Oral traditions are important and our ability to listen, truly listen, to another person as they talk to us is something that is incredibly valuable. It can be respectful to truly listen to someone as it means you are learning about the person who is talking, their worldview and the wisdom they contain about topics you may never think about.
Words and writing contain a wisdom as well and there is a lot that can be learned from written stories. An oral story is different. It is personal. It is someone in front of you, someone real, who has feelings and lives as you do. To hear someone tell a story is to be a part of their life, their teaching and to provide them with an open, listening mind. It is in this way that oral traditions are important.
There is time, effort and care put into telling and listening to stories. A person can copy what is written and place it in another book or on the Internet. A voiced story cannot be truly copied. It is personal, it holds nuances specific to that person. It is not something that can be duplicated.
Before Europeans colonized Canada the tribes that lived across the land told their legends orally. They had writings, drawings, pictograms, but the heart of the culture was the spoken word. It was important to listen to the Elders and take in every word. It was spiritual and it was respectful. The tales told were told with a reason and were part of the life. While tales were changed from tribe to tribe, maybe just in the spelling or in a critical part of the legend, they still held a significant weight for the tribe it was being told in. Stories change but the feeling, the spiritual emphasis and the cultural importance remains.
It was during the process of colonization, and later assimilation, that Native tribes lost stories. Being punished for speaking their mother tongue or being stolen from their tribes and lands, legends could not always be passed down to the next generation. Now, in the age of the Internet and an emphasis on academia, to fit in we read, write, type and regurgitate information from one site to the next. It is difficult to just sit down and listen to a story when reading alone is easier. Is it better? I cannot answer that as it would be hypocritical of me as I type and share a story online, but it is a thoughtful question.
The Beothuk was a tribe that was wiped out from disease and killing. They are now extinct. Almost all of their legends and culture is gone. Finding a religious or spiritual legend from the Beothuk is next to impossible. It is as if they have been erased and that is devastating. It is due to this that I have chosen a story from the Mi’kmaq. What had happened to the Beothuk should never happen to any other people or culture.
So now, I want to tell a legend from the Mi’kmaq, specifically the Loon People of Newfoundland and urge us to go and listen to the people living around us so memories and culture are not lost. To hear from them is to not speak for them, but to listen. Listen to the culture around us and open ourselves up. There is a lot to learn. I write this now, not to take the story from them and to tell it my own way, but because I feel the importance of it and I want to share what I have learned in my own research. However, seek out primary sources, what I share is not exact and the memories are much more precise coming from a primary source.
The Story of Glooscap and Winpe
In Mi’kmaq culture, the hero of many stories is The Great Chief – Glooscap. Glooscap was brought to life by Creator, a being who transcends the binary of man and woman, Creator is all. Creator struck the land of Wabanaki – the Atlantic Seaboard and home to the Mi’kmaqs, Malecites, Penobscots and Passamaquoddies – with lightning. Glooscap was formed, in the shape of a male human, out of the sand. Creator sent a second bolt of lightning and Glooscap was given life. He could see the world around him but he could not move, so he asked Creator to allow him to learn about his new world. Creator sent a third bolt of lightning down and freed Glooscap, allowing him to move. In another tale he is said to have come to Wabanaki on the back of a turtle. In any tale he comes to Wabanaki to watch and learn about the world around him.
Glooscap relied on the respect and wisdom from his relatives and Elders. In doing so, they gave him great spiritual strength. He passes this knowledge onto the Mi’kmaq and becomes the central figure and hero in their legends. From tribe to tribe stories of Glooscap are told.
Winpe on the other hand was a being of evil. In the majority of tales Winpe is portrayed as a man, however sometimes she is a sorceress. He is a sorcerer and the ruler of the Northern Sea. Winpe is most likely a giant. Winpe left suffering wherever he went and he was jealous of Glooscap who was more powerful than he was. Winpe either challenges Glooscap to a battle and then steals Glooscap’s family or just kidnaps his family outright. In the beginning of this tale, Winpe puts Grandmother and Marten in a large canoe and paddles away with his two captives, luring Glooscap into a challenge.
Glooscap calls out for his dogs, who Winpe has now shrunken down to the size of mice, and Grandmother sets them in a dish and floats them back to Glooscap. Glooscap waits, it is unsure for how long, before he is able to go after his family. He goes to the water and chants for a whale. The largest one, Bootsup, comes to the surface and Glooscap gets on top. Bootsup carries him across the bay where there is a teepee with a man and a woman. They tell Glooscap of Winpe’s evil doings and tell him to eat cranberries around Winpe as it will help him to see a trail of Winpe’s magic.
Glooscap gets off Bootsup’s back and continues on his journey. He comes across an old camp of Winpe where an old woman is now camping. She complains of Winpe and the cold and begs Glooscap to help her make a fire. Before he sets down to help her, he eats a cranberry. Seeing that she is one of Winpe’s witches, he puts her in a deep sleep. After, he continues on his way.
He meets two beautiful women. The two of them try to seduce him and slip a magic noose around his neck. This noose would take away his power and strength. While his dogs were still the size of mice, they could grow as large as bears. The two dogs magically grew and protected Glooscap from the maidens.
Glooscap may have met many more obstacles along the way, it is not really certain. When he finally got to Winpe’s camp he was angry to see how his family had been treated. Winpe was cruel. Grandmother and Marten sat in tattered clothes and Winpe has starved them. Glooscap tries to free his family without the sorcerer seeing him but he is unsuccessful. When Winpe sees him the two of them begin a battle, or a game of tokohon. Glooscap wins and destroys Winpe to not allow evil onto the world and his people. Glooscap takes tokohon to teach his people, later it is renamed lacrosse.
The people of K’Taqmkuk – Newfoundland – rejoice as Winpe is finally gone and they are freed from his cruelty. They serve a large feast to Glooscap and his family, treating them royally. As Glooscap and his family leave he tells the people of K’Taqmkuk to call him if he is needed. The call is the call of a loon. This is why the Newfoundland people are called the “Loon People” and how the Mi’kmaq learned lacrosse.
Arcturus Publishing. “How Glooscap Conquered his Enemies (Mi’kmaq).” In Native American Myths and Legends. London, Ontario: Arcturus Holdings Limited, 2017. Accessed April 3, 2019. Google Books Edition.
Augustine, Stephen. “Mi’kmaq Knowledge in the Mi’kmaq Creation Story: Lasting Words and Deeds.” Micmaw Spirit, (April 8, 1977). Accessed April 3, 2019. www.muiniskw.org/pgCulture3a.htm
“Legendary Native American Figures: Winpe.” Native Languages of the Americas, (2015). Accessed April 3, 2019. www.native-languages.org/winpe.htm
Partridge, Emelyn Newcomb. “How Glooscap Conquered His Enemies.” In Glooscap the Great Chief and Other Stories: Legends of the Micmacs, 247-256. New York: Sturgis and Walton, 1913. Accessed April 3, 2019. archive.org/details/glooscapgreatchi00part/page/247
Spicer, Stanley T. “Legend of Glooscap.” Glooscap Legends – St. George’s Indian Band, (2019). Accessed April 3, 2019. www.sgibnl.ca/legend-of-glooscap/
Welker, Glenn. “Glooscap and Winpe.” American Indian Heritage Foundation, (1996). Accessed April 3, 2019. www.indians.org/welker/winpe.htm