Wisakecahk is one of the most famous Cree heroes. There are hundreds of endless stories about him. He is a joker, always playing jokes on his brothers and sisters, the animals, plants and rocks.
Stories about Wisakecahk always have a moral. They are called story cycles because they are all connected. Each story is from the collective memory of everyone who has told it and may change each time it is told. The narrator may add characters from another story or change the story slightly to make a certain point.
Wisakecahk has many powers, such as the ability to change shape and be anything he wants, and to speak the languages of the animals and plants. No one really knows what he looks like. He is believed to have left the earth and to have headed north, but he returns sometimes to attend dances and other celebrations. However, his presence is never mentioned at these functions.
The mischievous Wisakecahk is always getting into trouble in his attempts to prove his intelligence and strength. Stories about Wisakecahk usually begin with him walking and feeling hungry. He is too lazy to get food for himself, so he will try to trick other animals into giving him their food, or into becoming his food. Tricks are often played on Wisakecahk himself. The stories also tell of Wisakecahk's entrance into the world and his experiences, teaching us about how animals and plants came to have their present colours, forms and special characteristics.
Stories about Wisakecahk are to be told only in the winter. If they are told during the summer, when there is good weather and we should be working as much as possible, the lizards will ruin the narrator's life by sucking his or her blood. These stories are meant to be narrated and not read; much is lost in the written word. Much of the spirit, humour and excitement are also lost in the translation of these stories; they can be best appreciated in the language in which they were first told. Wisakecahk is regarded as a pseudo-religious character in the Cree culture. His actions may seem evil or bad, according to Christian standards, but the Cree don't consider him or his actions evil. Christian morality is imposed in this situation. To the Cree, the means is less important than the end. Stories about Wisakecahk were told for entertainment and as a way teaching people how not to do things. Here are two examples of such stories.
The Origin of the Moon
A long time ago, there was no moon. There was only the sun. The Creator had messengers who helped him in his work. One of these was the Caretaker of the Sun. He had two children, a boy and a girl. All three lived in the Sky World. They were very happy.
The daughter looked after the camp. She kept it clean and tidy. When she shook the feather bedding, the feathers would fall to the earth as snow. The son hunted and fished. When he hung his nets to dry, droplets fell to earth as rain. The father would be away. All day he kept the great fire, burning on the sun. He was very old. Soon he would leave his children, never to return. He said to them, "When I die, you must keep the fire burning, or else the people and animals on earth will die."
One day when the fire was low on the sun, the father came home tired. He said, "Children, my children, my children. I have to go. I will never return." The children cried and mourned. They knew he would die.
In the morning, it was time to start the sun's fire. The children began to quarrel over who would do the task. "I will tend the fire, I am older," said the sister. "No, I am the man, I will do it," said the brother. They yelled thus to each other.
The people on earth began to worry, saying, "Why is the sun so late? It should be up by now!" Wisakecahk went to the sun to see what was the matter. When he arrived, the boy and his sister were still quarreling. Wisakecahk was angry. "The People and animals will perish," he said to them. "It is up to you! You keep the fire burning," he told the boy. "Your name from now on will be Pisim." To the sister he said, "You, too, will work as hard as your brother. You will keep the fire in another place. You will work at night. You will be Tipiskawipisim, the Moon. The two of you did not get along. As a punishment, you will see each other once a year. For all time, you will see each other from across the sky."
And so it happened. Even now it is so.
Wisakecahk and His Scabs
One day Wisakecahk was looking for food. He was getting upset with his bum because every time he was about to shoot his arrow he would fart and scare off the game. In order to punish his bum, he built a large fire and put a big rock on it. When the fire was hot, he sat on it. Wisakecahk was really in pain. He ran to the river to cool off his bum. "That should teach my bum," he said.
Scabs formed on his sore bum. As he walked, the scabs cracked and fell off. Later, he walked back the same way and saw the scabs on the path. "Hey, that looks like grandmother's dried meat! I sure am hungry," he thought. He picked up the scabs and ate them. Some animals that had been watching started laughing so loudly that they startled Wisakecahk. "What are you laughing at?" he asked. "Oh, silly Wisakecahk, you have been eating the scabs from your own bum!" they told him. Wisakecahk was so embarrassed he ran off.