Told by Mary Masty Sr.
There was once a man with his wife living out on the land. They lived a simple life and were not experiencing any hardship. The couple was living not far from the man’s father-in-law. The man hunted beaver and was successful. A long time ago, it was very easy to catch beaver before the time Chipiyuuch lived with beaver. The man brought home beaver.
One day, the man noticed that his wife didn’t eat much when they ate. He didn’t know what she could have eaten because they didn’t have much meat at their camp. It seemed as though she had already eaten. When they ate, she only took a few bites and was full. This happened for many days. The man became suspicious.
One morning, the man got ready to go off hunting. But he was only pretending. He went into the distance but was still able to see their lodge. He quietly sat down in the cover of the forest and watched his camp.
The man saw his wife coming out of the lodge carrying their cooking pot. She headed for the area where she chopped firewood. Her path was very well trodden. The man wondered what she was up to. He followed her from a distance. She walked to the edge of a swamp to a mound. She sat down beside the mound and seemed to be cutting something inside the mound. The man spied from far away. He recognized that it was meat she was cutting as she put it into the pot.
The man walked towards his wife. Apparently, the mound was a bear den. The woman had killed the bear and was cutting meat from it a little at a time. The man asked his wife, “What are you doing? It seems as though you’re working on food that you’re keeping secret.” She replied, “Yes. I’m gouging meat from this little bear which I had found.” The man said, “Yes, you sure are. You’ve almost consumed it all!” The man dragged the partially butchered carcass out of the den and took it home. The man properly cleaned and butchered the bear.
Long ago, I’ve always heard that if anyone disrespected the bear, there would be severe consequences. Even if someone stole bear meat, the spirit of the bear would take revenge. That was why careful watch was taken when a bear was killed, so as not to offend the spirit of the bear.
The man continued to hunt beaver. When he returned with beaver, he noticed there was something wrong with his wife. The woman skinned the beaver using the flesher. After using the flesher for a while, the blade is covered with the fat and flesh of the beaver and the flesher is wiped. But his wife didn’t wipe the flesher. She sucked on the blade to clean it. The man watched her abnormal behaviour. He asked, “Why are you doing that? Don’t you know that beaver is not eaten raw?” The woman looked at her husband and was going to stab him with the flesher. The man knew that there was something seriously wrong with his wife. This was because of how she treated the bear.
In the morning, the man left. He went to the nearby camp. He knew that his wife was not thinking straight. She no longer had any sense of right from wrong. He arrived at the camp and told everyone there what had happened. His father-in-law didn’t accept what he was saying. The old man asked, “What had happened to her? There was nothing wrong when she left our camp.” The old man told his wife, “Let’s go see our daughter. Let’s go see if it is true.” He didn’t believe what was happening. But the rest of the camp believed what the man was saying. They prepared to move away. The man went back to keep an eye on his wife. But he knew that he couldn’t go near her because she was no longer human.
The old man and his wife walked to where their daughter was. As they got close, they could hear her screaming and wailing. The old man called out, “My little daughter, what’s wrong? I will try to save you and I will live with you.” The crazed woman walked towards her parents and clubbed them right there. She killed her own parents. She was no longer human.
The man knew that he had put an end to this and had no other option but to kill his wife. He hurried back to the main camp and told everyone that the old man and his wife were dead. They were preparing for the woman to come. They knew that she would be following her father’s trail. She was no longer the size of a human. She was becoming a giant cannibal. She was eating people now. They waited for her to come. But she didn’t come right away. Everyone knew that she was busy eating the corpses of her parents.
The spirit of the bear was vengeful to those who showed disrespect. This was before there was religion. Nobody knew God. That was why things like this happened long ago. That was why this happened to the woman. Today, things such as that don’t happen. All game is properly consumed. Only if the game is sick, it is not eaten and is simply burned so the carcass is not lying around. That was what we were told to do.
The woman reached the camp and they were all ready for her. Fortunately, there was a shaman at the camp. That’s how the cannibal woman was killed. The man wasn’t killed either because he was very observant. He knew that there was no way to save his wife. I heard my grandfather tell this legend. I’m telling you only what I’ve heard.
Translator’s Notes: The legendary character Chipiyuuch lived with the beaver and taught them how to elude Cree hunters. The screaming of a cannibal was because of the agonizing pain of hunger for human flesh.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts which last year invested $21.7 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.
Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada, qui a investi 21,7 millions de dollars l’an dernier dans les lettres et l’édition à travers le Canada.