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Nanabush and the World 

Now in the old world, which existed long before our world, Nanabush and his young brother lived together by the shore of a lake. For company, the two men talked and played with the birds and animals. They were friendly with them all - all, that is, except the treacherous Serpent people, the evil, giant snakes who lived beneath the water and who tried to kill the kindly animals who were Nanabush’s friends.

Nanabush and the Serpent people often fought with each other, and it was because of one of these fights that Nanabush made our world.

One winter day, Nanabush’s brother was out hunting alone. When he did not come home in the evening, Nanabush thought that perhaps he had lost his way in the woods. The next day the young brother still had not returned, and Nanabush became worried. So he set out to try and find him. He had often warned his brother never to return home across the ice which covered the lake, but rather to walk around the shoreline on solid ground. He now began to fear that his brother had forgotten his warning and that he had been pulled through the ice by the Serpent people and drowned in the icy water below.

Nanabush searched everywhere, but not a trace of his brother could he find. He knew that the worst must have happened: the Serpent people had drowned his brother as he feared. He set out again, this time to find the Serpent people and punish them.

One day, just as he was approaching a steep hill, he heard a peculiar booming sound.

‘What can that be?’ he asked himself. ‘I must climb the hill and find out.’

When he reached the top, he saw a little lake in the valley below, and there, sunning themselves on the shore, were two Serpents. The booming noise came from the pounding of their gained hearts.

Quietly but swiftly, Nanabush drew his bow and shot an arrow at each Serpent. Though he hit them both, they were still very much alive, for they slithered into the water in the twinkling of an eye and disappeared.

Then a strange thing happened. The water in the little lake began to rise. It rose steadily, soon flooding the whole valley.

‘Oho!’ exclaimed Nanabush. ‘The Serpents know I am hunting them. They are going to try and drown me.’

He climbed the tallest pine tree on the hill, but the water by this time had covered the hill, was lapping at his heels. He climbed as quickly as he could, and before long was at the top of the tree. The water kept on rising and soon reached the level of his chin, but then, strangely, the water began to go down again. It went down as quickly as it had risen, and when it had receded to its old level Nanabush climbed down out of the pine tree.

‘They nearly drowned me.’ said Nanabush, catching his breath. ‘I shall have to be careful, or next time those evil Serpents will certainly kill me.’

He then chopped down a number of trees and made a giant raft, which he left on the top of the hill. Wondering what he should do next, he wandered away through the woods again. He walked for nearly an hour when he suddenly stopped. He thought he could hear a woman crying. He crept on cautiously, and came to a clearing where an old woman was sitting on a log, and, just as he had imagined, she was crying.

‘Why are you crying old woman?’

‘Ah, a sad thing has happened. That wicked man, Nanabush, has wounded my brothers with his arrows.’

Nanabush knew at once that the old woman was a Serpent Woman in disguise. He also realized that she did not know who he was.

Smiling to himself, he exclaimed,’That Nanabush must be a rascal! But tell me, what are you going to do?’

‘I am gathering herbs to heal their wounds,’ she replied. ‘I am also gathering basswood bark. We shall twist the bark into a long string and stretch it around the base of the hill. We shall watch the string and if it vibrates, we shall know Nanabush tripped over it. He is hiding somewhere on the hill.’

‘Where do the Serpent people live?’ he asked next.

‘All you have to do is follow the path to the lake.’ replied the old woman , pointing the way. ‘When you get to the lake, walk right into it. A short distance in, you will find a door. The Serpent People are inside.’

Without saying another word, Nanabush slew the wicked old Serpent Woman and dressed himself in her clothes. He followed the path to the lake and found the door. He opened it and found himself inside a huge lodge - the home of the Serpent People.

Walking along quickly, he soon came upon the two Serpents whom he had wounded, with his arrows still in their bodies. The Serpents were guarded by a group of fierce animals, and Nanabush discovered that one of the Serpents he had wounded was the Chief of all the Serpents. However, the fierce animals throughout Nanabush was the old woman, and let him pass.

In another corner, he saw the body of his brother, who had indeed been drowned by the Serpents. In a flash of anger, Nanabush leaped forward and pushed the arrows deeper into the bodies of the two Serpents, killing the instantly.

‘Now I have avenged my brother’s death!’ he shouted. And , before the fierce guardian animals had time to realize what had happened, Nanabush slipped out of the Serpents lodge and raced back the shore of the lake, running as fast as he could.

When the guardian animals realized what had happened they roared with rage and summoned the rest of the Serpent People, who immediately caused the water in the lake to rise again. But Nanabush heard the movement of the water as it began to rise, and he ran toward the hill where he had hidden the giant raft. As he ran he called loudly to his friends, the birds and animals.

‘Come with me, my friends!’ he shouted. ‘Come to my raft on the hill. The water is rising again, and this time you will drown unless you come with me.’

The birds and animals answered his call not a moment too soon. Just as they reached the giant raft and climbed safely aboard, the water rose over the crest of the hill as set the raft afloat. In a few more minutes the whole world was covered by the surging water. There was not a single thing to be seen on top of the water except Nanabush and his friends on the floating raft. Even the highest hills were not seen.

Nanabush and the birds and animals floated around aimlessly on the raft for many days and nights. At first Nanabush thought the water was going down again, but after they had been on the raft a full month he realized that the old world was submerged forever beneath the water and that the wicked Serpent People had drowned with it. Nanabush, himself would have to find a way to create a new world.

‘Loon!’ he called, when he decide what he should so. ‘You are an excellent swimmer. Dive down and bring me a lump of mud in your bill.’

The loon dived into the water and was gone a long time. Presently, he returned.

‘I couldn’t reach the old world,’ replied sadly. ‘It was to far down.’

‘Beaver!’ called out Nanabush, ‘you are a great diver. You try next.’

The beaver dived into the water and was gone much longer than the loon. But he failed to reach the bottom of the vast ocean.

‘Muskrat!’ exclaimed Nanabush, ‘ You must try next.’

The muskrat dived in and was gone even longer then the other two, they were certain that muskrat drowned. Just as they were going to give up on him, he suddenly appeared on the surface, motionless, floating around as if he were indeed dead.

Nanabush pulled the muskrat onto the raft and revived him. He noticed that the little animal was holding onto a paw tightly closed. He pried it open - and there was a tiny, wet particles of sand. The muskrat had reached the old world after all!

Nanabush took the grains of sand and dried them out carefully. Then he planted the grains gently onto the back of the turtle (mikinaak) and a wind in all four directions blew and the grains started to grow. Soon they grew so big that an island (minisi) was formed in the shape of  the turtle. Nanabush and all the animals stepped on the island and began to sing and danced in a circle. They made the circle bigger and bigger as the island grew. Then the wind in the four directions stopped to blow and a huge island was standing in the shape of the turtle. That is how Turtle Island was formed.

Nanabush then said:

" Here is the new world - home for all birds and animals."

And that, so the Ojibway story tellers say, is how Nanabush created the world in which we animals live in today.


















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