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Northeast Folklore Volume VI - Introduction

Etchemin is what they used to call the Indians who occupied the border country between Maine and New Brunswick. Today we speak of Malecite and Passamaquoddy. Linguistically and culturally they belong to the Eastern or Wabanaki group of that great Algonkian stock that once, except for the Iroquois in New York and the upper St. Lawrence valley, covered the entire Northeast. Most of the present day Malecite (less than a thousand strong) live in several small reserves and settlements along New Brunswick’s St. John River from the mouth of the Tobique to Fredericton, and we can think of this stretch of valley as the focus of the old Malecite territory, which once extended well up toward the St. Lawrence and westward into Maine’s Aroostook County. To the south and west were the Penobscot (now centered in Old Town, Maine). To the east and southeast were the Micmacs, whose territory covered all the rest of the Maritimes and the south shore of the Gaspe. Directly to the south lived the Passamaquoddy, whom the Micmac spoke of as “those Maliseet who live in Maine.”[1] Their territory is centered in the St. Croix River valley that separates Maine and New Brunswick. Although it is hard, in fact impossible, to speak of definite borders, their territory at one time may have covered most of present-day Washington and Hancock counties in Maine and Charlotte and southern York and Sunbury counties in New Brunswick. Today they number less than five hundred, most of them living on the reservations at Peter Dana Point, the Indian Strip in Princeton, and Pleasant Point, all in Maine.

The Malecite and Passamaquoddy had many things in common with other Wabanaki and Northeastern Algonkian groups. They were nomadic hunters and (in summer) fishermen, living in conical bark- (sometimes skin-) covered wigwams, traveling after the game on snowshoes or in birchbark canoes. The basic political unit seems to have been the “band,” a definite but loosely organized group of related families that traveled and lived together in a most democratic sort of way. There seems to have been very little organization beyond that; in politics, society, and religion these Indians can best be described as individualist. Of course, it should be understood that the description just given refers to a time now past, a time that few, if any, of the members of these tribes can now recall in any form. It was the time before the white man came in great numbers, and it was a time that stretched back forest-dark centuries to the time-before-our-time, when Kluskap shied rocks at a beaver.

Now the birchbark canoes are in the museums, what wigwams there are are in the tourist business, and the Indians are in the reservations. They wear the white man’s clothes, practice his religion, go to his schools, and eat his food. Acculturation has gone a long way here in the Northeast, and it will go even further, we can be sure, perhaps even to a time when the old days will not even be what they are today: a tale, a legend, a bright place in the forest dark at the back of the mind, something told in the old tongue by a mother to her daughter of a long winter evening.

Tales are funny things. They die hard, yet sometimes even the trained anthropologist or folklorist won’t find them. The Wallises, working at the Tobique reservation in 1953 did not make a rich collection of tales; they speak of “the scraps that remain today,” and they found only a “single fragment of a myth concerning Gluskap (the culture hero).”[2] Nine years later, in the fall of 1962, Dolores Daigle, Marilyn Daigle, and Geraldine Hegeman took my Saturday extension course in American Folklore at Presque Isle, Maine. Since each student was to turn in a collection of his or her own, and these three had decided to work together, they wondered whether or not they could turn in some Indian tales. I was perfectly agreeable but owlishly skeptical; however they insisted. Mrs. Hegeman, it seems, had an “in.” At the end of the semester these three women turned in a collection that ran to 134 pages and two seven-inch reels of tape. The tapes and about twenty pages of typescript represented Mrs. Hegeman’s portion: a rather remarkable collection of tales from Mrs. Viola Solomon of the Malecite reservation at Tobique, New Brunswick, and her daughter, Mrs. Henrietta Black, then of Loring, Maine.

Mrs. Black, Mrs. Hegeman’s neighbor, was 33 at the time this collection was made. Although she had married out of the tribe and was no longer considered a Malecite, she was born and educated on the Tobique reservation. When Mrs. Hegeman asked her about old stories, she responded with several that she remembered hearing from her mother. Mrs. Black said that her mother would start telling Kluskap tales to her children in the fall and it would take her until the following spring to complete the cycle. She added that her mother did not like to, and in fact would not, tell tales in the summertime.[3] The inevitable question was asked: “Does your mother still know the stories?” Yes. “Would she tell them to us?” Well. . .It was not long before Mrs. Solomon came to visit her daughter for a week, and during that time she agreed to try and tell some of her stories to her daughter’s friends. Mrs. Hegeman invited them both over to her home and set up a tape recorder; much of what will follow is the product of the two evenings they all spent together.

Mrs. Solomon had her problems. To begin with, she obviously preferred to tell her tales in Malecite rather than in English. Then too, although she could hardly be described as old (she was only 51), she was not well. Finally, she was exceedingly shy. “She fought shyness of the microphone all the way,” the collectors said. “She spoke in a very low voice, often waving the microphone away, or refusing to face it, turning her face completely away from it. Often we feared we would lose the battle.”[4] Ultimately her shyness gave away to her desire to please her new friends, but she finally found it far easier to tell her story in Malecite. Some time later, her daughter sat between two tape recorders, listening to her motherís narration on one and reading her translation into the other. The completed collection demonstrates that with even a little training, even just a few encouraging nudges, sincere workers can achieve valuable results. When students turn in term projects like this one, I feel better about the world (and I rejoice that I teach folklore).

In the course of my work I came across references to the manuscripts of the late Edwin Tappan Adney at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Since they were mainly on the Malecites, and since they were supposed to contain tales and myths, I arranged with Ernest Dodge, Director of the Museum, for an opportunity to look through them. What I found was over seventy boxes of typescript covering a wide range of topics relating to the Malecites, from material culture to decorative art to language. Unfortunately, at least from my point of view, a large part of the material on mythology was theoretical and discursive; there were very few tale texts. Finally I did find a few tales, almost all of them collected in the early forties from William Neptune, Passamaquoddy Governor at Pleasant Point, Maine. Together with the essay on story-telling, it seemed to me that these tales of Governor Neptune would make a real addition to the collection the Society was already planning to publish. Ernest Dodge was enthusiastic about the idea, and thus a little more of Adney’s voluminous but unfinished life’s work now appears in print.

A word or two about Adney himself will not be out of place. Born in Athens, Ohio, in 1868, he studied at The Art Students’ League in New York. In 1887 he went to Woodstock, New Brunswick, on a vacation and developed a close friendship with Peter Joe, a Malecite who lived nearby. Adney was particularly interested in his canoe-building, and not only built a birchbark canoe himself but left the most complete record available anywhere of how one was built. Later he went to the Klondike as an artist to report on the gold rush. He became a Canadian citizen (he had married a Woodstock girl in 1899), served in the Canadian Army, and ultimately moved back to Woodstock where he spent the last twenty years of his life until his death in 1950. Always he was writing on Malecite culture and language, but he died without ever bringing his work to completion, without even getting his papers well organized. His material on canoes went to the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Virginia; all the rest of his papers are in the Peabody Museum.[5]

Thus the present collection of tales grows out of the lives and personalities of two people; one a tale-teller too shy to face a microphone directly, the other a self-educated scholar too busy to pay attention to his health or his poverty. They meet on the common ground of Malecite life the former living it from within, the latter observing it from without. They believed in its worth, and this booklet is gratefully dedicated to them both: Viola Solomon and E. Tappan Adney.

The tales themselves can be presented for their own sake. However, since I have already succumbed to the temptation of writing an introduction, and (as everyone knows) an introduction is a place where one puts his conclusions, there is really no reason not to go on. I will limit myself to four general observations (a better name for them, than conclusions) that I hope will make the tales that follow more interesting.

Any general reader of these pages will find them dominated by the figure of Kluskap, and may well wonder who he is or was. Kluskap is the Wabanaki culture hero. He is not a god; that is, he is neither a judge of men nor a creator. He is a transformer. The world was here when he arrived, and all he did was to fix it up a little to make it more habitable for men by getting the monster and ferocious squirrel down to a manageable size, tempering the winds, and releasing the waters by killing the giant frog Aglebemu who was holding them back. In his hunting and other adventures, he left behind him all kinds of things that are now part of the landscape – moose entrails here, a cooking pot there, a snowshoe in the St. John River, and his canoe near Castine. Far from being a god, he more often appears simply as a man with a great share of supernatural power moving through a marvel-filled landscape. And it is with this power that we must concern ourselves for a moment, because it is at the heart of almost all the stories that follow.

If the Wabanaki lacked an organized religion, they seem to have shared an almost universal belief in medeulin. That is the Malecite word for it, and it is used to describe both a supernatural power and the possessor of it. This is not the place for a full theoretical discussion, especially when several good discussions are easily available elsewhere.[6] It is like the power of witchcraft, except that it is not necessarily maleficent. For good, for ill, or for whatever purpose, it is power and we would have to describe it as supernatural since our nature does not allow for it. The word shaman is useful for describing the possessor of the power, if we broaden the word to include a great deal more than the cause and cure of disease. The closest analogy is perhaps the wonder-working Eskimo angakok. Kluskap is, in many of the tales, medeulin. So is Jack Laporte and the little dog who brought good luck. Here is what the Wallises have to say about the belief as it exists today:

Malecite, like Algonkin tribes near them, still believe they possess a power for good and evil not shared by their White neighbors. How strong the belief is today and to what age groups it is confined would be difficult to determine. Certain informants, accustomed to Whites and knowing what they like to hear about Indians, may present their material as being more recent and more nearly related to them than it actually is (“My father was a witch”). Their accounts, however, are congruent with earlier observations.[7]

Certainly many of the tales that follow show this interest in medeulin. Some of the minor tales have no other interest than as examples of the manifestations of this power by its possessors. The Kluskap tales are full of it too, for, as Speck pointed out, “the greater part of Wabanaki mythology [is] shamanistic in character.”[8] Every stranger, it appears, is a magical antagonist who must be tested. Wherever Kluskap goes, he must pit his power against that of the local “champions,” and may the strongest medeulin (all but once Kluskap) win.

In the tales, both those in the present volume and those in other collections, the interest seems to be more on incident, on particular conflicts, than it does on sequence. Even the series of adventures that occur to one hero seem to be more picaresque than plotted. Yet the long Kluskap tale beginning on page 23 and the similar tales told, for example, of White Weasel, Long Hair, Fond of Traveling and the like among the Penobscot, make us wonder how important sequential narrative was among the Wabanaki.[9] We should remember too that Mrs. Black claimed that her mother would start telling Kluskap tales in the fall and go right on through until the next spring. As a substitute for informed answers, I will ask some questions that future collection and study can perhaps help to answer: In the long narratives, to what extent are we dealing with clear types, to what extent with infinitely variable strings of motifs and motif clusters? Does the same narrator always tell the same tale following the same sequence? When others in the group tell the story of, say, Long Hair or even Kluskap, do they follow the same sequence? In regard to Kluskap, both Speck and Parsons played down the importance of sequence. As Parsons said, “one anecdote may suggest another, but the anecdotes do not thread or piece together as in a regular tale.”[10] Finally, if this view is correct, is this lack of sequence in any way a reflection of the highly individual and loosely structured political, social and religious life of the Wabanaki? The answer to that question calls for a competence far broader than any the present editor can boast of possessing.

Finally comes the vexed question of the separation of “real Indian” and European traditions. Some of the stories are demonstrably European in origin; others, for which we can find no European analogues, show what may be European influence in details.[11] In many cases, however, the problem may not be that simple. For example, compare the concepts of medeulin with those underlying European witchcraft. It would not be quite right to speak of their identity, but each culture seems to have recognized the common elements in the others concept, thus allowing an easy flow of tales both ways. The witch, the local strong man, the man who could throw his voice, and even the tall-tale hero all met on a certain common ground with the medeulin, and he enriched their tradition quite as much as they enriched his. As a cadence to this theme of European influence, what the Wallises say of the Micmac is quite relevant to the Malecite and Passamaquoddy:

One of the satisfactions in studying Micmac culture, and also a source of major exasperation, stems from the long period of European contacts. Four hundred years is time enough for an intricate interweaving and snarling of cultural threads into a fabric which the Micmac consider wholly aboriginal. Much of it is native, for the Micmac have been strong resisters as well as comfortable adopters and adapters of foreign traits. To a greater extent than in most Indian cultures there are, in some phases of Micmac belief (for example, witchcraft, ghosts, and dreams) unsolved problems of the amount of French or British acculturation.[12]

We cannot claim to have solved these problems in this booklet; but perhaps, like Kluskap fighting the giant Beaver, we have made the waters more interestingly muddy.

A Note On The Editing

The Malecite tales all were taken from the collection of Dolores Daigle, Marilyn Daigle, and Geraldine Hegeman, which is Accession number 179 in the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History. It is my understanding that Mrs. Hegeman was mainly responsible for the part of the collection we are interested in here, the material from Mrs. Viola Solomon and her daughter, Mrs. Henrietta Black. An asterisk before a title indicates that the story was transcribed from tape. This taped material was completely and carefully transcribed by Wilford J. H. Saunders. Working from Will Saunders’ manuscript and checking it against the tape, I have done some editing to make the stories easier to read. Where the tape is not clear, my conjecture as to what was said is in brackets. Where I have added words to make the sense clearer, my additions are italicized and in brackets. Omissions are indicated by ellipsis marks ( . . . . ). However, I have not felt it necessary to mark the omission of every false start, every self-correction, every hem and haw. For example, Mrs. Black, in her translation of her mother’s long tale, kept reassuring her listeners with “you know.” I have omitted meaningless uses of the phrase. All “stage directions”(indicating gestures, audience reaction, etc. ) are in double brackets and are both italicized and underlined.

In the texts taken from manuscript, I have followed the same procedure outlined above for additions and omissions. I have also taken the liberty of adjusting the punctuation and paragraphing to allow for easier reading, and I have standardized some of the spelling, especially that of the name of Kluskap. The titles to the tales are in almost every case my own.

I have tried to be as complete as possible in citing parallels in Malecite and Passamaquoddy. I have also tried to give a good representation of the major collections of other Wabanaki groups. The occasional references to other Algonkian and even Iroquois sources are largely chance ones; that is to say, they are those I have hit upon in my reading but are in no sense exhaustive. Type and motif numbers are cited wherever it seemed to me they were specific enough to be helpful. For all citations of sources I have used a shortened form almost entirely, and in the case of certain authors, Speck and Mechling in particular, I have added roman numerals to distinguish particular articles. For easy reference, these abbreviations precede the title in the Bibliography.

Special thanks are due not only to the collectors and transcribers mentioned above but to several other people as well. Mrs. Dorothy MacDonald, Reference Librarian at the University of Maine Library, was a wonder when it came to getting material on inter-library loan. Paul Blanchette, Librarian of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, was very helpful during my visit there, and thanks are also due to Ernest S. Dodge, Director of the Museum, both for his help and for his permission to use material from the Adney Manuscripts. Professors Horace Beck (Middlebury College) and Alan Dundes (University of California, Berkeley) read a summary of Mrs. Solomon’s tales and gave me much encouragement. The map is the work of James Conlin. Credit should also go to Professor John E. Hankins (University of Maine), Sharon Sperl, and my wife Bobby, who read and proofread the entire manuscript, and to Marilyn Emerick, who typed the final copy for the press.

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All abbreviated forms are fully explained in the Bibliography. For motifs, see Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature (Bloomington Indiana: 1955-1958). For type references see the same author’s “The Types of the Folktale,” FFC 184 (Helsinki: 1961).

[1] Wallis II, 1.

[2] Wallis II, 42.

[3] Speck speaks of “the almost universal American belief that legends must not be related in summer lest snakes overhear and bite the offenders.” Speck VIII, 25.

[4] Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History (hereafter referred to as NAFOH) Accession # 179, pg. 133.

[5] All of this biographical material is drawn from Chappelle’s short sketch in Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard J. Chappelle, The Bark Canoe and Skin Boats of North America (Washington, D.C.: 1964), p. 4.

[6] See especially Speck IV and Eckstorm II.

[7] Wallis II, 31.

[8] Speck IV, 258.

[9] See Speck VIII, 50-73.

[10] Parsons, 85; Speck III, 479.

[11] See Stith Thompson, European Tales Among the North American Indians (Colorado Springs, 1919). For an easily available summary, see the same author’s The Folktale (New York, 1946), 286-193.

[12] Wallis I, 9.

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