Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

From the Indians who lived on the shores of Gitchee- Gumee Nanabozo had heard about a water monster, or a giant fish, which often caught fishermen, dragged them into the lake and swallowed them. The name of this fish was Mishe-Nomak, and it was one of the monsters created by Chakeke-Napok, the enemy of men. So when Nanabozo was told about the evil deeds of the giant fish, he decided to destroy him.

He came to the lake, built a small raft and pushed off. When he was over deep water he began to sing:

“Mishe-Nomak, come and eat me! Mishe-Nomak, come and eat me!”

But Mishe-Nomak did not appear. He sent one of the smaller water monsters to swallow Nanabozo and his raft. When Nanabozo saw the little monster, he laughed. He caught the fish by the tail and threw it to the shore, say­ing:

“Are you Mishe-Nomak? You are too small to swallow me, so you cannot be Mishe-Nomak! Oh, Mishe-Nomak, come and eat me!”

And again Mishe-Nomak did not come himself. This time he sent a larger monster. It opened its mouth as wide as it could, but could not swallow the raft. Nanabozo took a long stick which he had on the raft, and put it into the monster’s mouth so that the big fish could not shut it. The second monster returned to the bottom of the lake and when Mishe-Nomak saw what had happened to it, he became so angry that the water in the lake began to boil.

For the third time Nanabozo sang:

“Mishe-Nomak, come and eat me! Mishe-Nomak, come and eat me!”

And this time the giant fish came himself. He opened his mouth, rushed at the raft and swallowed it together with Nanabozo. The waters of the lake carried Nanabozo deep into the belly of the monster. Then the waters went back the way they came and Nanabozo found himself in darkness. But he could see well in the dark, and he saw that he was not alone. Together with him were some of his kinsmen whom Mishe-Nomak had swallowed not long before. Nanabozo had come just in time, for they were very weak by now and could not even stand on their feet.

Nanabozo saw that he had to raise the spirits of his kinsmen, so he said:

“Brothers! We shall not remain here long! Get up and let us dance our war-dance and sing our war-song. We must fight for our lives!”

Nanabozo’s kinsmen found new strength in his words, stood up and tried their best to dance. But only one of them, whose name was Squirrel, found strength enough to sing the war-song together with Nanabozo.

The war-dance made Mishe-Nomak uneasy, and he began to beat the water with his tail. But when Nanabozo took out his knife and continued to dance, jumping high­er and higher and at every jump striking the monster’s heart with his knife, Mishe-Nomak understood that his end had come. The pain was so great and he beat the water with such a force that he threw himself out of the water and soon died on the shore of Gitchee-Gumee.

When Mishe-Nomak was dead, Nanabozo cut a hole in the monster’s body and helped his kinsmen to climb out. And this is what he said to Squirrel:

“My brother, you did not lose your courage in danger and sang our war-song with me. This shall not be forgotten: all the squirrels in the woods will always live merrily and will always have food in abundance. And you will live as merrily as they till the last days of your life.”

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