American Indian: Shin-ge-bis Fools the North Wind

You can read more about the Ojibwa character "Shingebiss" at Wikipedia. You can also find out more in the book Hiawatha: with its original Indian legends by Chase S. Osborn and Stelllanova Osborn which is online at Hathi Trust. The north wind, Kabibonokka, also appears in Longfellow's Hiawatha.

In the Ojibway language, the word zhingibis means "grebe," and the grebe is indeed famous for diving down under the water, as you can see in this photograph of a diving grebe:

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the American Indian Fairy Tales unit. Story source: American Indian Fairy Tales by W.T. Larned, with illustrations by John Rae (1921).

Shin-ge-bis Fools the North Wind

LONG, long ago, in the time when only a few people lived upon the earth, there dwelt in the North a tribe of fishermen. Now, the best fish were to be found in the summer season, far up in the frozen places where no one could live in the winter at all. For the King of this Land of Ice was a fierce old man called Ka-bib-on-okka by the Indians—meaning in our language, the North Wind.

Though the Land of Ice stretched across the top of the world for thousands and thousands of miles, Ka-bib-on-okka was not satisfied. If he could have had his way there would have been no grass or green trees anywhere; all the world would have been white from one year's end to another, all the rivers frozen tight, and all the country covered with snow and ice.

Luckily there was a limit to his power. Strong and fierce as he was, he was no match at all for Sha-won-dasee, the South Wind, whose home was in the pleasant land of the sun-flower. Where Sha-won-dasee dwelt it was always summer. When he breathed upon the land, violets appeared in the woods, the wild rose bloomed on the yellow prairie, and the cooing dove called musically to his mate. It was he who caused the melons to grow, and the purple grapes; it was he whose warm breath ripened the corn in the fields, clothed the forests in green, and made the earth all glad and beautiful.

Then, as the summer days grew shorter in the North, Sha-won-dasee would climb to the top of a hill, fill his great pipe, and sit there—dreaming and smoking. Hour after hour he sat and smoked, and the smoke, rising in the form of a vapor, filled the air with a soft haze until the hills and lakes seemed like the hills and lakes of dreamland. Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky; a great peace and stillness over all. Nowhere else in the world was there anything so wonderful. It was Indian Summer.

Now it was that the fishermen who set their nets in the North worked hard and fast, knowing the time was at hand when the South Wind would fall asleep, and fierce old Ka-bib-on-okka would swoop down upon them and drive them away. Sure enough! One morning a thin film of ice covered the water where they set their nets; a heavy frost sparkled in the sun on the bark roof of their huts.

That was sufficient warning. The ice grew thicker, the snow fell in big, feathery flakes. Coyote, the prairie wolf, trotted by in his shaggy white winter coat. Already they could hear a muttering and a moaning in the distance.

"Ka-bib-on-okka is coming!" cried the fishermen. "Ka-bib-on-okka will soon be here. It is time for us to go."

But Shin-ge-bis, the diver, only laughed.

Shin-ge-bis was always laughing. He laughed when he caught a big fish, and he laughed when he caught none at all. Nothing could dampen his spirits.

"The fishing is still good," he said to his comrades. "I can cut a hole in the ice, and fish with a line instead of a net. What do I care for old Ka-bib-on-okka?"

They looked at him with amazement. It was true that Shin-ge-bis had certain magic powers and could change himself into a duck. They had seen him do it, and that is why he came to be called the "diver." But how would this enable him to brave the anger of the terrible North Wind?

"You had better come with us," they said. "Ka-bib-onokka is much stronger than you. The biggest trees of the forest bend before his wrath. The swiftest river that runs freezes at his touch. Unless you can turn yourself into a bear, or a fish, you will have no chance at all."

But Shin-ge-bis only laughed the louder.

"My fur coat lent me by Brother Beaver and my mittens borrowed from Cousin Muskrat will protect me in the daytime," he said, "and inside my wigwam is a pile of big logs. Let Ka-bib-on-okka come in by my fire if he dares."

So the fishermen took their leave rather sadly; for the laughing Shin-ge-bis was a favorite with them, and, the truth is, they never expected to see him again.

(700 words)

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