As told by John Petagumskum
I don’t know what the other communities call it, but here in Whapmagoostui we call this legend Achaanwaapush (“Cannibal Rabbit”). He was a cannibalistic creature. He was a person with the features of a rabbit and he habitually slaughtered people.
There was a family of Lynx people camped out on the land. One day, the Lynx adults were getting ready to set off for a beaver hunt. As they left, they said to their young Lynx children, “Achaanwaapush will reach our camp today.” The young Lynx were forewarned about what would happen. The adult Lynx said, “When Achaanwaapush enters our teepee, he’ll want the place warm and he’ll want to be scratched and soothed. But make sure that you don’t use your claws so Achaanwaapush will become frustrated and will want to be scratched more vigorously. After he
tells you to scratch him more forcefully, rip him open along his ribs.” The Lynx men left with their wives to hunt for beaver. Only the children were left at the camp.
During the day, the old Cannibal Rabbit reached the camp of the Lynx and entered the teepee. As he opened the door flap and saw the young Lynx children sitting around inside the teepee, he said, “Grandchildren, put some wood in the fire and I’ll warm up and you’ll scratch my back.” The Lynx children agreed. They fed the fire and the place was nice and toasty.
Achaanwaapush got undressed and told the Lynx children to scratch his back. The children began rubbing Achaanwaapush’s back using only their paws. The old Cannibal Rabbit stopped them and asked, “What’s going on? How come you’re not scratching me? Let me check your claws. I told you to scratch my back. Do it with more force.” The Lynx children agreed.
The old Cannibal Rabbit laid down again. The young Lynx children put their paws along his spine, stuck out their claws and pulled down along his ribs. They ripped the Cannibal Rabbit’s skin and tore him open. The Lynx children killed Achaanwaapush. As they joyfully butchered him, they said, “Our parents will eat the abdomen meat.”
After hunting beaver, the Lynx adults said, “Let’s go home. Achaanwaapush must have reached our children.” On their way back, they saw the Cannibal Rabbit’s trail leading to their camp. Just seeing his trail frightened them. The Lynx men told their wives to walk far behind. The Lynx men snuck up to their teepee as they got near. One Lynx man jumped in the entrance and the other pounced for the smoke hole of their teepee to attack Achaanwaapush. They believed that the Cannibal Rabbit had slaughtered their children, but the startled Lynx children said, “What are you doing? We’ve killed Achaanwaapush.” The Lynx men were glad and said, “It’s a good thing you did that.” When the wives of the Lynx arrived, the rest of the camp was already rejoicing and happily cooking a feast of the Cannibal Rabbit. This is the legend that I heard.
Translated and transcribed by Brian Webb.
Voices of the Elders: made possible with the assistance of the Canada Council.