Myths & Legends


Ojibwe: Journey to the Island of Souls

Chippewa (also known as Southwestern Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Ojibway, or Ojibwemowin) is an Algonquian language spoken from upper Michigan westward to North Dakota in the United States. It represents the southern component of the Ojibwe language.

What follows is Chippewa legend of a premature visit to the world of the spirits, with strong Christian tones.
— Orly

Once upon a time there lived in the nation of the Chippeways a most beautiful maiden, the flower of the wilderness, the delight and wonder of all who saw her. She was called the Rock-rose, and was beloved by a youthful hunter, whose advances gained her affection. No one was like the brave Outalissa in her eyes: his deeds were the greatest, his skill was the most wonderful. It was not permitted them, however, to become the inhabitants of one lodge. Death came to the flower of the Chippeways. In the morning of her days she died, and her body was laid in the dust with the customary rites of burial. All mourned for her, but Outalissa was a changed man. No more did he find delight in the chase or on the war-path. He grew sad, shunned the society of his brethren. He stood motionless as a tree in the hour of calm, as the wave that is frozen up by the breath of the cold wind.

Joy came no more to him. He told his discontent in the ears of his people, and spoke of his determination to seek his beloved maiden. She had but removed, he said, as the birds fly away at the approach of winter, and it required but due diligence on his part to find her. Having prepared himself, as a hunter makes ready for a long journey, he armed himself with his war-spear and bow and arrow, and set out to the Land of Souls.

Directed by the old tradition of his fathers, he travelled south to reach that region, leaving behind him the great star. As he moved onwards, he found a more pleasant region succeeding to that in which he had lived. Daily, hourly, he remarked the change. The ice grew thinner, the air warmer, the trees taller. Birds, such as he had never seen before, sang in the bushes, and fowl of many kinds were pluming themselves in the warm sun on the shores of the lake. The gay woodpecker was tapping the hollow beech, the swallow and the martin were skimming along the level of the green vales. He heard no more the cracking of branches beneath the weight of icicles and snow, he saw no more the spirits of departed men dancing wild dances on the skirts of the northern clouds, and the farther he travelled the milder grew the skies, the longer was the period of the sun’s stay upon the earth, and the softer, though less brilliant, the light of the moon.

Noting these changes as he went with a joyful heart, for they were indications of his near approach to the land of joy and delight, he came at length to a cabin situated on the brow of a steep hill in the middle of a narrow road. At the door of this cabin stood a man of a most ancient and venerable appearance. He was bent nearly double with age. His locks were white as snow. His eyes were sunk very far into his head, and the flesh was wasted from his bones, till they were like trees from which the bark has been peeled. He was clothed in a robe of white goat’s skin, and a long staff supported his tottering limbs whithersoever he walked.

The Chippeway began to tell him who he was, and why he had come thither, but the aged man stopped him, telling him he knew upon what errand he was bent.

“A short while before,” said he, “there passed the soul of a tender and lovely maiden, well-known to the son of the Red Elk, on her way to the beautiful island. She was fatigued with her long journey, and rested a while in this cabin. She told me the story of your love, and was persuaded that you would attempt to follow her to the Lake of Spirits.”

The old man, further, told Outalissa that if he made speed he might hope to overtake the maiden on the way. Before, however, he resumed his journey he must leave behind him his body, his spear, bow, and arrows, which the old man promised to keep for him should he return. The Chippeway left his body and arms behind him, and under the direction of the old man entered upon the road to the Blissful Island. He had travelled but a couple of bowshots when it met his view, even more beautiful than his fathers had painted it.

He stood upon the brow of a hill which sloped gently down to the water of a lake which stretched as far as eye could see. Upon its banks were groves of beautiful trees of all kinds, and many canoes were to be seen gliding over its water. Afar, in the centre of the lake, lay the beautiful island appointed for the residence of the good. He walked down to the shore and entered a canoe which stood ready for him, made of a shining white stone. Seizing the paddle, he pushed off from the shore and commenced to make his way to the island. As he did so, he came to a canoe like his own, in which he found her whom he was in pursuit of. She recognised him, and the two canoes glided side by side over the water. Then Outalissa knew that he was on the Water of Judgment, the great water over which every soul must pass to reach the beautiful island, or in which it must sink to meet the punishment of the wicked. The two lovers glided on in fear, for the water seemed at times ready to swallow them, and around them they could see many canoes, which held those whose lives had been wicked, going down. The Master of Life had, however, decreed that they should pass in safety, and they reached the shores of the beautiful island, on which they landed full of joy.

It is impossible to tell the delights with which they found it filled. Mild and soft winds, clear and sweet waters, cool and refreshing shades, perpetual verdure, inexhaustible fertility, met them on all sides. Gladly would the son of the Red Elk have remained for ever with his beloved in the happy island, but the words of the Master of Life came to him in the pauses of the breeze, saying—

“Go back to thy own land, hunter. Your time has not yet come. You have not yet performed the work I have for you to do, nor can you yet enjoy those pleasures which belong to them who have performed their allotted task on earth. Go back, then. In time thou shalt rejoin her, the love of whom has brought thee hither.”



Source:  Anonymous

Culture:  Chippewa

Language:  Algonquin


Related Reading

Ojibwe: The Undying Head

Ojibwe: Two Ghosts