Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005

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Eastern townships

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Native influence in the myths and legends

 of the Eastern Townships

(by Melissa Girard)

All places have their own history, stories, myths, and legends. All of them have been influenced by the different cultural groups living and interacting in those places. The Eastern Townships are no exception. The region is known for its loyalist heritage, but before any European or American influence the Abenakis, a native Algonquian tribe, had settle in the area and developed their own culture. Part of this culture is the myths and legends attached to certain places of the Townships and the people that lived here. In these stories, the Abenakis’ influence is a major aspect through which we can get in touch with different elements of their culture.

 

            In the story The Race at the Lone Pine, the Abenakis tribe is negotiating with an Iroquois tribe for the possession of a hunting territory of the Valley of the St. Francis River. The two clans agreed to put up a race between two of their warriors that will take place on “the rock that stood alone, except for a pine tree that clung to it, until one had become victor”. The Abenakis are described as calm and immovable people but also as powerful and wise. The Iroquois warrior never saw his tribe again for he was scalped by the winner of the race; the Abenakis warrior.

            The second story, which is called The Legend of Rock Donda is about a love triangle between Donda, the mighty hunter, Leeliwa, the chieftain’s daughter, and         O-ne-ka, the handsome athlete and swimmer. Donda, who was officially Leeliwa’s husband, was very jealous and kept on watching the two lovers from the top a high cliff on the banks of Lake Massawippi. One night, while Leeliwa and O-ne-ka were on the lake, their canoe overturned. Losing all his agility in the water, O-ne-ka couldn’t help Leeliwa and they both sank into the lake. On his high rock, Donda had been watching with horror and tried to rescue them but it was too late and he too left his life in the waters. In memory of this tragedy, the chieftain decided that the face of Donda with a snake around his neck representing jealousy looking at the lake for his wife to come back should be carved on the rock were he had been watching the two lovers. Today, the design has been erased by time, but it is said that if you watch carefully you can still see Leeliwa’s silver canoe on her way to the Happy Land of Rest.

            Another myth created by Native people is The Serpent of Lake Memphremagog. Before the arrival of Europeans, the sides of the lake were inhabited by the Abenakis who gave it its name of “beautiful waters”. When the first settlers arrived they were told by the native people that they were afraid to bathe and to swim in the lake justifying this saying by the fact that a sea serpent lived in the waters. Since then, the one we now call “Memphré” has supposedly been seen more than two hundred times and remains a mystery.

 

            Through all these stories, we learn about the Abenakis, what made them and the history of the region. Today, the presence of the Abenakis in the Eastern Townships remains important even though they are not as many as they used to be. They gave us rich and precious heritage which is to be transmitted to future generations.

 

Links

The Race at the Lone Pine: http://www.townshipsheritage.com/Eng/Hist/Myths/race.html
The Legend of Rock Donda: http://www.townshipsheritage.com/Eng/Hist/Myths/rock.donda.html
The Serpent of Lake Memphremagog : http://www.townshipsheritage.com/Eng/Hist/Myths/serpent.html
Encyclopedia of North American Indians: Abenaki

http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/naind/html/na_000200_abenaki.htm