The Micmac Indians of northeast North America are thought to have been the first native American society to encounter Europeans–the Norse VIKINGS who arrived about AD 1000. After John Cabot’s visit in 1497, European fishermen and explorers regularly visited Micmac territory, which stretched from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.
The Micmac speak an Algonquian language most closely related to CREE, but their closest political and social relations are with the ABNAKI. As expert canoeists and sea navigators, they base their economy on the resources of the sea and its inlets, supplemented by hunting and collecting of plant foods. The Micmac became the first Indians to serve as middlemen in the European fur trade with interior tribes of North America. Missionized by the French in the early 1600s, they remained steadfastly loyal to France for a full generation after the British conquest of 1760. Contemporary Micmac communities are located in much the same territory they occupied five centuries ago. In the late 1980s their population was more than 15,000.
Many native American tribes have legends in which various animals display their ways and means of obtaining food from others, sometimes using trickster methods. They return meal invitations and even attempt to provide food of a similar nature and in the manner of the previous host. Sometimes, this leads to trouble.
There were two wigwams. Otter lived in one with his grandmother, and Rabbit lived with his grandmother in the other. One day Rabbit started out and wandered over to visit Otter in his camp. When Rabbit entered Otter’s wigwam, Otter asked if he had anything to eat at home. “No,” replied Rabbit. So Otter asked his grandmother if she would cook something for Rabbit, but she told him she had nothing to cook.
So Otter went out to the pond directly in front of his camp, jumped in, and caught a nice long string of eels. Meanwhile, Rabbit was looking to see how Otter would catch his food. With Otter’s great success, Rabbit thought he could do the same.
Rabbit then invited Otter to come over to his camp the next day. His grandmother had already told him that she had nothing to cook for their meal, but asked him to go out and find something. Then Rabbit went out to the same pond where Otter had found the string of eels; but he could get nothing, not one fish, as he could not dive no matter how hard he tried.
In the meantime, his grandmother was waiting. She sent Otter out to find Rabbit, who searched and finally found him at the same pond, soaked and with nothing to show for his efforts.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
“I’m trying hard to get us some food,” he replied.
So friendly Otter jumped into the pond and again caught a string of fish, this time for Rabbit’s grandmother to cook for their dinner. Then Otter went home.
The next day, Rabbit started out to visit Woodpecker. When he reached Woodpecker’s wigwam, Rabbit found him at home with his grandmother. She got out her large pot to cook a meal, but said, “We have nothing to cook in the pot.” So Woodpecker went out front to a dry tree-trunk, from which he picked a quantity of meal. This he took to his grandmother, and she made a good dinner for them.
Rabbit had watched how Woodpecker obtained his meal, so he invited Woodpecker over to visit him. The very next day Woodpecker arrived at Rabbit’s wigwam for a visit. Rabbit asked his grandmother to hang up her pot and cook them some dinner.
“But we have nothing to cook,” she replied. So Rabbit went outside with his birch-bark vessel to fill it with meal. He tried to dig out the meal with his nose, as he had seen Woodpecker do. Soon Woodpecker came out to see what caused the delay.
Poor Rabbit was hurt, with his nose flattened out and split in the middle from trying to break into the wood. Woodpecker left to return to his own wigwam without any dinner. Ever since then, Rabbit has had to carry around his split nose.
Another day, desperate for food, Rabbit thought he would go and steal some of Otter’s eels. He got into the habit of doing this every second night. Toward spring, Otter began to wonder where his eels had gone as his barrel was getting low.
Otter thought he would keep watch and soon found Rabbit’s foot tracks, and said to himself, “For that, I am going to kill Rabbit.” Now Rabbit knew what was going on in Otter’s mind, and when Otter reached Rabbit’s camp, he fled.
Otter asked Rabbit’s grandmother, “Where has Rabbit gone?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Last night he brought home some eels, then he went away.”
“He has been stealing my eels,” said Otter. “Now, I’m going to kill him.”
So began Otter’s search for Rabbit, who guessed Otter would be trailing him. Otter began to gain on Rabbit, who picked up a small chip and asked it to become a wigwam. Immediately, the chip became a wigwam and Rabbit became an old man sitting inside.
When Otter came along and saw the wigwam, he also saw the gray- headed old man sitting inside. He pretended to be blind. Otter did not know that this was Rabbit himself. Out of pity for him, Otter gathered some firewood for the old man and asked if he had heard Rabbit passing by. “No, I have not heard any one today.” So Otter continued his search.
Later, Rabbit left his wigwam and started out on another road. Otter could not pick up Rabbit’s trail, so he returned to the wigwam. Not only was it empty, but gone entirely. Only a chip remained in its place.
Otter then saw Rabbit’s tracks where he had jumped out of the wigwam. This trick made Otter very angry and he cried out, “You won’t fool me again.” Otter followed the new trail.
When Rabbit sensed Otter was closing in on him, he picked up another chip and wished it to become a house, and there was the house, ready to live in. Otter came along and was suspicious as soon as he saw the house with a veranda across the front, and a big gentleman walking back and forth all dressed in white, reading a paper.
This, of course, was Rabbit himself, but Otter did not know it. He asked the big gentleman, “Have you seen Rabbit go this way?” The man appeared not to hear. So Otter asked again. The gentleman replied in Pidgin English a phrase that meant, “Never saw Rabbit.” But Otter looked hard at him and noticed the man’s feet, which were Rabbit feet. So Otter felt certain this was his prey.
The big gentleman gave Otter some bread and wine, and Otter left hurriedly to again track Rabbit back to the house. He came to the place, but the house was not there. Otter could see the tracks where Rabbit started running away.
“He’ll never have a chance to trick me again, that’s his last time!” declared Otter.
Rabbit soon came to the head of a bay where there was a very small island, so small that a person could almost jump over it. He jumped onto the island and wished it to become a man-of-war.
Otter came to the same shore and saw the big ship anchored there, and the big gentleman in a white suit walking the deck. Otter called to him, “You can’t trick me now! You’re the man I want.”
Then Otter swam out toward the ship, to board it and to kill Rabbit. But the big gentleman sang out to this sailors, “Shoot him! His skin is worth a lot of money in France.”
This story has been passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial and it explains how Mik’Maq people came into existence in North America. The story tells about the relationship between the Great Spirit Creator and Human Beings and the Environment. It also explains a philosophical view of life which is indigenous to North America. This way of thinking is evident in the Native Languages and Cultures and in the spiritual practices.
The fact that the Mik’Maq peopleï¿½s language, culture and spiritualism has survived for centuries is based on the creation story. Respect for their elders has given them wisdom about life and the world around them. The strength of their youth has given them the will to survive. The love and trust of their motherhood has given them a special understanding of everyday life.
Among the Mik’Maq people, the number seven is very meaningful. There are seven districts for distinct areas which encompasses an area of land stretching from the Gaspï¿½ coast of Quebec and includes New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. The most powerful spirit medicine is made from seven barks and roots. Seven men, representatives from each distinct area or Grand Council District sit inside a sweat-lodge smoke the pipe and burn the sweet grass. Inside the sweat-lodge, the Mik’Maqs will pour water over seven, fourteen and then twenty-one heated rocks to produce hot steam. A cleansing or purification takes place. A symbolic rebirth takes place and the men give thanks to the Spirit Creator, the Sun and the Earth. They also give thanks the first family, Glooscap, Nogami, Netaoansom, and Neganagonimgoosisgo. Listen to the story.
Gisoolg is the Great Spirit Creator who is the one who made everything. The work Gisoolg in Mik’Maq means ” you have been created “. It also means ” the one credited for your existence”.
The word does not imply gender. Gisoolg is not a He or a She, it is not important whether the Great Spirit is a He or a She.
The Mik’Maq people do not explain how the Great Spirit came into existence only that Gisoolg is responsible for everything being where it is today. Gisoolg made everything.
Nisgam is the sun which travels in a circle and owes its existence to isoolg. Nisgam is the giver of life. It is also a giver of light and heat.
The Mik’Maq people believe that Nisgam is responsible for the creation of the people on earth. Nisgam is Gisoolgï¿½s helper. The power of Nisgam is held with much respect among the Mik’Maq and other aboriginal peoples. Nisgam owes its existence to Gisoolg the Great Spirit Creator.
Ootsitgamoo is the earth or area of land upon which the Mik’Maq people walk and share its abundant resources with the animals and plants. In the Mik’Maq language Oetsgitpogooin means “the person or individual who stand upon this surface”, or “the one who is given life upon this surface of land”. Ootsitgamoo refers to the Mik’Maq world which encompasses all the area where the Mik’Maq people can travel or have travelled upon.
Ootsitgamoo was created by Gisoolg and was placed in the centre of the circular path of Nisgam, the sun. Nisgam was given the responsibility of watching over the Mik’Maq world or Ootsitgamoo. Nisgam shines bright light upon Oositgamoo as it passes around and this brought the days and nights.
After the Mik’Maq world was created and after the animals, birds and plants were placed on the surface, Gisoolg caused a bolt of lightening to hit the surface of Ootsitgamoo. This bolt of lightning caused the formation of an image of a human body shaped out of sand. It was Glooscap who was first shaped out of the basic element of the Mik’Maq world, sand.
Gisoolg unleashed another bolt of lightening which gave life to Glooscap but yet he could not move. He was stuck to the ground only to watch the world go by and Nisgam travel across the sky everyday. Glooscap watched the animals, the birds and the plants grow and pass around him. He asked Nisgam to give him freedom to move about the Mik’Maq world.
While Glooscap was still unable to move, he was lying on his back. His head was facing the direction of the rising sun, east, Oetjgoabaniag or Oetjibanoog. In Mik’Maq these words mean “where the sun comes up ” and “where the summer weather comes from” respectively. His feet were in the direction of the setting sun or Oetgatsenoog. Other Mik’Maq words for the west are Oeloesenoog, “where the sun settles into a hallow” or Etgesnoog “where the cold winds come from”. Glooscapï¿½s right hand was pointed in the direction of the north or Oatnoog. His left hand was in the direction of the south or Opgoetasnoog. So it was the third big blast of lightening that caused Glooscap to become free and to be able to stand on the surface of the earth.
After Glooscap stood up on his feet, he turned around in a full circle seven times. He then looked toward the sky and gave thanks to Gisoolg for giving him life. He looked down to the earth or the ground and gave thanks to Ootsigamoo for offering its sand for Glooscap’s creation. He looked within himself and gave thanks to Nisgam for giving him his soul and spirit.
Glooscap then gave thanks to the four directions east, north, west and south. In all he gave his heartfelt thanks to the seven directions.
Glooscap then travelled to the direction of the setting sun until he came to the ocean. He then went south until the land narrowed and he came to the ocean. He then went south until the land narrowed and he could see two oceans on either side. He again travelled back to where he started from and continued towards the north to the land of ice and snow. Later he came back to the east where he decided to stay. It is where he came into existence. He again watched the animals, the birds and the plants. He watched the water and the sky. Gisoolg taught him to watch and learn about the world. Glooscap watched but he could not disturb the world around him. He finally asked Gisoolg and Nisgam, what was the purpose of his existence. He was told that he would meet someone soon.
One day when Glooscap was travelling in the east he came upon a very old woman. Glooscap asked the old woman how she arrived to the Mik’Maq world. The old woman introduced herself as Nogami. She said to Glooscap, “I am your grandmother”. Nogami said that she owes her existence to the rock, the dew and Nisgam, the Sun. She went on to explain that on one chilly morning a rock became covered with dew because it was sitting in a low valley. By midday when the sun was most powerful, the rock got warm and then hot. With the power of Nisgam, the sun, Gisoolg’s helper, the rock was given a body of an old woman. This old woman was Nogami, Glooscap’s grandmother.
Nogami told Glooscap that she come to the Mik’Maq world as an old woman, already very wise and knowledgeable. She further explained that Glooscap would gain spiritual strength by listening to and having great respect for his grandmother. Glooscap was so glad for his grandmother’s arrival to the Mik’Maq world he called upon Abistanooj, a marten swimming in the river, to come ashore. Abistanooj did what Glooscap had asked him to do. Abistanooj came to the shore where Glooscap and Nogami were standing. Glooscap asked Abistanooj to give up his life so that he and his grandmother could live. Abistanooj agreed. Nogami then took Abistanooj and quickly snapped his neck. She placed him on the ground. Glooscap for the first time asked Gisoolg to use his power to give life back to Abistanooj because he did not want to be in disfavour with the animals.
Because of marten’s sacrifice, Glooscap referred to all the animals as his brothers and sisters from that point on. Nogami added that the animals will always be in the world to provide food, clothing, tools, and shelter. Abistanooj went back to the river and in his place lay another marten. Glooscap and Abistanooj will become friends and brothers forever.
Nogami cleaned the animal to get it ready for eating. She gathered the still hot sparks for the lightening which hit the ground when Glooscap was given life. She placed dry wood over the coals to make a fire. This fire became the Great Spirit Fire and later go to be known as the Great Council Fire.
The first feast of meat was cooked over the Great Fire, or Ekjibuctou. Glooscap relied on his grandmother for her survival, her knowledge and her wisdom. Since Nogami was old and wise, Glooscap learned to respect her for her knowledge. They learned to respect each other for their continued interdependence and continued existence.
One day when Glooscap and Nogami were walking along in the woods, they came upon a young man. This young man looked very strong because he was tall and physically big. He had grey coloured eyes. Glooscap asked the young man his name and how he arrived to the Mik’Maq world. The young man introduced himself. He told Glooscap that his name is Netaoansom and that he is Glooscap’s sister’s son. In other words, his nephew. He told Glooscap that he is physically strong and that they could all live comfortably. Netaoansom could run after moose, deer and caribou and bring them down with his bare hands. He was so strong. Netaoansom said that while the east wind was blowing so hard it caused the waters of the ocean to become rough and foamy. This foam got blown to the shore on the sandy beach and finally rested on the tall grass. This tall grass is sweetgrass. Its fragrance was sweet. The sweetgrass held onto the foam until Nisgam, the Sun, was high in the midday sky. Nisgam gave Netaoansom spiritual and physical strength in a human body. Gisoolg told Glooscap that if he relied on the strength and power of his nephew he would gain strength and understanding of the world around him.
Glooscap was so glad for his nephew’s arrival to the Mik’Maq world, he called upon the salmon of the rivers and seas to come to shore and give up their lives. The reason for this is that Glooscap, Netoansom and Nogami did not want to kill all the animals for their survival. So in celebration of his nephew’s arrival, they all had a feast of fish. They all gave thanks for their existence. They continued to rely on their brothers and sisters of the woods and waters. They relied on each other for their survival.
While Glooscap was sitting near a fire, Nogam was making clothing out of animal hides and Netaoansom was in the woods getting food. A woman came to the fire and sat beside Glooscap. She put her arms around Glooscap and asked “Are you cold my son?” Glooscap was surprised he stood up and asked the woman who she is and where did she come from. She explained that she was Glooscap’s mother. Her name is Neganogonimgooseesgo. Glooscap waited until his grandmother and nephew returned to the fire then he asked his mother to explain how she arrived to the Mik’Maq world.
Neganogonimgooseesgo said that she was a leaf on a tree which fell to the ground. Morning dew formed on the leaf and glistened while the sun, Nisgam, began its journey towards the midday sky. It was at midday when Nisgam gave life and a human form to Glooscap’s mother. The spirit and strength of Nisgam entered into Glooscap’s mother.
Glooscap’s mother said that she brings all the colours of the world to her children. She also brings strength and understanding. Strength to withstand earth’s natural forces and understanding of the Mik’Maq world; its animals and her children, the Mik’Maq. She told them that they will need understanding and co-operation so they all can live in peace with one another.
Glooscap was so happy that his mother came into the world and since she came from a leaf, he called upon his nephew to gather nuts, fruits of the plants while Nogami prepared a feast. Glooscap gave thanks to Gisoolg, Nisgam, Ootsitgamoo, Nogami, Netaoansom and Neganogonimgooseesgo. They all had a feast in honour of Glooscap’s motherï¿½s arrival to the world of Mik’Maqs.
The story goes on to say that Glooscap, the man created from the sand of the earth, continued to live with his family for a very long time. He gained spiritual strength by having respect for each member of the family. He listened to his grandmother’ s wisdom. He relied on his nephew’ s strength and spiritual power. His mother’ s love and understanding gave him dignity and respect. Glooscap’ s brothers and sisters of the wood and waters gave him the will and the food to survive. Glooscap now learned that mutual respect of his family and the world around him was a key ingredient for basic survival. Glooscap’s task was to pass this knowledge to his fellow Mik’Maq people so that they too could survive in the Mik’Maq world. This is why Glooscap became a central figure in Mik’Maq story telling.
One day when Glooscap was talking to Nogami he told her that soon they would leave his mother and nephew. He told her that they should prepare for that occasion. Nogami began to get all the necessary things ready for a long journey to the North. When everyone was sitting around the Great Fire one evening, Glooscap told his mother and nephew that he and Nogami are going to leave the Mik’Maq world. He said that they will travel in the direction of the North only to return if the Mik’Maq people were in danger. Glooscap told his mother and nephew to look after the Great Fire and never to let it go out.
After the passing of seven winters, “elwigneg daasiboongeg”, seven sparks will fly from the fire and when they land on the ground seven people will come to life. Seven more sparks will land on the ground and seven more people will come into existence. From these sparks will form seven women and seven men. They will form seven families. These seven families will disperse into seven different directions from the area of the Great Fire. Glooscap said that once the seven families their place of destination, they will further divide into seven groups.
Each group will have their own area for their subsistence so they would not disturb the other groups. He instructed his mother that the smaller groups would share the earth’s abundance of resources which included animals, plants and fellow humans.
Glooscap told his mother that after the passing of seven winters, each of the seven groups would return to the place of the Great Fire. At the place of the fire all the people will dance, sing and drum in celebration of their continued existence in the Mik’Maq world. Glooscap continued by saying that the Great Fire signified the power of the Great Spirit Creator, Gisoolg. It also signified the power and strength of the light and heat of Nisgam, the sun. The Great Fire held the strength of Ootsitgamoo the earth. Finally the fire represented the bolt of lightening which hit the earth from which Glooscap was created. The fire is very sacred to the Mik’Maqs. It is the most powerful spirit on earth.
Glooscap told his mother and nephew that it is important for the Mik’Maq to give honour, respect and thanks to the seven spiritual elements. The fire signifies the first four stages of creation, Gisoolg, Nisgam, Oositgamoo and Glooscap. Fire plays a significant role in the last three stages as it represents the power of the sun, Nisgam.
In honour of Nogamits arrival to the Mik’Maq world, Glooscap instructed his mother that seven, fourteen and twenty-one rocks would have to be heated over the Great Fire. These heated rocks will be placed inside a wigwam covered with hides of moose and caribou or with mud. The door must face the direction of the rising sun. There should be room from seven men to sit comfortably around a pit dug In the centre where up to twenty-one rocks could be placed. Seven alders, seven wild willows and seven beech saplings will be used to make the frame of the lodge. This lodge should be covered with the hides of moose, caribou, deer or mud.
Seven men representing the seven original families will enter into the lodge. They will give thanks and honour to the seven directions, the seven stages of creation and to continue to live in good health. The men will pour water over the rocks causing steam to rise in the lodge to become very hot. The men will begin to sweat up to point that it will become almost unbearable. Only those who believe in the spiritual strength will be able to withstand the heat. Then they will all come out of the lodge full of steam and shining like new born babies. This is the way they will clean their spirits and should honour Nogami’s arrival.
In preparation of the sweat, the seven men will not eat any food for seven days. They will only drink the water of golden roots and bees nectar. Before entering the sweat the seven men will burn the sweetgrass. They will honour the seven directions and the seven stages of creation but mostly for Netawansom’s arrival to the Mik’Maq world. The sweet grass must be lit from the Great Fire.
Glooscap’s mother came into the world from the leaf of a tree, so in honour of her arrival tobacco made from bark and leaves will be smoked. The tobacco will be smoked in pipe made from a branch of a tree and a bowl made from stone.
The pipe will be lit from sweetgrass which was lit from the Great Fire. The tobacco made from bark, leaves and sweetgrass represents Glooscap’s grandmother, nephew and mother. The tobacco called “spebaggan” will be smoked and the smoke will be blown in seven directions.
After honouring Nogami’s arrival the Mik’Maq shall have a feast or meal. In honour of Netawansom they will eat fish. The fruits and roots of the trees and plants will be eaten to honour Glooscap’s mother.
Glooscap’s final instruction to his mother told her how to collect and prepare medicine from the barks and roots of seven different kinds of plant. The seven plants together make what is called “ektjimpisun”. It will cure mostly every kind of illness in the Mik’Maq world. The ingredients of this medicine are: “wikpe”(alum willow), “waqwonuminokse”(wild black-cherry), “Kastuk”(ground hemlock), and “kowotmonokse”(red spruce). The Mik’Maq people are divided into seven distinct areas which are as follows:
3.Epeggoitg a, Pigtog
Long ago, Rabbit was a great hunter. He lived with his grandmother in a lodge which stood deep in the Micmac forest. It was winter and Rabbit set traps and laid snares to catch game for food. He caught many small animals and birds, until one day he discovered that some mysterious being was robbing his traps. Rabbit and his grandmother became hungry. Though he visited his traps very early each morning, he always found them empty.
At first Rabbit thought that the robber might be a cunning wolverine, until one morning he found long, narrow footprints alongside his trap line. It was, he thought, the tracks of the robber, but they looked like moonbeams. Each morning Rabbit rose earlier and earlier, but the being of the long foot was always ahead of him and always his traps were empty.
Rabbit made a trap from a bowstring with the loop so cleverly fastened that he felt certain that he would catch the robber when it came. He took one end of the thong with him and hid himself behind a clump of bushes from which he could watch his snare. It was bright moonlight while he waited, but suddenly it became very dark as the moon disappeared. A few stars were still shining and there were no clouds in the sky, so Rabbit wondered what had happened to the moon.
Someone or something came stealthily through the trees and then Rabbit was almost blinded by a flash of bright, white light which went straight to his trap line and shone through the snare which he had set. Quick as a lightning flash, Rabbit jerked the bowstring and tightened the noose. There was a sound of struggling and the light lurched from side to side. Rabbit knew b the tugging on his string that he had caught the robber. He fastened the bowstring to a nearby sapling to hold the loop tight.
Rabbit raced back to tell his grandmother, who was a wise old woman, what had happened. She told him that he must return at once and see who or what he had caught. Rabbit, who was very frightened, wanted to wait for daylight but his grandmother said that might be too late, so he returned to his trap line.
When he came near his traps, Rabbit saw that the bright light was still there. It was so bright that it hurt his eyes. He bathed them in the icy water of a nearby brook, but still they smarted. He made big snowballs and threw them at the light, in the hope of putting it out. As they went close to the light, he heard them sizzle and saw them melt. Next, Rabbit scooped up great pawfuls of soft clay from the stream and made many big clay balls. He was a good shot and threw the balls with all of his force at the dancing white light. He heard them strike hard and then his prisoner shouted.
Then a strange, quivering voice asked why he had been snared and demanded that he be set free at once, because he was the man in the moon and he must be home before dawn came. His face had been spotted with clay and, when Rabbit went closer, the moon man saw him and threatened to kill him and all of his tribe if he were not released at once.
Rabbit was so terrified that he raced back to tell his grandmother about his strange captive. She too was much afraid and told Rabbit to return and release the thief immediately. Rabbit went back, and his voice shook with fear as he told the man in the moon that he would be released if he promised never to rob the snares again. To make doubly sure, Rabbit asked him to promise that he would never return to ear, and the moon man swore that he would never do so. Rabbit could hardly see in the dazzling light, but at last he managed to gnaw through the bowstring with his teeth and the man in the moon soon disappeared in the sky, leaving a bright trail of light behind him.
Rabbit had been nearly blinded by the great light and his shoulders were badly scorched. Even today, rabbits blink as though light is too strong for their eyes; their eyelids are pink, and their eyes water if they look at a bright light. Their lips quiver, telling of Rabbit’s terror.
The man in the moon has never returned to earth. When he lights the world, one can still see the marks of the clay which Rabbit threw on his face. Sometimes he disappears for a few nights, when he is trying to rub the marks of the clay balls from his face. Then the world is dark; but when the man in the moon appears again, one can see that he has never been able to clean the clay marks from his shining face.