Kluskap Tales from the Malecite

*Kluskap And His Twin Brother (Solomon) [1]

Well, this is Viola Solomon trying to tell the story of Kluskap, Lord of the Indians. And this Kluskap had a twin brother. . . .Before they were born they even had a consultation about it. He [Kluskap?] asked his brother, “Which way would you want to be born?”

So Malsumsa said (that’s the Wolverine), “I’d like to be born—burst right into life, even right through there to life.” That’s the way he wanted to be born. So he asked Kluskap, “Well, how do you want to be born?”

He says, “I don’t want to be born any different than the rest of the people.”

Well, so it come to pass they were born, and he [Kluskap] was born just like any other human being; and then this Malsumsa, his mother died giving birth [to him]. Malsumsa’s the Indian Devil. . . . That’s the Wolverine.

So anyway they brought themselves up. And they was always together, `til one day they tried their strength against each other which one would have more power than the other, although they were twins. Well, he [Malsumsa] said, “How would a person kill you anyway? How could a person kill you?”

Well he said (that’s how he got his name), this Kluskap told his brother a lie. He said, “All you gotta do is to go and pluck a feather out of this white owl’s tail and hit me over the head with it when I’m sleeping. I’ll never know what struck me.”

Well anyway they went on a hunting trip. And soon they’d be pulling up trees right by the roots, you know, and they seemed to think that Kluskap was stronger. Anything they tried Kluskap was always the strongest of the two. Malsumsa didn’t like it; he envied his brother all the time. Well one day he seen a white owl while Kluskap was sleeping. So he went and plucked a feather out of this white owl’s tail. It was in the night when the moon was shining bright. He could see that white owl just as plain. So he caught this owl and hit his brother with this tail feather.

My God, Kluskap just woke up! [It] just woke him up. “You found out that I was just telling you a lie. You just struck me hard enough to make me mad,” he said. “Now, because you are so wicked I shall turn you into a beaver.”

[Malsumsa he said], “If you turn me into a beaver I’ll always eat up your woods.”

Well [Kluskap] he said, “I shall drive you away from this territory.” He picked up three rocks.

This beaver went and jumped in the river, flapped his tail and said, “Try and hit me [if] you can.”

Kluskap picked up a rock and tried to hit him, but this beaver was too smart, too fast for him. He went up the St. John River, and the first hiding place he came to was going up on that Pokiok Falls. That’s where he struck the first rock landed. So this Beaver thought that was too much for him. So he went further up the St. John River, and right now you can see them rocks. I mean you can’t now; since they built the dam [i.e. at Beechwood] they’re all under water. There’s two big rocks. [Speaking to her daughter, Mrs. Black]: You’ve seen them, huh? [Mrs. Black: Uhmhm]. They call [them] “Tobique Rocks.” There’s one about three miles below Perth and one right here at the mouth of Tobique. Well, a little below. [Aside:] Oh, right here! I thought I was over in the point! [i.e. at the reservation]. And one at the Grand Falls. That’s what made the falls.

MRS. HEGEMAN: You said this is how Kluskap got his name?

MRS. SOLOMON: That’s how he got his name.

MRS. HEGEMAN: Well, what does it mean? Kluskap.

MRS. SOLOMON: Well, it means a liar in Indian. Kluskap: a person that lies. You know, a person who tells lies.

MRS. HEGEMAN: Did he retain his strength?

MRS. SOLOMON: He retained his strength and he retained the name. He kept that name all the time.

MRS. HEGEMAN: But he was a—although he was a liar—though—he was a good person?

MRS. SOLOMON: He was a good person, yes. He only told that lie. He only told that one lie to his brother, his twin brother.

Kluskap And The Beaver (Black) [2]

Kluskap—name of medeulin meaning “bewitched” or “in cahoots with the devil.” This is the belief of the St. John River Indians, from St. John, New Brunswick to Edmunston. This man was considered to know more than anyone else and was more or less chief of the tribe. He had one enemy and he was called the “Beaver,” whose name was Gwabid. One day they had a big battle at Grand Falls which is called Gupsquick. The Kluskap was trying to catch the beaver on the riverbank. Since the beaver lived on water he could travel faster than Kluskap. He gave up trying to keep up with him, and went to the riverbank and picked up a large rock and threw it at the beaver, thinking that if he hit him he would kill him on the spot. After he threw it he found out that the beaver was farther away than he had thrown the rock. The rock landed at the mouth of the Tobique River. When Kluskap saw that, he picked up another rock and threw it with more force, only this time the rock was much bigger. The rock is still at the mouth of the river. The Indians still believe that it is the very rock Kluskap had thrown at the Gwabid.

He gave up trying to get the beaver with a rock and decided to call upon the powers that he possessed and try to catch him by jumping along the riverbank. The jump he took was one-half mile long, so it took him fifty-four jumps along the riverbank. Finally he was on the other side of the river and the beaver was in the water. He jumped in the river and went to the bottom. When he got his hand on the beaver he turned himself into another beaver, and they fought like beavers until they got tired. That didn’t prove anything, because their strength was evenly matched, so the first beaver decided to turn himself into a snake, thinking he could choke the other beaver. When the other beaver saw he had turned himself into a snake, he also decided to turn himself into a snake. They fought until they were tired. Neither one could overpower the other. When they could not get the best of each other, the first one turned himself into a Budeb, an Indian name for some kind of monster. When the second one saw this he turned himself into a Budeb, and they fought for four weeks. The pool of water where they fought is so muddy now and the underneath keeps boiling up. We don’t know who won the battle, because people still think that they are still fighting.

The Tobique Rocks (Adney Mss.) [3]

Another version of the Kluskap story of the Great Beavers and the rocks in the river below Tobique Village is as follows: Once there was a big strong Indian, the most powerful man there was. He picked up a huge rock and threw it down river. That is the rock a little below the mouth of Tobique. As he accomplished this astonishing feat, there appeared a man out of nowhere who picked up another rock, as big as a house, and threw it five miles further down river. Then he disappeared. That man was Kluskap, far stronger than any Indian.

*Kluskap Visits The King Of England (Solomon) [4]

Well, he stayed with his mother’s sister; stayed with his aunt. . . . Then one day this aunt said she’d like to go and visit her brother in Nova Scotia. That’s Turtle. So in the meantime Kluskap said he wanted to go to England anyway. He wanted to go and visit the King, King of England. Gamanokeek, that’s what they call England. Maybe that’s getting too uh—

MRS. BLACK: [To Mrs. Hegeman] Don’t you want all the details?

MRS. HEGEMAN: Oh yes, yes, I want all I can get about it. [Laughter]

MRS. SOLOMON: I’m afraid that’d be too long.

MRS. HEGEMAN: Oh, I don’t care.

MRS. SOLOMON: And, at any rate, his boat was on an island, a small island. [5] But he could make that float just like a ship, you know. He floated across, he drifted across the [ocean] to England to see the King of England. . . . He left his aunt up to [her] brother’s. Then when he got to England he left his island right in the harbor there. He spent overnight there.

And the next morning the King woke up. He said, “What nice woods we have out here. Now we won’t have to go so far for wood.” In England there wasn’t hardly any trees there. So the King sent his soldiers out to cut all the wood they can—all the trees down.

Kluskap he always liked to sleep, so while he was sleeping the King’s men came and cut down all the trees off his island. . . . . When he woke up he found out [what had happened]. He said, “Who done that?”

They said, “The King’s men.” He had some of his braves with him.

“So I’m going to see the King.” He just stepped across. He could take long steps when he wanted to. He could step right across water. [Laughter]. He done a lot of deeds, you know.

And when he got there the King says, “Who is this funny-looking creature we see here?”

He said, “It’s me. I’m Kluskap, Kluskap the Indian.”

“Oh,” he says, “what you want here?”

He said, “I want to know why you went and cut down all my mast poles.” You know, he could sail good with the trees.

He [the King] says, “We need that wood.”

[Kluskap] he said, “You don’t have to [bang up] my masts.

“Ahh,” [the King ] says, “you can’t do anything about it.” . . . . Well, the King ordered his men to put [Kluskap] into the uh (what do you call that?) cannon. [Now he says to him], “You get in there. We’ll take you back to your island quicker than you can step over.”

So [Kluskap] he got in the cannon there, great big cannon. . . . The cannon didn’t go off anyway, so the King looked in. There was Kluskap there smoking his pipe. [6] [Laughter] He made himself so small that the cannon wouldn’t shoot. [Laughter].

Well the King said, “Well, you win. We’ll take you back.”

“Yes, and before you do that,” [Kluskap] he said, “I want you to put up some masts for me so I can sail back to my country.”

The King said, “What if I don’t do it?”

[Kluskap] he said, “I’ll—I’ll—” Then he done that [gesturing]. He said, I’ll flip you over there with my finger.”

[The King] said, “Can you do it?”

He said, “Of course.” And he done it.

The King landed on Kluskap’s island. So his men had to go back and get him. I don’t know how many days it took them to sail him across [Laughter] from the island to England. [The King] said, “You win. I’ll send the men over.”

Then this Kluskap went back to his country, and on his way . . . he picked up his aunt and uncle. His uncle thought he’d pay a visit, you know, on the St. John River, to Woolosstuk; that’s what they call St. John River: Woolosstuk, “the great river.”. .

*Kluskap And His Uncle Turtle (Solomon) [7]

It must have been in the fall of the year, because this Glamuksus [8] wore his snowshoe. He only had one, one snowshoe. [9] That’s what he used to travel with, the Turtle. And when they came to this place, they said, “We’re going to stay here for the night.” So this Turtle looked up there. He seen a lot of women standing there. [Laughter] “I guess I’ll have to leave one eye here so I won’t go blind.” He took off his eye and hung it up on a branch. Then they went up the hill and Kluskap looked around and he couldn’t see his Uncle anywhere. Well, this Uncle was going, “Ummummummummumm,” looking up at the women. [Loud laughter]. That’s the reason why he left his eye hanging on the tree. He was afraid to lose his eyesight. [10]

Now some messengers left to meet him. That was uh. . . [Long pause, some back and forth conversation]. . . .

MRS. BLACK: That’s where he went to look for a wife there. Glamuksus did, the Turtle.

MRS. SOLOMON: Yes, but. . . some messengers then came and told him that the Chief was waiting for them at his house. At his house; you know, sogama, wigwam— Chief’s house. It was this mimuksuwes; that’s an Indian name for . . . otter. They came and told him, “The Chief is waiting for you at the house, and they want to see you.” So they both went.

[The Chief told them there was going to be a contest, and the winner] [11]… “can choose from these three daughters. Whichever one wins [will get the daughter]. There’s going to be a tournament. There’s going to be wrestling, and a ball game, and. . . a snowshoe race.”

Turtle thought, `How can I win that race with one snowshoe?’

(You know, it sounds more interesting when we say it in Indian. . . It sounds more funny and it sounds more interesting too. . .).

And this Chief had three sons that was caribou. [12] Three sons they were all caribou, very swift—swift runners. So [Turtle] he had to win the race against them.

MRS. BLACK: Turtle’s no competition for caribou.

MRS. SOLOMON: No. [Laughter]. Kluskap said, “Well, you’ll win the race. I can give you the power to win the race.”

Well, they went in the morning, early in the morning. They had an early start. And these caribou; these swift runners, every time they come to a resting place, they could see these snowshoe tracks. The Turtle was way ahead of them. . . . Yes, the Turtle was way way ahead of them caribou. And coming back, my God, this Turtle brought back. . . more game than the Caribou brothers did. . . .

[Note: The end of this episode seems to be missing on the tape, as does the beginning of the following:]

. . . . Chief’s house. For the next [game, Kluskap taught Turtle to jump over the wigwam.] “There, you could jump. I told you you could.” [Kluskap] he says, “Try it again.” So the Turtle tried it again. And this Kluskap went in the wigwam [and] built a fire. This Turtle tried it on his own power, and he got hung up amongst them poles—you know, them poles they have up over there? And Kluskap was building a fire inside. [Turtle] he got hot up there. [Much laughter]. He got so warm, [my God did he] sweat! [More laughter] And that water dropping on the fire down below. It—it—[Laughter and talking], it got blue; it got [Much laughter and confusion] blue. I don’t know how to say that in English [whispered, very softly, by someone: “It’s a penis.”] Well anyway, all them ashes come up against this Turtle that’s caught up amongst them stakes. Now those ashes went up all over him. That’s why the Turtle is always red. [Laughter]. That’s why the Turtle is so red around his arms and around his legs. [13]

MRS. HEGEMAN [in a comment edited into the tape at a later time]: At this point I would like to add that Mrs. Solomon didn’t tell the complete story. She thought that it would be improper in the presence of strangers. But the heat from the fire caused the Turtle to lose his water, causing such smoke and ashes to come up and burn the Turtle’s sex organ. And that is why to this day the turtle has such a shriveled up sex organ.

The Great Wind Eagle (Solomon) [14]

. . . . Well, [these people] they settled on a—oh, some place below there going down to the—somewhere near Digby, Nova Scotia. They lived high up on a hill so that tide water couldn’t reach them. And there on top of this hill there was this eagle. It controlled the wind. And every time he flaps his wings there come a big wind. And one day one of the brothers came and shot the eagle and wounded one wing, because he didn’t go and visit them. So anyway that stagnated the water. They didn’t have no water to drink. All the water was spoiled around there—no spring water or nothing because there was no wind.

Then this Kluskap he heard about that. . . . He went way up on the mountain and found the eagle was wounded. So he picked him up [and] tied up his wing. He said, “Now flap your wings and make some wind.” There came a big wind. My goodness, the wind blew for a week. . . . The eagle he blew most of the trees down and most of the houses (I should say wigwam; it’s an Indian story).

Well, why don’t we call that enough for tonight and I’ll think it over or I could write it down and you can copy it.


[1] Told by Mrs. Solomon, Nov. 14, 1962. NAFOH Accession # 179, pg. 138, Tape # T228. The present version is a combination of two common Kluskap tales: the good and bad twins (which includes the trading of life secrets) and the fight with the giant beavers. Usually these are entirely separate tales, but Mrs. Solomon makes a neat transition from one to the other by having Kluskap change his brother into a beaver. For an interesting parallel, see Leland, 15-18, although his text is admittedly a composite (for a versified rendering, see Leland and Prince, 43-49).

Speck (VIII,8) says that the good and the bad twin episode “suggests Iroquois influence,” and certainly it is more important in Iroquois mythology than it is in that of any of the Wabanaki groups. Jack’s version (196-197) is presumably from a Malecite informant, and Leland prints a second version (106-110) sent him by Jack, which he claims is Micmac. Rand’s informant (339-340) may have been a Malecite. Mechling (II,44) simply reprints Rand’s version. On the attitude toward twin births and some speculation on its relation to this tale, see Mechling III, 26; Wallis II, 33-34; Wallis I, 249. Motif T575.1.3 Twins quarrel before birth in mother’s womb. K975.1 Pretended exchange of confidences as to the one thing that can kill.

The “fight with the beaver” is probably the most popular Kluskap episode going, partly, I am sure, through its recurrence in travel bureau handouts and the like. Malecite versions include those published by Jack, 193-195 (two versions); Mechling II, 1-2; Speck III, 479-480; Wallis II, 42. Passamaquoddy: Leland, 20-21, 64; Leland and Prince, 54-55, 115-116. Micmac: Speck II, 60; Parsons, 86. For a Montagnais parallel, see Speck V, 23-24.

[2] Told by Mrs. Black, Loring, ME, Oct., 1962. NAFOH Accession # 179, pg. 89-90. Mrs. Black was told the story by her mother, Mrs. Solomon. See the preceding section for notes on the fight with the beaver. Mrs. Black’s text seems to combine this tale with a rather well known tale of an encounter between a medeulin and a water monster, the Wiwiliamecq, a story that is often told to explain the roily waters of a particular lake. For a discussion of this tale (and a bibliography) see Eskstorm II, 39-48, 89-95. See also Speck IV, 282-283; Leland and Prince, 253. There are, by the way, three manuscript boxes bulging with Adney’s ingenious and (I believe) mistaken theorizings on the significance of this monster (Adney Mss, Peabody Museum). Mrs. Black’s having the combat as still continuing is unique but logical.

[3] From the Adney Mss. No source is given, but the item is dated September, 1947. It is presumably Malecite. See the forgoing items for further annotation.

[4] Told by Mrs. Solomon, Nov. 14, 1962. This seems to have been a rather popular tale, if we judge both from the number of versions that have been collected in a limited area and from their diversity. So far as I know, no other Malecite versions are in print, although after giving a Micmac version the Wallises note that “a similar story was heard from the Malliseet on the St. John River” (I, 335n.), and Horace Beck says that he has collected the tale in the settlement at Kingsclear, N.B. Leland (127-130) prints two Paasamaquoddy versions. For Micmac versions, see Wallis and Wallis, I, 333-335, and Rand, p. xlv. There is a parallel tale about Young Katahdin in Speck VIII, 78-79.

[5] Kluskap’s island boat, or stone canoe, is standard equipment not only in this tale, but in various others too numerous to footnote. Motif D1524.4 Island Canoe.

[6] In most versions of this tale the King does fire the cannon. Interesting enough, the detail of Kluskap “smoking his pipe” is a constant.

[7] Turtle is the Wabanaki fall-guy. He is poor, lazy, licentious, and stupid,—a shambling buffoon involved in a series of pratfalls and entirely dependent upon his nephew’s power. In spite of the fact that he usually does bail him out, Kluskap delights in teasing him. Turtle is not always appreciative of Kluskap’s help and tries to kill him in several tales. Since tales about Turtle are found wherever Kluskap tales are found, I will cite only what appear to be significant parallels to the present tales.

[8] Wallis II, 19, gives gu’la muk’ sis as the designation for “mother’s brother.”

[9] See Mechling II, p. 43.

[10] This incident is not entirely clear. If Turtle leaves his eye behind so that it can watch the women, why does he stay behind too? It is more likely that he leaves one eye behind as a “spare” so that when he goes off to look at the women he will not be in danger of losing both eyes. At any rate, the incident is almost certainly a version of the eye-juggler motif (J2423), known in some form over most of North America. If it is, then this makes its first occurrence among the Wabanaki groups, so far as I know.

[11] The tape at this point is very indistinct. My restoration is based on parallel versions of the same episode as told by others. See page 35 below, for more on this type of contest. Motif H331.5, Suitor contest:race.

[12] Caribou are specifically mentioned in this connection in Barratt, 7-11; Jack, 195-198; Mechling II, 28.

[13] This is one of the best known of Turtle’s adventures, and it is used to explain any of several things about him such as his markings, his color, the hardness of his shell, and his apparent indestructibility. In several versions, Kluskap even disembowels Turtle and cuts his head off in order to give him long life. So far as I know, however, the present version is the only one using the episode to explain the Turtle’s peculiar penis (though for a variant and amusing explanation of this item see Speck VIII, 48). For other Malecite versions see Mechling IV, 28, 43. For a Passamaquoddy version, see Prince, 43. Penobscot: Speck VIII, 480-49. Micmac: Rand, 290; Wallis, I, 482. Leland’s version (54-55) is part of a composite Passamaquoddy and Micmac text, as is the one in Leland and Prince, 129-131. See also Speck VI, 187.

[14] Told by Mrs. Solomon, Nov. 14, 1962. This is another very popular Wabanaki tale, which is usually (though not always) told about Kluskap. In its “normal” form, Kluskap is annoyed that there is too much wind; therefore he tricks the wind bird Wudjausen (the Penobscot name) and breaks his wings. The waters now grow stagnant, and he must repair the damage, but he admonishes Wudjausen to flap his wings with less gusto in the future. For other Malecite versions, see Mechling II, 45; Speck III, 480. Passamaquoddy: Fewkes, 266; Leland, 111-112; Leland and Prince, 158-161; Prince, 47-49. Micmac; Leland, 359-362; Rand, 360-361. Penobscot: Alger, 12-13; Speck VIII, 40-41. See also the Penobscot tale of Skunk, who tied the wing of the great bird that makes light and darkness (Speck VIII, 74). Motif A1125. Winds caused by flapping wings.