Mon-daw-min Or The Origin Of Indian Corn

: The Myth Of Hiawatha


In times past, a poor Indian was living with his wife and children in a

beautiful part of the country. He was not only poor, but inexpert in

procuring food for his family, and his children were all too young to

give him assistance. Although poor, he was a man of a kind and

contented disposition. He was always thankful to the Great Spirit for

everything he received. The same dispositi
n was inherited by his

eldest son, who had now arrived at the proper age to undertake the

ceremony of the Ke-ig-uish-im-o-win, or fast, to see what kind of a

spirit would be his guide and guardian through life. Wunzh, for this

was his name, had been an obedient boy from his infancy, and was of a

pensive, thoughtful, and mild disposition, so that he was beloved by

the whole family. As soon as the first indications of spring appeared,

they built him the customary little lodge at a retired spot, some

distance from their own, where he would not be disturbed during this

solemn rite. In the mean time he prepared himself, and immediately went

into it, and commenced his fast. The first few days, he amused himself,

in the mornings, by walking in the woods and over the mountains,

examining the early plants and flowers, and in this way prepared

himself to enjoy his sleep, and, at the same time, stored his mind with

pleasant ideas for his dreams. While he rambled through the woods, he

felt a strong desire to know how the plants, herbs, and berries grew,

without any aid from man, and why it was that some species were good to

eat, and others possessed medicinal or poisonous juices. He recalled

these thoughts to mind after he became too languid to walk about, and

had confined himself strictly to the lodge; he wished he could dream of

something that would prove a benefit to his father and family, and to

all others. "True!" he thought, "the Great Spirit made all things, and

it is to him that we owe our lives. But could he not make it easier for

us to get our food, than by hunting animals and taking fish? I must try

to find out this in my visions."

On the third day he became weak and faint, and kept his bed. He

fancied, while thus lying, that he saw a handsome young man coming down

from the sky and advancing towards him. He was richly and gayly

dressed, having on a great many garments of green and yellow colors,

but differing in their deeper or lighter shades. He had a plume of

waving feathers on his head, and all his motions were graceful.

"I am sent to you, my friend," said the celestial visitor, "by that

Great Spirit who made all things in the sky and on the earth. He has

seen and knows your motives in fasting. He sees that it is from a kind

and benevolent wish to do good to your people, and to procure a benefit

for them, and that you do not seek for strength in war or the praise of

warriors. I am sent to instruct you, and show you how you can do your

kindred good." He then told the young man to arise, and prepare to

wrestle with him, as it was only by this means that he could hope to

succeed in his wishes. Wunzh knew he was weak from fasting, but he felt

his courage rising in his heart, and immediately got up, determined to

die rather than fail. He commenced the trial, and after a protracted

effort, was almost exhausted, when the beautiful stranger said, "My

friend, it is enough for once; I will come again to try you;" and,

smiling on him, he ascended in the air in the same direction from which

he came. The next day the celestial visitor reappeared at the same hour

and renewed the trial. Wunzh felt that his strength was even less than

the day before, but the courage of his mind seemed to increase in

proportion as his body became weaker. Seeing this, the stranger again

spoke to him in the same words he used before, adding, "Tomorrow will

be your last trial. Be strong, my friend, for this is the only way you

can overcome me, and obtain the boon you seek." On the third day he

again appeared at the same time and renewed the struggle. The poor

youth was very faint in body, but grew stronger in mind at every

contest, and was determined to prevail or perish in the attempt. He

exerted his utmost powers, and after the contest had been continued the

usual time, the stranger ceased his efforts and declared himself

conquered. For the first time he entered the lodge, and sitting down

beside the youth, he began to deliver his instructions to him, telling

him in what manner he should proceed to take advantage of his victory.

"You have won your desires of the Great Spirit," said the stranger.

"You have wrestled manfully. To-morrow will be the seventh day of your

fasting. Your father will give you food to strengthen you, and as it is

the last day of trial, you will prevail. I know this, and now tell you

what you must do to benefit your family and your tribe. To-morrow," he

repeated, "I shall meet you and wrestle with you for the last time;

and, as soon as you have prevailed against me, you will strip off my

garments and throw me down, clean the earth of roots and weeds, make it

soft, and bury me in the spot. When you have done this, leave my body

in the earth, and do not disturb it, but come occasionally to visit the

place, to see whether I have come to life, and be careful never to let

the grass or weeds grow on my grave. Once a month cover me with fresh

earth. If you follow my instructions, you will accomplish your object

of doing good to your fellow-creatures by teaching them the knowledge I

now teach you." He then shook him by the hand and disappeared.

In the morning the youth's father came with some slight refreshments,

saying, "My son, you have fasted long enough. If the Great Spirit will

favor you, he will do it now. It is seven days since you have tasted

food, and you must not sacrifice your life. The Master of Life does not

require that." "My father," replied the youth, "wait till the sun goes

down. I have a particular reason for extending my fast to that hour."

"Very well," said the old man, "I shall wait till the hour arrives, and

you feel inclined to eat."

At the usual hour of the day the sky-visitor returned, and the trial of

strength was renewed. Although the youth had not availed himself of his

father's offer of food, he felt that new strength had been given to

him, and that exertion had renewed his strength and fortified his

courage. He grasped his angelic antagonist with supernatural strength,

threw him down, took from him his beautiful garments and plume, and

finding him dead, immediately buried him on the spot, taking all the

precautions he had been told of, and being very confident, at the same

time, that his friend would again come to life. He then returned to his

father's lodge, and partook sparingly of the meal that had been

prepared for him. But he never for a moment forgot the grave of his

friend. He carefully visited it throughout the spring, and weeded out

the grass, and kept the ground in a soft and pliant state. Very soon he

saw the tops of the green plumes coming through the ground; and the

more careful he was to obey his instructions in keeping the ground in

order, the faster they grew. He was, however, careful to conceal the

exploit from his father. Days and weeks had passed in this way. The

summer was now drawing towards a close, when one day, after a long

absence in hunting, Wunzh invited his father to follow him to the quiet

and lonesome spot of his former fast. The lodge had been removed, and

the weeds kept from growing on the circle where it stood, but in its

place stood a tall and graceful plant, with bright-colored silken hair,

surmounted with nodding plumes and stately leaves, and golden clusters

on each side. "It is my friend," shouted the lad; "it is the friend of

all mankind. It is Mondawmin.[50] We need no longer rely on hunting

alone; for, as long as this gift is cherished and taken care of, the

ground itself will give us a living." He then pulled an ear. "See, my

father," said he, "this is what I fasted for. The great Spirit has

listened to my voice, and sent us something new,[51] and henceforth our

people will not alone depend upon the chase or upon the waters."

He then communicated to his father the instructions given him by the

stranger. He told him that the broad husks must be torn away, as he had

pulled off the garments in his wrestling; and having done this,

directed him how the ear must be held before the fire till the outer

skin became brown, while all the milk was retained in the grain. The

whole family then united in a feast on the newly-grown ears, expressing

gratitude to the Merciful Spirit who gave it. So corn came into the


[50] The Algic name for corn. The word is manifestly a trinary

compound from monedo, spirit; min, a grain or berry; and

iaw, the verb substantive.

[51] The Zea mays, it will be recollected, is indigenous to

America, and was unknown in Europe before 1495.