Mi'kmaq Indian Cinderella
and the Invisible One

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The 19th-century Mik'maq storyteller turned Perrault's Cinderella told by some French Acadian into something quite different. This was one of many Mik'maq stories collected in the mid-19th century by Silas T. Rand, a Baptist missionary (among the mostly fully Catholicized Mik'maqs) at Hants Port, Nova Scotia. Leland says it is a solar myth fed through the French-Canadian Cinderella, and published it in Algonquin Legends published in 1884, reprinted by Dover in 1992. Omitted here are Leland's long footnotes, where he rides his hobby-horse, his conviction that the ancient myth-structure is related to that of the Old Norse Eddas, by way of Inuit people, an indefensible notion. I'm not at all sure about the "solar myth" bit. The storyteller titled it The Invisible One. She clearly wants to play off against the locally-known version of Cinderella. This story stands Cindi on her simley-wimpy head and boots her in her satin ball-gown's pannieres.

There was once a large Indian village situated on the border of a lake. (Nameskeek' oodun Kuspemku). At the end of this place was a lodge, in which dwelt a being who was always invisible -- a mighty hunter, whose dodem (teeomul) was the Moose, Stupendous Deity of the spirit world. He had a sister who attended to all his wants, and it was known that any girl who could see him might marry him. Therefore there were indeed few who did not make the trial, but it was long ere one succeeded.

And it passed in this wise. Towards evening, when the Invisible One was supposed to be returning home, his sister would walk with any girls who came down to the shore of the lake. She indeed could see her brother, since to her he was always visible, and beholding him, she would say to her companions, "Do you see my brother?"

They would mostly answer "Yes," though some said "Nay.".

Then the sister would say "Cogoowa' wiskoboosich?" --"Of what is his shoulder strap made?" Or, as some tell the tale, she would inquire other things such as, "What is his moose-runner's haul?" (the runners or harness of his sled).

They would reply, "A strip of rawhide," or "A green withe," or something of that kind. Then she, knowing they had not told the truth, would reply quietly, "Very well, let us return to the wigwam."

When they entered the place, she would bid them not to take a certain seat, for it was his. After they had helped to cook the supper, they would wait with great curiosity to see him eat. Truly he gave proof that he was a real person, for as he took off his mocassins they became visible, and his sister hung them up; but beyond that they beheld nothing, not even when they remained all night as many did.

There dwelt in the village an old man, a widower with three daughters. The youngest of those was very small, weak, and often ill, which did not prevent her sisters, especially the eldest, treating her with great cruelty. The second daughter was kinder and sometimes took the part of the poor abused little girl, but the other would burn her hands and face with hot coals. Yes, her whole body was scarred with the marks made by torture, so that people called her Oochigeaska (rough-skin or burnt-skin girl).

When her father, coming home, asked what it meant that the child was so disfigured, her sister would promptly say that it was the fault of the girl herself, for that having been forbidden to go near the fire, she had disobeyed and fallen in.

Now it came to pass that it entered the heads of the two older sisters of this poor girl that they would go and try their fortune at seeing the Invisible One. So they clad themselves in their finest and strove to look their fairest; and finding his sister at home went with her to take the wonted walk down to the water. Then when He came, being asked if they saw him, they said, "Certainly," and also replied to the question of the shoulder strap or sled harness saying "A piece of rawhide." In saying which they lied, like the rest, for they had seen nothing and got nothing for their pains.

When their father returned home the next evening he brought with him many of the pretty little shells from which weiopeskool (wampum) was made, and they soon were engaged in napawejik (in stringing the shell beads).

That day, poor little Oochigeaskw', the burnt-faced girl, who had always run barefoot, got a pair of her father's old moccasins and put them into water that they might become flexible to wear. And begging her sisters for a few wampum shells, the eldest did but call her "a lying little pest", but the other gave her a few.

Having no clothes beyond a few paltry rags, the poor creature went forth and got herself from the woods a few sheets of birch bark (moskwe). She made herself a dress of this, putting some figures on the bark by scraping it. This dress she shaped like those worn of old. So she made a petticoat and a loose gown, a cap, leggins, and handkerchief, and, having put on her father's great old mocassins -- which came nearly up to her knees -- she went forth to try her luck.

For even this little thing would see the Invisible One in the great wigwam at the end of the village.

Truly her luck had a most inauspicious beginning, for there was one long storm of ridicule and hisses, yells and hoots, from her own door to that which she went to seek. Her sisters tried to shame her, and bade her stay at home, but she would not obey; and all the idlers, seeing this strange little creature in her odd array, cried "Shame !" But she went on, for she was greatly resolved; it may be that some spirit had inspired her.

Now this poor small wretch in her mad attire, with her hair singed off and her little face as full of burns and scars as there are holes in a sieve, was, for all this, most kindly received by the sister of the Invisible One, for this noble girl knew more than the mere outside of things as the world knows them.

As the brown of the evening sky became black, she took her down to the lake. And erelong the girls knew that He had come. Then the sister said "Do you see him?"

The other replied with awe, "Truly I do -- and He is wonderful !"

"And what is his sled string?"

"It is," she replied "the Rainbow." And great fear was on her.

"But my sister," said the other, "what is his bow-string?"

"His bow-string is Ketak' soo wowcht" (the Spirits' road, the Milky Way).

"Thou hast seen him," said the sister. And taking the girl home, she bathed her, and as she washed, all the scars disappeared from her face and body. Her hair grew again, it was very long and like a blackbird's wing. Her eyes were like stars. In all the world was no such beauty. Then from her treasure she gave her a wedding garment, and adorned her. Under the comb, as she combed her, her hair grew. It was a great marvel to behold.

Then, having done this, she bade her take the wife's seat in the wigwam -- that by which her brother sat, the seat next to the door. When He entered, terrible and beautiful, he smiled and said "Wajoolkoos ! -- so, we are found out !"


"Yes," was her reply. So she became his wife.

The Mik'maq story ends here. Leland does not mention who the teller was -- Rev. S.T. Rand probably did not say. The interjection of what has to be the Christian "Alleluiah" (apparently by the guardian-sister, who says it isn't clear) right at the end is quite mysterious. Leland includes it in italics as he does for many Mi'kmaq phrases, where he's apparently unsure of the translation, but phonologically it has to be the storyteller's ironical attempt to please the Baptist missionary who wrote it down, the deliberate introjection of a final Christian note.

Leland adds a footnote containing a postscript or mini-sequel by one of the Passamaquoddy who was working with him -- Tomah Josephs, Indian Governer, at Peter Dana's Point Reservation, Maine.

The Invisible One and his wife had a son. In time, the boy became blind. After a long time, his sight returned, and he said so, but his mother was suspicious and did not believe him. So one day she bade her husband put on certain things which no one could behold who did not see them in truth.

Then she asked the boy "What has your father for a sled-string?":

He replied "The rainbow to haul by."

Then she asked him again "What has he for a bow-string?"

He answered "Ke'taksoo wowcht -- the Spirits' Road of stars."

Once more she inquired "What has he on his sled?"

To which he said "A beaver."

Then she knew that he could indeed see once again.

  • THE ROUGH-FACE GIRL, by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon, 1992 children's picture book retelling of the above story. See Book review.

  • LITTLE FIREFLY, AN ALGONQUIAN LEGEND, by Terri Cohlene, 1990 children's storybook, very distorted version, very inaccurate Mi'kMaq history at the end. See book review.

  • Religious traditions of the Micmac Indians of Newfoundland, from a web page on religious histories of the Maritime Canadian provinces, by a Newfoundland university prof of religious studies.

  • THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ANNA MAE AQUASH, Book review. A Mi'kmaq heroine, and political martyr, AIM leader, from Shubencadie Reserve, Nova Scotia. She was assassinated by U.S. covert government operatives in 1976.

  • Mi'kmaq Reserves in Nova Scotia -- map, contacts info, from the website of Mike Sack, Indian Brook Mi'kmaq Reserve, Nova Scotia

  • Mi'kmaq in 1500 -- overview of how the people lived pre-contact, from a demo for an educational CDROM called Canada: Country by Consent,. Get more info following its links on the Acadians,through the 7 years war and the English expulsion of the Acadians (and some Mi'kmaqs) in 1755. Acadians had a quite different relationship to Native peoples than English or Spanish (or French elsewhere). [Apparently no longer available online.]

  • Fun quiz on Acadia, you'll learn a lot by taking it. It has bits and pieces of Mi'kmaq involvement, but of course the Acadians were involved with Mi'kmaq clans via family ties.

  • Listijui Mi'kMaq -- Jason Bellanger's Restigouche Mi'kmaq site, Recipes, stories, lifeways info


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Page prepared by Paula Giese graphics and text copyright 1996.

CREDITS: Crying woman adapted and coloredfrom anonymous drawing submitted to Akwesasne Notes in 1974;Iinvisible One adapted and colored from drawing by Alex Jacobs, 1975, Akwesasne Notes poetry-art editor in 1974-75. Photo of moose in autumn (having shed some cartilage in his antlers) by Mike Sack, Mi'kmaq from Indian Brook Reserve, Nova Scotia, Canada, See his nice Mi'kmaq website. Story has been transcribed for my pages from Leland's 1884 Algonquian Legends of New England as reprinted by Dover in 1992, see book review

Last updated: 3/31/01 KMS