Native American Ice Cannibal Stories: The Great Chenoo

Published on December 17, 2012 by Casey

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Chenoo
Native American Ice Cannibal Stories: The Great Chenoo

Native American Ice Cannibal Stories: The Great Chenoo

What the Micmacs call a Chenoo is known to the Passamaquoddies as a Kewahqu’ or Kewoqu’. And this is their origin. When the k’tchi m’téoulin, or Great Big Witch, 1 is conquered by the smaller witches, or M’téoulinssisk, they can kill him or turn him into a Kewahqu’. He still fights, however, with the other Kewaquiyck. When they get ready to fight, they suddenly become as tall as the highest trees; their weapons are the trees themselves, which they uproot with great strength. And this strength depends upon the quantity or size of the piece of ice which makes the heart of the Kewahqu’. This piece of ice is like a little human figure, with hands, feet, head, and every member perfect.

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The female Kewahqu’ is more powerful than the male. They make a noise like a roaring lion (pee’htahlo), but sharper (shriller) and more frightful. Their abode is somewhere in Kas mu das doosek, in some cold region in far Northern Canada.

In summer time they rub themselves all over with poo-pooka-wigu, or fir balsam, and then roll themselves on the ground, so that everything adheres to the body, moss, leaves, and even small sticks. This was often seen of old by Indian hunters.

Once a newly married Indian couple had, according to Indian custom, gone on the long fall and winter hunt. One day when the man was away an old Kewahqu’ came and looked into the wigwam. The wife was frightened, but she made up her mind at once: she called him Mittunksl, or “my father.” The old Kewahqu’ was very proud to be called father. When she heard her husband returning she ran out and told him that a great Kewahqu’ was in the camp, and that he must call him M’sil hose, or “father-in-law.” So going in he did this, and the Kewahqu’ was still more pleased. So they lived with him, and hunted with him. He was very skillful in the chase. When they came to broad and deep waters the Kewahqu’ would swim them with his son-in-law on his back. He could run faster than any wild animal.

One day he told his children to go away to a great distance. “There is a great female Kewahqu’ coming to fight me. In the struggle I may not know you, and may hurt you.” So they went away as fast and as far as they could, but they heard the fighting, the most frightful noises, howls, yells, thundering and crashing of wood and rocks. After a time the man determined to see the fight. When he got to the place he saw a horrible sight: big trees uprooted, the giants in a deadly struggle. Then the Indian, who was very brave, and who was afraid that his father-in-law would be killed, came up and helped as much as he could, and in fact so much that between them they killed the enemy. The old Kewahqu’ was badly but not fatally hurt, and the woman was very glad her father came off victorious. She had always heard that a Kewahqu’ had a piece of ice for a heart. If this can be taken out, the Kewahqu’ can be tamed and cured. So she made a preparation or medicine, and offered it to him. He did not know what it was, nor its strength, so he swallowed it, and it gave him a vomit. She saw something drop, so quietly picked it up: it was the figure of a man of ice; it was the Kewahqu’s heart. She, not being seen or noticed, put it in the fire, when he cried, “Daughter, you are killing me now; you destroy my strength.” Yet she made him take more of the medicine, and a second heart came out. This she also put on the fire. But when a third came he grabbed it from her hand, and swallowed it. However, he was almost entirely cured.

Another time an Indian village was visited by a Kewahqu’, but he was driven away by magic. The people marked crosses on the trees where they expected the Kewahqu’ to come. There was a great excitement among the Indians, expecting to hear their strange visitor with his frightful noises. It was the old people who gave the advice to mark crosses on the trees.

Another time an Indian of either the Passamaquoddy or Mareschite tribe was turned to a Kewahqu’. The last time he was seen was by a party of Indian hunters, who recognized him. He had only small strips of clothing. “This country,” he said, “is too warm for me. I am going to a colder one.”

This story from the Passamaquoddy Anglo-Indian manuscript of Mitchell supplies some very important deficiencies in the preceding Micmac version. We are told that the heart of the Chenoo is of ice in human figure. This human figure is that of the Kewahqu’ himself, or rather his very self, or microcosm. It is this, and not the liver, which is swallowed by the victor, who thus adds another frozen “soul” to his own. Of the three vomited by the Kewahqu’, two were the hearts of enemies whom he had conquered. He could not give up his own, however. It is much more according to common sense that the woman should have given the cannibal the magic medicine which made him yield his heart than that he should voluntarily have purged himself. In the Micmac tale he merely relieves his stomach; in the Passamaquoddy version he, by woman’s influence, loses his icy heart.

It is interesting to observe that the use of the Christian cross is in the additional anecdote described as magic.

It is the main point in the Chenoo stories that this horrible being, this most devilish of devils, is at first human; perhaps an unusually good girl, or youth. From having the heart once chilled, she or he goes on in cruelty, until at last the sufferer eats the heart of another Chenoo, especially a female’s. Then utter wickedness ensues. It is more than probable that this leads us back to some dark and terrible Shaman superstition, older than we can now fathom. There is a passage in the Edda which its translator, Thorpe, thinks can never be explained. “I believe,” he writes, “the difficulty is beyond help.” The lines are as follows:—

“Loki scorched up 1
In his heart’s affections,
Had found a half-burnt
Woman’s heart.
Loki became guileful
from that wicked woman:
thence in the world
are all giantesses come.”

Of which Thorpe writes, “The sense of this and the following line is not apparent. They stand thus in the original: Loki of hiarta lyrdi brendu, fann hann hâlfsvidthin hugstein konu, for which Grimm (Myth. Vorrede 37) would read Loki ât hiarta lundi brenda, etc., Lokius comedit cor in nemore assum, invenit semiustum mentis lapidem mulieris.” Whatever obscurity exists here, it is evident that it means that Loki, having become bad, grew worse after having got the half-burnt stone of a woman’s soul. That is, his own heart, half ruined, became utterly so after he had added to it the demoralized hugstein, soul-stone, thought-stone, or heart of a woman. If we assume that stone and heart are the same, the difficulty vanishes. And they are one in the Chenoo, who, like Loki, illustrates or symbolizes the passage from good to evil, which a German writer declares is quicker than thought, or that very same Hugi which the Norse myth puts forwards as swiftest of all runners. Loki, not as yet lost, gets the stone heart of a giantess, and becomes an utter devil at once. The Chenoo becomes an utter devil when he has swallowed the thought-stone of a giantess, and so does Loki.

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