Tale of Tshakapesh
In the Innu culture, many legends have crossed time and are currently doing very well. Some of them go as far back as the last glaciations thousands of years ago. The Tale of Tshakapesh, a transliteration of oral poetry focussing on spirituality, is one of them. It brings us back to a period of time where people and animals would share everything, including the mysterious World of Dream. This exciting legend is about Tshakapesh, the hero behind the creation of the World, who, as a role model, teaches that with sheer courage, hard work and perseverance, one can always overcome difficulties.
The Tale of Tshakapesh as narrated by Charles Api Bellefleur who took it from his father, Penashue Bellefleur, who, himself, had gotten it from his own father, and so on.
The man said to his wife: “Come collect birch bark with me.”
They approached a cliff where the mountainside was forested. There they encountered various vegetable species, including birch.
That’s when they encountered Katshituashku who killed them.
These people had a daughter who went looking for her parents when she found them missing.
She saw the place where Katshituashku killed them.
All she had left was her younger brother. So tiny, he was still in his mother’s womb.
Katshituashku, had ripped the woman’s uterus from her body with his teeth, but hadn't eaten it.
The girl brought her little brother back to the camp and placed him in a wooden jar with a bark lid she made.
A short time afterwards, the baby suddenly pushed away the lid. Then, all of a sudden, he sat up.
He started to play and asked his sister:”make me a bow and arrows.”
She made him a tiny bow and he went out to play. His bow broke and she made him a bigger one. She did this every time he broke his bow. This continued until she made him one from an entire tree.
The little brother kept growing, and suddenly he thought: “we have no parents, neither father nor mother”. He approached his elder sister and asked her: “sister, why don’t we have parents? How come there’s only the two of us and why are our father and mother not here?”
She answered: “How could they be here since they were killed by Katshituashku while they were collecting birch bark? It was I who saved you. You had been abandoned in the womb, the only thing Katshituashku didn’t eat”.
“Yes“, he said.
And he left to go hunting, asking his sister: “sister, where is this place?”
“Don’t go looking for him on the hill near the cliff where he lives“, she said. “You’ll never conquer him.”
“That’s enough sister”, he said, “you’re scaring me!”
And while he shot his arrows, he thought: “My sister says Katshituashku will kill me. I don’t believe it”. Since his sister had warned him not to go towards Katshituashku, he told her: “I’ll go another way, sister”.
And he left, going in the opposite direction from where Katshituashku could be found. Once out of his sister’s sight, he turned around and began to look for Katshituashku.
He went to the hillside and kept climbing. He wasn’t very tall yet.
Then he began following bear tracks, going straight ahead between the numerous tracks. Then, as the forest thickened, all the tracks converged into one, which he followed.
Once he reached the hillside, he began to sing:
That’s what he sang. Katshituashku heard him and said: “Ah! Ah! My reject is coming!“
And to Black Bear, he added: “go meet him. When he sees you, he’ll drop dead!” Black Bear got up and went to meet Tshakapesh.
The latter heard him coming and thought: “That’s not him”. Black Bear came out of the forest and asked: “What do you want?”
“I’m looking for Katshituashku, who killed my father and my mother. You’re not the one I want, and watch yourself or you’ll see what I can do to you. Go back home!“ said Tshakapesh to Black Bear.
“Your turn Matashau”, said the bears, “go and meet him. When he sees how dangerous you look, he’ll drop dead!”
Matashau got up and Tshakapesh, hearing him coming, thought: “This is not the one I want.”
It was Matashau’s turn to come out of the forest and ask: “What do you want?”
“Go home”, said Tshakapesh.”I want to see Katshituashku, who killed my father and my mother.”
And, speaking to the bears, Tshakapesh said: “Be careful, or you’ll see what I can do to you.”
When Matashau went back, he said: “He told me the same thing he said to the others”.
Katshituashku said: “He’s making me angry. He’ll drop dead when he sees me!”
When Tshakapesh heard Katshituashku coming he thought: “there's no doubt this is him ”. And he rushed down the hill to bury his bow and arrows. “When he smells me, he’ll certainly toss me here at the bottom of the hill, with his snout”, thought Tshakapesh.
Katshituashku came out of the forest.
Tshakapesh was lying in Katshituashku’s way, playing dead. “Is this the one who wants to meet Katshituashku?” said Katshituashku who thought: “When he heard me coming, he dropped dead.”
And he started kicking Tshakapesh. “I wish he would fling me down the hill with his snout,” thought Tshakapesh. So Katshituashku flung him close to his bow and went towards Tshakapesh, who wished again:
“I hope he tosses me one more time”, he thought. Katshituashku started hitting him again, and Tshakapesh, who felt something tickling under his arms, almost started laughing. And then Katshituashku flung him over to where his bow was.
He jumped to his feet, almost making Katshituashku run away, and grabbed his bow.
Katshituashku asked: “What do you want?”
“I’m looking for Katshituashku, who killed my father and mother, that’s who I want to see”, answered Tshakapesh.
“You’ll never be able to kill him, he’s very hard to kill” said Katshituashku.
“How hard?“ asked Tshakapesh.
“Like this larch here. That’s how hard it is”.
“Your father was killed by Katshituashku
...aim for this larch”, said Katshituashku.
And Tshakapesh aimed at the larch, splitting it into pieces. He almost made Katshituashku run away. “It’s not so hard, how hard is it?” asked Tshakapesh.
Katshituashku answered: “It's as hard as the point of this cliff, there! Aim at that!“
So Tshakapesh aimed for the cliff, which crumbled.
Katshituashku ran away and Tshakapesh sang as he ran down the hill to find his arrow. We don’t know what he was singing. Not even my grandfather knows.
Then Tshakapesh stood up and struck Katshituashku in the hip. Katshituashku fell on his side. “Finally I have avenged my father who was killed by Katshituashku, said Tshakapesh.
“That’s enough, you’re torturing me”, said Katshituashku.
“How can you say I’m torturing you?” answered Tshakapesh. “You're the one who tortured me by killing my father. My sister found me. You really tortured me.
“Kill me now“, said Katshituashku.” Once the conversation had ended, Tshakapesh killed Katshituashku.
Then he slit him open, cleaned him and cut him up, searching for his father's and mother’s bones. But he didn’t see any. The only thing he found was his father’s hair.
If he had found his father's and mother’s bones, he could have brought them back to life… He blew on his father’s hair, which began to move.
If he had found their bones, he could have brought his parents back to life, but only the hair... He threw his father’s hair into the trees. “From now on, it will be called usnea, or tree moss”, he decreed. And then he thought: “What shall I take home with me? My bear head, that’s what I’ll bring back! And for my sister? Bear meat, that’s what I’ll bring back for her“, he thought.
So that’s what he brought back home. When he arrived, he said to his sister: “I finally avenged my father and my mother who were killed by Katshituashku“.
“So you went to find him?” she said.
“Yes, I went to find him,“ he answered. Go look at my bear head and roast it. And here, this is for you. Cook this bear meat and eat it. I’m going back to hunt squirrels”, he said. Tshakapesh only hunted squirrels.
But as his sister cooked the bear head, which was roasting nicely, she pulled a piece from each side and ate it. And her jaw suddenly cramped, so she was unable to open her mouth.
After his departure, from where he was, he suddenly heard his sister crying.
“I wonder why she’s crying” he thought. “It must be my bear head...” He had warned his sister not to eat any of it.
Tshakapesh returned home and when he arrived, said: “what’s wrong?”
Seeing his sister with her mouth clamped shut, he wondered: “what am I going to do?”
Then he picked up a stick and used it to pry her mouth open.
“The opening of your mouth will be three fingers wide”, he said.
“And when new people are born, their mouths will be open three fingers wide”.
He pried his sister’s lips open and told her: “Don’t eat any more of that. Eat this bear meat instead”.
After eating his bear head, he went out again, telling his sister: “sister, I’m going hunting for squirrels”.
Afterwards, Tshakapesh dreamed and said to his sister:“sister, I dreamed that you lost me. My arrow fell into the water, and I went to find it when some Katshemeshukunieut swallowed me.“
One day Tshakapesh, who had gone out to shoot his bow and arrows, didn’t come back.
His sister thought:“it must be what he told me.“
She went out to look for her little brother.
Finding only his bow, she began to cry. After drying her tears, she made a hook and began to fish.
Seeing his sister cast her hook into the water, Tshakapesh said to the trout: “go fetch my sister’s hook.”
The first fish his sister caught had a big belly. And she caught many others.
When she finished fishing, she started to clean the fish.
She began by cutting open the first fish she caught, the one with the big round belly.
Tshakapesh sprang out, saying: “Hey! Sister, you almost cut me”.
And once again, Tshakapesh went to shoot his bow and arrows, hunting squirrels. Indeed he only hunted squirrels.
From where he was, he suddenly heard people drilling a hole in the ice.
“My sister must know them” he thought. “First I’ll go back and tell her about it”. And he went back home and told his sister: “I heard people drilling a hole in the ice”.
“Don’t go near them,” she said to her young brother. “They’re looking for giant beaver and when someone shows up, they ask him to pull the beaver out of the water, and the person is dragged into the water by the giant beaver”, she told her brother. “These giant beaver drag him into the water and the people laugh at him”.
“That’s enough, my sister, you’re scaring me. I’ll go another way, I won’t approach them.”
So he left in the opposite direction to where the people were, thinking all the while: “I don’t believe what my sister is telling me. I’m going to see them“.
And he went to see them. He arrived at the lake with his bow at the ready. “Here comes a guest” they said. “Let’s invite him to pull the beaver out of the water, we can laugh at him when he’s dragged into the water” they said amongst themselves.
As he approached, Tshakapesh let his arrows fly, making curves in the air. He came closer and closer.
“It’s a young boy”, said the people. “Pull the beaver out of the water” they said. “We’ll laugh at him when he’s dragged into the water” they said amongst themselves. They started to prepare the place where he would pull out the beaver. “Here’s a guest” they told him. “Pull the beaver out of the water”.
“Pull the beaver out of the water!” repeated Tshakapesh. “I’ve never seen that done, not me” he said.
“Watch carefully what we’re about to do” they said. “That’s how you’ll do it.”
Tshakapesh observed them. Catching the beaver by its back, they pulled it out of the water. Two of them helped each other pull. “Do it like that”, they said.
“Alright” answered Tshakapesh, “but I’ll only do it once”.
“Sit there” they said, after they prepared a spot for him to sit.
Tshakapesh cleared away some snow where he was to sit. He proceeded carefully, cleaning a nice place for himself.
Some of the people thought: “He’s not stupid”.
After finishing his preparations, Tshakapesh said: “alright let’s do it now”.
So they hit the beaver dam and the beaver came out. Tshakapesh caught it quickly with one hand and threw it onto the snow, then struck it. One of the men had the following thought: “He got it out with no difficulty after all”.
After killing another beaver, Tshakapesh tied them both together with a rope.
“Now he’s going to run away and go home” one of them thought. And he tried to stop him, saying: “Don’t go, wait a minute. You’ll see what he’ll do to you when it comes time to share! We didn’t give you that beaver“.
“You can claim the ones you killed yourselves, those are the ones you have a right to!” answered Tshakapesh, as one of the men tried to stop him from leaving.
And he grabbed him, twisting his arm. The others said: “Let him go, that must be Tshakapesh. He's successful in everything he does, with no difficulty. It must be him”.
Tshakapesh carried his beaver home. When he arrived, he said to his sister: “Sister, I brought back some beaver!”
“You must have gone there”, she said.
“Yes, I went there. While I’m away, cook the beaver for me” he said.
And he went back to hunt squirrels. He hunted squirrels a lot.
Once he had gone out, Tshakapesh heard people scraping skins. He didn’t go where the noise was coming from, thinking:“my sister must know them, I’ll go tell her about it”. So, he went back home and told his sister: “sister, I heard people over there”.
“It’s Atshenashkueu, the giant cannibal’s wife. She has two daughters. Don’t go there. The mother is a murderer, when she sees someone, she kills them” she said.
“That’s enough, sister, you’re scaring me”.
Then he hid the snowbird feathers that he took with him, from his sister.
“I’ll go another way he told his sister”.
That’s indeed what he did, but once inside the forest, he thought: “I don’t believe what she says, I’ll go see them”.
And he went to look for them, getting closer and closer. The girls, who were busy scraping skins, suddenly started laughing. And as he approached, Tshakapesh stuck snowbird feathers in his hair.
From inside, the mother heard her daughters laugh. As she took a peek outside, she spotted Tshakapesh. “What are you laughing at, daughters? Are you laughing at the young man?”
“Ah, no, it’s a jay” they said. “It flies off with the caribou hair we throw him from time to time”.
“Not so, that’s not it,” said the mother. “It’s a man, he has bird feathers stuckin his hair”.
The daughters then decided to warn Tshakapesh about their mother: “She’ll offer you human fat, don’t eat that yellowish fat. We’ll serve you fat you can eat”. And they went into the mother’s house with Tshakapesh. All three of them sat down facing the mother, Tshakapesh between the two daughters who gave him food.
Then Atshenashkueu cut a piece of her yellowish fat that she held out to Tshakapesh, saying, ”Here my daughters, if he wants some of this...”
The daughters then said to Tshakapesh: “It’s human fat, don’t eat it”.
The fat was moldy.
“Daughters she said, I’m tired of holding it, take it”.
But no one took the fat. “We’ll have a wrestling match” said the mother. “We’ll see his strength”.
“Don’t kill him,” said the daughters, “we want to marry him”.
“I won’t kill him, I’ll just fight him,” she said. And she put on her combat coat and pulled Tshakapesh to her, pushing her daughters aside.
Tshakapesh also asked the daughters to step aside, and they let him go. “I’ll only fight once” said Tshakapesh.
“Don’t kill him” said the girls to their mother.
“I won’t kill him” she assured them and she started fighting with Tshakapesh, pulling him from one side to the other without any difficulty. “My daughters“, she said, “he’s not fat at all. The ones that came before, were”. And she began to sweep away the sand that covered her stone which still had blood stains on it.
“Don’t kill him” begged her daughters.
Indeed, she was in the habit of hurling her victims onto that stone. “I won’t kill him” she said. And she grabbed Tshakapesh once again but this time, she couldn’t lift him. “Eh, Eh! daughters, he’s fat,“ she said.
Tshakapesh made himself heavy on purpose. She tried once more to lift him, but failed to move him even the tiniest bit.
“I’m going to beat her once and for all” said Tshakapesh. And, speaking to the daughters, he added: “What should I do to your mother? If you’re going to miss her, I won’t kill her, but I’ll do it if you won’t regret it”.
“We would be delighted,“ said the daughters.
And they grabbed some firebrands with which they started hitting their mother on the legs.
“Let me go” she said to Tshakapesh. “They are making me angry”.
“No, don’t let her go” begged the daughters. “She will kill us.“
“Get out of the way,“ said Tshakapesh. And he grabbed her, lifted her to fling her in a sitting position onto her stone, and killed her. “Let’s go to my home” he said to the daughters. “My sister is alone all day, you’ll stay with her”.
Once home, he told his sister: “sister, I brought women home, so you won’t be lonely, you’ll have company”.
“You must have killed their mother” she said.
“It’s they who told me to kill her, they told me to do it,” he said.
“You shouldn’t have” she added.
“They told me to do it. And you’ll have friends,” he answered.
And Tshakapesh married one of the daughters.
He went out again saying: “I’m going to hunt squirrels. Stay with my sister”. From where he was, he heard people playing ball. “My sister must know them, I’ll tell her about them,” he thought. And he went back home. “Sister, he said, I heard people over there. They were playing ball”.
“Don’t approach them,” said his sister. “They’re playing ball with a bear head. They’re mishtapeuat, and when someone approaches them, they throw the bear head and it bites them”.
“Sister, you’re scaring me” said Tshakapesh. “I’ll go the other way. Watch me go away”.
Indeed he went another way, but when he entered the forest, he thought: “I don’t believe what my sister says. I’m going to see them”. And he approached the people.
They were playing ball in a lovely clearing. Tshakapesh noticed one man who was very skilled. He was very quick to catch the bear head, even when they threw it far, and he threw it back just as far. “He’s very skilled,” Tshakapesh noted. “I’d like to be able to capture him, he could be a husband for my sister. I hope they’ll throw the head my way”, he wished.
Indeed, that’s what happened. They threw the head right where Tshakapesh was standing. When the man he wanted to capture came near him, he grabbed him, saying: “Come home with me. Marry my sister, she’s alone all the time”.
They tried to stop Tshakapesh by saying: “Leave him alone“.
“You’re all men,” said Tshakapesh, “keep on playing ball, do you think you’re women?” And Tshakapesh caught the man and twisted his arm, otherwise he couldn’t have brought him back home. The man cried out.
“Don’t attack him, that must be Tshakapesh. He's successful in everything he does, without any difficulty” they told each other.
And Tshakapesh left with the man he would bring back. “Come with me“, he said. Marry my elder sister, she’s alone”.
Once he arrived back home, Tshakapesh said: “sister, I brought a man for you to marry, because you’re still lonely”.
“You must have gone to see the people,” she said.
“Yes I went”, said Tshakapesh. “Now you’ll marry this man, and I, who always go out to hunt squirrels alone, I’ll have company” he said. And they continued to live in the same place for a long time, doing nothing but hunting squirrels.
Tshakapesh was hunting squirrels with his brother-in-law when he suddenly heard people swinging. “I wonder who they are”, he thought. “We shouldn’t go to their home” he said to his brother-in-law. “Let’s go talk to my sister first, she must know what it is”.
And they returned home.
“Sister” said Tshakapesh, “we heard people swinging….”
“Don’t go” answered his sister. Those people are swinging underneath the falls. The ropes are tied by each end to rocky cliffs. At the foot of the falls, right in the middle, they’ve put a cauldron full of boiling water. And when someone climbs onto the swing, they cut the cord so the person falls into the cauldron.
“Stop it, sister, you’re scaring me. Stop scaring me with this story! We won’t go, we’ll go another way. Look, we’re walking away.”
And indeed they went in another direction. Tshakapesh took along his container of fat and the snowbird feathers he made sure to hide from his sister. That’s what he hid. “Let’s look for them, let’s see what they’re doing,” he said to his brother-in-law. And they went to look for the people. Once they got close, Tshakapesh said: “We’re approaching. They’ll invite us to swing. Don’t go, I’ll go. Watch me while I swing. And when they cut the rope and I fall into the cauldron, all you have to do is watch my snowbird feathers. When the boiling water makes circles, you’ll see my feathers floating. That’s when I’ll open my bag of fat so it will rise to the surface. Tell the people to sit close to the cauldron while I swing. And when you see my feathers on the surface, tell them they’ll soon see the fat appear“.
When Tshakapesh finished giving his brother-in-law instructions, the two of them approached the people although they were already very close.
“Here are some guests!” said the people. “Come and swing”.
“How can we swing” said Tshakapesh, “we’ve never seen anyone do it“.
“This is what you’ll do, watch us carefully” said one of them. And someone started swinging over the falls, going very fast as two men on either side of the swing pushed him. “See what you should do?“ said the people.
“Yes, I’ll go. Only for one turn, I’ll go” said Tshakapesh. And he sat on the rope swing, and started to swing. Helped along by the people pushing the swing, he went very fast. That’s when they cut the rope and Tshakapesh fell into the cauldron right in the middle of the river. At that moment, the people went towards their cauldron and Tshakapesh’s brother-in-law started watching the snow bird feathers. Suddenly they appeared on the surface.
“Sit very close to your cauldron” he said, the fat will appear on the water. You can collect it”.
And they approached their cauldron, gathering closely around it. That’s when Tshakapesh opened his container of fat. It began to melt... Then he stood up and overturned the cauldron, splashing boiling water all over. Then he climbed the hill, a little hill nearby, and proceeded to remove his hair. He removed all the hair from his body, keeping only the hair on his head, his eyelashes and eyebrows.
“When new people are born” he decreed, “they will have hair only on their heads. That’s how they will be”. Men must have been very hairy in the past.
“Come, let’s go home” said Tshakapesh to his brother-in-law. He was cold without his hair.
They went back to camp and Tshakapesh said to his sister: “sister, they boiled us in water. We went to swing”.
“Why did you go there?” reproached his sister.
“We went to see them and they told us to swing. I went and they cut the rope, throwing me into the cauldron” said Tshakapesh.
His body was completely naked, except for the hair on his head, his eyelashes and eyebrows. They made him some clothing and he went hunting.
Don’t come with me” said Tshakapesh to his brother-in-law, “I’ll go alone”.
And he went to hunt squirrels. Suddenly, as he shot his arrow in the direction of a squirrel that climbed hurriedly up a white spruce, the squirrel became stuck on the tree. Tshakapesh climbed up to get it. Once he reached it, he blew on the white spruce. He could hear the whistling of the squirrel climbing the tree.
Then suddenly, nothing.
what it's like up there,” he thought. And he started to climb once more. Once he caught up to the squirrel, he blew on the white spruce again. The squirrel whistled as it climbed, Tshakapesh could hear it... But suddenly, nothing.
“I wonder what it’s like up there“, thought Tshakapesh. And he began to climb again, reaching the squirrel. He blew on the squirrel and the white spruce once again. The squirrel kept climbing and Tshakapesh could hear it climb from one branch to another. And suddenly, nothing.
“I wonder what it’s like up there” he thought.
And suddenly, there he was, on another Earth. He walked around it, went all around. He noticed fresh tracks. Someone must have been by there.
There were squirrel tracks going in all directions.
The ground held the traces of many passings.
Tshakapesh, turning back, noticed that someone had just followed in his tracks. “I wonder who it is” he thought.
And he set a snare, then walked away from the trampled spot. As he walked, darkness suddenly fell.
“I wonder what it is? It must be my snare over there” he thought. Hurrying to check his snare, he noticed the sun thrashing about in it. He started by throwing a squirrel to cut the snare. But the squirrel burned. Then he threw a mouse to disarm his trap... The last animal he threw, the water shrew, succeeded in cutting his snare.
And it was day once again.
“I almost killed the Earth” thought Tshakapesh. And he climbed back down, and returned home. “We’ll go live there, there are lots of squirrels” he thought. And he continued on his way.
Back home, he said to his sister: “sister I found an Earth there. We’ll go live there“. And so the next day, they went. When they got to the white spruce, Tshakapesh said: “There are many squirrels there”.
His brother-in-law climbed up first, then Tshakapesh’s wife, her sister, and Tshakapesh brought up the rear.
“I’ll climb behind you”, he told them, “so when you get dizzy and fall, I’ll catch you”. They got dizzy and indeed they fell, and Tshakapesh caught them, so they could get there.
Then Tshakapesh thought: “I wonder what I’ll do with this tree. If the new people to be born walk around here, they’ll see the tree and try to climb it. With my breath, I’ll return it to its normal size”.
And he blew on the white spruce which returned to its former size.
And Tshakapesh said to the others: “Each of you go where you must. As for me, I'm staying on the moon”.
And he installed his sister on the Morning Star, that’s where he placed her.
“That’s where you’ll stay” he told her. His brother-in-law and his wife each lived on a star.