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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Magical Sweet-Grass Doll


In the Old Time there lived a Passamaquoddy Indian youth called Kayak, the youngest of seven sons. He was, in spite of his youth, the cleverest of the sons. He could swim better, shoot straighter, and fight harder than any of them. He seemed to do all things better than they, and this was because he first thought what he had to do, and then practiced until he could do it well.

His brothers were too lazy to go to all that trouble and, instead of admiring Kayak's energy, they were jealous of him and made his life miserable in any way they could. They even told false tales about him to his father. At last, the youth became so unhappy he decided to run away from home. Fearing his brothers might run after him and bring him back, he thought of a way to run faster than they could.

He shot an arrow into the air and ran after it, trying to catch it before it fell. He did this over and over, in secret, until he could outrun the arrow. At last, he could go like the wind.

It was time to set out, and Kayak made his secret preparations. His mother, the only one who loved him and who shared his secret, wished him good fortune and gave him a new pair of moccasins to wear on his journey. They were beautifully made of the finest doeskin, and Kayak wore them with pride. He embraced his mother and slipped away. Shooting his arrow and then outrunning it, he was soon far beyond pursuit.

Now Glooscap, the Great Chief, knew all about Kayak, and admired his wit and determination. However, he knew too that cleverness is not everything. Sometimes ambition is a hard and selfish thing. Did Kayak have a good heart? Was he honest? Was he kind? Glooscap determined to find out for himself.

Putting on the disguise of a poor old Indian, he came down from Blomidon and waited on the forest path. When he heard Kayak coming, Glooscap let a small box fall from his hand, as if he had dropped it accidentally, and walked on pretending to be old and weary and foot sore.

Striding along cheerfully, Kayak saw the box on the path and picked it up. It was made of birch bark, decorated with porcupine quills, and it felt heavy. He was about to open it, when he caught sight of the old man on the path ahead.

For a moment the youth was tempted to keep the fine box for himself, but he knew that would be dishonest. So he ran after the old man, calling, "Kwah-ee, Grandfather!" Grandfather, in the Wabanaki language, is the polite word for "old man" and does not mean relationship. "Look! You have dropped something."

Glooscap took the box and said in an old man's quavering voice, "Thank you, my son. This contains something very precious, and I am grateful to you for finding it."

"It's lucky I came along," said Kayak cheerfully. "Can you tell me where this path leads, grandfather?"

"It goes a very long way," said the disguised Glooscap, "to a Micmac village on the edge of a lake called Kedgemakoogee"--and he sighed heavily--"yes, a very long way, and the path is full of rocks and thistles." He looked down at his feet, and Kayak looked too. Why, the poor old fellow had no moccasins! His feet were all cut and bleeding! In a moment, Kayak had pulled off his own moccasins and was putting them on the old man's feet.

"I am young," he said, as the old man protested. "I shall run so fast, I shan't feel the rocks and thistles," and he prepared to go on his way.

"Wait!" the old man said, and thrust the box into Kayak's hands. "This is yours now. I have no further use for it." And before Kayak could say thank-you, he was gone. Down the path? Up the path? Into the bushes? Kayak rubbed his eyes in amazement. The old man just was not there any more!

He looked at the box in his hand and lifted the cover, but what a disappointment. Inside, there was only a small doll, made of the sweet-smelling hay the Indians call sweet-grass, just such a doll as an Indian child would play with. Kayak shook his head ruefully.

"What shall I do with you, I wonder. I'm much too old to play with dolls."

To his astonishment, a voice at once replied.

"I am the servant of him who holds me in his hand. Whatever you ask of me, Master, that will I do."

The voice came from the doll! Kayak could hardly believe his ears. This was magic. Frightened suddenly, he put the doll back and closed the lid. He suspected now that the old man had been a magician, and you never can tell with magicians. Sometimes they play tricks on you. He would not use the doll's magic, he decided, unless he felt it absolutely necessary.

Late that day, Kayak arrived at the Indian village on the lake of Kedgemakoogee, and went into the first wigwam he saw. A kindly squaw gave him food and told him about the village and its people. They were of the tribe of Micmacs, also Glooscap's People, and their Chief was called Magooch.

Through the open door of the wigwam, Kayak saw a young maid pass, and cried out, "What maid is that? She is beautiful!"

"That is Seboosis," the old squaw replied, "the Chief's daughter."

Kayak turned eagerly to the old woman.

"Will you make an evening visit, Grandmother, and tell the Chief I am tired of living alone?"

Kayak was saying, you see, in the Indian fashion, that he wished her to ask for the girl in marriage. But the old woman shook her head doubtfully.

"I will go if you insist," she said, "but I fear Magooch means her to marry a man of our own tribe, a lazy useless fellow called Toobe."

"Try anyway," begged Kayak. "Go tonight!"

So the old woman went that evening to the Chief's wigwam and told him that Kayak was tired of living alone and wished to marry his daughter.

"Kayak?" growled Magooch impatiently. "Who is Kayak?"

She explained that he was the handsome stranger who had just come to the village. Curious to see the stranger, but making no promises, Magooch agreed to receive Kayak, and the youth shortly presented himself at the Chief's wigwam.

"Kwah-ee," he said politely and paused by the door, as a well- bred Indian should. You see, when a stranger enters an Indian home, he does not go to the honoured place at the back of the wigwam unless he is invited. Usually the master of the house will say "Come up higher," or, in the case of a young man asking for a wife, if his suit is favourable, the master will say "Come up to the highest place, my son-in law" and that means the marriage is made and the couple are man and wife.

The father of Seboosis said nothing.

He was thinking to himself that the young man looked too clever. He would rather have Toobe for a son-in-law, for Toobe was timid and weak, and would always do as his father-in-law told him. However, an Indian does not like to say "No" straight out. He prefers to speak in a roundabout fashion which he considers more polite.

"There is a mountain out there," said Magooch to Kayak, "which stands in the way of our hunting grounds. I should like it removed."

Kayak understood, with a sinking heart, that the Chief was setting him an impossible task so that he would fail, and then he remembered the magical sweet-grass doll.

"I shall remove it for you," said he, "tonight!" And he left Magooch's wigwam. The Chief laughed to himself, but Seboosis was sad, for she had fallen in love with Kayak, and how could any man move a mountain?

When the red sun had disappeared behind the trees, Kayak went to the mountain and opened his birchbark box.

"Now, my magical sweet-grass doll," said he, "let us see what you are able to do. Remove that mountain before the rising of the sun!"

All through the night the puzzled Micmacs heard strange noises outside the camp, like giants digging, and huge rocks and trees crashing to the ground, but they were too afraid to go out to see what was happening. When at last the sun arose and all was still, they came out of their lodges and gasped with amazement. The mountain was gone!

Old Magooch was thunderstruck, and frightened too, for he saw that Kayak had great power. He feared that his people might transfer their respect from him to Kayak and make him Chief instead. Determined that Kayak must be got rid of, he called the youth to him and said:

"There is a tribe of Etamankiaks across the lake, who are our enemies. If you will lead a war party out and destroy them, you may marry my daughter."

Magooch knew that the Etamankiaks were very numerous and strong, yet he sent only a few braves to help Kayak, hoping all would be killed.

The young men were frightened and said to Kayak, "Stop! Let us go no farther. Magooch is sending us to our death!"

Kayak smiled as he fingered the sweet-grass doll hidden in his belt.

"Stay here," he said. "I shall go alone," and with the swiftness of the wind he was gone.

The men waited, and listened, and at last heard far off the sound of battle--the frightening sound of war whoops, the clash of arms, and dying screams. And--at last--silence.

"He was a brave man," the braves said soberly, and returned to camp to tell the Chief what had happened.

Secretly the Chief was well pleased, but he pretended to feel sorrow.

"He was indeed a great fighter," he said solemnly, "and gladly would I have received him as my son-in-law. How ever, now that he is dead, Seboosis will marry Toobe," and he ordered a wedding feast prepared.

Seboosis wept, but knew she must obey her father.

"Let the bridegroom come," called Magooch from his lodge, and Seboosis turned away to avoid the hateful sight of Toobe. She heard a voice say, "I am here, my father-in law," and looked up with joy and amazement. There stood Kayak, alive and triumphant.

"The Etamankiaks are wiped out," said Kayak with meaning, and Magooch knew he must keep his promise. Hiding his rage and disappointment, he muttered, "Come to the highest place, son-in- law," and so Kayak and Seboosis were married and were very happy.

As for the magical sweet-grass doll, Kayak put it away in a safe place, saying to himself, "The doll has won me a wife and a home, and that is good. From now on I must do things for myself, or I shall grow fat and lazy." Kayak understood, you see, that there is more happiness in doing things for oneself than in depending on others.

And Glooscap, in his lodge on Blomidon, smoked his great pipe contentedly, rejoicing at Kayak's wisdom.

And so, kespeadooksit--the story ends.




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