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Hiawatha






Category: THE CENRAL STATES AND THE GREAT LAKES

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The story of Hiawatha--known about the lakes as Manabozho and in the East
as Glooskapis the most widely disseminated of the Indian legends. He came
to earth on a Messianic mission, teaching justice, fortitude, and
forbearance to the red men, showing them how to improve their handicraft,
ridding the woods and hills of monsters, and finally going up to heaven
amid cries of wonder from those on whose behalf he had worked and
counselled. He was brought up as a child among them, took to wife the
Dakota girl, Minnehaha (Laughing Water), hunted, fought, and lived as a
warrior; yet, when need came, he could change his form to any shape of
bird, fish, or plant that he wished. He spoke to friends in the voice of
a woman and to enemies in tones like thunder. A giant in form, few dared
to resist him in battle, yet he suffered the common pains and adversities
of his kind, and while fishing in one of the great lakes in his white
stone canoe, that moved whither he willed it, he and his boat were
swallowed by the king of fishes. He killed the creature by beating at its
heart with a stone club, and when the gulls had preyed on its flesh, as
it lay floating on the surface, until he could see daylight, he clambered
through the opening they had made and returned to his lodge.

Believing that his father had killed his mother, he fought against him
for several days, driving him to the edge of the world before peace was
made between them. The evil Pearl Feather had slain one of his relatives,
and to avenge that crime Hiawatha pressed through a guard of
fire-breathing serpents which surrounded that fell personage, shot them
with arrows as they struck at him, and having thus reached the lodge of
his enemy he engaged him in combat. All day long they battled to no
purpose, but toward evening a woodpecker flew overhead and cried, Your
enemy has but one vulnerable point. Shoot at his scalp-lock. Hiawatha
did so and his foe fell dead. Anointing his finger with the blood of his
foe, he touched the bird, and the red mark is found on the head of every
woodpecker to this day. A duck having led him a long chase when he was
trying to capture it for food, he angrily kicked it, thus flattening its
back, bowing its legs, despoiling it of half of its tail-feathers, and
that is why, to this day, ducks are awkward.

In return for its service in leading him to where the prince of serpents
lived, he invested the kingfisher with a medal and rumpled the feathers
of its head in putting it on; hence all kingfishers have rumpled knots
and white spots on their breasts. After slaying the prince of serpents he
travelled all over America, doing good work, and on reaching Onondaga he
organized a friendly league of thirteen tribes that endured for many
years. This closed his mission. As he stood in the assemblage of chiefs a
white bird, appearing at an immense height, descended like a meteor,
struck Hiawatha's daughter with such force as to drive her remains into
the earth and shattered itself against the ground. Its silvery feathers
were scattered, and these were preserved by the beholders as ornaments
for their hair--so the custom of wearing feather head-dresses endures to
our time. Though filled with consternation, Hiawatha recognized the
summons. He addressed his companions in tones of such sweetness and terms
of such eloquence as had never been heard before, urging them to live
uprightly and to enforce good laws, and unhappy circumstance!--promising
to come back when the time was ripe. The expectancy of his return has led
to ghost-dances and similar demonstrations of enmity against the whites.
When he had ended he entered his stone canoe and began to rise in air to
strains of melting music. Higher and higher he arose, the white vessel
shining in the sunlight, until he disappeared in the spaces of the sky.

Incidents of the Hiawatha legend are not all placed, but he is thought to
have been born near the great lakes, perhaps at Mackinack. Some legends,
indeed, credit him with making his home at Mackinack, and from that
point, as a centre, making a new earth around him. The fight with his
father began on the upper Mississippi, and the bowlders found along its
banks were their missiles. The south shore of Lake Superior was the scene
of his conflict with the serpents. He hunted the great beaver around Lake
Superior and brought down his dam at the Sault Sainte Marie. A depression
in a rock on the southern edge of Michipicotea Bay is where he alighted
after a jump across the lake. In a larger depression, near Thunder Bay,
he sat when smoking his last pipe. The big rocks on the east side of
Grand Traverse Bay, near Antrim City, Michigan, are the bones of a stone
monster that he slew.

So trifling an incident as the kicking of the duck has been localized at
Lake Itasca. [It is worth passing mention that this name, which sounds as
if it were of Indian origin, is held by some to be composed of the last
syllables of veritas and the first letters of caput, these
words-signifying the true head--being applied by early explorers as
showing that they were confident of having found the actual source of the
Mississippi.] Minnehaha lived near the fall in Minneapolis that bears her
name. The final apotheosis took place on the shores of Lake Onondaga, New
York, though Hiawatha lies buried under a mountain, three miles long, on
the east side of Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, which, from the water,
resembles a man lying on his back. The red man makes oblation, as he rows
past, by dropping a pinch of tobacco into the water. Some say that
Hiawatha now lives at the top of the earth, amid the ice, and directs the
sun. He has to live in a cold country because, if he were to return, he
would set the earth on fire with his footsteps.





Next: The Indian Messiah

Previous: Two Revenges



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