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The legend of Nanabozho

The Story

A beautiful woman is pushed off the moon and falls into a lake on Earth. There, people greet her, build her a wigwam, and seek out her advice. This is the story of Nokomis, her daughter Winona, and Winona's son Nanabozho. It's one of thousands of legends Aboriginal Canadians have passed down the generations to tell stories about tribal ancestors and to teach children how to behave. Storyteller Alanis Obamsawin relates the Ojibwa legend for CBC Radio. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Ontario School Broadcasts
Broadcast Date: April 29, 1971
Guest: Alanis Obomsawin
Host: Lilly Barnes
Duration: 9:46

Did You know?

• For many years native legends were not written down but were passed down through the oral tradition.

• Interested travellers and missionaries in the 19th century were the first to write these legends down. According to author Elizabeth Ella Clark in Indian Legends of Canada (1960), folklorists knew the legends were in danger of dying. In 1888 a folklorist wrote: "These stories are known only to the older generation… and will soon be lost to oblivion if not taken down at once."

• Many storytellers travelled from one lodge to another, and among communities, to tell their stories. They were often greeted with "the choicest mess of food," according to an unnamed Englishwoman who spent time with the Ojibwa in the 1830s.

• Besides relating the history of their ancestors, the legends also told of war exploits and hunting triumphs. Others explained the reasons behind sacred ceremonies or conveyed the tribes' creation myths.

• Another purpose of the legends was to entertain listeners on long winter evenings. Indeed, many storytellers would not practice their craft until after the first snowfall. One rationale for this held that the spirits did not appreciate being discussed, and that it was safe only to tell stories about them in the winter when they were far away.

• Until about 1850, legends about Nanabozho — also spelled Nanabosho or Nanabush — depicted him as a giant godlike figure. He controlled the seasons, formed the world's natural features and taught the Ojibwa how to hunt, cultivate food, tap maple trees and use healing herbs.

• Sometime in the 20th century Nanabozho's persona changed and he became a trickster figure who often took the form of a hare.


Monsters, Myths and Mystery: Great Canadian Legends more