Sheem The Forsaken Boy Or Wolf Brother
Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha
AN ODJIBWA ALLEGORY OF FRATERNAL AFFECTION.
A solitary lodge stood on the banks of a remote lake. It was near the
hour of sunset. Silence reigned within and without. Not a sound was
heard but the low breathing of the dying inmate and head of this poor
family. His wife and three children surrounded his bed. Two of the
latter were almost grown up: the other was a mere child. All their
simple skill in medicine had been exhausted to no effect. They moved
about the lodge in whispers, and were waiting the departure of the
spirit. As one of the last acts of kindness, the skin door of the lodge
had been thrown back to admit the fresh air. The poor man felt a
momentary return of strength, and, raising himself a little, addressed
"I leave you in a world of care, in which it has required all my
strength and skill to supply you food, and protect you from the storms
and cold of a severe climate. For you, my partner in life, I have less
sorrow in parting, because I am persuaded you will not remain long
behind me, and will therefore find the period of your sufferings
shortened. But you, my children! my poor and forsaken children, who
have just commenced the career of life, who will protect you from its
evils? Listen to my words! Unkindness, ingratitude, and every
wickedness is in the scene before you. It is for this cause that, years
ago, I withdrew from my kindred and my tribe, to spend my days in this
lonely spot. I have contented myself with the company of your mother
and yourselves during seasons of very frequent scarcity and want, while
your kindred, feasting in a scene where food is plenty, have caused the
forests to echo with the shouts of successful war. I gave up these
things for the enjoyment of peace. I wished to shield you from the bad
examples you would inevitably have followed. I have seen you, thus far,
grow up in innocence. If we have sometimes suffered bodily want, we
have escaped pain of mind. We have been kept from scenes of rioting
"My career is now at its close. I will shut my eyes in peace, if you,
my children, will promise me to cherish each other. Let not your mother
suffer during the few days that are left to her; and I charge you, on
no account, to forsake your youngest brother. Of him I give you both my
dying charge to take a tender care." He sank exhausted on his pallet.
The family waited a moment, as if expecting to hear something further;
but, when they came to his side, the spirit had taken its flight.
The mother and daughter gave vent to their feelings in lamentations.
The elder son witnessed the scene in silence. He soon exerted himself
to supply, with the bow and net, his father's place. Time, however,
wore away heavily. Five moons had filled and waned, and the sixth was
near its full, when the mother also died. In her last moments she
pressed the fulfilment of their promise to their father, which the
children readily renewed, because they were yet free from selfish
The winter passed; and the spring, with its enlivening effects in a
northern hemisphere, cheered the drooping spirits of the bereft little
family. The girl, being the eldest, dictated to her brothers, and
seemed to feel a tender and sisterly affection for the youngest, who
was rather sickly and delicate. The other boy soon showed symptoms of
restlessness and ambition, and addressed the sister as follows: "My
sister, are we always to live as if there were no other human beings in
the world? Must I deprive myself of the pleasure of associating with my
own kind? I have determined this question for myself. I shall seek the
villages of men, and you cannot prevent me."
The sister replied: "I do not say no, my brother, to what you desire.
We are not prohibited the society of our fellow-mortals; but we are
told to cherish each other, and to do nothing independent of each
other. Neither pleasure nor pain ought, therefore, to separate us,
especially from our younger brother, who being but a child, and weakly
withal, is entitled to a double share of our affection. If we follow
our separate gratifications, it will surely make us neglect him, whom
we are bound by vows, both to our father and mother, to support." The
young man received this address in silence. He appeared daily to grow
more restive and moody, and one day, taking his bow and arrows, left
the lodge and never returned.
Affection nerved the sister's arm. She was not so ignorant of the
forest arts as to let her brother want. For a long time she
administered to his necessities, and supplied a mother's cares. At
length, however, she began to be weary of solitude and of her charge.
No one came to be a witness of her assiduity, or to let fall a single
word in her native language. Years, which added to her strength and
capability of directing the affairs of the household, brought with them
the irrepressible desire of society, and made solitude irksome. At this
point, selfishness gained the ascendency of her heart; for, in
meditating a change in her mode of life, she lost sight of her younger
brother, and left him to be provided for by contingencies.
One day, after collecting all the provisions she had been able to save
for emergencies, after bringing a quantity of wood to the door, she
said to her little brother: "My brother, you must not stray from the
lodge. I am going to seek our elder brother. I shall be back soon."
Then, taking her bundle, she set off in search of habitations. She soon
found them, and was so much taken up with the pleasures and amusements
of social life, that the thought of her brother was almost entirely
obliterated. She accepted proposals of marriage; and, after that,
thought still less of her hapless and abandoned relative.
Meantime her elder brother had also married, and lived on the shores of
the same lake whose ample circuit contained the abandoned lodge of his
father and his forsaken brother. The latter was soon brought to the
pinching turn of his fate. As soon as he had eaten all the food left by
his sister, he was obliged to pick berries and dig up roots. These were
finally covered by the snow. Winter came on with all its rigors. He was
obliged to quit the lodge in search of other food. Sometimes he passed
the night in the clefts of old trees or caverns, and ate the refuse
meals of the wolves. The latter, at last, became his only resource; and
he became so fearless of these animals that he would sit close by them
while they devoured their prey. The wolves, on the other hand, became
so familiar with his face and form, that they were undisturbed by his
approach; and, appearing to sympathize with him in his outcast
condition, would always leave something for his repast. In this way he
lived till spring. As soon as the lake was free from ice, he followed
his new-found friends themselves to the shore. It happened, the same
day, that his elder brother was fishing in his canoe, a considerable
distance out in the lake, when he thought he heard the cries of a child
on the shore, and wondered how any could exist on so bleak and barren a
part of the coast. He listened again attentively, and distinctly heard
the cry repeated. He made for shore as quick as possible, and, as he
approached land, discovered and recognized his little brother, and
heard him singing, in a plaintive voice--
Ni my een gwun iewh!
Ni my een gwun iewh!
My brother--my brother,
Ah! see, I am turning into a wolf.
At the termination of his song, which was drawn out with a peculiar
cadence, he howled like a wolf. The elder brother was still more
astonished, when, getting nearer shore, he perceived his poor brother
partly transformed into that animal. He immediately leaped on shore,
and strove to catch him in his arms, soothingly saying, "My brother, my
brother, come to me." But the boy eluded his grasp, crying as he fled,
"Neesia, neesia," &c., and howling in the intervals.
The elder brother, conscience stricken, and feeling his brotherly
affection strongly return, with redoubled force exclaimed, in great
anguish, "My brother! my brother! my brother!"
But, the nearer he approached, the more rapidly the transformation went
on; the boy alternately singing and howling, and calling out the name,
first of his brother, and then of his sister, till the change was
completely accomplished, when he exclaimed, "I am a wolf!" and bounded
out of sight.
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