Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

From this story you will learn how Nanabozo brought fire to the Indians and how he made the first canoe.

When Nanabozo was still a youth he lived with his grandmother Nokomis and his brother Chibiabos in a land where the sun never shone and the sky was always covered with clouds. It was cold in the wigwam of Nokomis and she could do nothing to make it warmer, because there was no fire in the country. She often told her grandsons about fire and how nice it was to sit near it and warm one’s hands and feet. She had seen fire in the Sky-land when she lived there, she said.

“And is there no fire on the Earth?” asked Nanabozo once..

“I have heard that the Old Man in the East has a warm fire in his wigwam,” said Nokomis. “But he lives very far from here at the end of the world.”

“If there is fire on the Earth, I shall get it,” said Na­nabozo and began to prepare for the travel.

In the morning he got up early and walked swiftly till he came to the shore of the Great Water. Here he had to stop. He looked around and saw a birch-tree growing near the shore. He cut off some of the bark and made a little boat, — a canoe which was no larger than his hand. Then he.came down to the water, struck the canoe with his hand, and the little boat began to grow. When it was large enough, he got into it, said some magic words, and the canoe started across the water.

For many days the canoe ran over the waves, and at last it came to the island of the Old Man in the East. Na­nabozo hid his canoe in the bushes, then changed himself into a little rabbit and hopped along till he came to the sacred wigwam of the Old Man. This Old Man had two daughters. They heard a noise and came out to see what the matter was. They saw only a little Rabbit, wet and cold, so they carefully took it up and carried it into the sacred wigwam, where they set it down near the fire to warm.

The Rabbit sat near the fire while the girls went about their duties. The Old Man was sleeping and when the Rabbit saw that nobody was looking at him he hopped a little nearer to the fire. But when he moved, the earth shook, and the Old Man awoke.

“My daughters,” he said, “there is a stranger in our wigwam. Who is it?”

The daughters said that it was only a little rabbit which they had found and carried into the wijgwam.

“You may sleep, father,” they said. “Let the rabbit sit near the fire. When he is warm and dry again, he will run away.”

And indeed, soon the Rabbit was so warm and dry that he seized a burning stick and ran out of the wigwam. He ran fast to the place where he had left his canoe. The Old Man and his daughters tried to catch him, but the Rabbit was too fast for them. He pushed off his canoe, jumped into it and soon left the island far behind. Nanabozo for­got to change himself into a man again, and the wind, rai­sed by the canoe, was so strong that sparks of fire flew from the stick and burned the Rabbit’s skin in many pla­ces. This is why when rabbits change their coat in spring, their old hair comes off in bunches.

Nanabozo safely reached the shore. Here he again struck the canoe and it became so small that he could hide it under his shirt.

With the burning stick in his hand he ran to the wigwam of his old grandmother who was already waiting for him. She had prepared a pile of dry wood with bark under it, and as soon as Nanabozo returned, the fire in their wigwam was burning brightly.

When night came, Nokomis covered the coals with ash­es. In the morning she just blew on the coals and again the fire began to burn. After that Nanabozo taught the Indians the use of fire and showed them how to build ca­noes out of birchbark.

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