Myths & Legends



Iroquois: The Tempest

A tale of opportunity lost.

This fable is cited in Algic Researches, Comprising of Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians, First Series In Two Volumes, Vol. I, Indian Tales and Legends, edited by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.
— Orly

Peeta Kay

There once lived a woman called Monedo Kway on the sand mountains called "the Sleeping Bear" of Lake Michigan, who had a daughter as beautiful as she was modest and discreet. Everybody spoke of the beauty of this daughter. She was so handsome that her mother feared she would be carried off, and to prevent it she put her in a box on the lake, which was tied by a long string to a stake on the shore. Every morning the mother pulled the box ashore, and combed her daughter's long, shining hair, gave her food, and then put her out again on the lake.

One day a handsome young man chanced to come to the spot at the moment she was receiving her morning's attentions from her mother. He was struck with her beauty, and immediately went home and told his feelings to his uncle, who was a great chief and a powerful magician. "My nephew," replied the old man, "go to the mother's lodge, and sit down in a modest manner, without saying a word. You need not ask her the question. But whatever you think she will understand, and what she thinks in answer you will also understand." The young man did so. He sat down, with his head dropped in a thoughtful manner, without uttering a word. He then thought, "I wish she would give me her daughter." Very soon he understood the mother's thoughts in reply. "Give you my daughter?" thought she; "you! No, indeed, my daughter shall never marry you." The young man went away and reported the result to his uncle. "Woman without good sense," said he, "who is she keeping her daughter for? Does she think she will marry the Mudjikewis? Proud heart! we will try her magic skill, and see whether she can withstand our power." The pride and haughtiness of the mother was talked of by the spirits living on that part of the lake. They met together and determined to exert their power in humbling her. For this purpose they resolved to raise a great storm on the lake. The water began to toss and roar, and the tempest became so severe, that the string broke, and the box floated off through the straits down Lake Huron, and struck against the sandy shores at its outlet. The place where it struck was near the lodge of a superannuated old spirit called Ishkwon Daimeka, or the keeper of the gate of the lakes. He opened the box and let out the beautiful daughter, took her into his lodge, and married her.

When the mother found that her daughter had been blown off by the storm, she raised very loud cries and lamented exceedingly. This she continued to do for a long time, and would not be comforted. At length, after two or three years, the spirits had pity on her, and determined to raise another storm and bring her back. It was even a greater storm than the first; and when it began to wash away the ground and encroach on the lodge of Ishkwon Daimeka, she leaped into the box, and the waves carried her back to the very spot of her mother's lodge on the shore. Monedo Equa was overjoyed; but when she opened the box, she found that her daughter's beauty had almost all departed. However, she loved her still because she was her daughter, and now thought of the young man who had made her the offer of marriage. She sent a formal message to him, but he had altered his mind, for he knew that she had been the wife of another. "Imarry your daughter?" said he; "your daughter! No, indeed! I shall never marry her."

The storm that brought her back was so strong and powerful, that it tore away a large part of the shore of the lake, and swept off Ishkwon Daimeka's lodge, the fragments of which, lodging in the straits, formed those beautiful islands which are scattered in the St. Clair and Detroit rivers. The old man himself was drowned, and his bones are buried under them. They heard him singing as he was driven off on a portion of his lodge; some fragments of his words are still repeated, which show what his thoughts were in the midst of his overthrow.


The waves, the waves, the angry waves,
Have borne my bless'd away,
And cast me forth all reft and lone,
With wrecks of wood and clay.

My power is gone, my guardian dead,
My loved, my cherish'd lost,
And every dream of pleasure fled,
And every bright hope cross'd.

I go—I go, a floating ball,
A speck of earth at best;
But with my dying breath I call
On Peeta Kway the bless'd.

Oh! was it kind in spirits high,
Who rule these waters free,
To call the vengeance of the sky,
And turn its wrath on me?

Yet shall I triumph; for the storm
That sounds my funeral knell,
Shall lands, and coasts, and islands form,
Where joy and peace shall dwell.

And every vestige of my lodge,
And all my simple store,
Shall turn to pastures green and sweet,
And many a winding shore.

There other tribes of men shall dwell,
Who serve a purer power,
And oft of me the story tell,
To while away the hour.

So shall I live, though now I'm toss'd,
A poor, dishonour'd thing,
And where one Peeta Kway was lost,
A thousand more shall spring.




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