Myths & Legends


Ojibwe: Nanabozho in the Fish's Stomach

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.
— Orly

One day Manabozho said to his grandmother—

“Noko, get cedar bark and make me a line whilst I make a canoe.”

When all was ready he went out to the middle of the lake a-fishing.

“Me-she-nah-ma-gwai (king-fish),” said he, letting down his line, “take hold of my bait.”

He kept repeating these words some time; at last the king-fish said—

“What a trouble Manabozho is! Here, trout, take hold of his line.”

The trout did as he was bid, and Manabozho drew up his line, the trout’s weight being so great that the canoe was nearly overturned. Till he saw the trout Manabozho kept crying out—

“Wha-ee-he! wha-ee-he!”

As soon as he saw him he said—

“Why did you take hold of my hook? Esa, esa! shame, shame! you ugly fish.”

The trout, being thus rebuked, let go.

Manabozho let down his line again into the water, saying—

“King-fish, take hold of my line.”

“What a trouble Manabozho is!” cried the king-fish. “Sun-fish, take hold of his line.”

The sun-fish did as he was bid, and Manabozho drew him up, crying as he did so—

“Wha-ee-he! wha-ee-he!” while the canoe turned in swift circles.

When he saw the sun-fish, he cried—

“Esa, esa! you odious fish! why did you dirty my hook by taking it in your mouth? Let go, I say, let go.”

The sun-fish did as he was bid, and on his return to the bottom of the lake told the king-fish what Manabozho had said. Just then the bait was let down again near to the king, and Manabozho was heard crying out—

“Me-she-nah-ma-gwai, take hold of my hook.”

The king-fish did so, and allowed himself to be dragged to the surface, which he had no sooner reached than he swallowed Manabozho and his canoe at one gulp. When Manabozho came to himself he found he was in his canoe in the fish’s stomach. He now began to think how he should escape. Looking about him, he saw his war-club in his canoe, and with it he immediately struck the heart of the fish. Then he felt as though the fish was moving with great velocity. The king-fish observed to his friends—

“I feel very unwell for having swallowed that nasty fellow Manabozho.”

At that moment he received another more severe blow on the heart. Manabozho thought, “If I am thrown up in the middle of the lake I shall be drowned, so I must prevent it.” So he drew his canoe and placed it across the fish’s throat, and just as he had finished doing this the king-fish tried to cast him out.

Manabozho now found that he had a companion with him. This was a squirrel that had been in his canoe. The squirrel helped him to place the canoe in the proper position, and Manabozho, being grateful to it, said—

“For the future you shall be called Ajidanneo (animal tail).”

Then he recommenced his attack on the king-fish’s heart, and by repeated blows he at last succeeded in killing him. He could tell that he had effected this by the stoppage of the fish’s motion, and he could also hear the body beating against the shore. Manabozho waited a day to see what would happen. Then he heard birds scratching on the body, and all at once the rays of light broke in. He could now see the heads of the gulls, which were looking in at the opening they had made.

“Oh!” cried Manabozho, “my younger brothers, make the opening larger, so that I can get out.” The gulls then told one another that Manabozho was inside the fish, and, setting to work at once to enlarge the hole, they, in a short time, set him free. After he got out Manabozho said to the gulls—

“For the future you shall be called Kayoshk (noble scratchers), for your kindness to me.”


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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