johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Liver-Colored Giants and Magicians

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From the blog at https://johnwood1946.wordpress.com

This is another in a series of occasional Mi’kmaq stories from Legends of the Micmacs by Silas T. Rand, Wellesey Philological Publications, New York, 1894. This edition presents a story of liver-colored giants and magicians. I like this story because it seems to relate to contact with Europeans, and the setting may be in the area of Saint John, N.B.

There is a short introduction to these Mi’kmaq stories in the first blog posting entitled Robbery and Murder Revenged.  

008 Fishing scene

 Fishing with Mi’kmaq guides and canoes, Mirimichi River, 1875-85 – N.B. Museum

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The Liver-Colored Giants and Magicians

[The following was related to me by Nancy Jeddore. She professed to have heard it from some relative of hers many years ago. Were it necessary to locate it, I should say that it occurred at the mouth of the St. John River, New Brunswick. There is fog enough there, certainly, to meet the case; the sea opens to the southwest, and the Chenook would have a chance to come on from the northern regions. However, it is not necessary to fix the site; but it may be proper to inquire whether the extravagant absurdities of these fictions may not have had a more solid basis. For instance, vessels with sweeps would strike the mind of a poor savage (sic.) as an immense canoe, and it would be easy to magnify the men who could paddle such immense canoes into giants and wizards. Then, what would they make of the sound of fire-arms, but a war-whoop so loud that it would kill those who heard it? In one of the tales these formidable Northmen with their battle-cry escape by hiding in a deep pit; and it would certainly seem natural that such a place would be a safer shelter from firearms than the top of a hill. The Indians are an observant people; they had perceived that those who stood high were cut down by the noise that killed, while those low down in a hollow or hole escaped; from this they drew their own inferences. When we remember how these things must have appeared to the savages (sic.) at first, and how they must have been magnified in relating, then we can easily account for the additions made afterwards, and the distorted, extravagant, and unnatural representation which these ahtookwŏkŭn now exhibit.]

There were once a man and a woman living quite by themselves near the sea-coast; they had a large family, and were very poor. They were in the habit of going away in their canoe in quest of game. On one occasion, when they were some distance from home, a thick fog shut in around them, and they lost their way. They paddled on a long time, however, but could not get through the fog nor see the land. They felt very anxious and sad, and thought much about their children at home, most of whom were very small.

After a while they discern something looming up in the fog; to their astonishment, it proves to be an immense canoe; and soon after they see two others. Each canoe contains eight men, and each man has a paddle. Our wanderers are hailed, and the leader of the fleet asks them the usual question: Uchkeen (meaning no hostile intention), tahmce wějvāŏk? (“My younger brother, whence come you?”) He replies, “We are lost in the fog, and our poor children are left alone at home.” This was said in a somewhat subdued and sorrowful tone of voice, and would move the hearts of worse fellows than these proved to be. The other replies: “Come in with us, and we will convey you to our camp, where you will be kindly treated and cared for. I can guarantee you a kind reception, as my own father is the chief; so you have nothing to fear.” This invitation allays their alarm, and they accept the proffered hospitality. Closing up on each side of the little craft, two men from each of the two canoes clap their paddles under the stern and prow, and easily lift the tiny thing, with its two Lilliputian occupants, into the canoe of the young chief. Presently they emerge from the fog and reach the shore, when lo! there appear three immense wigwams, proportionate to the size of the men and canoes, standing in a row on the bank; the chief, a man of large stature, is coming down to meet them.

“Halloo!” says he, “whom have you there, my son? Where did you pick up that little brother?” Noo (“My Father”), he replies, “I found him lost in the fog.” “All right,” adds the old man; “bring him home to the lodge.” So two men take hold of the canoe, one at each end, while the two people remain sitting in it, and carrying it into the lodge of the chief, place it away under the caves. The chief addresses them kindly, and directs that some food be prepared for them. He further informs them that his name is Ooscoon (Liver), and that the man who brought them home is his son.

Soon after this the chief sends off his men on a hunting expedition. When they return, our adventurers are able to form some definite notion of the amazing size and strength of their new acquaintances. They come in with a string of caribou fastened round their loins, in their belts, as a Micmac would carry a string of rabbits, and carrying them apparently with the same case. They have also beavers and otters strung in with the caribou. These excursions were often repeated.

One day the chief informed his people and the two strangers that there was to be war, — that in three days from that time they would be attacked, for a Chěnoo was approaching. He therefore directs his men to get ready and go out to meet him, and destroy him before he comes to the village.

So they choose out four men, —the two sons of the chief, and two others; these are dispatched on the morning of the third day to meet and cut off the formidable Chěnoo. When it is nearly midday, the sakumow tells the Micmac and his wife that they must stop their ears and roll themselves up in the skins, to prevent being killed by the warwhoop of the formidable Chěnoo. He instructs them how to do it; they must melt a quantity of tallow, and not only fill their ears but also completely cover the sides of their heads. This is done, and they roll themselves up in the blankets made of dressed skins, and await the onset. They are told that he will whoop three times. Presently they hear the terrible shout; and tightly as their ears are closed, they scarcely survive the concussion. But it sounds much fainter the second time; the third time it is so faint that sooel moo noodoo-ahdigool (they scarcely hear him at all). The chiefs now tell them to get up; for the danger is all over, and the enemy is killed.

Soon after this the warriors return, and report that they met, encountered, and destroyed the enemy, but that they had a hard fight.

They are now informed that in three days more their military services will be again required; for a huge giant a cannibal, – a kookwěs, – is coming to attack them. So at the time appointed, the warriors again go forth to meet the foe; and our friends of the smaller type are again directed to stop up their ears with tallow, and double the blankets made of dressed skins around their heads, in order to break and deaden the thunderings of his loud-sounding lungs and as on the former occasion. Despite all their precautions to deaden the sound, it almost kills them; but it grows fainter and fainter at every repetition, until the third time it is scarcely heard at all. They are now released from their fears and from the tallow cakes. When the warriors return they bring marks of a fearful struggle in which they have been engaged. They are covered with blood and quite large trees have been torn up by the roots and run through their legs, where they are still sticking, as they have not taken the time or trouble to extract them before reaching home; but as soon as they find leisure to sit down, they pull them out just as ordinary mortals would do with thistles and small splinters. They inform the chief that the foe was a very formidable one, that they had a dreadful battle, and came near being overpowered. One of the sons is so much exhausted that he faints and falls dead on reaching the door. But the old chief goes out to him, and asks him what he is doing there; he bids him rise. So he rises again, restored to life by the wonderful power of the old chief, and says he is faint and hungry; as soon as he is fed and rested, he is as well as ever.

The old chief inquires of the two strangers if they are tired of remaining there with him. They say they are not, but that they can not help feeling anxious about their children at home, and wish very much to return. “Tomorrow,” says he, “I will send you home.” So the next morning their canoe is conveyed down to the shore, packed full of meat and furs of the choicest quality, and of all the different kinds of caribou, beaver, and otter; they are directed to tčbalidǐkw (get in), and then a small dog is called and put in charge of the canoe. The master says to them, “This dog will conduct you safely home; each of you must take a paddle and guide the canoe in the direction in which he sits looking.” He then says to the dog, “Do you take good care of these people, and conduct them home.” He then says to the Micmac, “You will be reminded of me again in seven years from this time.” Tokoo boosijǐk (Then off they go).

The man takes his seat in the stern, and the woman in the prow, and the dog sits up in the middle of the canoe; he keeps his ears and nose pointing in the direction in which they are to go. They glide so rapidly over the smooth surface of the water that they are soon in sight of their own home. The children see them coming, and are greatly rejoiced. The dog seems to share their joy; he runs up to the children and wags his tail in great glee. The man now thinks that he can keep the dog, but he finds himself mistaken. Such a faithful servant, in whom so much confidence has been reposed, will not desert his owner; and the first thing they know, he is gone. He has no need of a canoe, nor does he go round by land; he goes back as he came, and scuds off upon the full jump over the surface of the water, as though it were ice.

The old man and his wife now continue to reside in the same place. They have lost nothing, but gained much, by this trip to the land of the Livers.

The man has become a much more efficient hunter by this means, and has now no difficulty in providing fir his family. Time passes on, and he is so occupied with other affairs that he has nearly forgotten being lost in the fog; but the seven years are now up, and he has several singular dreams, which bring all back to his remembrance, and lead him to imagine that something important is going to happen to him. Among other things, he dreamed one night that he saw, approaching from the southwest, a whale, which came close up to the shore where their wigwam was situated, and there began to sing so charmingly that he was entranced beyond measure.

He tells his wife the dream in the morning, and asks her opinion of it. He now remembers that when the Liver chief told him that he would think of him in seven years, he said that he would be looking towards the southwest. He says to his wife, “It must be that I am about to be transformed into a imgŭmoowesoo or a booöin.” She inquires what a imgŭmoowesoo is: “Is he a spirit, a manitoo, good or bad?” He replies that he does not know, but he thinks that it is not an evil spirit, but a human being.

That day they do see a huge fish coming in from the southwest; but it is a shark, not a whale. They see his big back fin rising out of the water, and he seems to be chasing the smaller fish. He comes close to the shore, but he does not sing; and after a while he retires, going back the way he came.

Shortly after the visit from the shark, which is looked upon as an evil omen, the little dog that had guided them home comes to see them again. The children and parents are all delighted to see the dog again, and he seems to be as much pleased as they are; he runs up to them, wags his tail, and all but speaks. [It is a marvel that he did not also do this; surely, it requires no more miraculous power than to gallop off over the water.] But dogs can understand what is said to them; and so before his departure the old man tells him: “I will make you a visit in three years from this time, and will look to the southwest.” The dog licks the hands, eyes, and ears of the old man, and then goes back home again, straight over the water.

After three years the old man launches his canoe and goes in quest of Liverland, which he finds without difficulty. He finds the wigwams standing there as before. The chief is still alive, but his sons are dead; they were killed three years ago, and the visit of the shark and the dog were both connected with the event.

The chief is pleased to see his old friend; he tells him of his troubles, and speaks of his own approaching death, when he hopes to go away to his own kingdom. He is now old, and does not know what day he may be called away. He wishes the Micmac visitor to take his sons’ clothes and wear them; and with the clothes he will receive all the wonderful powers which his sons had possessed. “Take them home with you,” he says; “and when you wear them, think of me.”

So the man takes the clothes and returns home. There he puts them on, but they are a “world too wide” for him; nevertheless, to his astonishment, as soon as he has arrayed himself in these magical robes, he fills them completely. He is as large as the giants of that giant-land; his knowledge and wisdom are increased in proportion to his physical size and strength. When he puts off these clothes, he is as small and weak as ever.

[Here the story ends very abruptly. There should have been something more. The very idea of the old chief of Liverland placing the robes of his dead sons upon this man and making him what his sons had been, implies that he had adopted him as his heir and successor. I strongly suspect that this addition belonged to the original tale, and that It has been most stupidly forgotten. Of course he went back to the land where the big men were, and was installed in office even before the death of the old chief.]

[A note by johnwood1946: Maybe the storyteller regarded the rest of the story to be so obvious that it needn’t be spelled out.]

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Written by johnwood1946

November 10, 2013 at 10:37 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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