Wendigo: Cannibalism in Native American Folklore

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Wendigo
Cannibalism in Native American Folklore

Connor Downie
EN156-01: Mythology
Professor Quinn
30March13

Lurking in the deep woods of the Northern United States and Southern Canada lies a mysterious and fearsome Native American monster, the Wendigo. The Wendigo is by far one of the most mysterious and feared monsters in not only in the Algonquian folklore which it is attributed to, but also other indigenous populations all over the world. Although this creature goes by many names in the Native American Tribes, including Wechuge (Athapaskan Beaver), Windigo (Algonkian), Witiko (Sekani), Wittikow (Cree), Wintuc (Lenape), Wintiko (Objibwa), and others, it is represented in the folklore of many cultures. For the sake of simplicity, the term Wendigo (Woodland Cree) will be used throughout this paper. Native Americans lived in harmony with the land around them, and their legends and stories showed the necessity to preserve that harmony, and the consequences of failing to do such. The story and idea behind the Wendigo is no exception to this; being an “unnatural” and dysfunctional part of life. This paper will observe and analyze the role of the Wendigo in Native American legend as well as the effect that it had on, not only the Natives Americans, but those who came into contact and studied the tribes. The Wendigo

According to legend, a Wendigo is neither a man nor non-human, but rather something in between. A fully transformed Wendigo is most often described as a giant creature standing between eight and thirty feet tall, possessing incredible strength and speed, large claws and a body that looks like a skeleton with ash-toned skin. However, in any stage of transformation, it is most easily identified by its ravenous and continuous hunger for human flesh (Atwood 84). A Wendigo’s hunger is believed to be so insatiable that one of first things it consumes is its own lips (Carlson 359). For Native Americans, encountering a Wendigo, whether by accident or on purpose, could be the last mistake you ever make. You cannot outrun or outwit a Wendigo; and according to most stories, you are unable to talk or plead with the creature due to the fact it has lost the capacity for human speech after a long period of isolation (Atwood 84). However, that does not mean they are intelligent. The amount of time they have spent alone in forced isolation has made them the perfect hunter. They do not pursue their victims with inchoate frenzy but rather use superior cunning and an advanced knowledge of their game's desires and weaknesses. They hunt people with the cultural strategy and intelligence that people use to hunt animals (Ridington 110). Their hunting skills are only amplified by their extreme elusiveness and ability to survive in the harshest of climates. They are the epitome of everything to be afraid of in the woods. The original Wendigos can be found in the Pawnee creation myth, as the creatures that came before the Pawnee and were destroyed by the Creator Tirdwa. “The men of the present era were not the original inhabitants of the earth. They were preceded by another race - people of great size and strength. These were so swift of foot, and so powerful, that they could easily run down and kill the buffalo...The race of giants had no respect for the Ruler. On the contrary, they derided and insulted him in every way possible. When the sun rose, or when it thundered and rained, they would defy him. They had great confidence in their own powers, and believed that they were able to cope with the Creator. As they increased in numbers they grew more defiant, and at length became so bad that Tirdwa determined to destroy them. This he attempted to do at first by shooting the lightning at them; but the bolts glanced aside from their bodies without injuring them. When he found that they could not be killed by that means, he sent a great rain, which destroyed them by drowning (Grinnell 122). According to legend, a...
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