Manabozho and the Woodpecker - Anishinabe
Manabozho and the Woodpecker - Anishinabe
Taken from the book Keepers of the Animals by Joseph Bruchac
Manabozho lived with his grandmother, Nokomis, in their lodge near the big water. As Manabozho grew older, his grandmother taught him many things. One day she told him about Megissogwon, the Spirit of Fever.
"Megissogwon is very strong," she told him. "He is the one who killed your grandfather."
When Manabozho learned about Megissogwon he decided that he should destroy him. "Things will be hard for the people to come," Manabozho said. "I will go and kill this monster."
Nokomis warned her grandson that it would not be easy to do. The way to Megissogwon's island was a dangerous one. It was guarded by two great serpents that waited on either side and breathed fire on anyone who tried to pass through. If one got past them, the waters of the lake turned into black mud and pitch that would stop the passage of any canoe. However, Manabozho was determined.
"Grandmother," he said, "I must go and fight Megissogwon."
Then Manabozho fasted and prayed for four days He loaded his birchbark canoe with many arrows. He took with a bag made from the bladder of the sturgeon which was filled with fish Oil. He spoke a single word to his canoe and it shot forward across the water. It went so swiftly that he was soon to the place where the lake narrowed and the two great snakes waited on either side.
"Manabozho," the great snakes said, "if you pass between us we shall destroy you with our fire."
"That is true," Manabozho said. "I can see that your power is stronger than mine. But what about that other one there behind you?" The two great serpents turned their heads to look behind them. As soon as they did so Manabozho spoke another word to his canoe and it shot between the two great serpents. He lifted his bow and fired his flint-tipped arrows, killing both of the serpents. Then he went on his way.
Now he came to the place where the waters turned into black mud and pitch. He took out the fish bladder and poured the slippery fish oil all over the sides of his canoe Then he spoke another word and his canoe shot forward ' sliding through the mud and pitch.
At last Manabozho came to theisland of Megissogwon . Only a single tree stood on the island, for Megissogwon hated the birds and had destroyed all the other trees to keep them away. On that tree there was a single branch and on it sat Woodpecker.
"My friend," Manabozho said to Woodpecker, "I am glad to see you. I have come to destroy that one who hates us."
Then Manabozho called out in a loud voice as if speaking to many men. "My warriors," he said/ "surround this island. I shall fight the monster first, but be ready to attack when I call for help."
Megissogwon heard Manabozho's voice and came running to attack him. He was taller than any man and his face and his hands were painted black. His hair was bound up tightly in a knot on top of his head.
His body was covered with wampum painted in bright stripes. He roared as he came and his voice was so loud that it shook the ground.
"You are the one who killed my grandfather," Manabozho shouted. "My men and I will destroy you."
Then they began to fight. Manabozho shot his arrows at Megissogwon. The monster had no weapons, but his breath was colder than winter ice and he tried to grasp Manabozho with his black hands. Each time he came close, though, Manabozho would shout out as if to other warriors. "Now, attack him from behind."
Whenever Manabozho shouted, Megissogwon would turn to look. Thus Manabozho would escape his grasp and shoot another arrow at the monster. But Megissogwon's armor of wampum was so strong that the arrows just bounced off.
So they fought all through the day. Now the sun was about to set and Manabozho had only three arrows left.
Then Woodpecker called down to Manabozho from the place where he sat on that one last tree.
"Shoot at the top of his head," Woodpecker called, "his power is there, wrapped up in the knot of his hair."
Megissogwon was reaching for Manabozho with his huge black hands. His breath was cold on Manabozho's face. Manabozho took careful aim and shot. His arrow grazed the giant's hair and Megissogwon staggered.
"Shoot again, shoot again!" Woodpecker called.
Manabozho shot his second arrow. It struck Megissogwon's topknot and the giant fell to his knees.
"Shoot again, shoot again!" Woodpecker cried.
Manabozho aimed at the center of the giant's knot of hair. His arrow flew straight to its mark and Megissogwon fell dead.
Manabozho called Woodpecker to him.
"My friend," he said, "this victory is also yours."
Then he took some of the giant's blood and placed it on Woodpecker's crest, making its head red. To this day. Wood-pecker has a red head, reminding everyone of how it helped Manabozho defeat the Spirit of Fever, reminding the people to always respect the birds.
Other tribes who also tell this story Ojibwa or Chippewa