Spirit of South Bay

 

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Dreamer's Rock

 

The Legend of Masewein

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Legends of Manitoulin Island

Spirit of South Bay • The legendary Dreamer's Rock • The legend of Masewein

The Legend of Masewein

The story of the Odawa magician Maswein and Bridal Veil Falls, as it was passed on to us by the late Ernie Debassige of M’Chigeeng.

Kagawong is a beautiful spot known by all who have dwelt here from the earliest of times as a mystical abode of spirits.

As the story goes, it came to happen that the Odawas (sometimes called the Ottawas) were driven from their home on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron by their relentless enemies the Iroquois and forced to settle with their relations far to the west by the Mississippi. But the magician Maswein remained behind at the falls of Kagawong (now called Bridal Veil Falls) to act as sentinel for his people and to keep watch on the Iroquois that he might give timely information of their movements; and incidentally, commune with and learn from the Manitou of the place.

Rising early one morning, leaving his two boys asleep, Maswein went hunting through the deepest of woods behind Kagawong. He came upon the border of an open plain and as he was making his way across the meadow, a man of small stature rose from the earth. The man wore a red feather upon his head. He greeted Maswein with great cordiality, invited him to smoke and proposed a wrestling match.

Maswein, nothing loath, agreed; they began to wrestle and Maswein threw his opponent, but to his astonishment, the tiny man disappeared. Looking closely at the place where his opponent had vanished and the magician discovered an unhusked ear of corn topped with a red tassel.

As he drew close to the mysterious object, a voice arose from within it. “Take off my covering,” instructed the ear. “Pull off my body from the spine on which I grow, scatter the grains along the edge of the plain and return to this place after one moon.”

Being a man of great wisdom, Maswein did as he was instructed and when Grandmother Moon had completed a full cycle of her changes in the night sky, he returned to the wrestling ground where he discovered the entire plain blanketed with the tiny shoots and blades of new-grown corn. Where he had tossed the cob itself, broad luxurious leaves and vines of pumpkins now completely covered that place.

Maswein carefully attended and nurtured the plants through the summer and in the fall he gathered up some of the pumpkins. As he moved about his harvest, Maswein heard once again the mysterious voice of the Manitou. “Maswein, had you not conquered me in wrestling, these gifts would not have been yours. Henceforth you shall never never be in want of my body and it will be nourishment for the human race. Thus did the Anishinabe receive the boon of corn.

Maswein had many other adventures and underwent many trials before the magician was able to travel to the lands by the Mississippi to bring his people back to their homeland and the mystical falls at Kagawong, but that is another story.

Spirit of South Bay

In the far eastern part of the Island Manitowaning Bay and South Bay are separated by a strip of land about 5 kilometres wide–or are they?
There is an ancient Ojibwe legend that believes otherwise.
The story goes that hundreds of years ago when a young First Nations warrior was spearing fish for that evening’s supper, a strange thing happened.
A particularly huge fish, leaping through the waters of South Bay, was spied by the young fisherman. Eager to prove his great skill to his fellow tribesmen, the young man forgot about every other fish in the bay and concentrated his efforts on the prize catch.
Time and time again he would hurl his spear at the back of the beautiful big fish, only to see the fish change direction at the last possible second, and avoid the sharp point of the weapon.
‘Fish,’ he said, ‘I love you and respect you very much but I will kill you dead before this day ends.’
With one last mighty hurl the young man threw his spear at the fish. His persistence paid off, for this time his spearhead plunged deep into the back of the fish. But neither man nor fish would give up without a struggle. With defeat, the fish would lose its life, and the young man, in defeat, would lose his pride. In either one’s victory, the other would be destroyed.
The mighty fish thrashed about with every ounce of strength it possessed, while the young man struggled to keep his hold on the spear that struck the treasured fish.
In the end, with both man and fish truly spent, the wooden spear snapped under the tremendous pressures exerted upon it. The young warrior fell backward with great force while the fish seemed content to float, trying to regain some of its lost strength. But it appeared that the fight was over for the fish.
Then the fish came alive, ‘the legend goes,’ with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty ‘Then he fell into the water with a crash’ But as the young man went to collect his trophy fish, it summoned up one last burst of energy and swam deep into South Bay. The spoils of victory were wasted that day.
But legend has it that a short time later, when the young man was trying his luck at Manitowaning Bay another strange thing occurred. While he was busy spearing little fish for supper, the young warrior saw, out of the corner of his eye, a huge object float to the surface of the water. It was the huge fish that he had struggled with not two weeks before. The broken spear remained lodged in the fish’s strong back. There is no explanation for this strange happening, but legend has taken care of its explanation. A secret underwater cave stretches across the isthmus that separates South Bay from Manitowaning Bay, and the mystical fish found its way along the passage.
It is also rumoured that this secret cave is the passage used by the Git-chimanitou to travel from Manitowaning Bay to South Bay, but that’s another story.
It’s quite possible that the death of the great fish was for a purpose. Perhaps it’s reappearance served to show the Ojibwe people that the secret cave exists.

Legendary Dreamer’s Rock

Editor’s Note: This legend is kindly reprinted through the courtesy of the elders of the Whitefish River First Nation at Birch Island, still a ‘Place of Vision and Dreams’ as the community highway sign reads. This story explains why. If you’re thinking of visiting this spiritual site, please first obtain the permission of Whitefish River First Nation at the band office in Birch Island.

Long ago in a land that was pure and clean, bountiful and promising there lived a people. These people were the Anishinabek. Each morning at sunrise prayers were said for the day. The Anishinabek thanked their Creator for the beautiful land gifted them, the clear water, the fresh air, all the living plants and herbs. They thanked the Creator for the fish and game, the birds and mostly for the sun that gave everything life. A great deal of time was spent offering thanks to the Creator in this manner and also in the manner of feasts and ceremonies.

Because of the Anishinabeks’ pure devotion to the Creator, and because they had humbled themselves before Him, the Creator decided to gift his people with a special rock. The Creator made this rock very high, higher than any of the surrounding hills, so high, it was said, that the Anishinabek would only have to reach out their hands from this place and receive a message from the Creator. The Creator taught the Anishinabek how to use this rock by giving dreams to the elders of the tribes. The elders then began to take the young ones of their tribe to this rock. Here the young boy or girl would be placed in a depression in the rock. The depression was in the shape of a human body. When this young person would lie in this depression, it was as if the rock cradled him. The young were left in this depression with only a blanket and small amount of water. They were instructed to fast, and to pray to the Creator for a dream, a dream that would foretell their future.

The Anishinabek gave this rock the name, ‘Dreamer’s Rock.’

And so, to the youth, the Creator gifted answers about the course their lives would take. This was received with great humility by the Anisinabek because they realized how powerful knowledge like this could be. To the older ones of the tribe who fasted and prayed upon this rock, He gifted them with the knowledge of herbs and medicine to relieve their ills. He also gifted some with the powers to see into the future of the Mother Earth.

One of these men was Shawanosowe. Shawanosowe had visited this rock since he was a young boy. There was something remarkable about this boy, however. He fasted longer than any of the other boys. He dreamt of many things on Dreamer’s Rock while he was young and sometimes his friends would tease him.

The tribe gave him his name because when he was young and he slept upon this rock, he always awoke facing the west and the elders predicted that he would be a great medicine man because of this.

Shawanosowe kept returning to this rock and he became a great Chief. His young friends laughed no more. Wherever Shawanosowe went he spoke of his vision and he talked about the coming of men with hair on their faces and dressed like women in robes.

On one occasion, while Shawanosowe fasted and prayed upon this rock, he was visited by a huge white thunderbird which told him to rise up and get upon its back. This huge thunderbird then took Shawanosowe to the east where the Killarney Mountains are. It is said of Shawanosowe, that the Creator appeared to him here sitting on a huge chair, floating on a cloud. The Creator held a dish of water on His lap and asked Shawanosowe to look into it. When Shawanosowe looked into this dish of water, he saw men and animals and learned what they were thinking. He saw the coming of the pale-faced ones and he saw wars. He questioned the Creator as to why this was all to be and the Creator answered that he should only concern himself with keeping his tribe in order and to keep the laws given by the Creator to the Anishinabek. The Creator then instructed Shawanosowe to build a large flagpole of cedar and to have a ceremony every spring and fall honouring Him.

Many were awed by his stories, his visions and Shawanosowe kept growing in stature and power. Soon he had the knowledge of every medicine needed to heal and cure.

Shawanosowe became known far and wide for his ability to heal a sick or dying person.

Following his thunderbird vision Shawanosowe was found on the shores of the Killarney Mountains by travelling fishermen. He only had a cloth to cover his loins, no weapons, no canoe, nor food. The fishermen returned Shawanosowe to his tribe, and he told everyone of his experience. This is why today the story can be told.

Shawanosowe built the flagpole and conducted the ceremonies honouring the Creator, but one spring he failed to do so. A huge storm rose up, lightening and thunder. A long streak of red lightning flashed down from the sky and hit the flagpole, shattering it to splinters. The Creator was displeased as His instructions were not honoured. In great humility and with all speed, Shawanosowe erected another pole and held the ceremony immediately.

Today the descendants of Shawanosowe’s tribe may be found in a village called Birch Island. These people dwell near Dreamer’s Rock where still many Anisinabek visit to fast and pray.

Today, when the future seems so uncertain and when sometimes it is easy to become lost inside from the outer chaos of the world, Dreamer’s Rock beckons.

A shining promise, a glorious reminder of the bond between the Creator and his people, the Anishinabek.