Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

In the heart of the forest there lived a hunter with two sons. His wife had died, his wigwam was very far from the other wigwams of his tribe, so the boys grew up as best they could without a mother’s care. They were used to staying alone when their father went hunting. He usually left plenty of dried meat in the wigwam, and in summer the young brothers gathered berries and mushrooms and had enough to eat.

Then came a great drought. No berries grew on the bushes, the leaves of the grass and trees were burnt by the hot sun, and even some of the springs went dry. Thus it happened that the hunter had to go very far in search of game.

Many weeks passed. When Seegwun, the elder boy, saw that their dried meat was coming to an end, he said to his younger brother, Ioscoda:

“Let us take all our dried meat and go to the north. There, as our father said more than once, lies a great lake called Gitche’e-Gumee. There we shall catch fish and wait for better times. If we stay here, we shall die.”

“But can we find the way?” asked Ioscoda.

“Our father says that when you go to the north, the sun must be on your right in the morning, behind your back at noon, and on your left in the afternoon. That is easy to remember,” said Seegwun.

“But our father never allows us to go far from the wigwam because of the wild beasts. Are you not afraid of the wolves?” again asked Ioscoda.

“We needn’t be afraid of the wolves. They have fol­lowed the deer who left the forest when the drought came,” said the elder brother.

Indeed, nothing happened to them in the forest. For many days they walked to the north. At last they came to a place where the grass and the bushes were green. Seeg­wun climbed to the top of a high tree and in the distance he saw something that shone like silver. It was Gitchee-Gumee, the Great Lake.

The brothers built a small bark wigwam on the beach and every morning caught fish in the lake. Now they were not afraid of hunger. One day Seegwun made a bow and arrows for his little brother and taught him how to shoot. He had made very good arrows with flint arrowheads and told Ioscoda to be careful and not to lose any of them.

One morning Seegwun was sitting on a stone and fishing. Ioscoda who was just going to shoot at a gull on the beach, took bad aim and the arrow fell into the lake, not far from the place where Seegwun was fishing.

“Stay where you are!” cried Seegwun to his brother. “I’ll get the arrow myself,”


He jumped off the stone into the water and walked till it reached his waist. He bent over the water and looked down to see where the arrow was. Suddenly, as if by magic, a canoe appeared on the lake near him. In the canoe was an ugly old man. He seized the astonished boy and pulled him into the boat.

“If I must go with you, take my brother, too!” cried Seegwun. “He is too young to live here alone.”

But the old man, who was a magician and whose name was Mishosha, only laughed. Then he struck the side of the canoe with his hand, muttered some magic words and the canoe began to move so quickly that in a few minutes the beach was lost to sight. Soon it came to a strange shore, and Mishosha, jumping out, told Seegwun to follow.

They had landed on an island. Before them were two wigwams; from the smaller one two young girls came out, and stood, looking at them.

Seegwun had never seen a girl before, and to him these maidens looked like the beautiful Star-maidens about whom his father had told him. He even thought that they would disappear or rise to the sky. But they looked at him without smiling, and there was sadness in their eyes.

“They are my daughters!” said the old man to Seegwun. Then he turned to the girls. “Are you not glad to see me safely back? And are you not pleased that I have brought my handsome young friend with me?”

They bent their heads, but said nothing.

“Look at this young man,” he turned to the elder girl. “He would make you a good husband.”

The maiden said something that made the old man angry.

“We shall see, we shall see!” he muttered to himself, laughing and rubbing his hands.

Seegwun who did not know what to think about all this, decided to keep his eyes open. Luckily, Mishosha was sometimes careless. He went into his wigwam, leaving the others together. The elder girl approached Seegwun and spoke to him quickly:

“We are not his daughters,” she said. “He brought us here as he brought you. He hates everybody. It is not for the first time that he has brought here a young man. He always says that he has brought a husband for me. But soon he takes him away in his canoe, and the young man never comes back. We are sure that Mishosha has killed all of them.”

“What must I do?” asked Seegwun. “I care less for myself than for my little brother. He was left alone on a wild beach, and may die of hunger.”

“Ah!” said the maiden. “You are really good and kind- hearted, and, no matter what comes of it, we must help you. Koko-Koho, the great owl, keeps watch all night on that tree. Wait till Mishosha falls asleep, wrap your­self in his blanket and come out. Koko-Koho will think that it is his master. At the door of our wigwam call my name, Ninimosha, and I shall come out and tell you what to do.”

“Ninimosha,” said the youth, “what a beautiful name!”

But before’ he could thank her, the girls turned and disappeared in their wigwam.


Mishosha now looked out of his wigwam and told Seegwun to enter. The old man was merry and passed the time telling stories. But Seegwun knew that Mishosha was only pretending to be his friend. When the magician fell asleep, he rose, wrapped himself in his blanket and walk­ed carefully to the door of the little wigwam.

“Ninimosha!” he called, and his heart beat fast; for in the language of the Indians .Ninimosha means “My Sweet­heart.”

“Seegwun!” she answered, and his name, which means “Spring,” sounded like music on her lips.

When she came out of the wigwam, she had a parcel in her hands.

“Here,” she said, “is food for your brother. It is enough for several days. Get into Mishosha’s canoe, say the magic words, and it will take you where you wish. You can return before dawn.”

“But the owl?” asked Seegwun. “Will he not cry out?”

“In -Mishosha’s blanket he’will take you for8 Mishosha. When Koko-Koho sees you, he will cry, ‘Hoot, hoot! You must answer, ‘Hoot, hoot, whoo! Mishosha/ Then he will let you pass.”

Seegwun did as he was told, and soon crossed the lake. He landed on the beach and woke up his brother who was sleeping in the bark wigwam. He explained to Ioscoda what had happened and told him to wait for him. Then he returned to the canoe, and in the morning Mishosha found him fast asleep in the wigwam.

“You have slept well, my son,” said the magician. “And now we shall go to an island where thousands of gulls lay their eggs in the sand, and we shall take as many as we can carry away.”

When Seegwun and Mishosha went to the canoe, Ninimosha and her sister came out of their wigwam. Ninimosha kissed her hand and waved it, as if she wanted to say, “I am with you. Don’t be afraid.” This made him feel that nothing bad could happen to him.

While the canoe rushed over the waves, Seegwun made sure, that he had his hunting knife with him, and did not take his eyes off Mishosha for a moment.

When they reached the island, the gulls rose into the air and flew in thousands above their heads. The noise they made was terrible.

“You gather the eggs,” said the magician, “and I shall keep watch in the canoe.”

Seegwun was glad to leave the old man. He went along the beach to the place where the gulls laid their eggs. When he was far enough, Mishosha cried to the gulls:

“Ho, my feathered friends! Here is the fresh meat which promised you when you agreed to call me master. Fly down, my friends! Fly down, kill this boy and pick the meat off his bones!

Striking the side of his canoe, he rushed away from the island.

The gulls swept down on Seegwun. Ten thousand wings beat the air and raised a great wind. But Seegwun was not afraid. He shouted the war-cry of his tribe and seized the first bird that attacked him by the neck. He held it high above his head in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his knife which shone in the sun.

“Hold!” he cried. “Hold! If you kill me, all of you will be killed by Gitchee-Manito, as I shall kill this gull with my knife!”

“But Mishosha is our master,” cried the gulls. “He has ordered us to destroy you and we must do as he orders.”

“Mishosha is not a manito,” answered Seegwun. “He is only a magician and he uses you for his evil deeds. It is he who must be destroyed. Take me back on your wings to his island, and you will soon see that he is not so strong as you think.”

Then the gulls understood that Mishosha had deceived them. They drew close together, the youth lay down upon their backs and they carried him across the waters. Thus Seegwun reached the island before Mishosha.

Ninimosha was very glad when she saw that it was really Seegwun.

“I was not mistaken in you,” she told him. “It is clear that Gitchee-Manito protects you. But Mishosha will try again, so be careful.”

The magician now came in his magic canoe. When he saw Seegwun he tried to smile pleasantly.

“Good, my son!” he said. “You must understand me correctly. I left you with the gulls because I wanted to test your courage. And now I see that you deserve Ninimosha’s love. Ah, my children, you will make a happy pair!”

Ninimosha turned away to hide her hatred for the old man, but Seegwun pretended to believe him.

“Now I want to make you a present,” continued the magician. Come with me to the Island of Shells, and there we shall make for you such a Wampum-belt, as no other warrior has.”

The island where they landed was indeed a wonderful place. The beach was covered with beautiful shells. But Mishosha said that Wampum-belts were made of another kind of shells.

“Look!” he said as they walked along the beach. “There they are! Under the water, not far from the shore.”

Seegwun went into the water to gather the shells. When he was in the water to the waist, Mishosha jumped into his canoe.

‘Come, King of Fishes!” he called. “You have always served me well. Here is your reward.”

Then, striking his canoe, he quickly disappeared. At once a great fish came out of the water near Seegwun. But he only smiled. He drew his long knife and said:

“Know, monster, that I am Seegwun. I am named after him whose breath brings new life to the Earth after a long winter. Mishosha wants to destroy me, but he fears the anger of Gitchee-Manito and does not dare to kill me himself. But one drop of my blood will change the colour of the waters of the lake and all your tribe will perish in it.”

“Mishosha has deceived me,” said: the King of Fishes. “How can I serve you, brave young warrior?”

Seegwun told the great fish to carry him to the island of Mishosha. The King of Fishes took Seegwun on his back and swam so quickly that he reached the island soon after Mishosha.

The magician was explaining to Ninimosha how the youth had fallen from the canoe into the lake and how he Was killed there by a big fish. At this moment Seegwun himself came out of the water. Mishosha hid his astonish­ment and gave a new explanation.

“My daughter,” said he, “I was only trying to find out how much you cared for him.”

Mishosha now saw that it was very difficult to destroy Seegwun, but he still hoped that he could do it. The next day he said to the youth:

“My owl is growing old, and cannot live much longer. I want to catch a young eagle and tame him. Will you help me?” Seegwun agreed, and went with him in the magic canoe to an island where there was an eagle’s nest. The nest was near the top of a tall pine, and in the nest were some young eagles who could not fly yet.

“Quick!” said Mishosha. “Climb up the tree before the old birds return.”

Seegwun had almost reached the nest when the magi­cian spoke to the pine and ordered it to grow taller. At once it began to rise. Soon the tree was so high that Seeg­wun was afraid to look down. At the same time Mishosha called the old eagles and they swept down from the clouds to protect their children.

“Ho, ho!” laughed Mishosha. “This time I have made no mistake. Either you will fall and break your neck, or the eagles will kill you.”

And, striking his canoe, he disappeared.

When the eagles tried to attack Seegwun, he spoke to them thus:

“My brothers, don’t you see the eagle’s feather in my hair? You are brave and strong, and I want to be like you. That is why I have this feather. I hope that you will help me and carry me back to Mishosha’s island.”

The praise pleased the eagles who liked the youth’s courage. The biggest of the two birds took Seegwun on his back and carried him safely to the magician’s island.

When Mishosha saw Seegwun on the back of the eagle, he understood that neither bird, nor beast would harm this handsome youth. It must be done in another way.

“I shall test you once more,” he said to Seegwun, “and then you may marry Ninimosha. This time I shall test you as a hunter. Let us go into the forest and hunt together.”


Mishosha and Seegwun crossed the lake in the magic canoe and went deep into the forest. When night came, they made afire and lay down to sleep. But before going to sleep, Seegwun took off his moccassins and hung them up near the fire to dry. At dawn, while Seegwun was sleeping, Mishosha got up, took one of his moccassins and threw it into the fire. Then, by his magic powers, he changed the weather, and it at once became cold as in winter. The frost made Seeg­wun awake. A strong wind was blowing, the ground was covered with snow and ice.

“What has happened?” ask­ed Seegwun, sitting up.

“Alas, my son! Winter has come, and we have no meat a home. We cannot return with­out meat for ourselves and the girls. But I am afraid that you will not be able to help me because the fire has destroyed one of your moccassins. You had hung them too close to the fire. I should have warned you!”

It was clear that the cruel magician wanted Seegwun to freeze to death. But the youth did not say a word. He took a piece of coal from the fire-place and blackened one leg and foot, muttering some magic words. Then he put on the moccassin which remained and said that he was ready for the hunt.

They walked through snow and ice, but Seegwun’s bare leg did not suffer from the frost. With his first arrow he killed a bear.

“Now,” he said, looking at Mishosha, “I see that you are suffering from the cold. Let us go back to your island.” Mishosha bent his head and muttered something. At last he had met his match, and he knew it.

“Take up the bear on your shoulders!” ordered Seegwun. Again the magician did as he was told. For the first time they returned to the island together. The two young girls were greatly astonished when they saw the proud Mishosha carrying the bear.

“His power is broken,” agreed Ninimosha when Seegwun told her all. “But he is still dangerous. What can we do to rid the world of him?”

They talked it over and at last decided to leave him alone in the forest.

“He deserves a greater punishment,” said Ninimosha “but without his magic canoe he cannot do much.”

The next day Seegwun said to the magician:

“It is time to bring here my brother whom we had left alone on the beach. Come with me.”

Mishosha had to agree. When they came to the beach, the boy ran out of the bark-wigwam and climbed into the canoe. Then Seegwun said to the old man:

“Can you find some ashberries for the girls while I talk to my brother? I think that I have seen an ashberry-tree up there, on that hill.”

“To be sure, my son, to be sure. I shall do. this with great pleasure,” said Mishosha and walked quickly to the hill.

Seegwun struck the canoe with his hand, said the magic words and soon he and his brother were safely back on the island where Ninimosha and her sister were waiting for them.

Before they had time to jump out of the canoe, Nini­mosha cried:

“Hold! Mishosha can call the canoe back to him. One of us must sit here and keep watch, holding his hand on the boat.”

So they kept watch in turn, and in the evening Ioscoda asked his brother to allow him to keep watch during the night. Seegwun was so tired after all his adventures that he had to have a good rest. So he went to sleep and told Ioscoda that he would come back at dawn.

All the night the brave little boy sat on the sand by the canoe and tried his best not to sleep. He counted the stars in the sky, sang songs and threw stones into the water. But before dawn his little head began to nod, the fog, or maybe something else, filled his eyes, and he fell asleep.

An hour passed, and the gray dawn came from the east. Ioscoda suddenly woke up and looked around. Where was he? Still on the beach, waiting for his brother? Then he remembered: he was on the island. But where was the canoe?

Oh, there it was! It was coming over the lake to him, and in it sat Mishosha.

“Good morning, childl” said the magician, climbing out of the canoe. “Are you not glad to see your grandfather again?”

. Ioscoda clenched his fists. He was very brave and he was angry

“You are not my grandfather,” he said, “and I am not glad to see you!”

“But Seegwun will be glad to see me,” laughed the old man. “And my daughters will be glad too. I hope they do not think that I have died in the forest,”

Mishosha was so pleased with himself, that he laughed and joked all the day and in the evening went to sleep in his own wigwam.

For many days Seegwun and Ninimosha tried to think of a new plan. Seegwun told her how Mishosha burnt his moccassin.

Ninimosha remembered that the magician always sat with his left foot under him and that he never came out of the wigwam with his feet bare. They put two and two together and decided that the magician’s left leg and foot were the only parts of his body that could be harmed.

So Seegwun waited till the weather became very cold and said to Mishosha:

“Grandfather, it seems that we must continue to live here together. Let us go to the forest and bring more meat, for winter is near. I am sure that you are a great hunter.”

Mishosha was so pleased with the praise that he agreed at once.

“Of course, I am a great hunter,” he said. “I can kill a deer with one arrow, and I can run all day with a dead deer on my shoulders. I have done it.”

When they came to the forest, they made a small wig­wam where they could pass the night. Seegwun lay down and pretended to be asleep. At dawn, when he made sure that the magician was fast asleep, he took his moccassins and threw them into the fire.

“Get up, grandfather! Look what has happened! At this time of the year fire attracts all things, and I am afraid that you have left’your moccassins too near to it.”

Mishosha sat up and looked so frightened that Seegwun was almost sorry for him. But there was no other way to rid the world of the cruel magician.

“We must be going,” said Seegwun, and for the first time Mishosha had to leave the wigwam with his feet bare.

How cold it was! Mishosha began to run, thinking that this would help. Soon the magician was quite out of breath and could hardly move his feet. They had come to the edge of the forest and reached the shore of the lake. Here Mishosha stopped. When he tried to take another step, he could not raise his feet. How heavy they had become! He tried again, but something strange had happened. His feet sank into the sand and took the form of roots. The feathers in his hair, and then the hair itself, changed into leaves. His arms were branches, bark appeared on his body.

Seegwun looked and wondered. Mishosha was no longer a man, but a tree, an old, crooked willow, bending towards the lake. Seegwun waited a little to make sure that Mishosha would not come to life. Then he went to the magic canoe and returned to the island where the others were waiting for him. He told them the good news.

“Mishosha is no more,” said Seegwun. “He can never harm us again. Let us leave this place where we have suf­fered so much and make our home in the great forest.”

Seegwun, Ninimosha and their young brother and sister crossed the lake and went through the woods to the old wigwam where .the brothers had lived before. Their father was waiting for them, and they all lived happily for the rest of their days.

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