Government of New Brunswick

Extracts from Maliseet &Mi’kmaq:
First Nations of the Maritimes by Robert Leavitt


There are many storytellers in Maliseet and Mi'kmaq communities today. Children hear ancient legends and tales and learn the history of their communities by talking with their elders. The stories they hear may have originated hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Traditional stories are often put into modern dress. In these, relatives, colourful "characters", devils and ghosts, honest or nasty ancestors, neighbours and pets take the place of the people and animals in the old tales.

For example, the traditional figure of the stranger who appeared in the tales of the early 1900s to warn Sunday dancers about their sinful behavior - and later turned out to be the Devil himself - may now show up in tales as an unfamiliar dog or horse, whose appearance warns that a death will soon occur in the community.

Today, speakers of Maliseet and Mi'kmaq observe that storytellers use the tone of voice most natural to the Native language- soft, evenly paced, steady and gently rythmic.

Stories also use the richest Native-language vocabulary, with very few, if any, English words. In short, they use language that is the least influenced by European language or culture.

In addition, storytelling reflects the way people think and behave as speakers of Maliseet or Mi'kmaq. For example, as we saw earlier, the flapping of Wocawson's wings, rather than Wocawson himself, is what makes the wind. Glooscap tames the wind by tying down one of his wings to weaken the action. The idea that wind is a process, rather than an element, is right in the language of the story.

In another story, Pukcinsqehs (BOOK-cheen-skwass) - a murderer and kidnapper - is stuck onto a tree by the powers of Glooscap. Chopping herself loose, she escapes, but with a piece of the tree trunk stuck onto her back like a hump. She considers her revenge: "Now how can I change myself so that I can torment people? - Aha!" she says, "Ncossuwewiyan!" (nj'ss-WEH-wee-ahn) - I'll become a mosquito!" This part of the story shows how someone may change from a human being into an animal.

Stories carry many of the important teachings of Maliseet and Mi'kmaq culture from one generation to the next. Very brief stories keep up the practice of nicknaming people (affectionately) or embarrassing them (when they misbehave). Events in stories help listeners reflect on current affairs. A story, rather than a scolding, can be used to warn the naughty child about his behavior.

Maliseet and Mi'kmaq storytelling in recent years has suffered from some of the same pressures as other Canadian oral traditions. There are fewer times when extended families get together. Almost all households have one or more television sets. Along with these factors, the increasing use of English in Native communities has created a further problem for Maliseet and Mi'kmaq stories, which are seldom told in English.


The Tale Eniqs- The Ant (translated from the Maliseet- Passamaquoddy)

One day Eniqs (EH-neekws) was walking, walking along the shore. Across the water he saw the others playing ball. Hmmm... how was he going to get across? He wanted to play ball, too. (And he was so cute-looking!)

Ah, suddenly he saw someone paddling along. "Come and get me! I want to go over and play ball. I'll tell you a story to pay for my ride." Well, the paddler took him aboard.

"Okay," he said, "tell me a story."

"First I have to have a smoke." So Eniqs got ready to smoke. He filled his pipe... he lit it... e took a puff.

Well, he had barely started when- "Okay, tell me a story already!"

"Just a minute. First I must put away my pipe." At last he put it away in his pocket. (It was just a tiny little thing you know.) It was all tucked away.

"Okay, now tell me that story!"

"Eee... first I have to blow my nose. I have to blow my nose." And when he blew his nose, he blew his head right off! Poor guy... he couldn't tell any stories. And he couldn't even play ball.- And that's all! (He was pretty awful-looking, at the end.)