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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter II. Indian Myth and Legend

The aboriginal inhabitants of Nova Scotia were the Micmac Indians. They belonged originally to the confederation of eastern Algonquins, among whom they held third place in the distribution of lands. The early missionaries called them Souriquois, and one of their number, Father Biard. in 1611, estimated their number at 3,000 or 3,500.  It was not until 1693 that the name Micmac was first used officially (Official List, Distribution of Presents). The word is no doubt derived from Migma-gig, the Algonquin name for the land allotted to them in the original distribution, which embraced Nova Scotia with Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island, parts of New Brunswick, Quebec and southwestern Newfoundland. Father Biard, in the Jesuit Relations, speaks of them as a mild, peaceful tribe, living chiefly by hunting and fishing. According to the testimony of the ancient historian, Leclercq, the Micmacs had great veneration for the sun. They saluted its rising and its setting with the triple cry: “ho! ho! ho!” Then, after making profound salutations and waving their hands above their heads, they asked for what they needed, (iv).

Father Pacifique, for many years a missionary among the Micmacs, said in an address delivered at the tercentenary celebration of the conversion of the tribe to Christianity, that they worshipped a great spirit named Mentou chiefly by juggling, fortune-telling and “medicine.”

But at their conversion they recognized that Mentou had rebelled against the true Great Spirit, and had become the “Wicked One.” They then renounced him and threw away the “medicine.” A celebrated “medicine man” was Membertou, the great chief of the Micmacs. The Jesuit Relations (Vol. II., p. 22) name him as the first savage in Canada to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. He was baptized by l’Abbe Jesse Fleche at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, June 24, 1610, and was named Henry for the King of France, the news of whose death had not yet reached Acadie. His wife was named Marie for the Queen Regent, and his children for other members of the royal family. He was then very old but his vigor, both physical and mental, was unimpaired. He claimed to remember having seen Jacques Cartier at the time of his first visit to the St. Lawrence in 1534. As a Christian he became a powerful assistant to the missionaries in the conversion of his tribe.

The Micmacs, since their conversion, have, almost without exception, been remarkable for their unswerving fidelity to the faith. Their great patroness, the saint of their deepest devotion, is St. Anne. They have the honor of having built in 1629, the first church in her honor in America, at St. Anne’s, Cape Breton. They prepare for St. Anne’s feast by attending a mission preached to them by one of their devoted missionaries. This is the great event of their year religiously and socially. They hold these reunions usually on islands which the government has given them apart from their usual reserves, and on which they have built a church and a house for their missionary. During the mission they themselves live in wigwams. On the Sunday nearest the feast, they have a procession in which the statue of St. Anne is carried in triumph. At Chapel Island in the Bras d’Or Lakes, this procession wends its way to a sacred granite rock fenced from desecration, from which Father Maillard first preached the gospel to his dear Micmacs of Cape Breton. This great missionary was sent to Acadie by the French Seminary of Foreign Missions in 1735. The difficulty he must have found in learning the language of the Micmacs may be realized from Father Pacifique’s experience, when he counted 11,000 inflections in conjugating the verb nemig (I see a person or animal). One day as Father Maillard was striving with much difficulty to get the Indians to memorize the prayers, he noticed a boy tracing characters on birch bark at every word he uttered. From this he got the notion of ideograms—an equilateral triangle represented God; a star, heaven; and so on. With these characters he wrote prayer-books, a hymnal, catechisms and Bible translations, which form the literature of the Micmacs.

The Micmac customs were very interesting. Infants, immediately after birth, were dipped into the coldest water they could find, even in mid-winter. The Indians of the Memberton Reserve near Sydney explain this old custom as an act of worship of Glooscap, who was looked upon as the guardian spirit of the waters. The mother was regarded with disfavor by this great spirit until her child was dipped into water. Feasts were given to celebrate the birth of a boy, and also when he cut his first tooth, when he began to walk, and when he killed his first game.

Again, a dying Indian, in accordance with the customs of his ancestors, was expected to breathe his last on a bed of spruce boughs. After death, a plate of salt was placed on the body in the belief that it would thus be preserved from corruption. A great funeral feast was given to celebrate the joy of the dead on going to see his ancestors. The body was put into a large grave into which the friends and relatives put all kinds of funeral presents—skins of beavers and otters, bows,, arrows and quivers, knives and such like.

We can penetrate the thoughts, ideals and fancies of the Indians in their myth of Glooscap. What he was, every Micmac in pre-Christian times longed to be if that were possible. He was the idealized Micmac, a Hercules, a titan, neither god, nor angel, nor demon, nor simply a man, nor moon, nor wind, nor storm, nor lake, nor tree, nor animal, nor rock, but had within himself somethings of all these things.

The legends of the Micmacs brings us back to the freshness of Creation when Glooscap lay on his back, his, head to the rising sun, his feet to the setting sun, his arms outstretched to the North and the South. Although not the Creator and Father of all, yet he was coequal with Creation and was called in Indian parlance, ‘‘The Master,” / ‘The Micmac.”

After seventy times seven days and as many nights, there came to him a bent old woman sprung that very noon-day sun from the dew of the rock. She was Nogami, the grandmother sent to Glooseap by the Great Spirit in fulfilment of a promise. The morrow’s noonday brought to Glooscap and Nogami a young man sprung from the foam of the waters. Him, Glooscap called Nataoa-nsem, my sister’s son. The next day when the sun was at its zenith, there came to these three the Mother of all the Micmacs, who owed her existence to the beautiful planet of the earth. This, then, is the origin of the Micmac race.

Glooscap, the envoy of the Great Spirit, lived in a large wigwam on Cape Blomidon, which still retains, in the language of the Indians, the name Glooscapweek, Glooscap’s house. He wielded his great supernatural powers against the enchantment of magicians; but with his own magic he subdued the beasts of the forest and brought them to his feet in obedience to his call. On one occasion he changed into a squirrel, a huge monster that refused subjection. Minas Basin was his beaver pond, Cape Split, the bulwark of the dam, he opened up to make room for the tides. When the powers of evil came to destroy his wigwam and overthrow’ his power, he summoned to his aid the spirits of the frosts which brought to the land a great cold.

On one occasion, Glooscap quarreled with an Indian chief. When the latter reached his canoe homeward bound, he found himself, to his amazement, in a dense forest. Other braves whom he met, advised him to make peace with the great Master. He did so, and immediately the woods disappeared and he found himself once more on the waters.

Many geographical features of Nova Scotia have legendary explanations in which Glooscap figures largely; for example, his - enemy, a giant beaver had Minas Basin as his lake. Glooscap broke down the rocky dike and killed, the beaver with shrapnel which turned into Five Islands in Minas Basin. His dogs pursued a moose to the point of Cape Chignecto, but farther they could not follow, as he took to the water. Glooscap turned the moose into an island—the Isle of Hant—and the dogs into rocks that can be seen to this day. Even the old woman, his housekeeper, he fixed in one place as a mountain on the Cumberland shore. On the arrival of the white man, Glooscap became so enraged that he took the great stone kettle in which he boiled the bones of the animals captured on a hunting expedition, and turned it upside down in Minas Basin and left the country in disgust. This is the legendary origin of the small round Spenser Island.

A strange light, called the “eye of Glooscap” or the “Witch’s Stone,” legend says, may sometimes be seen flashing with extraordinary radiance out of the dark face of Cape Blomidon. Certain searchers, from time to time, have found the mystic stone—but to their undoing, for the amethyst always brought ill-luck to its possessor, and by some way of sorcery always made its way back to the brow of the mountain. Who knows but that the great Acadian amethyst among the crown jewels of France was none other than this “eye of Glooscap” of the Indian legend.

At Advocate, on the Bay of Fundy, Glooscap pitched his tent, which may still be seen in rock. Here he had his medicine garden, for Glooscap was a great Medicine Man and healed whomsoever he would.

But the sanctity of his home and garden was invaded by his enemy Gayadumsque, the Beaver, which was the largest animal then in existence and was hard to capture, for it could go on the water as well as on the land. Glooscap set his deadfall at Blomidon, hut the Beaver, instead of falling into the trap, damned the waters and flooded Glooscap’s wigwam and his medicine garden. Glooscap broke up the dam and his bow and arrow, and in his rage pursued the Beaver with stones. The Beaver escaped, and the stones splashed harmlessly into the water. They were five great pebbles and to-day they form what is known as ‘‘Five Islands.”

These islands are just off from the mainland and the village which bears their name. They differ in size, although none are large. They are known as Moose, Diamand, Long, Egg, and Pinnacle.

On Long Island there is a very interesting rock, because of the face of an old man which is plainly embedded in its hard surface. It is called Buff’s Ghost. Years ago, an Irish squatter named Buff, lived with his family on Long Island,—the only people who were ever known to have lived there. The old man was very rough, and treated his family so cruelly that his sons made up their minds to take his life. Cold-bloodedly they discussed ways and means. One of them proposed throwing him over the end of the island where the cliffs rose to a sheer height above the sea. But to make sure that this would work, they first threw a sheep over. As the sheep was not killed outright, they decided that they would have to adopt some other plan. After much plotting and planning,, these unnatural sons determined to take their father’s life whilst he slept. Fortune favored their foul plan, for the following day their father fell asleep in the barn. They committed the crime with an axe, and then proceeded to cover up all trace of it. They dragged the body to the woods, where they felled a tree on top of it, then hurried to the mainland, where they spread the report that their father had been killed in the woods by the falling of a tree.

Years later, the youngest son told how as a little boy he had been sleeping in the barn with his father when his brothers came in and killed his father. The authorities, so the story runs, came down from Truro, disinterred the body and found there the evidence which bore testimony to the truth of the boy’s story.

Now the old man’s ghost wanders on Long Island, calling in vain for vengeance, while his head is imprinted for all ages in the hardness of the rock. (Stories obtained from the Department of Natural Resources of the Province of Nova Scotia).

In Aylesworth Lake, King’s Co., there was a beaver house out of which Glooscap drove a small beaver, and chased it down to the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton. There it ran into another beaver house, where Glooscap killed it and turned the house into a high-peaked island, and there feasted the Indians.

Since Glooscap’s departure from Nova Scotia for a land away to the west, Indians have sometimes gone to visit him. On one occasion, seven young men succeeded in reaching him. They found him in a beautiful country with two companions, Weather and Earthquake. One of the visitors liked the place so well that he expressed a desire to remain there. Consequently, under Glooscap’s direction, Earthquake stood him up, and he became a cedar tree. When the wind blew through the boughs, they broke and bent with so much noise that the thunder of it rolled far and wide over the country. This thunder was accompanied by strong winds which scattered the cedar boughs and seeds in all directions, thus producing all the cedar groves that exist in Nova Scotia.

One day when they were on the Cumberland shore, Glooscap’s old housekeeper asked him to let her go across to Partridge Island while he went around in his canoe. He agreed, but before he sent her, he stepped across and raised a causeway, now called “Boar’s Back,” on which she might go over.

The Mimacs of Cape Breton have also their legends of Glooscap. Here his chief place of abode was at St. Anne’s, situated on a bay of the same name a short distance north of Sydney Harbor. At the entrance to this bay are two small islands marked “Hiboux” on the map, but to the Indians they are always “Glooscap Ogtol..” Glooscap’s canoe. A giant canoe, it is, like the mysterious being it served. The story, briefly, is this: Once Glooscap, on his return from an expedition, perceived on either side of his cabin two girls, giants like himself, who looked at him with mocking eyes. He became enraged, and laying his giant hand on the side of the canoe, he leaped to the land. As he did so the boat broke in two, and the pieces he changed into islands, where they are to-day for all to see. Glooscap looked fixedly at the two daring damsels, then shouted at them in a voice of thunder: “ Very well; remain where you are.” And there they remain transformed into stone. With a little Micmac imagination you can see at least one of them fairly well outlined even to-day, but her companion has been worn away by time.

Glooscap, proud of his exploit, took off his cloak, sat on the ground, and began to smoke, according to the Micmac ideal of happiness: ‘‘to smoke and do nothing.” It is not known what happened to him after this last giant achievement. His cabin is there empty; his canoe has not been repaired. He has never since been seen.

The cabin is a cave on the mainland, just opposite Hiboux Islands, a little north of Cape Dauphin. The Whites call it “Fairy Hole.” In March, 1920, M. S. H. McRitchie, of Englishtown (the modern name for St. Anne’s village), wrote to Father Pacifique: “On the mainland the nearest part to the Islands (Hiboux) is a cave known as Fairy Hole. The inside of the cave or underground passage has never been reached, for when a certain distance is reached the air gets bad and no lights will burn.” Yet the Micmacs would have you believe that it is only the lights of the Whites that go out in the cave. Once five of them entered it with fourteen torches. They walked some distance on a level plain, then mounted a great many steps to another level, where they continued their course for some time. But as their seventh torch was spent, the eldest of the group told his companions that they would need the others to get back to the point from which they started. Since then, no one has visited the, interior of the mysterious cave.

Many of the legends of the Micmacs deal with the struggle for existence of a nomadic race, and their wars with other Indian tribes. But there are some that resemble the European legends in several respects. In one in particular, found in Rand’s collection of Legends of the Micmacs, a magical coat, shoes and sword are the equipment of a young prince who goes in search of his three sisters, who have been sold by their father for money with which to buy liquor (a proceeding decidedly Indian). The magical coat renders the wearer invisible; the shoes carry him with incredible speed wheresoever he would; the sword will do whatever he desires. Here is a striking resemblance to the shoes of swiftness and the sword of light of the young prince in “The King of Ireland’s Son,” by Padraic Colum. With the shoes of swiftness “he could go as the eagle flies”; with the sword of light in his hands, what he commanded had to be done.

In the Indian tale, the husbands of the princesses, who transform themselves by day into a whale., a sheep and a goose, and who fcome to the aid of their brother-in-law in killing a giant whose soul is elsewhere, are reminiscent of the dog, the falcon and the otter, which perform like services towards the hero in the story, ‘‘The Sea Maiden” (Popular Tales of the West Highlands, by J. F. Campbell) ; and of the brown wren, the dog and the falcon in “CaJthal O’Cruachan o’ the Herd of the Stud” (Folk Tales and Fairy Lore, by McDougall and Calder). The giant of the Indian legend has stolen the hero’s wife; in the Celtic legends the hero rescues from the giant’s castle the woman whom he makes his wife. The Indian giant has his soul in an iron chest, which is enclosed under the water in a series of seven locked chests, a striking parallel to which is found in the Arabian Nights. The Celtic imagination cannot bear so prosaic a hiding place for a living soul as a lifeless chest, so it encloses its giant’s soul, in one case in an egg., that is in a falcon, that is in a hind; in another case in an egg that is in a bird, that is in a sheep.

The hero in another of these legends, “The Magic Dancing Doll” (Rand’s Legends of the Micmacs) has only to hold the doll and wish to be wherever he wants to go, and he gets there. Like incidents are found in “The Knight of the Green Vesture” (Celtic Traditions, by J. McDougall), who could do likewise when he had a certain magic stone about him; and in the “Three Soldiers” (Popular Tales of the Western Highlands, by J. F. Campbell), and its variants, where a wishing towel or a soldier’s knife could transport its possessor with lightning-like speed wheresoever he would. A close parallel for the incidents of the “Magic Dancing Doll” is found in the “Widow’s Son” (Popular Tales of the West Highlands, by J. F. Campbell).

In the former The magic dancing doll, enclosed in a box, does all that the hero wishes. It secures for him the chief's daughter for a wife by removing a mountain and defeating an army. It builds a fine wigwam.

A thief steals the magic doll, and carries off the chief’s daughter and the wigwam to a place where they may be hidden. The hero finds the place by the aid of a magic arrow; he recovers the doll, and then, by its means, he transports his wife and wigwam to their former location.

In the latter A magic box gets for the boy-all he desires. It brings him a fine horse, a dress and glass shoes with which he wins races necessary for the having of the king’s daughter for his wife. It builds a splendid palace.

A thief steals the magic box and carries off the princess and the palace to the realm of the rats. The hero is carried to the place in a magic boat; he recovers the box, and has his wife and palace brought back to their original home.

The closeness of the parallel shows that the Indians and the Celts in the far distant past were in direct communication with one another, or were in touch with the same sources of inspiration. Although, according to Indian tradition, the white men came from the East, the Indians from the West (Catholic Encyclopaedia), yet there must have been a common meeting- ground somewhere sometime. If the tradition is true, Behring Strait did not always separate Asia from America.

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