The Cree word for “sacred story” or “myth” is âtayôhkêwin (in y-dialect), âcathôhkîwin (in th-dialect). Wisahkecahk is the protagonist in many of these stories, which often serve to explain some curious aspect of the natural world, or teach some important cultural lesson. Traditionally, stories of Wîsahkêcâhk were only to be told when the ground was covered with snow (which it still is, here in Nunavut where I’m working!)
The story of how Wisahkecahk Snared the Sun is drawn from Edward Ahenakew’s (English-only) collection published as “Trickster Tales,” in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 42, No. 166 (October-December, 1929) pp 309-353. A pdf scan of the original publication can be purchased for download at https://www.jstor.org/stable/535231.
In honour of storytelling month, Solomon Ratt has reclaimed and re-animated this story by translating Ahenakew’s English rendition back into Cree. Scroll down to find
- Video from an online Zoom presentation 22 February 2021, in which Archer Pechawis reads the English, and Solomon Ratt provides a spontaneous reinterpretation into Cree.
- Sol’s typescript of the Ahenakew story, along with his back-translation into Cree.
Wisahkecahk Snares the Sun, 22 February 2021, via Zoom.
Wisahkecahk Snares the Sun. Edward Ahenakew, Cree Trickster Tales in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 42, October-December, 1929 – No. 166. Pp 327-329. English-Cree translation by Solomon Ratt (2021) Wîsahkêcâhk turned his attention to other matters. Everything did not work just right. Perhaps the most pressing need had to do with a more regular supply of light and heat. The Sun was only an occasional visitor to those who lived in the earth and the long periods between the visits were very trying to life. wîsahkêcâhk kotaka kîkwaya kî-ati-atoskâtam. namôya kahkiyaw kîkway kî-miyopayin. êtikwê nawac nîkân kîkway ka-atoskâtahk anima ta-astêk wâsitêwin mîna kîsôhowin. kîsikâwi-pîsim âh-âskaw mâna piko ê-pê-kâh-kiyokawât anihi kâ-wîkiyit askîhk êkwa kinwêsk êyikohk êkâ ê-pê-kiyokêt êkospîhk kî-âyiman pimâtisiwin. After careful consideration, Wîsahkêcâhk made up his mind to catch the great heavenly body. He set a great snare right in the path which it was wont to take and caught it the very next time it passed. In vain the Sun struggled to free itself; the cords by which it was held fast were too strong for it. pâtos kâ-mâmitonêyihtahk wîsahkêcâhk itêyihtam ta-tâpakwâtât ôhi kîsikohk iyiniwa. kî-astâw tâpawân omêskanâmiyihk êkwa kî-tâpakwâtêw kîhtwâm kâ-pê-pimohtêyi. konita kî-kakwê-pihkohisow; pihtaw kî-maskawâyiw anima tâpakwâniyâpiw ita kâ-kî-tâpakwâsot. At first everybody was delighted but soon it was found that there was danger of the inhabitants being scorched to death by the proximity of the great body. They would gladly have it released it, but no one was able to go near enough to undo or to cut the snare. In desperation Wîsahkêcâhk invited the spirit of the Sun, Anaynake, to a consultation. The result of this was a compromise. Wîsahkêcâhk was to try to liberate the Sun, while Anaynake promised to come near the edges of the Earth only in the mornings and evenings while in the day time it was to come just near enough to warm the Earth. Keewatin, the North Wind, was told to work in conjunction with the Sun and the arrangement was adopted whereby one was to retire as the other advanced and vice versa. Each was to exercise its power in turn, having respect for the rights and efforts of the other. Everything seemed satisfactorily settled. nistam piko awiyak kî-miywêyihtam ôma mâka kî-ati-nôkwan ê-kî-kostâtikwahk anama, ê-isi-nâkwahk ta-kî-nipahâskisocik ayisk osâm kisiwâk askîhk ê-ayât awa. ka-miywêyihtamwak ta-pikohâcik mâka namôya awiyak kaskihtâw cîki ta-itohtêt ta-pihkohât ahpô ta-kîskisahk anima tâpakwân. ayisk ê-wawânêyihtahk wîsahkêcâhk nitomêw pîsim-ahcahkwa Anaynakewa ta-pê-mâmawapiyit. wiyasiwêwak ta-wîcihitocik. wîsahkêcâhk ana ta-kî-kakwê-pikohât kîsikâwi-pîsimwa tâpakwânihk ohci êkwa Anaynake kî-asotamâkêw kisiwâk askîhk ta-pê-âh-itohtêt ispîhk kâ-kîkisêpâyâyik mîna kâ-otâkosiniyik êkwa kâ-kîsikâyik têpiyahk nahiyikohk kisiwâk askîhk ta-itohtêt ta-kîsôskahk askiy. kîwêtin kî-itâw ta-wîci-atoskêmât kîsikâwi-pîsimwa êkwa kî-wiyasiwêwak pêyak awiyak ka-kawisimot êskwa kotak kâ-pasikôt. tahto awiyak ka-mâh-mêskoc-âpacihtât osôhkisiwin êkospîhk ohci, ta-kistêyimitocik. piko kîkway nahêyihtâkwan. The problem that now had to be confronted was the liberation of the Sun. It could not free itself, and so far no one had made any attempt to take the risk involved. Wîsahkêcâhk called a mass meeting of all the creatures of the Earth and laid the matters before them. He promised that, whoever released the sun would receive special favors from him. êkwa ôma âyiman: tânisi ôma ta-kî-isi-pihkohiht ana pîsim? namôya kaskihtâw ta-pihkohisot, êkwa mêkwâc namôya awiyak kî-nitawi-kocihtâw ayisk ê-astâhikocik kâ-isi-kostâtikwahk. wîsahkêcâhk kî-nitomêw kahkiyaw pisiskiwa askîhk ohci ta-pê-mâmawapiyit êkwa wîhtamawêw kîkway ôma kâ-âyimaniyik. kî-asotamâkêw awiyak kâ-pihkohât pîsimwa ta-miyotôtawêw. The Beaver, though once before he had been useful, was yet an insignificant kind of animal. He was held in no esteem in the animal world. He had only a few small teeth and his fur was sparse and bristly like that of a pig. He was, however, one of those creatures that are always to the fore and whose greatest desire in life is to out-do others in everything. He boldly offered to release the Sun. There was a burst of laughter at this and a look of doubt came over Wîsahkêcâhk’s face, but he had asked for someone to volunteer and he had to accept the Beaver’s offer. amisk awa, âta pêyakwâw kî-miyo-âpatisow, kêyâpic namôya nânitaw pisiskiw kî-itêyimâw. namôya mistahi kî-itêyimikow kotaka pisiskiwa. kî-apasâsiyiniwa piko wîpita êkwa opîway ê-kî-ay-âspîsiniyik piko ê-kî-ayât, tâpiskôc kohkôsi-pîway. wiya mâka pêyak ôki pisiskiwak kâkikê kâ-kakwê-wîcihowêcik êkwa kapê ê-kakwê-nîkânêstawât kotaka pisiskiwa. kî-sôhkêmow wiya ta-pihkohât pîsimwa. sêmâk kisêwê-pâhpihâw êkwa wîsahkêcâhk nawac piko kî-ânwêhtam, mâka kî-nitomêw awiya ta-wîcihowêyit êwak-ohci kâ-otinât amiskwa. The Beaver trotted off awkwardly and anxiously did all the animals watch. Some said the fool would never go near and others held that it is often those who are foolish who surpass others in doing thing which no sane creature would attempt to do. Suddenly they saw the great ball of light arise majestically from the place of captivity. It sped on that course which to this day it has kept. Never once has it broken its promise to Wîsahkêcâhk. Faithful has it been to the word of Anaynake. amisk ati-mâski-pimipahcâsiw êkwa kotakak aniki pisiskiwak ohtamê-kanawâpamêwak. âtiht itwêwak ana okakêpâtis namôya kisiwâk êkota ta-itohtêw mâka kotakak itwêwak aniki kâ-mâh-môhcowicik, kâ-kocihtâcik kîkway kotakak awiyakak êkâ kâ-wî-kocihtâcik, âskaw mâna nîkânêwak. kêtahtwêw kâ-wâpahtahkik kisê-wâwiyês-wâstêwin ê-matwê-ohpîyik itê kâ-kî-tâpakwâsot pîsim. ê-kî-sipwêkocik ita mâna kâ-pimohtêt pêyakwan ita kâ-pimohtêt anohc. nama wîhkâc kî-ohci-pêkonam anima kâ-kî-asotamawât wîsahkêcâhkwa. kâkikê kî-pê-âpatêyihtam kâ-kî-asotamâkêyit Anaynakewa. The Beaver was pitiful to look upon when it returned. Three blackened stumps were all that remained of its teeth. The swinish hair he had before was all burned away and only his half-scorched skin remained. Wîsahkêcâhk is gratitude clothed him in a most beautiful fur coat, gave him a lovely set of flat teeth, sharp and broad, admirably fitted to cut down trees for building purposes. kî-kitimâkinâkosiw ana amisk kâ-kî-pê-takosihk. nisto kaskitêwi-mîpita piko ê-kî-ayât. okohkôsi-pîway kâ-kî-ayât kî-mêstâskitêyiw êkwa ê-kî-âpihtêkasoyit wasakaya. wîsahkêcâhk kî-nanâskomêw, kî-miyêw oski-wayâna, ê-mâwaci-miyosiyit ahtaya; kî-miyêw ê-napakâyiki mîpita, ê-kâsisiki, ê-kispakâki, ta-miywâsiniyiw ta-osîhtât kîkway êwakoni ohci. He was the envy of all those who were wont to mock and laugh at him. As a remembrance of the deed the Beaver did for the inhabitants of the world, his teeth were made to be of a brown color as if they had been scorched. They are so to this day, and what is there more beautiful than the fur of this animal and what is there better adapted to the cutting of trees than its teeth? The Beaver did not abuse its new gifts, but managed to live down his former reputation by leading a life of quiet seclusion and of incessant industry. kî-ohtêyimikow kotaka anihi kâ-kî-nanôyacihikot mîna kâ-kî-pâhpihikot. ka-kiskisihk kâ-kî-tôtamawât kahkikiyaw kâ-wîkiyit askîhk, wîpita kî-isi-nâkwana tâpiskôc ê-kî-apîhtihkatêki. êkosi kêyâpic isinâkwana anohc, êkwa kîkwây mâka nawac kâ-miyonâkwahk êyikohk awa pisiskiw owayân êkwa kîkwây nawac miywâsin ta-kîskatahwât mistikwa êyikohk wîpita? amisk namôya kî-mêtawâkêw oski-miyikosiwin, kî-nakatam nistam kâ-kî-itêyimiht,anohc kâmwâci-pimâtisiw êkwa ê-sâh-sôhki-atoskêskit.