Myths & Legends


Ojibwe: A Legend of Nanabozho

In Anishinaabe aadizookaan (traditional storytelling), particularly among the Ojibwe, Nanabozho, also known as Nanabush and Manabozho, is a spirit who figures prominently in tall tales including the story of the world’s creation.

Several Nanabozho are featured on this site.
— Orly

Manabozho made the land. The occasion of his doing so was this.

One day he went out hunting with two wolves. After the first day’s hunt one of the wolves left him and went to the left, but the other continuing with Manabozho he adopted him for his son. The lakes were in those days peopled by spirits with whom Manabozho and his son went to war. They destroyed all the spirits in one lake, and then went on hunting. They were not, however, very successful, for every deer the wolf chased fled to another of the lakes and escaped from them. It chanced that one day Manabozho started a deer, and the wolf gave chase. The animal fled to the lake, which was covered with ice, and the wolf pursued it. At the moment when the wolf had come up to the prey the ice broke, and both fell in, when the spirits, catching them, at once devoured them.

Manabozho went up and down the lake-shore weeping and lamenting. While he was thus distressed he heard a voice proceeding from the depths of the lake.

“Manabozho,” cried the voice, “why do you weep?”

Manabozho answered—

“Have I not cause to do so? I have lost my son, who has sunk in the waters of the lake.”

“You will never see him more,” replied the voice; “the spirits have eaten him.”

Then Manabozho wept the more when he heard this sad news.

“Would,” said he, “I might meet those who have thus cruelly treated me in eating my son. They should feel the power of Manabozho, who would be revenged.”

The voice informed him that he might meet the spirits by repairing to a certain place, to which the spirits would come to sun themselves. Manabozho went there accordingly, and, concealing himself, saw the spirits, who appeared in all manner of forms, as snakes, bears, and other things. Manabozho, however, did not escape the notice of one of the two chiefs of the spirits, and one of the band who wore the shape of a very large snake was sent by them to examine what the strange object was.

Manabozho saw the spirit coming, and assumed the appearance of a stump. The snake coming up wrapped itself around the trunk and squeezed it with all its strength, so that Manabozho was on the point of crying out when the snake uncoiled itself. The relief was, however, only for a moment. Again the snake wound itself around him and gave him this time even a more severe hug than before. Manabozho restrained himself and did not suffer a cry to escape him, and the snake, now satisfied that the stump was what it appeared to be, glided off to its companions. The chiefs of the spirits were not, however, satisfied, so they sent a bear to try what he could make of the stump. The bear came up to Manabozho and hugged, and bit, and clawed him till he could hardly forbear screaming with the pain it caused him. The thought of his son and of the vengeance he wished to take on the spirits, however, restrained him, and the bear at last retreated to its fellows.

“It is nothing,” it said; “it is really a stump.”

Then the spirits were reassured, and, having sunned themselves, lay down and went to sleep. Seeing this, Manabozho assumed his natural shape, and stealing upon them with his bow and arrows, slew the chiefs of the spirits. In doing this he awoke the others, who, seeing their chiefs dead, turned upon Manabozho, who fled. Then the spirits pursued him in the shape of a vast flood of water. Hearing it behind him the fugitive ran as fast as he could to the hills, but each one became gradually submerged, so that Manabozho was at last driven to the top of the highest mountain. Here the waters still surrounding him and gathering in height, Manabozho climbed the highest pine-tree he could find. The waters still rose. Then Manabozho prayed that the tree would grow, and it did so. Still the waters rose. Manabozho prayed again that the tree would grow, and it did so, but not so much as before. Still the waters rose, and Manabozho was up to his chin in the flood, when he prayed again, and the tree grew, but less than on either of the former occasions. Manabozho looked round on the waters, and saw many animals swimming about seeking land. Amongst them he saw a beaver, an otter, and a musk-rat. Then he cried to them, saying—

“My brothers, come to me. We must have some earth, or we shall all die.”

So they came to him and consulted as to what had best be done, and it was agreed that they should dive down and see if they could not bring up some of the earth from below.

The beaver dived first, but was drowned before he reached the bottom. Then the otter went. He came within sight of the earth, but then his senses failed him before he could get a bite of it. The musk-rat followed. He sank to the bottom, and bit the earth. Then he lost his senses and came floating up to the top of the water. Manabozho awaited the reappearance of the three, and as they came up to the surface he drew them to him. He examined their claws, but found nothing. Then he looked in their mouths and found the beaver’s and the otter’s empty. In the musk-rat’s, however, he found a little earth. This Manabozho took in his hands and rubbed till it was a fine dust. Then he dried it in the sun, and, when it was quite light, he blew it all round him over the water, and the dry land appeared.

Thus Manabozho made the land.


Source:  Anonymous

Culture:  Ojibwe

Language:  Ojibwe (Ojibwa, Ojibway), also known as Chippewa or Otchipwe, is an Indigenous language of North America of the Algonquian language family.


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