Shingebiss: An Allegory Of Self-Reliance

Note: This post was originally published on this site in December, 2010. I was rereading it this morning and thought the modern world could use a good role model for self reliance, one that wasn’t interested in selling them guns, survival gear and an end of the world mentality.

I’ve been writing a lot about self-reliance lately.  Below is an old legend I first read as a kid. It offers a different culture’s take on the topic, and comes from a book called The Hiawatha Legends.  Enjoy.

An Allegory Of Self-Reliance – From The Odjibwa

There was once a Shingebiss, the name of the fall duck living alone, in a solitary lodge, on the shores of the deep bay of a lake, in the coldest winter weather. The ice had formed on the water, and he had but four logs of wood to keep his fire. Each of these would, however, burn a month, and as there were but four cold winter months, they were sufficient to carry him through till spring.

Shingebiss was hardy and fearless, and cared for no one. He would go out during the coldest day, and seek for places where flags and rushes grew through the ice, and plucking them up with his bill, would dive through the openings, in quest of fish. In this way he found plenty of food, while others were starving, and he went home daily to his lodge, dragging strings of fish after him, on the ice.

Kabebonicca (A personification of the northwest) observed him, and felt a little piqued at his perseverance and good luck in defiance of the severest blasts of wind he could send from the northwest. “Why! this is a wonderful man,” said he; “he does not mind the cold, and appears as happy and contented as if it were the month of June. I will try whether he cannot be mastered.” He poured forth tenfold colder blasts, and drifts of snow, so that it was next to impossible to live in the open air. Still, the fire of Shingebiss did not go out: he wore but a single strip of leather around his body, and he was seen, in the worst weather, searching the shores for rushes, and carrying home fish.

“I shall go and visit him,” said Kabebonicca, one day, as he saw Shingebiss dragging along a quantity of fish. And, accordingly, that very night, he went to the door of his lodge. Meantime Shingebiss had cooked his fish, and finished his meal, and was lying, paartly on his side, before the fire, singing his songs. After Kabebonicca had some to the door, and stood listening there, he sang as follows:

Windy god, I know your plan,

You are but my fellow man;

Blow you may your coldest breeze,

Shingebiss you cannot freeze.

Sweep the strongest wind you can,

Shingebiss is still your man;

Heigh! for life – and ho! for bliss,

Who so free as Shingebiss?

The hunter knew that Kabebonicca was at his door, for he felt his cold and strong breath; but he kept on singing his songs, and affected utter indifference. At length Kabebonicca entered, and took his seat on the opposite side of the lodge. But Shingebiss did not regard, or notice him. He got up, as if nobody were present, and taking his poker, pushed the log, which made his fire burn brighter, repeating, as he sat down again:

You are but my fellow man.

Very soon the tears began to flow down Kabebonicca’s cheeks, which increased so fast, that presently, he said to himself: “I cannot stand this – I must go out.” He did so, and left Shingebiss to his songs; but resolved to freeze up all the flag orifices, and make the ice thick, so that he could not get any more fish. Still, Shingebiss, by dint of great diligence, found means to pull up new roots, and dive under for fish. At last, Kabebonicca was compelled to give up the contest. “He must be aided by some Monedo,” said he. “I can neither freeze him nor starve him; he is a very singular being – I will let him alone.”

From:  Schoolcraft, Henry R. The Myth Of Hiawatha And Other Oral Legends, Mythologic And Allegoric, Of The North American Indians. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott & Co., 1856.

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