Wa-Ba-Ba-Nal, The Northern Lights

Before 1890, Mrs. W. Wallace Brown wrote that folktales among the Wabanaki must have been extensive, for, though these legends were so swiftly dying out, there seemed to be few things in nature for which they had no legend of its life or beginning. They were known as people living at the sunrise in northeastern and northwestern Maine. A large Wabanaki camp was situated in the Kennebec Valley of Maine.

Old Chief M'Sartto, Morning Star, had only one son, so different from the other boys of the tribe as to be a worry to Old Chief. The boy would not stay and play with the others, but would take his bow and arrows, and leave home for many days at a time, always going toward the north.

When he came home his family asked, "Where have you been and what did you see?" But he had no reply. At last Old Chief said to his wife, "The boy needs watching. I will follow him when he takes off again."

A few days later, Old Chief followed the boy's trail and they travelled for a long time. Suddenly, Old Chief's eyes closed. He could not hear. A curious feeling came over him. Then he knew nothing.

Later, when his eyes opened, he found himself in a strange light country, with no sun, no moon, no stars, but the country was lit by a peculiar brightness. He saw many beings, but all of them different from his own people. They gathered around him and tried to talk, but he did not understand their language.

Old Chief M'Sartto did not know where to go or what to do. He was very well treated by this strange tribe. He watched them play games and became attracted to a wonderful game of ball that he had never seen played before. The game seemed to turn the light into many colours. The players all had lights on their heads and wore very curious kinds of belts, called Menquan, or "Rainbow" belts.

In a few days, an old man came and spoke to Old Chief in his own language, asking if he knew where he was. "No," Old Chief replied.

"You are in the country of Wa-ba-ban of the northern lights," the stranger said. "I came here many years ago. I was the only one here from the 'Lower Country,' as we usually call it. But now there is a boy who comes to visit us every few days."

"How did you get here, and what tribe did you come from?" Old Chief asked.

"I follow the path called Spirits' Path, through the Milky Way," said the old man.

"That must be the same path I followed to come here," said Old Chief M'Sartto, Morning Star. "Did you have a queer feeling, as if you lost all sense of knowledge when you travelled here?"

"Yes, exactly that kind of sensation," he replied. "I could neither see nor hear."

"We did come by the same path," Old Chief said. "Can you now tell me how I can go to my home at the Wabanaki camp?"

"Yes, the Chief here can direct you."

"Now can you tell me where I can see my son? He's the boy who comes here to visit you."

"Stay here and watch, you will see him playing ball," said the old man, as he left to visit many wigwams to invite everyone out to a ball game.

Old Chief was very glad to hear the news of his son, and soon the ball game began, and many beautiful colours spread out over the playing field.

"Do you see your son playing?" the old man asked.

"Yes, the boy with the brightest light on his head is my son."

The two men then went to see the Chief of the Northern Lights. The old man spoke up and said to him, "The Chief Morning Star of the Lower Country wants to go home and desires to take his son with him."

Chief of Northern Lights called all of his people together to bid good-bye to Old Chief Morning Star and his son. Then he ordered two great birds to carry them to their home. When they travelled the Milky Way, Old Chief again felt the same strange feelings he had experienced when going there.

When Old Chief came to his senses again, he found himself near his home. His wife was very glad to see him. Her son had arrived first and told her that his father was safe and would come soon. She paid little notice to that announcement for she had thought that her husband had lost his way.

Now her wigwam was filled with joy again at the sight of her son and Old Chief M'Sartto, Morning Star, returned to Wabanaki.

Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker

This site has been accessed 10,000,000 times since February 8, 1996.