MS/Lakes: Tobacco and Maple Sugar

As you will see the first story explains not only the origin of tobacco, but also the origin of the grasshopper!

The second origin story on this page refers to Nokomis, who is Manabush's grandmother. You can read more about Nokomis at Wikipedia.

[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).

The Origin of Tobacco

ONE day when Manabush was passing by a high mountain, a fragrant odor came to him from a crevice in the cliffs. He went closer. Then he knew that in the mountain was a giant who was the Keeper of the Tobacco. He entered the mouth of a cave, going through a long tunnel to the center of the mountain.

There in a great wigwam was the giant. The giant said sternly, “What do you want?”

Manabush said, “I want some tobacco.”

“Come back again in one year,” said the giant. “The manidoes have just been here for their smoke. They come but once a year.”

Manabush looked around. He saw a great number of bags filled with tobacco. He seized one and ran out into the open air, and close after him came the giant.

Up to the mountain tops fled Manabush leaping from peak to peak. The giant came close behind him, springing with great bounds. When Manabush reached a very high peak, he suddenly lay flat on the ground, but the giant, leaping, went over him and fell into the chasm beyond.

The giant picked himself up, and began to climb up the face of the cliff. He almost reached the top, hanging to it by his hands. Manabush seized him, and drew him upwards, and dropped him down on the ground.

He said, “For your meanness, you shall become Kakuene, the jumper. You shall become the pest of those who raise tobacco.” Thus the giant became a grasshopper.

Then Manabush took the tobacco, and divided it amongst his brothers, giving to each some of the seed. Therefore the Indians are never without tobacco.

The Origin of Maple Sugar

ONE day Manabush returned from the hunt without any food. He could find no game at all. So Nokomis gathered all their robes, and the beaded belts, and their belongings together. They built a new wigwam among the sugar maple trees.

Nokomis said, “Grandson, go into the woods and gather for me pieces of birch bark. I am going to make sugar.” Manabush went into the woods. He gathered strips of birch bark which he took back to the wigwam. Nokomis had cut tiny strips of the bark to use as thread in sewing the bark into hollow buckets. Then Nokomis went from tree to tree cutting small holes through the maple bark so that the sap might flow. She placed a birch-bark vessel under each hole. Manabush followed her from tree to tree looking for the sap to drop. None fell. When Nokomis had finished, Manabush found all the vessels half full.

He stuck his finger into the thick syrup. It was sweet. Then he said, “Grandmother, this is all very good, but it will not do. If people make sugar so easily, they will not have to work at all. I will change all this. They must cut wood and keep the sap boiling several nights. Otherwise they will not be busy.”

So Manabush climbed to the very top of a tree. He showered water all over the maples, like rain. Therefore the sugar in the tree dissolved and flows from the tree as thin sap. This is why the uncles of Manabush and their children always have to work hard when they want to make sugar.

(600 words)

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