Cree: Michabo

Daniel Garrison Brinton (May 13, 1837 – July 31, 1899) was an American archaeologist and ethnologist who made a considerable contribution to the study of native cultures particularly of the Maya. His study of native America cultural legends has a marked bias towards seeing the supernatural element as allegorical natural force figures.

The Legend of Michabo, reproduced in American Hero-Myths A Study in Native Religions of the Western Continent, has this patina of anthropomorphism as explainer. The word “myth” has been substituted with “fable”.
— Orly

Among all the Algonquin tribes whose fables have been preserved we find much is said about a certain Giant Rabbit, to whom all sorts of powers were attributed. He was the master of all animals; he was the teacher who first instructed men in the arts of fishing and hunting; he imparted to the Algonquins the mysteries of their religious rites; he taught them picture writing and the interpretation of dreams; nay, far more than that, he was the original ancestor, not only of their nation, but of the whole race of man, and, in fact, was none other than the primal Creator himself, who fashioned the earth and gave life to all that thereon is.  

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The beginning of things, according to the Ottawas and other northern Algonquian, was at a period when boundless waters covered the face of the earth. On this infinite ocean floated a raft, upon which were many species of animals, the captain and chief of whom was Michabo, the Giant Rabbit. They ardently desired land on which to live, so this mighty rabbit ordered the beaver to dive and bring him up ever so little a piece of mud. The beaver obeyed, and remained down long, even so that he came up utterly exhausted, but reported that he had not reached bottom. Then the Rabbit sent down the otter, but he also returned nearly dead and without success. Great was the disappointment of the company on the raft, for what better divers had they than the beaver and the otter?

In the midst of their distress the (female) muskrat came forward and announced her willingness to make the attempt. Her proposal was received with derision, but as poor help is better than none in an emergency, the Rabbit gave her permission, and down she dived. She too remained long, very long, a whole day and night, and they gave her up for lost. But at length she floated to the surface, unconscious, her belly up, as if dead. They hastily hauled her on the raft and examined her paws one by one. In the last one of the four they found a small speck of mud. Victory! That was all that was needed. The muskrat was soon restored, and the Giant Rabbit, exerting his creative power, moulded the little fragment of soil, and as he moulded it, it grew and grew, into an island, into a mountain, into a country, into this great earth that we all dwell upon. As it grew the Rabbit walked round and round it, to see how big it was; and the story added that he is not yet satisfied; still he continues his journey and his labor, walking forever around and around the earth and ever increasing it more and more.

The animals on the raft soon found homes on the new earth. But it had yet to be covered with forests, and men were not born. The Giant Rabbit formed the trees by shooting his arrows into the soil, which became tree trunks, and, transfixing them with other arrows, these became branches; and as for men, some said he formed them from the dead bodies of certain animals, which in time became the "totems" of the Algonkin tribes; but another and probably an older and truer story was that he married the muskrat which had been of such service to him, and from this union were born the ancestors of the various races of mankind which people the earth.

Nor did he neglect the children he had thus brought into the world of his creation. Having closely studied how the spider spreads her web to catch flies, he invented the art of knitting nets for fish, and taught it to his descendants; the pieces of native copper found along the shores of Lake Superior he took from his treasure house inside the earth, where he sometimes lives. It is he who is the Master of Life, and if he appears in a dream to a person in danger, it is a certain sign of a lucky escape. He confers fortune in the chase, and therefore the hunters invoke him, and offer him tobacco and other dainties, placing them in the clefts of rocks or on isolated boulders. Though called the Giant Rabbit, he is always referred to as a man, a giant or demigod perhaps, but distinctly as of human nature, the mighty father or elder brother of the race.

 

FINIS

 

Culture:  Cree

Language Group:  Algonquin

Ojibwe: Summer Maker

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Sioux: The Three Tests