MUIN, THE BEAR'S CHILD
Many years ago, there lived a boy called Sigo, whose father had died when he was only a baby. His mother married again, for she needed somebody to provide food for her family. However, her second husband was a jealous spiteful man, who soon came to dislike his small stepson, for he thought the mother cared more for the child than for himself.
Finally, after much thought, the stepfather made a plan to get rid of his stepson. He told his wife that it was time for Sigo to learn the ways of the woods, and that he was going to take him hunting. His wife feared the worst, and tried to keep Sigo at home, saying he was too young to hunt. But the husband ignored her and took the child into the forest. His mother cried, because she feared that she would never see her young son again.
The stepfather knew of a cave in a far-off part of the forest. It was a very deep cave that led far back into a rocky hill. He led his stepson to the entrance to the cave, and told him to go inside and hunt for rabbit tracks. Young Sigo was afraid, because the cave was very dark and mysterious. He begged not to have to go in, but his stepfather only scolded him and pushed him roughly into the mouth of the cave.
When Sigo had moved further into the cave, the stepfather got a pole that lay nearby, and pushed it under a huge boulder so that it rolled over and blocked the mouth of the cave. He knew that there was no other way out of the cave, and that his stepson would soon die of starvation. He planned to tell his wife that Sigo had disobeyed him, and had run off and got lost. He would say that he had looked everywhere, but could not find him. He would even spend some time on the beach at Blomidon, so it would seem like he had spent time looking for his stepson, and where he could collect amethyst as a peace gift for his wife. He knew she might suspect what really happened, but she would never be able to prove it. The man started off for Blomidon, feeling very pleased with his clever plan.
However, there was someone who knew what the evil man had done. Glooscap knew what was in the man's heart, and had seen what had happened, and he was very angry. As the stepfather wandered on the beach, Glooscap struck his great spear into the red stone of Blomidon. When he did, the ground split, sending earth and stones tumbling down to the beach, killing the man instantly and burying him. So great was Glooscap's anger, and so mighty was his blow, that the cape at Blomidon is still split to this day.
Then Glooscap called upon a faithful servant, Matues (mah-doo-wess) the porcupine, and told him what he was to do.
Meanwhile, deep in the dark cave in the hillside, Sigo cried in his loneliness and fear. He didn't understand why his stepfather had done this to him. He was very young after all, and he just wanted to escape from this trap and be with his mother.
Suddenly he heard a voice: "Sigo! Come this way."
He saw two glowing eyes, and he was very afraid, but he went towards them, trembling. As he came closer, those eyes grew bigger and brighter until finally he could see they belonged to an old porcupine.
"Don't cry any more, my son," said Matues in a gentle voice, "I am here to help you."
Sigo heard the gentleness in Matues' voice, and he was no longer afraid. He followed Matues to the cave entrance, and together they tried to push away the stone, but it was far too heavy. Matues went to a tiny crack of light between the boulder and the wall of the cave and called out: "Friends of Glooscap! Please come to us, we need your help!"
The animals and birds heard him calling, and all who heard him came to help. Large and small, they gathered at the mouth of the cave.
"A man-child has been trapped here and left here to die," called
Matues from inside the cave. "We are not strong enough to move the rock. Help us, or we are lost."
Then a new voice spoke: "What is going on?" They turned and saw Muin'iskw (moo-in-eeskw) , the she-bear, who had come quietly out of the woods when she heard the noise. Some of the smaller animals were frightened and hid, but the others told Muin'iskw what had happened. She did not want to see a child die, so she grabbed the boulder in the cave's mouth and shoved with all her great strength. Finally, with a great rumble, the stone rolled away, and out came Sigo and Matues, who were very happy to see the light of day.
Matues thanked the animals for their help and said, "Now we have to find someone who will take care of this man-child and bring him up. The boy is hungry, and my food will not suit him. Perhaps there is someone here whose diet will suit him better. Who will bring him food?"
Everyone scattered in all directions in search of food. Sisip the bird was the first to return, and he brought worms for the boy, but Sigo could not eat them. Kopit the beaver returned next with poplar bark, but the boy shook his head. Others brought seeds and insects, but Sigo, hungry as he was, could not touch any of them. At last came Muin'iskw, who held out a flat cake made of blueberries. The boy took it from her, and thanked her politely, and then he eagerly ate it. Matues knew what his decision had to be.
"From now on," he said, "Muin'iskw will be this boy's foster mother."
So Sigo went to live with the bears. Besides the mother bear, there were three cubs: two boys and a girl. All were pleased to have a new brother and they soon taught Sigo all their tricks and all the secrets of the forest. Sigo was very happy with his new-found family, and he gradually forgot his old life. Even the memory of his mother's face grew distant. He almost began to think he was a bear, and often even walked on all fours as his brothers and sister did.
One spring when Sigo was ten, the bears went fishing for smelts. Muin'iskw walked into the water, seated herself on her haunches and seized smelts in her paws and tossed them out on the bank to the children. They were having a wonderful time, when suddenly Muin'iskw leaped to her feet and scrambled to the shore, crying, "Come children, hurry!" She had caught the scent of man. "Run for your lives!"
As they ran, she stayed behind them, guarding them, until at last they were safe at home.
"What animal was that, Mother?" asked Sigo.
"That was a hunter," said his foster-mother, "He is a human like yourself, but he kills bears for food." And she warned them all to be very watchful from now on. "You must always run from the sight or scent of a hunter."
So the days passed, and as they got closer to winter, the days grew shorter. At last the mother bear led her family to their winter quarters in a large hollow tree. For half the winter they were happy and safe, with plenty of blueberry cakes to keep them from being hungry.
Then one day some hunters passed by their tree, and they saw the scratches on its trunk, and they guessed that there were bears inside. They prepared to smoke them out into the open.
Muin'iskw knew what was about to happen, and she knew that not all of them would escape. She knew what she had to do.
"I must go out first," she said, "and attract the man's attention, while you two cubs jump out and run away. Then you, Sigo, show yourself and plead for your little sister. Perhaps they will spare her for your sake."
And it happened just as the brave and loving mother bear had said. Smoke began to fill the tree trunk, and she went out first. As soon as she climbed down from the tree, the hunters surrounded her and killed her, but the two male cubs had time to escape. Then Sigo rushed out, crying: "I am a human, like you! Please spare my adopted sister, the she-cub!"
The amazed hunters put down their arrows and spears and, when they had heard Sigo's story, they were happy to spare the little cub. They were very sorry they had killed Muin'iskw, who had been so good to a Mi'kmaw child, and they made an offering of tobacco to her spirit. The hunters were not bad people, and they felt badly about the orphaned bear-children.
Sigo wept over the body of his foster mother and made a solemn vow. "I shall be called Muin, the bear's son, from this day on," he said. "And when I have grown up, and have become a hunter, I will never kill a mother bear, or bear children!"
With his foster sister, he returned to his old village, to the great joy of his Mi'kmaw mother, who cared tenderly for the she-cub until she was old enough to care for herself. And years later Muin did indeed become a great hunter, but he never forgot his promise, and he never killed a mother bear or her cubs.
Sometimes, when you wander in the forest, you may see smoke coming from a hollow tree. Since the time of Muin, when the Mi'kmaq see such smoke, they know a mother bear is in there cooking food for her children, and they leave that tree alone.
Image: "My Friend Boo", by Lane Brown