Cree as told by John Petagumskum of Whapmagoostui
English legend is based on the original version as told
by John Petagumskum of Whapmagoostui
Translated by Brian Webb
Illustrated by Peter Pelchat
This is the story from when the earth was young. It wasn’t like today’s world. Monsters, giants, cannibals and mystical beings roamed the land. There was magic everywhere.
There was a family who lived the simple life out on the land. A mother, father and their young daughter Niibiish. They lived in Iyiyiu Aschî. They hunted and fished for their food.
As he hunted, the father, a shaman, did his best to stay away from the strange creatures that walked the earth. The magical beings were mostly friendly, sometimes mischievous, although others were to be avoided at all costs.
Niibiish was just in her teens. Like all girls around that age, she was becoming a woman. When she was on her first moon-time her mother made her a shelter away from the main camp as it was custom for girls to spend some time away just as they entered womanhood.
Niibiish spent time alone in her tepee and her mother brought food and checked on her every day. Teachings were also passed down to her when her mother visited. But one day, her mother did not come. Niibiish became worried. She wondered what had happened so she decided to check on her family.
As she got near she saw that the camp had been destroyed. She called out, but there was only silence. She discovered to her horror that her parents had been slaughtered and their bodies ripped apart. What was left of her parents lay in a pile, their inner organs scattered about.
Suddenly Niibiish remembered her mother had been pregnant. She shook when she saw her mother’s womb. She ran over and ripped the birth sac open. Inside was her tiny baby brother. He was cold but she could tell that he was barely alive. She wrapped him in a caribou skin and ran as fast as she could back to her tepee.
She heated some water to wash him and sang a lullaby as she poured the warm water over him. His little limbs began to move as life came back to the little baby’s body. He started to move more vigorously; then he cried. She thought of the parents they lost but was happy to have her baby brother.
Niibiish took him out of the water and cuddled him by the fire. She kept saying “Anchâboh” as she kissed him. She swaddled him in fur and used dried moss as a diaper. He hungrily drank fish broth from a wooden spoon and was contented.
As night fell she wrapped him in warm furs and sang another lullaby as he drifted off to sleep. She whispered to him, “Your name is Chikabash.”
Niibiish took care of her brother as best she could. She wanted to make sure he would grow up to be a fine young man; a true warrior. Chikabash grew every day and it was getting harder for her to keep up with him. For a small boy he grew very quickly!
When spring came Niibiish did a walking out ceremony for her brother. After their little feast Chikabash was so happy he could finally run and play outside. For his gift she made a little bow and some arrows for him. He ran around chasing squirrels, trying to shoot at them. The chattering squirrels up in the trees dodged his arrows easily, but Chikabash didn’t give up. His life as a hunter began.
Naturally, he was very curious. One day Chikabash asked his sister about the huge lake beside their camp. “In the middle of the lake, I see large things diving and I hear loud splashing. What is that, sister?”
She answered, “Those are the giant fish called the Mâmkuchichikshû. You should not play in the lake because if you do, they will eat you up.”
Chikabash said timidly, “Sister, don’t say that. You are frightening me!” But he was only pretending. He turned, smiling to himself. Chikabash was not afraid.
He asked his sister to set up a hook to catch the fish and to tie the line to one of the tepee poles.
She looked at him suspiciously, but did as she was asked. “What are you up to little brother?” He just smiled.
The next day, Chikabash was again off, shooting his arrows at the squirrels up in the trees. He took aim at one sitting on the highest branch, and then let the arrow go. Not only did it miss its target, but it also fell into the lake of the giant fish!
Remembering what his sister had said, he checked to make sure she wasn’t looking, and then carefully waded into the cold water. The water was up to his chest when he reached his arrow. He stretched out, grabbed it and turned back toward shore. Just at that moment, he was scooped up in a rush of swirling water into the mouth of the giant fish. It was one of the Mâmkuchichikshû!
In the darkness he felt himself being pulled down toward the fish’s stomach but Chikabash yelled out, “Let me stay in your mouth so I can watch where you’re going!”
Curious, the giant monster stopped swallowing. His food never talked to him before. The fish decided to let Chikabash stay in his mouth instead of swallowing him, and swam toward deeper water.
“Don’t go to the deep water yet. Go towards the shore. I saw something delicious for you to eat,” the boy said, remembering his sister’s fishhook.
The giant fish swam along the shore. Chikabash peeked out from between his enormous teeth. He caught a glimpse of the hook and called out, “I think I see some food for you. Turn back!”
Hungrily, the giant fish swam toward the hook. As they got close, Chikabash quickly reached for the hook and jammed into the fish’s throat.
Realizing he was caught, the fish started fighting the line. He thrashed violently, throwing himself in the air and smashing back down on the water. All this time Chikabash was still in the monster’s mouth, desperately clinging to the line.
Niibiish was chopping wood when she saw the tepee shaking. The line attached to the tepee yanked so violently she feared the tepee would be torn apart.
She ran to the line to see the giant fish thrashing and trying to swim out toward deep water.
She grabbed the line, held on tight and cautiously made her way down to the shore. With all her strength she pulled. “Chikabash! Âshdim!” she shouted, “Come help me pull! Where are you?!”
With one last burst of energy she finally heaved the huge fish out of the water. Its enormous tail shook the sand as it slapped the shore. She clubbed it again and again until it stopped moving.
All this time Chikabash was still inside the fish’s mouth. Panicked, he realized, “If my sister starts to gut the fish, she might cut me!”
Niibiish looked around. “Now where is my younger brother? He didn’t believe me about these giant fish. He’ll be sorry he missed this!” She started to gut the huge fish at the throat.
Suddenly, Chikabash jumped out of the slit and cried out, “This big fish got me all stinky!”
Niibiish was shocked. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into. I told you not to go into that lake.”
Chikabash happily walked down to the shore and washed the slime off.
Brother and sister feasted for days on the giant fish.