MS/Lakes: Mondamin

On this page, you have a chance to compare two different versions of a corn legend, one as told by the Ojibwa people and another version told by the Ottawa. You can find out more about the Ojibwa people and the related Ottawa (Odawa) people at Wikipedia: Ojibwe and Odawa.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Mississippi Valley / Great Lakes unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1914).


WHEN the springtime came, long, long ago, an Indian boy began his fast, according to the customs of his tribe. His father was a very good man but he was not a good hunter, and often there was no food in the wigwam.

So, as the boy wandered from his small tepee in the forest, he thought about these things. He looked at the plants and shrubs and wondered about their uses, and whether they were good for food. He thought, “I must find out about these things in my vision.”

One day, as he lay stretched upon his bed of robes in the solitary wigwam, a handsome Indian youth came down from Sky-land. He was gaily dressed in robes of green and yellow, with a plume of waving feathers in his hands.

“I am sent to you,” said the stranger, “by the Great Mystery. He will teach you what you would know.” Then he told the boy to rise and wrestle with him. The boy at once did so. At last the visitor said, “That is enough. I will come tomorrow.”

The next day the beautiful stranger came again from the Sky-land. Again the two wrestled until the stranger said, “That is enough. I will come tomorrow.”

The third day he came again. Again the fasting youth found his strength increase as he wrestled with the visitor. Then that one said, “It is enough. You have conquered.”

He sat himself down in the wigwam. “The Great Mystery has granted your wish,” he said. “Tomorrow when I come, after we have wrestled and you have thrown me down, you must strip off my garments. Clear the earth of roots and weeds and bury my body. Then leave this place; but come often and keep the earth soft, and pull up the weeds. Let no grass or weeds grow on my grave.” Then he went away, but first he said, “Touch no food until after we wrestle tomorrow.”

The next morning the father brought food to his son; it was the seventh day of fasting. But the boy refused until the evening should come.

Again came the handsome youth from the Sky-land. They wrestled long, until he fell to the earth. Then the Indian boy took off the green and yellow robes, and buried his friend in soft, fresh earth. Thus the vision had come to him.

Then the boy returned to his father’s lodge, for his fasting was ended. Yet he remembered the commands of the Sky-land stranger. Often he visited the grave, keeping it soft and fresh, pulling up weeds and grass. And when people were saying that the Summer-maker would soon go away and the Winter-maker come, the boy went with his father to the place where his wigwam had stood in the forest while he fasted. There they found a tall and graceful plant, with bright silky hair, and green and yellow robes.

“It is Mondamin,” said the boy. “It is Mondamin, the corn.”


WHEN the Ottawas lived on the Manatoline Islands, in Lake Huron, they had a very strong medicine man. His name was Mass-wa-wei-nini, Living Statue. Then the Iroquois came and drove the Ottawas away. They fled to Lac Court Oreilles, between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. But Living Statue remained in the land of his people. He remained to watch the Iroquois so that his people might know of their plans. His two sons stayed with him.

At night, the medicine man paddled softly around the island, in his canoe. He paddled through the water around the beautiful green island of his people. One morning he rose early to go hunting. His two boys were asleep. So Living Statue followed the game trail through the forest; then he came to a wide green plain. He watched keenly for the enemy of his people. Then he began to cross the plain.

When Living Statue was in the middle of the plain, he saw a small man coming towards him. He wore a red plume in his hair.

“Where are you going?” asked Red Plume.

“I am hunting,” said Living Statue.

Red Plume drew out his pipe and they smoked together.

“Where does your strength come from?” asked Red Plume.

“I have the strength common to all men,” said Living Statue.

“We must wrestle,” said Red Plume. “If you can make me fall, you will cry, ‘I have thrown you, Wa ge me na!’”

Now when they had finished smoking, they began to wrestle. They struggled long. Red Plume was small, but his medicine was strong. Living Statue grew weaker and weaker, but at last, by a sudden effort, he threw Red Plume. At once he cried, “I have thrown you, Wa ge me na!”

Immediately Red Plume vanished. When Living Statue looked at the place where he had fallen, he saw only Mondamin, an ear of corn. It was crooked. There was a red tassel at the top.

Someone said, “Take off my robes. Pull me in pieces. Throw me over the plain. Take the spine on which I grew and throw it in shady places near the edge of the wood. Return after one moon. Tell no one.”

Mass-wa-wei-nini did as the voice directed. Then he returned into the woods. He killed a deer. So he returned to his wigwam. Now after one moon, he returned to the plain. Behold! There were blades and spikes of young corn. And from the broken bits of spine, grew long pumpkin vines.

When summer was gone, Living Statue went again to the plain with his sons. The corn was in full ear. Also the large pumpkins were ripe.

Thus the Ottawas received the gift of corn.

(900 words)

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