans. Even their silliest escapades are seen as teaching the people how to behave. Unlike tricksters in some tribes, Algonquian culture heroes do not model evil or highly socially inappropriate behavior.
They are not necessarily taken seriously at all times, but are nonetheless beloved and respected figures. Pronunciations vary widely from tribe to tribe. In Minnesota Ojibwe, Wenaboozhoo is pronounced way-nah-boo-zhoo; in Mi’kmaq, Glooscap is pronounced gloo-scopp, and in Plains Cree, Wisakejak is pronounced wiss-ah-kay-jock.
Gitche Manitou – This name and its many linguistic variants mean “Great Spirit,” and is used to refer to the Creator (God) in the Algonquian tribes. Gitche-Manitou is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is rarely personified in Algonquian folklore. The name is pronounced similar to gih-chee muh-nih-doo in Ojibwe, but varies widely from tribe to tribe.
Chipiapoos or Moqwaio: Manabozho’s brother, who was killed by evil water spirits and became the ruler of the land of the dead. He is sometimes associated with wolves. His Potawatomi name is pronounced similar to chee-bee-ah-boose, and his Menominee name is pronounced similar to muh-hwow.
Horned Serpent (Mishiginebig, Kichiginebig, etc): An underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. Its name literally means Great Serpent, and it is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.
Nokomis – The wise old grandmother of Nanabosho (and sometimes Glooscap), who raised the hero.
Thunderbird (Animikii, Binesi, and Jigwe): Thunderbird, a giant mythological bird common to the northern and western tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings. Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans, and were treated with reverence by Algonquian people.
Water Panther (Mishibizhiw, Nampeshiu) – A powerful mythological creature of Algonquian Indian stories, something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown.
Windigo or Chenoo – An evil man-eating spirit. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Algonquian people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Windigo as punishment.
Pukwudgies (Bagwajinini): Mythological little people of the forests. Their nature varies considerably in the folklore of different tribes. In Anishinabe folklore, pukwudgies are mischievious but generally good-natured beings.
In the Wabanaki tribes, pukwudgies are dangerous and must be treated with caution and respect. In the Wampanoag tribe, pukwudgies are unruly gremlins who can be malicious and deadly. Their name means “wild man” and is pronounced similar to buh-gwuh-jih-nih-nee in Ojibwe.
Wintermaker (also known as Biboon): The spirit of the North Wind, who brings winter to the land.
In the Old Times, there once lived a boy called Sigo, whose father had died when he was a baby. Sigo was too young to hunt and provide food for the wigwam, so his mother was obliged to take another husband, a jealous spiteful man who soon came to dislike his small stepson, for he thought the mother cared more for the child than for himself. He thought of a plan to be rid of the boy.
“Wife,” said he, “it is time the boy learned something of the forest. I will take him with me today, hunting.”
“Oh no!” cried his wife. “Sigo is far too young!”
But the husband snatched the boy and took him into the forest, while the mother wept, for she knew her husband’s jealous heart.
The stepfather knew of a cave deep in the forest, a deep cave that led into a rocky hill. To this cave, he led his stepson and told him to go inside and hunt for the tracks of rabbit. The boy hung back.
“It is dark in there. I am afraid.”
“Afraid!” scoffed the man. “A fine hunter you’ll make,” and he pushed the boy roughly into the cave. “Stay in there until I tell you to come out.”
Then the stepfather took a pole and thrust it under a huge boulder so that it tumbled over and covered the mouth of the cave completely. He knew well there was no other opening. The boy was shut in for good and would soon die of starvation.
The stepfather left the place, intending to tell the boy’s mother that her son had been disobedient, had run off and got lost, and he had been unable to find him. He would not return home at once. He would let time pass, as if he had been looking for the boy. Another idea occurred to him. He would spend the time on Blomidon’s beach and collect some of Glooscap’s purple stones to take as a peace offering to his wife. She might suspect, but nothing could be proved, and nobody would ever know what had happened.
Nobody? There was one who knew already. Glooscap the Great Chief was well aware of what had happened and he was angry, very angry. He struck his great spear into the red stone of Blomidon and the clip split. Earth and stones tumbled down, down, down to the beach, burying the wicked stepfather and killing him instantly.
Then Glooscap called upon a faithful servant, Porcupine, and told him what he was to do.
In the dark cave in the hillside, Sigo cried out his loneliness and fear. He was only six after all, and he wanted his mother. Suddenly he heard a voice.
“Sigo! Come this way.”
He saw two glowing eyes and went towards them, trembling. The eyes grew bigger and brighter and at last he could see they belonged to an old porcupine.
“Don’t cry any more, my son,” said Porcupine. “I am here to help you,” and the boy was afraid no longer. He watched as Porcupine went to the cave entrance and tried to push away the stone, but the stone was too heavy. Porcupine put his lips to the crack of light between boulder and hill side and called out:
“Friends of Glooscap! Come around, all of you!”
The animals and birds heard him and came–Wolf, Raccoon, Caribou, Turtle, Possum, Rabbit, and Squirrel, and birds of all kinds from Turkey to Hummingbird.
“A boy has been left here to die,” called the old Porcupine from inside the cave. “I am not strong enough to move the rock. Help us or we are lost.”
The animals called back that they would try. First Raccoon marched up and tried to wrap his arms around the stone, but they were much too short. Then Fox came and bit and scratched at the boulder, but he only made his lips bleed. Then Caribou stepped up and, thrusting her long antlers into the crack, she tried to pry the stone loose, but only broke off one of her antlers. It was no use. In the end, all gave up. They could not move the stone.
“Kwah-ee,” a new voice spoke. “What is going on?” They turned and saw Mooinskw, which means she-bear, who had come quietly out of the woods. Some of the smaller animals were frightened and hid, but the others told Mooinskw what had happened. She promptly embraced the boulder in the cave’s mouth and heaved with all her great strength. With a rumble and a crash, the stone rolled over. Then out came Sigo and Porcupine, joyfully.
Porcupine thanked the animals for their help and said, “Now I must find someone to take care of this boy and bring him up. My food is not the best for him. Perhaps there is someone here whose diet will suit him better. The boy is hungry–who will bring him food ?”
All scattered at once in search of food. Robin was the first to return, and he laid down worms before the boy, but Sigo could not eat them. Beaver came next, with bark, but the boy shook his head. Others brought seeds and insects, but Sigo, hungry as he was, could not touch any of them, At last came Mooinskw and held out a flat cake made of blue berries. The boy seized it eagerly and ate.
“Oh, how good it is,” he cried. And Porcupine nodded wisely.
“From now on,” he said, “Mooinskw will be this boy’s foster mother.”
So Sigo went to live with the bears. Besides the mother bear, there were two boy cubs and a girl cub. All were pleased to have a new brother and they soon taught Sigo all their tricks and all the secrets of thee forest, and Sigo was happy with his new-found family. Gradually, he forgot his old life. Even the face of his mother grew dim in memory and, walking often on all fours as the bears did, he almost began to think he was a bear.
One spring when Sigo was ten, the bears went fishing for smelts. Mooinskw walked into the water, seated herself on her haunches and commenced seizing the smelts and tossing them out on the bank to the children. All were enjoying themselves greatly when suddenly Mooinskw plunged to the shore, crying, “Come children, hurry!” She had caught the scent of man. “Run for your lives!”
As they ran, she stayed behind them, guarding them, until at last they were safe at home.
“What animal was that, Mother?” asked Sigo.
“That was a hunter,” said his foster-mother, “a human like yourself, who kills bears for food.” And she warned them all to be very watchful from now on. “You must always run from the sight or scent of a hunter.”
Not long afterwards, the bear family went with other bear families to pick blueberries for the winter. The small ones soon tired of picking and the oldest cub had a sudden mischievous thought.
“Chase me towards the crowd,” he told Sigo, “just as men do when they hunt bears. The others will be frightened and run away. Then we can have all the berries for ourselves.”
So Sigo began to chase his brothers towards the other bears, whooping loudly, and the bears at once scattered in all directions. All, that is, except the mother bear who recognized the voice of her adopted son.
“Offspring of Lox!” she cried. “What mischief are you up to now?” And she rounded up the children and spanked them soundly, Sigo too.
So the sun crossed the sky each day and the days grew shorter. At last the mother bear led her family to their winter quarters in a large hollow tree. For half the winter they were happy and safe, with plenty of blueberry cakes to keep them from being hungry. Then, one sad day, the hunters found the tree.
Seeing the scratches on its trunk, they guessed that bears were inside, and they prepared to smoke them out into the open.
Mooinskw knew well enough what was about to happen and that not all would escape.
“I must go out first,” she said, “and attract the man’s attention, while you two cubs jump out and run away. Then you, Sigo, show yourself and plead for your little sister. Perhaps they will spare her for your sake.”
And thus it happened, just as the brave and loving mother bear had said. As soon as she climbed down from the tree, the Indians shot her dead, but the two male cubs had time to escape. Then Sigo rushed out, crying:
“I am a human, like you. Spare the she-cub, my adopted sister.”
The amazed Indians put down their arrows and spears and, when they had heard Sigo’s story, they gladly spared the little she- bear and were sorry they had killed Mooinskw who had been so good to an Indian child.
Sigo wept over the body of his foster mother and made a solemn vow.
“I shall be called Mooin, the bear’s son, from this day forwards. And when I am grown, and a hunter, never will I kill a mother bear, or bear children!”
And Mooin never did.
With his foster sister, he returned to his old village, to the great joy of his Indian mother, who cared tenderly for the she- cub until she was old enough to care for herself.
And ever since then, when Indians see smoke rising from a hollow tree, they know a mother bear is in there cooking food for her children, and they leave that tree alone.