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Shingebiss An Allegory Of Self-reliance

Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha


There was once a Shingebiss, the name of the fall duck living alone, in
a solitary lodge, on the shores of the deep bay of a lake, in the
coldest winter weather. The ice had formed on the water, and he had but
four logs of wood to keep his fire. Each of these would, however, burn
a month, and as there were but four cold winter months, they were
sufficient to carry him through till spring.

Shingebiss was hardy and fearless, and cared for no one. He would go
out during the coldest day, and seek for places where flags and rushes
grew through the ice, and plucking them up with his bill, would dive
through the openings, in quest of fish. In this way he found plenty of
food, while others were starving, and he went home daily to his lodge,
dragging strings of fish after him, on the ice.

Kabebonicca[53] observed him, and felt a little piqued at his
perseverance and good luck in defiance of the severest blasts of wind
he could send from the northwest. "Why! this is a wonderful man," said
he; "he does not mind the cold, and appears as happy and contented as
if it were the month of June. I will try whether he cannot be
mastered." He poured forth tenfold colder blasts, and drifts of snow,
so that it was next to impossible to live in the open air. Still, the
fire of Shingebiss did not go out: he wore but a single strip of
leather around his body, and he was seen, in the worst weather,
searching the shores for rushes, and carrying home fish.

"I shall go and visit him," said Kabebonicca, one day, as he saw
Shingebiss dragging along a quantity of fish. And, accordingly, that
very night, he went to the door of his lodge. Meantime Shingebiss had
cooked his fish, and finished his meal, and was lying, partly on his
side, before the fire, singing his songs. After Kabebonicca had come to
the door, and stood listening there, he sang as follows:--

Ka Neej Ka Neej
Be In Be In
Bon In Bon In
Oc Ee. Oc Ee.
Ca We-ya! Ca We-ya!

The number of words, in this song, are few and simple, but they are
made up from compounds which carry the whole of their original
meanings, and are rather suggestive of the ideas floating in the mind
than actual expressions of those ideas. Literally, he sings:--

Spirit of the Northwest--you are but my fellow man.

By being broken into syllables, to correspond with a simple chant, and
by the power of intonation and repetition, with a chorus, these words
are expanded into melodious utterance, if we may be allowed the term,
and may be thus rendered:--

Windy god, I know your plan,
You are but my fellow man;
Blow you may your coldest breeze,
Shingebiss you cannot freeze.
Sweep the strongest wind you can,
Shingebiss is still your man;
Heigh! for life--and ho! for bliss,
Who so free as Shingebiss?

The hunter knew that Kabebonicca was at his door, for he felt his cold
and strong breath; but he kept on singing his songs, and affected utter
indifference. At length Kabebonicca entered, and took his seat on the
opposite side of the lodge. But Shingebiss did not regard, or notice
him. He got up, as if nobody were present, and taking his poker, pushed
the log, which made his fire burn brighter, repeating, as he sat down

You are but my fellow man.

Very soon the tears began to flow down Kabebonicca's cheeks, which
increased so fast, that, presently, he said to himself: "I cannot stand
this--I must go out." He did so, and left Shingebiss to his songs; but
resolved to freeze up all the flag orifices, and make the ice thick, so
that he could not get any more fish. Still, Shingebiss, by dint of
great diligence, found means to pull up new roots, and dive under for
fish. At last, Kabebonicca was compelled to give up the contest. "He
must be aided by some Monedo," said he. "I can neither freeze him nor
starve him; he is a very singular being--I will let him alone."

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