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The Deluge

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The second of these episodes of the Potawatomi legend, in its more universal form, is the tale identified by the Jesuit Fathers as a reminiscence of the Biblical Deluge. In his Relation of 1633, Le Jeune gives the Montagnais version:

"They say that there is one named Messou, who restored the world when it was lost in the waters. . . . This Messou, going hunting with lynxes, instead of dogs, was warned that it would be dangerous for his lynxes (which he called his brothers) in a certain lake near the place where he was. One day as he was hunting an elk, his lynxes gave it chase even into the lake; and when they reached the middle of it, they were sub-merged in an instant. When he arrived there and sought his brothers everywhere, a bird told him that it had seen them at the bottom of the lake, and that certain animals or monsters held them there; but immediately the lake overflowed, and increased so prodigiously that it inundated and drowned the whole earth. The Messou, very much astonished, gave up all thought of his lynxes, to meditate on creating the world anew. He sent a raven to find a small piece of earth with which to build up another world. The raven was unable to find any, everything being covered with water. He made an otter dive down, but the depth of the water prevented it from going to the bottom. At last a muskrat descended, and brought back some earth. With this bit of earth, he restored every-thing to its condition. He remade the trunks of the trees, and shot arrows against them, which were changed into branches. It would be a long story to recount how he re-established everything; how he took vengeance on the monsters that had taken his hunters, transforming himself into a thousand kinds of animals to circumvent them. In short, the great Restorer, having married a little muskrat, had children who repeopled the world."

The Menominee divide the story. They tell how Moqwaio, the Wolf, brother of Manabush, was pulled beneath the ice of a lake by the malignant Anamaqkiu and drowned; how Manabush mourned four days, and on the fifth day met the shade of his brother, whom he then sent to the place of the setting sun to have care of the dead, and to build there a fire to guide them thither. The account of the deluge, however, comes in connexion with the conflict of the Thunderers, under the direction of Manabush who is bent on avenging his brother, and the Anamaqkiu, led by two Bear chiefs. Manabush, by guile, succeeded in slaying the Bears, whereupon the Anamaqkiu pursued him with a great flood. He ascended a mountain, and then to the top of a gigantic pine; and as the waters increased he caused this tree to grow to twice its height. Four times the pine doubled in altitude, but still the flood rose to the armpits of Manabush, when the Great Spirit made the deluge to cease. Manabush causes the Otter, the Beaver, the Mink, and the Muskrat, in turn, to dive in search of a grain of earth with which he can restore the world. The first three rise to the top, belly uppermost, dead; but the Muskrat succeeds, and the earth is created anew.

A third version of the deluge-myth tells how the Great Hare, with the other animals, was on a raft in the midst of the waters. Nothing could be seen save waterfowl. The Beaver dived, seeking a grain of soil; for the Great Hare assured the animals that with even one grain he could create land. Nevertheless, almost dead, the Beaver returned unsuccessful. Then the Muskrat tried, and he was gone nearly a whole day. When he reappeared, apparently dead, his four feet were tight-clenched; but in one of them was a single grain of sand, and from this the earth was made, in the form of a mountain surrounded by water, the height ever increasing, even to this day, as the Great Hare courses around it.

It is obvious that in this chaotic flood we have an Indian equivalent of "the waters below the firmament" in the midst of which, according to the Hebrew genesis, the dry land appeared. And the Indians, like the Semites, conceived the world to be a mountain, rising from the waste of cosmic waters, and arched by the celestial dome. "They believe," says the author of the Relation of 1637, "that the earth is entirely flat, and that its ends are cut off perpendicularly; that souls go away to the end which is at the setting Sun and that they build their cabins upon the edge of the great precipice which the earth forms, at the base of which there is nothing but water.



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