Cree - Cicipiscikwan
Long ago a young man named Tawaham, his wife White Feather, and their two sons lived in a tipi near a beautiful lake. The elder of the boys was called Wisakecahk. They were a happy family; Tawaham was a good hunter and White Feather was a fine wife and mother.
Most of Tawaham's time was spent in hunting. After a successful hunt, it was the custom of those days for the women to butcher, dress and carry the meat home. It was also their duty to prepare the skins of animals and make them into robes and clothing for their families. In all these tasks, White Feather excelled.
By and by, it became necessary for Tawaham to hunt farther and farther away from home and he was gone for longer periods of time. Meanwhile, White Feather kept the home in order. One of her daily tasks was to go into the forest for firewood. She was a very busy woman. Garments for her family were carefully sewn. Above all, she enjoyed working on a buckskin dress she was making for herself. It was the most beautiful dress she had ever made. It was decorated with shells and dyed porcupine quills. However, in time, there were no more skins to prepare and make into clothing. White Feather waited for her husband to return.
Towards evening, she would put on her beautiful dress and comb her long, black hair until it shone. She wanted her husband to see how beautiful she was in her new dress, but as each evening ended and Tawaham had still not returned, White Feather went sadly to bed.
Early in the morning she would go into the forest for firewood. Before long, she was even wearing her buckskin dress to go for firewood. The boys would look at their mother fondly, for she was a kind and beautiful woman. Wisakecahk wondered why she wore her best dress while working. Each day she returned later and later and brought home less and less firewood. Her hair became tangled and her lovely dress was untidy and soiled. It became plain to Wisakecahk that his mother did not want anyone to know about her mysterious trips into the forest. All this mystery puzzled Wisakecahk. Where did his mother go? She was becoming a different person, no longer kind and thoughtful of her family. Wisakecahk was kept busy looking after his brother. More and more of his mother's daily tasks became his. Finally, he could wait no longer to find the reason for his mother's strange behavior. One day, he followed her at a distance. To his surprise, she followed the path leading to the lake.
Not far off the path stood an old stump. White Feather struck it three times. From a hole in the stump crawled snake after snake. She sat on a log and caressed the snakes as they crawled around her. For a moment, Wisakecahk could not move. He was stunned with fear and disbelief when he saw his mother and her pets. He turned on his heels and ran home as fast as he could.
In a daze, Wisakecahk went about his daily chores. What he had seen lay heavily on his young heart. He must tell his father, for he was sure that his mother was possessed by a power that would destroy them all. Just as his mother returned home that evening his father arrived. As was usual it was her duty to fetch the kill from the hunt. As soon as White Feather had gone, Wisakecahk told his father the whole story of what he had seen.
Sadly, Tawaham said, "My son, this is indeed a great disaster to our family. If you will be brave and do exactly as I say, you and your brother may be saved. Now, listen to me carefully. Your mother will not return until mid-day tomorrow. When I destroy the snakes, I may have no choice but to destroy your mother also. In case I fail, you must get yourself and your brother ready to escape. I will give you four things to protect you. When you are threatened, throw one of these things between you and the danger. " Tawaham handed Wisakecahk a medicine bundle. Inside the bundle was a bone awl, a piece of fire-flint, a pusacan of birch (which catches the spark from the fire-flint), and an ahpiht (the flat stone which, when struck by the fire-flint, produces a spark).
Early the next morning, Tawaham, disguised in White Feather's buckskin dress, stood before the stump and struck it three times. As each snake crawled out of the hole, Tawaham chopped off its head. He drained the blood into a container. After slaying all the snakes he took their blood home and made it into a soup.
"If your mother takes but one mouthful of this soup, " he told Wisakecahk, "she will be cured of the evil spell the snakes have cast over her. If she refuses, I must kill her. Should If ail, you must run away with your brother. No matter what she tells you to do, you must not listen. " As Tawaham had said, White Feather arrived promptly at mid-day. As if in a trance, she began at once to prepare herself for her meeting with the snakes. She put on her buckskin dress and braided her shiny, black hair. She hastened to leave, but just as she reached the doorway, Tawaham called, "Wait, you must first drink the blood of your lovers. "
With a horrible shriek, she dashed out and flew to the stump. The moment she was out of the lodge, Tawaham sadly bade his sons farewell and warned them that under no circumstances must they allow themselves to be tricked. Holding his brother by the hand, Wisakecahk hurried away. Meanwhile, Tawaham waited behind the flap of the teepee. He stood, the axe poised in mid-air, ready to strike the moment White Feather entered. His aim was accurate and true.
His blow came down the moment the angry woman came in. She fell to the ground, her head severed from her neck. No sooner had it touched the ground, when the body began to fight Tawaham. They struggled long and hard. Tawaham finally caught the body by the ankle and swung it around him. He could not let go of it. Around and around they went until they began to ascend. Up into the sky they went. To this day, when you look up on a clear night, you can still see Tawaham as the North Star and White Feather's body as the Big Dipper. No one knows how much longer Tawaham will continue to hurl White Feather's body round and round. Meanwhile, the head of White Feather began rolling along the ground, pursuing the boys.
"Wisakecahk, my son, wait for me!" it shrieked, "Your little brother is hungry and I must nurse him.
Remembering his father's warning, Wisakecahk kept right on going. Closer and closer came Cicipiscikwan. Wisakecahk was beginning to slow down. By now his sobbing little brother was struggling to go to the familiar voice of his mother. Wisakecahk, with trembling hands, fumbled through the medicine bundle for one of the gifts his father had given him. The first thing he found was the bone awl, so he threw it behind him. At once, a thick wall of thorn bushes appeared. Tired as he was, Wisakecahk realized that he could not stop to rest. Quickly, he gave his brother food and water. They must go on!
In the meantime, Cicipiscikwan was furious when the thorny bush suddenly barred her way just when her prize was so close. Angrily, she rolled up and down. Suddenly, she spied a large worm eating its way through the green
"My dear, handsome worm," she said, "if you will open a path for me I promise you my hand in marriage."
"Your hand! Indeed!" said the worm. "What use will you be to me when all you have is a head?"
The worm continued to open a path. Impatiently, Cicipiscikwan rolled back and forth. The worm barely reached the other side, when in crashed the head, squashing the poor worm in the process.
"Ha! Ha!" she said, "Whoever would want to marry a worm?" Wisakecahk had reached the crest of the hill. He stopped to scan the horizon behind him. He felt sick when he saw the head rolling over the hills and down the valleys toward them.
Quickly, he searched through his bundle until he found the pusacan. He held it ready in his hand. Surely these gifts from his father would stop the head from chasing them. He began to run, now carrying his brother. Each time he turned to look, he could see that the head was coming closer and closer. He hurled the pusacan behind him. Twists of flame broke loose.
They roared and flared high to form a scorching wall of fire between them and Cicipiscikwan. Wisakecahk was sure that no one could go through this fire and live, but he couldn't take a chance so he hurried on. On and on the boys fled. Soon he heard the terrible shrieks of the head. Wisakecahk was sure that Cicipiscikwan had tricked some innocent victim into carrying her across the fire. She was getting closer again!
Wisakecahk was now ready to use the third gift. Quickly he threw the ahpiht over his shoulder. A barrier of mountains sprang up. Although he was worn out and could hardly walk, Wisakecahk was determined to continue. He gritted his teeth and forced himself onward. He was sure their survival lay only in his ability to keep going.
"I want my mother. I'm hungry, I want to go to bed!" cried his younger brother.
"Soon we will eat and rest, little brother," encouraged Wisakecahk. Finally his brother cried himself to sleep.
Could Wisakecahk ever forget the horror of this day? Tired and exhausted, he walked on, carrying his brother. Stumbling and falling, he continued on his way. Only his dogged determination to survive had carried him this far. The never-ending fight to keep going and be watchful had taken its toll. He fell. As he fell, his father's only remaining gift, the fire-flint, flew from his hand.
A river suddenly appeared before him, barring his way from further escape. He had accidentally allowed the fire-flint to tumble ahead of him when he fell! Desperately looking for a way of escape, Wisakecahk, with renewed energy, ran up and down the banks of the river. Seeing no other means of escape he jumped into the water.
As he was swimming, Wisakecahk saw a swan.
"Where are you going, my brother?" said the swan.
"Please take us across the river or Cicipiscikwan will kill us!"
"If you are very careful not to sit too close to my stiff neck, I will be happy to take you across," said the swan.
Once again the boys had escaped. But for how long?
Cicipiscikwan rushed up to the bank of the vast river.
"I will make you as white and as graceful as those clouds in the blue sky if you carry me across the river," she called to the swan.
"Gladly!" replied the swan, "but you must be very careful not to sit too close to my stiff neck. Furthermore, you must fulfill your promise to make me white and graceful before I take you across. "
"Just as you wish," said Cicipiscikwan. Immediately the swan turned into a pure, white bird with a long, graceful neck. From that moment, all swans have remained that way.
Cicipiscikwan jumped onto the back of the swan. In her impatience, she forgot the warning and rolled toward the swan's stiff neck. With a flip of her back, the swan threw Cicipiscikwan into the middle of the river. From the opposite bank, Wisakecahk watched what was happening. He began shooting at the head with his bow and arrows. The moment the first arrow hit it, the head changed into a big sturgeon. The flash of its tail in the sun was the last Wisakecahk ever saw of Cicipiscikwan.
As told by Ida McLeod .