Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

Many stories are told about Nanabozo, the great hero who lived long, long ago when there were few people on the Earth. Some old men say that Nanabozo was sent to the Earth by Gitchee Manito to teach people how to live and to make them wiser and better, and that he was a ma- nito himself. Others say that he was a man, not a manito, and that he was able to do great things for the people only because he loved them more than himself. And it is true, indeed, that really great men never think of their own hap­piness or fame. .

But what does it matter if Nanabozo was a manito or a man? His mother, Wenona, was an Indian woman, and his grandmother, Nokomis, was a woman, too. But Nokomis had lived in the Sky-land, and it is from her that Nanabozo received his great magic powers. Nokomis brought him up from the first days of his life and she taught him everything she knew herself.


Nanabozo was the eldest of four brothers who were born on the same day. After the birth of the fourth brother their mother died. Old Nokomis had to bring up the boys alone, because their father had left Wenona before the birth of the children.

Strange, and quite different, was the fate of Wenona’s four sons. The second brother, Chibiabos, a gentle youth whom Nanabozo loved more than anybody else, was de­stroyed by evil manitoes. After his early death he went to the Land of Shadows and became the Warden of the Dead, just as his elder brother was the Warden of the Live. The third brother, Wabozo, was afraid of daylight and ran away to the north, where he was changed into a white rabbit and became the great manito of the Land of Ice.

The fourth and the last brother, Chakeke-Napok, a very cruel man, was hard as flint. Even when he was a boy, he hated everybody and ran away from his grandmother and elder brother because they did not allow him to kill all the birds and beasts which he saw near the wigwam. Later he became Nanabozo’s greatest enemy and always tried to make the life of men more difficult. When Nanabozo crea­ted animals or plants that could make good food for the Indians, Chakeke-Napok created monsters and weeds that destroyed these animals and plants. When Nanabozo crea­ted woods and fields where men’ could hunt and plant corn, Chakeke-Napok created swamps and mountains where no one could live.

The great struggle between the two brothers ended in Nanabozo’s victory. Small parts of Chakeke-Napok’s body were scattered over the Earth in the form of flint, and Na­nabozo taught the Indians how to make arrowheads and other weapons out of this hard stone. Thus, even after his death, Chakeke-Napok continued to kill, but now he did it only at the will of man. How bad it is that some people forget that when Nanabozo taught men the use of weapons, he warned them never to raise these weapons against their brothers. He also told them that all people were brothers; but there are men who have hearts of flint, like Chakeke- Napok, and who use Nanabozo’s weapons to kill other men. But the greater part of the people on the Earth remember Nanabozo’s lessons, and, sooner or later, they will destroy all those who follow the bloody path of Chakeke-Napok.

And now listen to some stories about Nanabozo, the Friend of Men, because his deeds must not be forgotten as long as the sun shines by day and the stars at night.

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