MANABOZHO, THE MISCHIEF-MAKER
Adapted from H. R. Schoolcraft
THERE was never in the whole world a more mischievous busybody than
that notorious giant Manabozho. He was everywhere, in season and out
of season, running about, and putting his hand in whatever was going
To carry on his game he could take almost any shape he pleased. He
could be very foolish or very wise, very weak or very strong, very rich
or very poor-just as happened to suit his humor best. Whatever anyone
else could do, he would attempt without a moment's reflection. He was
a match for any man he met, and there were few manitoes* (*good
spirits or evil spirits) that could get the better of him. By turns he
would be very kind or very cruel, an animal or a bird, a man or a
spirit, and yet, in spite of all these gifts, Manabozho was always
getting himself involved in all sorts of troubles. More than once, in
the course of his adventures, was this great maker of mischief driven
to his wits' ends to come off with his life.
To begin at the beginning, Manabozho, while yet a youngster, was living
with his grandmother near the edge of a great prairie. It was on this
prairie that he first saw animals and birds of every kind; he also
there made first acquaintance with thunder and lightning. He would sit
by the hour watching the clouds as they rolled by, musing on the shades
of light and darkness as the day rose and fell.
For a stripling, Manabozho was uncommonly wide-awake. Every sight he
beheld in the heavens was a subject of remark, every new animal or bird
an object of deep interest, and every sound was like a new lesson which
he was expected to learn. He often trembled at what he heard and saw.
The first sound he heard was that of the owl, at which he was greatly
terrified, and, quickly descending the tree he had climbed, he ran with
alarm to the lodge. "Noko! noko! grandmother!" he cried. "I have
heard a monedo."
She laughed at his fears, and asked him what kind of a noise it made.
He answered. "It makes a noise like this: ko-ko-ko-ho!"
His grandmother told him he was young and foolish; that what he heard
was only a bird which derived its name from the peculiar noise it made.
He returned to the prairie and continued his watch. As he stood there
looking at the clouds he thought to himself, "It is singular that I am
so simple and my grandmother so wise; and that I have neither father
nor mother. I have never heard a word about them. I must ask and find
He went home and sat down, silent and dejected. Finding that this did
not attract the notice of his grandmother, he began a loud lamentation,
which he kept increasing, louder and louder, till it shook the lodge
and nearly deafened the old grandmother.
"Manabozho, what is the matter with you?" she said, "you are making a
great deal of noise."
Manabozho started off again with his doleful hubbub, but succeeded in
jerking out between his big sobs, "I haven't got any father nor mother,
Knowing that he was of a wicked and revengeful nature, his grandmother
dreaded to tell him the story of his parentage, as she knew he would
make trouble of it.
Manabozho renewed his cries and managed to throw out for a third or
fourth time, his sorrowful lament that he was a poor unfortunate who
had no parents or relatives.
At last she said to him, to quiet him, "Yes, you have a father and
three brothers living. Your mother is dead. She was taken for a wife
by your father, the West, without the consent of her parents. Your
brothers are the North, East, and South; and being older than you your
father has given them great power with the winds, according to their
names. You are the youngest of his children. I have nursed you from
your infancy, for your mother died when you were born."
"I am glad my father is living," said Manabozho, "I shall set out in
the morning to visit him."
His grandmother would have discouraged him, saying it was a long
distance to the place where his father, Ningabinn, or the West, lived.
This information seemed rather to please than to discourage Manabozho,
for by this time he had grown to such a size and strength that he had
been compelled to leave the narrow shelter of his grandmother's lodge
and live out of doors. He was so tall that, if he had been so
disposed, he could have snapped off the heads of the birds roosting on
the topmost branches of the highest trees, as he stood up, without
being at the trouble to climb. And if he had at any time taken a fancy
to one of the same trees for a walking stick, he would have had no more
to do than to pluck it up with his thumb and finger and strip down the
leaves and twigs with the palm of his hand.
Bidding good-by to his old grandmother, who pulled a very long face
over his departure, Manabozho set out at a great pace, for he was able
to stride from one side of a prairie to the other at a single step.
He found his father on a high mountain far in the west. His father
espied his approach at a great distance, and bounded down the
mountainside several miles to give him welcome. Apparently delighted
with each other, they reached in two or three of their giant paces the
lodge of the West which stood high up near the clouds.
They spent some days in talking with each other-for these two great
persons did nothing on a small scale, and a whole day to deliver a
single sentence, such was the immensity of their discourse, was quite
an ordinary affair.
One evening Manabozho asked his father what he was most afraid of on
"But is there nothing you dread here-nothing that would hurt you if you
took too much of it? Come, tell me."
Manabozho was very urgent, so at last his father said: "Yes, there is a
black stone to be found a couple of hundred miles from here, over that
way," pointing as he spoke. "It is the only thing on earth I am afraid
of, for if it should happen to hit me on any part of my body it would
hurt me very much." The West made this important circumstance known to
Manabozho in the strictest confidence.
"Now you will not tell anyone, Manabozho, that the black stone is bad
medicine for your father, will you?" he added. "You are a good son,
and I know you will keep it to yourself. Now tell me, my darling boy,
is there not something that you don't like?"
Manabozho answered promptly-"Nothing."
His father, who was of a steady and persevering nature, put the same
question to him seventeen times, and each time Manabozho made the same
But the West insisted-"There must be something you are afraid of."
"Well, I will tell you," said Manabozho, "what it is."
He made an effort to speak, but it seemed to be too much for him.
"Out with it," said the West, fetching Manabozho such a blow on the
back as shook the mountain with its echo.
"Je-ee, je-ee-it is," said Manabozho, apparently in great pain. "Yes,
yes! I cannot name it, I tremble so."
The West told him to banish his fears, and to speak up; no one would
hurt him. Manabozho began again, and he would have gone over the same
make-believe of pain, had not his father, whose strength he knew was
more than a match for his own, threatened to pitch him into a river
about five miles off. At last he cried out:
"Father, since you will know, it is the root of the bulrush." He who
could with perfect ease spin a sentence a whole day long, seemed to be
exhausted by the effort of pronouncing that one word, "bulrush."
Some time after Manabozho observed: "I will get some of the black rock,
merely to see how it looks."
"Well," said the father, "I will also get a little of the bulrush root,
to learn how it tastes."
They were both double-dealing with each other, and in their hearts
getting ready for some desperate work. They had no sooner separated
for the evening than Manabozho was striding off the couple of hundred
miles necessary to bring him to the place where the black rock was to
be procured, while down the other side of the mountain hurried
Ningabinn, the West.
At the break of day they each appeared at the great level on the
mountain-top, Manabozho with twenty loads, at least, of the black
stone, on one side, and on the other the West, with a whole meadow of
bulrush in his arms.
Manabozho was the first to strike-hurling a great piece of the black
rock, which struck the West directly between the eyes, and he returned
the favor with a blow of bulrush that rung over the shoulders of
Manabozho, far and wide, like the long lash of the lightning among the
First one and then the other, Manabozho poured in a tempest of black
rock, while the West discharged a shower of bulrush. Blow upon blow,
thwack upon thwack-they fought hand to hand until black rock and
bulrush were all gone. Then they betook themselves to hurling crags at
each other, cudgeling with huge oak trees, and defying each other from
one mountain top to another; while at times they shot enormous boulders
of granite across at each other's heads, as though they had been mere
jackstones. The battle, which had commenced on the mountains, had
extended far west. The West was forced to give ground. Manabozho
pressing on, drove him across rivers and mountains, ridges and lakes,
till at last he got him to the very brink of the world.
"Hold!" cried the West. "My son, you know my power, and although I
allow I am now fairly out of breath, it is impossible to kill me. Stop
where you are, and I will also portion you out with as much power as
your brothers. The four quarters of the globe are already occupied,
but you can go and do a great deal of good to the people of the earth,
which is beset with serpents, beasts and monsters, who make great havoc
of human life. Go and do good, and if you put forth half the strength
you have to-day, you will acquire a name that will last forever. When
you have finished your work I will have a place provided for you. You
will then go and sit with your brother, Kabinocca, in the north."
Manabozho gave his father his hand upon this agreement. And parting
from. him, he returned to his own grounds, where he lay for some time
sore of his wounds.