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The Legend Of O-na-wut-a-qut-o

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian

A long time ago there lived an aged Odjibwa and his wife on the shores
of Lake Huron. They had an only son, a very beautiful boy, named
O-na-wut-a-qut-o, or He that catches the clouds. The family were of
the totem of the beaver. The parents were very proud of their son, and
wished to make him a celebrated man; but when he reached the proper
age he would not submit to the We-koon-de-win, or fast. When this time
arrived they gave him charcoal instead of his breakfast, but he would
not blacken his face. If they denied him food he sought bird's eggs
along the shore, or picked up the heads of fish that had been cast
away, and broiled them. One day they took away violently the food he
had prepared, and cast him some coals in place of it. This act decided
him. He took the coals and blackened his face and went out of the
lodge. He did not return, but lay down without to sleep. As he lay, a
very beautiful girl came down from the clouds and stood by his side.

"O-na-wut-a-qut-o," she said, "I am come for you. Follow in my

The young man rose and did as he was bid. Presently he found himself
ascending above the tops of the trees, and gradually he mounted up
step by step into the air, and through the clouds. At length his guide
led him through an opening, and he found himself standing with her on
a beautiful plain.

A path led to a splendid lodge, into which O-na-wut-a-qut-o followed
his guide. It was large, and divided into two parts. At one end he saw
bows and arrows, clubs and spears, and various warlike instruments
tipped with silver. At the other end were things exclusively belonging
to women. This was the house of his fair guide, and he saw that she
had on a frame a broad rich belt of many colours that she was weaving.

"My brother is coming," she said, "and I must hide you."

Putting him in one corner she spread the belt over him, and presently
the brother came in very richly dressed, and shining as if he had
points of silver all over him. He took down from the wall a splendid
pipe, and a bag in which was a-pa-ko-ze-gun, or smoking mixture. When
he had finished smoking, he laid his pipe aside, and said to his

"Nemissa," (elder sister) "when will you quit these practices? Do you
forget that the greatest of the spirits has commanded that you shall
not take away the children from below? Perhaps you think you have
concealed O-na-wut-a-qut-o, but do I not know of his coming? If you
would not offend me, send him back at once."

These words did not, however, alter his sister's purpose. She would
not send him back, and her brother, finding that she was determined,
called O-na-wut-a-qut-o from his hiding-place.

"Come out of your concealment," said he, "and walk about and amuse
yourself. You will grow hungry if you remain there."

At these words O-na-wut-a-qut-o came forth from under the belt, and
the brother presented a bow and arrows, with a pipe of red stone,
richly ornamented, to him. In this way he gave his consent to
O-na-wut-a-qut-o's marriage with his sister, and from that time the
youth and the girl became husband and wife.

O-na-wut-a-qut-o found everything exceedingly fair and beautiful
around him, but he found no other people besides his wife and her
brother. There were flowers on the plains, there were bright and
sparkling streams, there were green valleys and pleasant trees, there
were gay birds and beautiful animals, very different from those he had
been accustomed to. There was also day and night as on the earth, but
he observed that every morning the brother regularly left the lodge
and remained absent all day, and every evening his sister departed,
but generally for only a part of the night.

O-na-wut-a-qut-o was curious to solve this mystery, and obtained the
brother's consent to accompany him in one of his daily journeys. They
travelled over a smooth plain which seemed to stretch to illimitable
distances all around. At length O-na-wut-a-qut-o felt the gnawings of
hunger and asked his companion if there was no game about.

"Patience, my brother," replied he; "we shall soon reach the spot
where I eat my dinner, and you will then see how I am provided."

After walking on a long time they came to a place where several fine
mats were spread, and there they sat down to refresh themselves. At
this place there was a hole in the sky and O-na-wut-a-qut-o, at his
companion's request, looked through it down upon the earth. He saw
below the great lakes and the villages of the Indians. In one place he
saw a war-party stealing on the camp of their enemies. In another he
saw feasting and dancing. On a green plain some young men were playing
at ball, and along the banks of a stream were women employed in
gathering the a-puk-wa for mats.

"Do you see," asked the brother, "that group of children playing
beside a lodge? Observe that beautiful and active lad," said he, at
the same time darting something from his hand. The child immediately
fell on the ground, and was carried by his companions into the lodge.

O-na-wut-a-qut-o and his companion watched and saw the people below
gathering about the lodge. They listened to the she-she-gwau of the
meeta, to the song he sang asking that the child's life might be
spared. To this request O-na-wut-a-qut-o's companion made answer--

"Send me up the sacrifice of a white dog."

A feast was immediately ordered by the parents of the child. The
white dog was killed, his carcass was roasted, all the wise men and
medicine-men of the village assembling to witness the ceremony.

"There are many below," said O-na-wut-a-qut-o's companion, "whom you
call great in medical skill. They are so, because their ears are open;
and they are able to succeed, because when I call they hear my voice.
When I have struck one with sickness they direct the people to look to
me, and when they make me the offering I ask, I remove my hand from
off the sick person and he becomes well."

While he was saying this, the feast below had been served. Then the
master of the feast said--

"We send this to thee, Great Manito," and immediately the roasted
animal came up. Thus O-na-wut-a-qut-o and his companion got their
dinner, and after they had eaten they returned to the lodge by a
different path.

In this manner they lived for some time, but at last the youth got
weary of the life. He thought of his friends, and wished to go back to
them. He could not forget his native village and his father's lodge,
and he asked his wife's permission to return. After some persuasion
she consented.

"Since you are better pleased," she said, "with the cares and ills and
poverty of the world, than with the peaceful delights of the sky and
its boundless prairies, go. I give you my permission, and since I have
brought you hither I will conduct you back. Remember, however, that
you are still my husband. I hold a chain in my hand by which I can,
whenever I will, draw you back to me. My power over you will be in no
way diminished. Beware, therefore, how you venture to take a wife
among the people below. Should you ever do so, you will feel what a
grievous thing it is to arouse my anger."

As she uttered these words her eyes sparkled, and she drew herself up
with a majestic air. In the same moment O-na-wut-a-qut-o awoke. He
found himself on the ground near his father's lodge, on the very spot
where he had thrown himself down to sleep. Instead of the brighter
beings of a higher world, he found around him his parents and their
friends. His mother told him that he had been absent a year. For some
time O-na-wut-a-qut-o remained gloomy and silent, but by degrees he
recovered his spirits, and he began to doubt the reality of all he had
seen and heard above. At last he even ventured to marry a beautiful
girl of his own tribe. But within four days she died. Still he was
forgetful of his first wife's command, and he married again. Then one
night he left his lodge, to which he never returned. His wife, it is
believed, recalled him to the sky, where he still dwells, walking the
vast plains.

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