|The rabbit tells Nanahboozhoo of his troubles.|
GEORGINA ISLAND, LAKE SIMCOE.
REV. EGERTON R. YOUNG.
DEAR FRIEND: Your book of stories gathered from among my tribe has very much pleased me. The reading of them brings up the days of long time ago when I was a boy and heard our old people tell these tales in the wigwams and at the camp fire.
I am very glad that you are in this way saving them from being forgotten, and I am sure that many people will be glad to read them. With best wishes,
KECHE CHEMON (Charles Big Canoe),
Chief of the Ojibways.
In all ages, from the remotest antiquity, the story-teller has flourished. Evidences of his existence are to be found among the most ancient monuments and writings in the Orient. In Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, and other ancient lands he flourished, and in the homes of the noblest he was ever an honored guest.
The oldest collection of folklore stories or myths now in existence is of East Indian origin and is preserved in the Sanskrit. The collection is called Hitopadesa, and the author was Veshnoo Sarma. Of this collection, Sir William Jones, the great Orientalist, wrote, "The fables of Veshnoo are the most beautiful, if not the most ancient, collection of apologues in the world." As far back as the sixth century translations were made from them.
The same love for myths and legends obtains to-day in those Oriental lands. There, where the ancient and historic so stubbornly resist any change—in Persia, India, China, and indeed all over that venerable East—the man who can recite the ancient apologues or legends of the past can always secure an audience and command the closest attention.
While the general impression is that the recital of these old myths and legends among Oriental nations was for the mere pastime of the crowds, it is well to bear in mind that many of them were used as a means to convey great truths or to reprove error. Hence the recital of them was not confined to a merely inquisitive audience that desired to be amused. We have a good example of this in the case of the recital by Jotham, as recorded in the book of Judges, of the legend of the gathering of the trees for the purpose of having one of them anointed king over the rest. Of this legend Dr. Adam Clarke, the commentator, says, "This is the oldest and, without exception, the best fable or apologue in the world."
The despotic nature of the governments of those Oriental nations caused the people often to use the fable or myth as an indirect way to reprove or censure when it would not have been safe to have used a direct form of speech. The result was that it attained a higher degree of perfection there than among any other people. An excellent example is Nathan's reproof of David by the recital of the fable of the poor man's ewe lamb.
The red Indians of America have justly been famous for their myths and legends. We have never heard of a tribe that did not have a store of them. Even the hardy Eskimo in his igloo of ice is surprisingly rich in folklore stories. A present of a knife or some other trifle that he desires will cause him to talk by the hour to his guest, whether he be the daring trader or adventurous explorer, on the traditions that have come down to him. The interchange of visits between the northern Indians and the Eskimos has resulted in the discovery that quite a number of the myths recited in Indian wigwams are in a measure, if not wholly, of Eskimo origin. On the other hand, the Eskimo has not failed to utilize and incorporate into his own rich store some that are undoubtedly of Indian origin.
For thirty years or more we have been gathering up these myths and legends. Sometimes a brief sentence or two of one would be heard in some wigwam—just enough to excite curiosity—then years would elapse ere the whole story could be secured. As the tribes had no written language, and the Indians had to depend entirely upon their memory, it is not to be wondered at that there were, at times, great divergences in the recital of even the most familiar of their stories. We have heard the same legend given by several story-tellers and no two agreed in many particulars. Others, however, were told with very slight differences.
We have adopted the course of recording what seemed to us the most natural version and most in harmony with the instincts and characteristics of the pure Indian. The close scientific student of Indian folklore will see that we have softened some expressions and eliminated some details that were non-essential. The crude Indian languages, while absolutely free from blasphemy, cannot always be literally translated. Verbum sat sapienti.
The method we have adopted, in the presentation of these myths and legends in connection with the chatter and remarks of our little ones, while unusual, will, we trust, prove attractive and interesting. We have endeavored to make it a book for all classes. Here are some old myths in new settings, and here are some, we venture to think, that have never before been seen in English dress. These will interest the student of such subjects, while the general style of the book will, we hope, make it attractive to young readers.
Nanahboozhoo, the personage who occupies the principal part in these myths, is the most widely known of all those beings of supposed miraculous birth who played such prominent parts in Indian legends. He does not seem to have been claimed by any one particular tribe. Doubtless legends of him were transmitted down from the time when the division of tribes had not so extensively taken place; when perhaps the Algonquin, now so subdivided, was one great tribe, speaking one language.
The variety of names by which he is known is accounted for by these tribal divisions and the rapid changes which took place in the language owing to its having no written form to maintain its unity.
What his original name was, when legends about him first began to be told, is of course unknown. However, since the white race began to gather up and record these Indian myths he has been known as Misha-wabus, Manabush, Jous-ke-ha, Messou, Manabozho, Nanahboozhoo, Hiawatha, Chiabo, Singua-sew—and even some other names have been heard. We have given him in this volume the name of Nanahboozhoo as that was the one most frequently used by the Indians among whom we lived or visited.
There is more unanimity about his origin, among the tribes, than about his name. The almost universal report is that he was the son of Mudjekeewis, the West Wind. His mother was Wenonah, the daughter of Nokomis.
The author desires very gratefully to record his indebtedness, for assistance or hints received in the pleasant work of here clustering these Indian folklore stories, to many friends, among them such Indian missionaries as Revs. Peter Jones, John Sunday, Henry Steinham, Allan Salt, and also to his Indian friends and comrades at many a camp fire and in many a wigwam. He also wishes in this way to express his appreciation of and indebtedness to the admirable Reports of the Smithsonian Institution. He has there obtained verification of and fuller information concerning many an almost forgotten legend.
In regard to a number of the finest of the photographic illustrations in the volume the author gratefully acknowledges his obligations to the Canada Pacific Railway Company, without whose assistance it would have been impossible to reach many of the sublime and romantic places here portrayed; until very recently known only to the adventurous red Indian hunter, but now brought within the reach of any enterprising tourist.