Why The Birds Sing – An Ojibwe Legend

Long ago the world was filled with evil. Men and women lost respect for each other. The Creator was unhappy about this and decided to cause a great flood to purify the earth.

A man named Waynaboozhoo survived. He turned some floating sticks and a log into a raft for the animals and himself. They floated around for a full moon waiting for the water to go down. It didn’t, so Waynaboozhoo decided to do something about it.

“Maang!” he called to the loon. “You are an excellent swimmer. See if you can dive down to the Old World and bring back a lump of mud in your bill. With mud, I will create a New World.”

Maang dove into the water and was gone a long time. When he finally did return, he said, “I could not reach the Old World. It was too far down.”

“Amik!” called Waynaboozhoo to the beaver. “You are an excellent swimmer. Will you try next?”

Amik dove off and was gone even longer than Maang, but he too returned empty-handed.

“Is there anyone else who’ll try?” asked Waynaboozhoo.

Just then a small coot, Aajigade, came swimming along and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Get away Aajigade,” called one of the birds. “We do not have time for your nonsense.”

Now the animals began arguing loudly. Everyone had a different plan about how to get the mud, but no one could agree on whose plan they would use. For hours and hours they argued. By and by, someone noticed that the sun was beginning to go down. They would have to put off the planning until the next day. Everyone began to find his or her sleeping spot on the raft to rest for the night. Maang asked, “Whatever happened to that silly little Aajigade?”

Suddenly, there was shouting on the other end of the raft. Someone had noticed a small body floating in the water. Water birds paddled hurriedly to investigate and found that it was Aajigade. They brought his body to the raft.

Waynaboozhoo lifted him up, and looking in his small beak, he found a particle of mud. Little Aajigade had reached the Old World and got the mud! He had given his life to do this. The other animals were ashamed of themselves for having made fun of little Aajigade. They hung their heads. They felt very sad.

Waynaboozhoo took Aajigade’s little body and softly blew life back into him. Waynaboozhoo held him closely to warm him and announced that from that day forward, Aajigade would always retain a place of honor among the animals.

Waynaboozhoo set Aajigade down on the water and he swam off as though nothing had happened.

Then Waynaboozhoo took Aajigade’s mud in his hands and began to shape it. Next he commanded it to grow. As it grew, he needed a place to put it. Mikinaak (the snapping turtle) came forward and said, “I have a broad back. Place it here.”

Waynaboozhoo put it on Mikinaak’s back so that it could grow larger.

“Miigwetch, Mikinaak,” said Waynaboozhoo. “From this day on, you shall have the ability to live in all the worlds, under the mud, in the water, and on land.”

The mud began to take the shape of land. Waynaboozhoo placed some tiny enigoonsags (ants) on it. This made it start to spin and grow more. It grew and grew, and more animals stepped onto it until finally it was large enough for moose to walk about. Now Waynaboozhoo sent benishiyag (the birds) to fly around to survey how large the land was. He said to them, “Return to me now and again to let me know how the land is doing. Send back your messages with songs. To this day, that is what the birds continue to do. That is also why they are called the singers.

At last, Waynaboozhoo stepped onto the New World. It had become a home, a place for all the animals, insects and birds, a place for all living things to live in harmony.

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