Glosscap The Teacher

Long ago, Glooscap, the hero of the Micmac people, came to the northeast from far across the sea. He took the form of a serious and wise old man whose duty it was to teach the Micmacs all that they needed to know.

Glooscap taught the people the names of all the stars and constellations and to locate them in the night sky. Eventually, the people marked their seasonal activities with names given to each of the new moons.

Glooscap also taught the people to hunt moose, elk, and caribou along the edges of the dense forests and open meadows where the animals came to feed. Men learned how to take the meat from these large animals and how to use their bones and antlers to fashion needles, awls, fishhooks, and scrapers.

Glooscap showed them how to make sharp arrows and knives out of fine-grained rocks using a small piece of deer or elk antler to work the stones. “Respect the animals and use them well,” said Glooscap. “They will provide you with food and material to make many tools.”

After Glooscap had introduced the people to the animals of the forest, he led them to the broad rushing rivers that spilled their waters out of the mountains of the northeast. He instructed the people on how to build fish weirs, or stone nets, across the mouths of rivers to catch schools of spawning sturgeon, salmon, smelt, and herring.

To show the people he had greater power than witches, Glooscap set out to sea in a heavy granite canoe. Along the way he picked up a young woman, who was floundering in the water. “Come aboard,” he said. “I will take you to shore.”

But no sooner was the young woman settled into the canoe than a fierce storm rose out of the sea, and great waves swept over Glooscap’s heavy canoe. “You are a witch and you have done this,” he said accusingly to the young woman who sat calmly in the bow of the canoe. “You are trying to drown me.”

The young woman did not speak.

Glooscap paddled furiously toward shore while huge waves battered the sides of the canoe. At last he stretched his long legs toward land and planted one foot firmly on shore. When the young woman tried to follow, he held her back until he could shove the canoe far out into the sea. “Go,” he said. “Become anything you desire.”

Glooscap’s power proved to be superior to the young witch’s. Slowly she drifted out to sea and became a large ugly fish with a huge dorsal fin. Thereafter, the people knew her as keeganibe, the great fish.

Then, to help the Micmacs visualize life after death, Glooscap described a beautiful peaceful land far away to the west. This beautiful place was Glooscap’s home, and someday it would also be the Micmacs’ home, he promised the people, if they led a good life. “The journey west is long and difficult,” warned Glooscap, “but the way back is short and easy.”

Glooscap then described for the people the journey of seven young men who had traveled west. He listed and described the obstacles that had presented themselves along the way.

First the men had to climb a great mountain, on the tip of which lay an overhanging cliff. To get down the other side of the mountain, the seven young men had to struggle over the edge of the cliff and descend a steep stone wall into the valley below. Fearful and distrusting men could not make the descent, but brave and honest men could accomplish it with ease.

After they climbed over the mountain, the men had to dart between the fangs of two huge serpents that guarded either side of a long narrow valley. Good men with kind hearts could slip through the serpents’ fangs, but bad men with evil thoughts would be destroyed.

The last obstacle in their journey was a thick dark cloud that separated the real world from the beautiful region beyond. The cloud rose and fell with no regular pattern, making it difficult to tell when it would be safe to pass underneath.

Good kind men could race beneath the cloud while it was up and avoid being crushed. But evil men would be crushed into tiny bits of flesh and bone when the cloud landed on top of them. Luckily, the seven men overcame all the obstacles.

Glooscap continued his story: In the beautiful land beyond the thick dark cloud, the men visited Glooscap’s wigwam, as well as the wigwams of Coolpujot and Kuhkw. Glooscap, who reigned supreme in the region, welcomed them warmly. Coolpujot, on the other hand, had no bones and could not move about. “I have him rolled over each spring and fall,” explained Glooscap.

“In the autumn he is turned toward the west, and in the spring he is turned toward the east. Coolpujot is responsible for the seasons: he breathes cold air and icy winds in fall, chilling frost and blowing snow in winter, pouring rain in spring, and warm yellow sunshine in summer.”

Kuhkw’s wigwam was large and very dark. “I call him earthquake,” said Glooscap. “He travels beneath the earth kicking his feet and making the land tremble and shake. He is very powerful.”

After introducing the young men to Coolpujot and Kuhkw, Glooscap gathered all seven around him, praised them for having completed their journey, and offered to grant them any wish they might desire.

At this point Glooscap paused in telling his story. He wanted to make sure the Micmacs, who were listening to the long tale, would pay special attention to the fate of the men who had made wishes. Then he continued his story:

One of the men stepped forward and asked that he be allowed to live forever and remain in this beautiful region. So Coolpujot picked up the young man and planted him firmly in the ground where he became a tall strong cedar tree.

Then Coolpujot blew wind through his boughs, and fine cedar seeds flew off in all directions, creating the dense cedar groves that continue to grow plentifully throughout the northeast.

The remaining men asked that they be allowed to go home, once their wishes were granted. So Glooscap put their wishes in small packages and sent them on their way, instructing the men not to open their wish-packages until they arrived home in their various villages. Some of them made it all the way home. But two of the men failed to obey Glooscap’s instructions.

One man had wished for the cure to a disease that he would not reveal, and Glooscap gave the man a small wish-package of medicine. But on his way home, the man could not help feeling the package, turning it around and around in his hand.

Finally, his curiosity was too great, and he sat down to examine the parcel, then quickly opened it. Whoosh, out poured a stream of liquid onto the ground. It spread over the earth in all directions, and then it quickly disappeared. So did the man.

The second disobedient man had wished for the power to win the heart of a young woman. The young man confessed that for many years he had tried in vain to find a wife.

Glooscap told him that since this was such a difficult request that he would need to confer with Coolpujot and Kuhkw. “We could never find him a wife,” said Coolpujot. “He is much too ugly. And his manners are atrocious.”

But Glooscap was determined to make good on his promise to grant wishes to those who had succeeded in making the long journey, and he thought for a very long time. At last he went to his wigwam and returned with a sealed container. “Do not open this container until you have reached your village,” Glooscap warned, as usual.

With his heart filled with hope and joy, the young man thanked Glooscap and headed home. Along the way he fantasized about the contents of his package and smiled whenever he pictured himself as handsome and charming.

Then, the night before the young man was due to arrive in his village, he could wait no longer to open the magical container. Like a curious impetuous child, he stopped walking and broke open the seal.

Whoosh, out flew hundreds of beautiful women. They swarmed over his head and all around him. The young man could not believe his good fortune and became giddy with desire. But his joy was short-lived. Soon the women began to heap themselves on top of him.

One after another, they stacked themselves higher and higher on top of the young man, until the weight of so many bodies finally crushed him into the ground. When the sun rose the following day, the women had vanished, and only tiny pieces of the ugly young man remained.

After Glooscap had described the adventures of the disobedient men, he reminded the Micmac people: “Each of you has much to learn before you will undertake your own journey to the beautiful land to the west. I will return another day to teach you more.”

Then Glooscap the teacher hopped into his granite canoe and paddled away, rowing in a westerly direction.