Published on November 14, 2012 by Casey
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Tribal affiliation: Supposedly Abenaki, Penobscot, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Micmac
Alternate spellings: Môlsem, Molsum, Malsom, Malsm, Malsumsa, Malsun, Mol-som, Malsumis, Malsumsis
Type: Antagonist, wolf
The word “Malsum” simply means “wolf” in the southern Wabanaki languages. Sometimes it is given as belonging to an evil wolf who is the twin brother of Glooscap. However, some Wabanaki elders have been adamant this is not a real Wabanaki myth– wolves are not malevolent figures in Wabanaki culture (the wolf, like the loon, is Glooscap‘s loyal companion in some Maliseet legends), and the evil-twin character does not appear in older texts. It’s possible that the character of Malsum came about when early folklorists confused Wabanaki stories with those from the neighboring Iroquois and Anishinabe tribes– the Anishinabe culture hero often has a wolf brother, such as Moqwaio, and the Iroquois culture hero has an evil twin, Flint. The first recorded version of the Malsum story that we’re aware of is in Charles Leland’s 1884 collection “The Algonquin Legends of New England,” where he attributes it to a Micmac Indian despite the fact that “Malsum” is definitely not a Micmac name, so it certainly seems possible he may have been confused about the origin of this tale. It’s also possible that some Malsum stories were originally told about Lox, a malevolent Wabanaki trickster figure. Wherever it came from, some modern Wabanaki storytellers do tell tales about Malsum today– although Micmacs often say that the character came from the Abenakis, and Abenakis that he came from the Micmacs or Maliseets!