The Dancing Ducks
The Ojibwe Dancing Duck Story
Nanabush, the trickster, is always hungry. When he sees some juicy ducks for dinner, he hoists his bundle of songs onto his back, hoping to arouse their curiosity. Sure enough, the ducks want to know what's in the bundle.
Nanabush tells them there are songs for dancing in his bundle. The foolish ducks jump at the opportunity to dance, even after Nanabush warns them that they must dance with their eyes closed.
Nanabush drums and sings and also prepares to wring some duck necks for dinner. One wise little duck opens its eyes to see what is happening and cries out to the others to fly away.
Nanabush is so angry he puts red circles around the eyes of the wise little duck who will now be a loon and the laughing-stock of all the birds forever and ever.
Ke-ko i-nap-pik-kek....Don't look
Ke-ka ma-me-ska-wac....Or you will all take
Ki-ka ci-kew-mi-kom....Your turn at getting your neck wrung
The "Dancing Ducks" video, sung by Charles Beauchamp on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, captures a favourite Ojibwe song and story. Many Ojibwe speak their own language, Algonquian, and with it, the stories live on. The most enduring story is a loosely connected series of vignettes about the trickster, a character who appears in stories around the world. Nanabush, the Ojibwe trickster, can transform to any corporeal being wished. For example, in one story, he wishes to eat the brain of a dead bear so he becomes an ant and enters the skull. The trickster embodies all the opposing forces and actions available to humankind such as moderation versus excess, and wise versus bungling behaviour. While not a comic character, the trickster's misdeeds often result in very funny situation which are a great source of humour and even more stories. Nanabush teaches us, while making us laugh.
Many Ojibwe live in the North American boreal forest: theirs is a land of lakes, and forests of pine and spruce trees which are green all year round. Deep snow and icy rivers made walking or water travel in the birchbark canoes difficult for much of the year. Traditionally, the Ojibwe lived by gathering wild rice and hunting the animals which also served as the basis for their clans or social organization: the crane, catfish, loon, bear, marten and wolf. After contact with non-natives they became trappers and traded furs for their livelihood. Peguis Reserve, the site for this video, is named after the great Odjibwe leader, Chief Peguis (1774-1864). Watching the stream of Scottish farmers to his area, he realized that his people would have to adapt to some of the white man's ways. This they have done; the Peguis Band has excelled in keeping apace with change and is a prosperous modern community.
In many areas, wildfowl remains a substantial part of Ojibwe diet and it is not surprising that one of their favourite song-stories is about the dancing ducks.