Mi'kmaw Cinderella Legend, Little Burnt One
Mi'kmaw Legends are fascinating because of the insight they give us into the culture of the early Mi'kmaq; their spirituality, their closeness to Mother Earth, and their kinship with all living and non living beings.
The Mi'kmaq, like all Native Americans, were storytellers.
Imagine a warm night, an open sky, a campfire, as elders, adults, and children listened to stories, sometimes for hours, silent, without interrupting. On cold winter nights, the tales would be told as families huddled around the wigwam's central fire or it might be told on lonely nights when the hunters were far from home.
In Mi'kmaq Song, I explore two of these legends; Little Burnt One (Mi'kmaw Cinderella) and the Thunderers.
Here is an excerpt from Mi'kmaq Song. It is the legend of the Little Burnt One and explores one way in which these tales would have been told.
The year is 1606, and Maggie, who has been transported back to that time, finds herself in the Mi'kmaw village close to Port Royal.
photo becky.higbee Flickr
Mi'kmaq Song Chapter 16
Moonlight stretched across the river and spread to the small clearing. Tall trees formed an arc embracing the wigwams, the fire, and the people. The smell of burning logs drifted, fragrant and sweet. The tapping of the drum continued. The soft rush of the river mingled with the melody of the night.
Mara sat in the small clearing, and the children crowded around her. The grandmothers wrapped in blankets and smoking their pipes sat behind the children.
Mara’s words cast a spell all around. Maggie could almost believe that the animals, too, would come to listen.
Mara started, “Hear the beat of the drum. It beats with the rhythm of your hearts. It connects us to everything created. It talks of love and respect for what Mother Earth gives us.”
The tapping slowed, and Mara began the story.
“Once, on the far side of the lake where the sun rises, there lived a mighty warrior,
the Invisible Hunter. He lived with his sister, Helpful Woman.
It was said that the girl who could see him would marry him.
Many a maiden came to try, but none saw him. Some even lied, but the sister would smile, and bid them goodbye.
In a village, like this one, lived a man with three daughters. He loved them all, but the youngest was his favorite. Jealousy ate at the hearts of the other two.
When the father went hunting, they were cruel, and even burnt her face and arms with embers. She cried, but no one came to help. In fact, people laughed at her burns and scars. The sisters told the father Little Burnt One had stumbled and fell into the fire.
One day, the two older sisters decided to go and find the Invisible Hunter. Like all the others, they were given their supper by Helpful Woman, and then told to go home.
Later, when Little Burnt One announced her intention of finding the Invisible Hunter, they laughed and beat her.
Nevertheless, Little Burnt One made her way to the other side of the lake. The mighty hunter’s sister saw her and smiled, and invited her to walk along the shore.
Soon the sister said, “My brother is coming. Can you see him?’”
At first, Little Burnt One said “No” but then gave a big sigh and said, “Yes, I see him.”
“What’s his shoulder strap?” his sister asked.
“It’s the rainbow.”
“And his bowstring?”
“The Milky Way”
Helpful Woman brought Little Burnt One to the lodge, and cleaned her face with a special cream. The scars disappeared. She combed her hair with a magic comb. Her hair grew long and beautiful. Helpful Woman gave Little Burnt One a dress made of soft flowing white leather, and helped her put it on. As it slipped over her head they heard, “Good Evening.”
Little Burnt One turned and stared at the mighty hunter. He was more beautiful than a starry night. He took her hand, looked deep in her eyes and said, “I have waited for you, wondering when you would come. Only someone with a pure and brave heart can see me. Will you be my bride?”
From then on, Little Burnt one was truly happy.
The drum beat a happy tune and then all was quiet, but Mara wasn’t finished.
“Our ancestors have passed this story to us so we could enjoy it as they did, but also so we can learn from it. Every time we hear it there’s something new to learn, like going down the same path in the forest is always different, so a story is never exactly the same. What wisdom did you receive from tonight’s tale?”
Memteck spoke out, “Little Burnt One acted like a great warrior. She suffered and didn’t complain.”
"Ho, ho, ho," they all assembly agreed.
Next a little girl named Onawa spoke, “That’s true Memteck. We must also remember that she didn’t rely on anyone else, either in her suffering or in her search. So we should all remember to rely on ourselves first.”
There were more, “Ho, ho, ho.”
Another boy which Maggie recognized as Memteck’s friend, Nodin, spoke up, “I’ll always remember that difficult times pass, and will bring this to mind if I’m going through hard times.”
Another resounding, “Ho, ho, ho.”
Nodin was the last one to speak, and Mara put her drum aside to indicate it was over. The children and grandmothers drifted back towards the wigwams.
Maggie moved towards the beach. The story filled her with sadness, and she wasn't sure why. She felt that she, like Little Burnt One, didn’t really belong. The people were kind, but it wasn’t home. Abtatuk? Maybe he could make it home for her, but she saw him so little that it was difficult to gauge her feelings. All her senses looked for him during the day, and at night in the wigwam her thoughts turned to him.
Maggie walked towards the main fire where the men sat, and from the shadows she watched Abtatuk sitting by the fire, trying to sort her feelings. These people could talk for so long. One of the elders stood, and all the men kept their eyes on him, listening intently. It would probably go on for half the night. The man finished and sat. Abtatuk’s head turned to where she stood. He smiled. Her heart gave a start. He couldn’t possibly see her. Another man began to speak, and Abtatuk turned to listen.
Maggie walked away, maybe a quiet place would help sort out her feelings.
From the hillside, a whippoorwill called, “Qui, ko wee, qui, ko wee”, the last syllable echoing in the distance. White clouds covered part of the moon and beyond the light of the fire, fireflies like tiny blinking stars flitted at the edge of the clearing. The air was sweet with the smell of the campfire. The fragrance of sweetgrass, gathered during the day, wafted on the night breeze.
Maggie watched as the children made their way to bed. Women helped the little ones, while others busied themselves with filling the big pot for the next day’s meal, and for anyone who got hungry during the night.
Maggie walked down to the river and sat on a log. She hugged herself, arms extending over arms until they could strain no more. Loneliness haunted her. She was no longer sure what she wanted. Home? Abtatuk?
Please check back often for wonderful facts re Mi'kmaq in
honour of Mi'kmaq History month, October. Posts will
continue until the end of October.
Mi'kmaq Song, a time travel story set in Mi'kmaw territory in
the early 1600's. Awesome reviews.