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Sun Myths

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The Old Man and the Maids from whom Manabush steals the fire belong to the Wabanunaqsiwok, the Dawn-People, who dress in red; and, should a man or a woman dream of the Dawn-People, he or she must forthwith prepare a ball game. This, it is said, was instituted by Manabush in celebration of his victory over the malignant manitos; he made Kineun, the Golden Eagle and Chief of the Thunderers, leader of one side, and Owasse, the Bear and Chief of the Underground People, leader of the other; 52 but the Thunderers always win the game, even though the sky be darkened by cloud and rain.

It is easy to recognize in the ball, which bears the colours of the East and the West, red and yellow, a symbol of the Sun; and in this myth (as in the Iroquois legend of the rape of the Sun) to see a story of the ceaseless conflict of Day and Night, with Day the eternal conqueror. Sun-symbolism, also, seems to underlie the tale of Ball-Carrier, the boy who was lured away by an old witch who possessed a magic ball that returned of itself to her wigwam when a child pursued it, and who was sent by her in search of the gold (Sunlight) and the magic bridge (Rainbow) in the lodge of a giant beyond the waters. Ball-Carrier, who is a kind of Indian Jack the Giant-Killer, steals the gold and the bridge, and after many amazing adventures and transformations returns to his home.

A similar, perhaps identical, character is the Tchakabech of Le Jeune's Relation of 1637.42 Tchakabech is a Dwarf, whose parents have been devoured by a Bear (the Underworld Chief) and a Great Hare, the Genius of Light. He decided to ascend to the Sky and climbed upward on a tree, which grew as he breathed upon it, until he reached the heavens, where he found the loveliest country in the world. He returned to the lower world, building lodges at intervals in the branches of the tree, and induced his sister to mount with him to the Sky; but the little child of the sister broke off the end of the tree, just low enough so that no one could follow them to their destination. Tchakabech snared the Sun in a net; during its captivity there was no day below on earth; but by the aid of a mouse who sawed the strands with his sharp teeth, he was at last able to release the Sun and restore the day. In the Menominee version recorded by Hoffman, the snare is made by a noose of the sister's hair, and the Sun is set free by the unaided efforts of the Mouse.

In these shifting stories we see the image of changing Nature Day and Night, Sunlight and Darkness, the Heavens above and the Earth beneath, coupled with a vague apprehension of the Life that is in all things, and a dim effort to grasp the origins of the world.

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