Native American Birds Legends: Wenebojo and the Dancing Geese

Published on January 27, 2013 by Casey

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Geese Dancing
Wenebojo and the Dancing Geese

Native American Birds Legends: Wenebojo and the Dancing Geese

Algonquian legends about the culture hero tricking gullible birds so he could eat them.

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Wenebojo often took long journeys. On one of these, he happened to hear singing out on a lake, and when he looked to see who was singing, he thought he saw some people dancing. He went toward them, saying how much he would like to join them. Suddenly, he heard some loud laughter and when he looked closer, he realized that what he had thought were dancers were really the reeds swaying in the breeze. He realized that the evil manidog had played a trick on him and he was furious.

He went on along the lake and began to get hungry. He saw some geese swimming a little off shore and thought to himself, “Now, I would like some of those geese to eat.”

Wenebojo then gathered some balsam boughs in an old dirty blanket he was carrying and, with this on his shoulder, he called to the goslings and offered to teach them some of the songs he was carrying in his bag. They all crowded in to shore, and he told them they must dance just like he did, singing the song he would teach them. He sang “A dance on one leg. Oh my little brothers!”

And as they danced on one leg, they stretched their necks upward. Then Wenebojo sang, “A dance with my eyes closed, Oh my little brothers!”

And Wenebojo danced and stretched, and the little goslings all did as he did, closing their eyes and stretching themselves. Wenebojo then moved among the foolish goslings and began to break their necks. Just then, the Loon, who had been dancing with the other birds, opened his eyes and immediately began to cry “Look out, we are being killed by Wenebojo!”

By this time, Wenebojo had killed several goslings, but he was so angry with the Loon that he kicked him on the small of the back. That is why the Loon has that peculiar curve to his back.

Wenebojo decided to cook his goslings there on the shore of the lake, so he buried them in the sand, putting their legs up so he could find them when they were cooked. Then he built a fire over them and lay down to sleep. He told his buttocks to keep watch for him and, if anyone came, to wake him, for he did not want his goslings stolen.

While Wenebojo slept, some people came around a bend in the lake. They saw the goslings’ legs sticking up in the air and thought that Wenebojo had something good to eat. But they saw Wenebojo stir when his buttocks called him and they ducked behind some bushes to hide. Wenebojo did not see anything and scolded his buttocks for waking him unnecessarily. Again the people came out and again the buttocks woke Wenebojo, but since Wenebojo did not see them, he scolded the buttocks once more. The third time the people crept up silently, took the goslings and put the legs back just as they had found them. The buttocks remained silent because they had received a scolding the first two times they had warned Wenebojo.

When Wenebojo awoke, he was very hungry and started to take out his goslings for. But he could find nothing buried in the ashes. He was furious with his buttocks and decided to punish them by standing over the fire until they were scorched. At last, when the buttocks were black and crisp, Wenebojo tried to walk away, but it was so painful that he could scarcely move. So he sat on the top of a steep cliff and slid down, and the sore skin of his buttocks became the lichen. As he walked along, he dragged his bleeding buttocks behind him through some dense shrubs. When he looked back, the shrubs were red from his blood. This, said Wenebojo, will be what the people will use to mix their tobacco-the red willows.

(Adapted from Robert E. Ritzenthaler and Pat Ritzenthaler, 1983, The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes, Prospect Heights IL: Waveland Press.)

Source: Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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