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Painted turtle on a log

If you look closely, you can still see the war paint on his cheeks.

Turtle Goes to War

Source: Abenaki legend

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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This is the story of when Turtle declared war on the Aln8bak.

Prologue: This can be a great story for listener participation. Each time Turtle and his companions sing the canoeing song, beat a drum and ask the listeners to sing along. Unfortunately, I can't give you the music just now, but if you ever hear it at Pau-Wau, you'll pick it up very quickly. Meanwhile, I'll continue looking for a source for the musical notation of this simple song.

One day, Turtle decided to make war on the Aln8bak. (Say "AHL-noong-BAHK," but don't quite pronounce the "ng." Just let the "ng" color the "oo" as if you were going to say the "ng." This is the word for "human beings.") He was tired of the Aln8bak always hunting and killing his people, along with the others of the Awasok (the Animal Peoples).

So Turtle painted his face with war paint, took his war canoe, and headed down the river to the village of the Aln8bak. As he paddled, he sang the canoeing song:

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Soon, Turtle saw an animal standing by the side of the river. It was Bear.

"Turtle," Bear said, "I hear you are going to make war on the Aln8bak. I, too, am tired of them always hunting us. I would like to come along."

Turtle looked at Bear, and he was a little bit afraid of the idea of having so big and strong a companion on his war party. Bear's foot was as big as Turtle's canoe!

"I am sorry, Bear," said Turtle. "You are too big and clumsy. The Aln8bak would hear you coming and we would not be able to surprise them. You can not come along."

And so Turtle continued down the river, singing the canoeing song:

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Farther down the river, Turtle saw another animal. It was Wolf.

"Turtle," Wolf said, "I hear you are going to make war on the Aln8bak. I, too, am tired of them always hunting us. I would like to come along."

Turtle looked at Wolf, and he was afraid of having such a fierce companion on his war party. Wolf's mouth was as big as Turtle!

"I am sorry, Wolf," said Turtle. "You are too fast. As soon as the battle becomes difficult, you would run away. You can not come along."

And so Turtle continued down the river, singing the canoeing song:

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Around the next bend, Turtle saw another animal beside the river. It was Skunk.

"Turtle," Skunk said, "I hear you are going to make war on the Aln8bak. I, too, am tired of them always hunting us. I would like to come along."

Turtle looked at Skunk, and he was not impressed. "What can you do in a war?" he asked. "You are so small!"

Skunk answered, "I have a secret weapon."

Turtle was still not impressed. "I am sorry," he said, "but I do not believe you. Show me this secret weapon."

"All right," Skunk replied, "but you won't like it!"

Skunk turned, raised his tail, and shot his spray at Turtle.

Ugh! Skunk's burning, stinking spray was like fire in Turtle's eyes and choking smoke in his lungs! Turtle dove into the water and stayed at the bottom of the river for many, many minutes while the river washed the burn of Skunk's secret weapon out of his eyes.

When at last Turtle returned to the riverbank, he said to Skunk, "That is a good secret weapon! You can come along."

So Skunk and Turtle got into Turtle's canoe and paddled down the river, singing the canoeing song:

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Soon they saw another animal on the riverbank. It was Rattlesnake.

"Turtle," Rattlesnake said, "I hear you are going to make war on the Aln8bak. I, too, am tired of them always hunting us. I would like to come along."

Turtle looked at Rattlesnake, and he was not impressed. "What can you do in a war?" he asked. "You are so small!"

Rattlesnake answered, "I have a secret weapon."

Turtle thought a moment, and he decided he had had enough of "secret weapons." He would not ask for a demonstration.

"Very well," said Turtle. "You can come along."

Skunk and Turtle and Rattlesnake got into Turtle's canoe and paddled down the river, singing the canoeing song:

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Yo hey ho hey

Ki yo wah dzi neh

Ki yo wah dzi neh.

Night was falling as they approached the village of the Aln8bak. Turtle laid out his plan.

"We will surprise the Aln8bak just before the sun rises," he explained. "Everyone take up a hiding place. When it is time to attack, I will let out my war whoop. We must all attack at once, so wait for my signal."

Skunk hid himself in the dark and light shadows near the corner of a lodge. Rattlesnake hid among the sticks of a woodpile. Turtle hid among some cooking pots piled beside a lodge.

The three little warriors waited for the time to begin their attack.

All through the long, dark night, they waited.

At long last, glimmering light appeared in the east. Slowly, the sky grew light. Skunk and Rattlesnake held their positions in their hiding places, waiting for Turtle's war whoop.

But Turtle was fast asleep.

Soon, the Aln8bak began to stir.

A man came out of one of the lodges to collect some sticks for the cooking fire. He came to the woodpile where Rattlesnake was hiding, and he picked up Rattlesnake!

Signal or no signal, Rattlesnake had no choice but to begin the battle. He shook his rattle and hissed his war cry, but he was a little slow in the chilly morning. The man dropped Rattlesnake and picked up a real stick. He began beating Rattlesnake about the head, and he continued beating him again and again.

Rattlesnake could stand it no more. As quickly as he could, he slithered away, and he gave up all hope of making war on the Aln8bak.

To this day, Rattlesnake's head is flattened from when the man beat him with the stick. And now, when he shakes his rattle and hisses, it is no longer a war cry. What he is saying in the language of the Rattlesnake People is, "I am not a stick! I am not a stick!"

Turtle was still fast asleep among the cooking pots.

A woman came out of one of the lodges and walked around the corner. She stumbled right into Skunk!

Signal or no signal, Skunk had no choice but to begin the battle. He growled his war cry, turned, and sprayed the woman.

Ugh! Skunk's burning, stinking spray was like fire in the woman's eyes and choking smoke in her lungs! She staggered and stepped back, but Skunk chased after her and sprayed her again! The woman realized that Skunk was not going to leave her alone, so she fought back. She picked up a stick and began beating Skunk on the head. Skunk sprayed her again, and again, but the woman was strong. She continued beating Skunk on the head with the stick.

Skunk could stand it no more. As quickly as he could, he ran away, his flattened, wounded head nearly dragging the ground, and he gave up all hope of making war on the Aln8bak.

To this day, Skunk's head is flattened and held low to the ground from when the woman beat him with the stick.

And through it all, Turtle was fast asleep among the cooking pots.

A man came out of one of the lodges to get a cooking pot. Instead, he picked up Turtle!

Turtle woke up at last and let out his war whoop. Of course, he had no idea that the war was already over and his companions had fled, so he simply began his war on the Aln8bak.

With all the strength of his little body and all the courage of his tiny heart, he bit into the man's leg and held on tight.

The man let out a whoop of his own, and picked up a stick. He began hitting Turtle on his back, and each blow from the stick made a crack in Turtle's shell, but still Turtle held on.

Seeing that Turtle would not let go no matter how many cracks he had in his shell, the man started walking toward the fire, saying, "I will drag you into the fire and burn you."

"Yes," Turtle said, "Bring me to the fire. Fire will make me stronger!"

The man hesitated, then said, "Then I will drag you into the river!" He began dragging Turtle toward the riverbank.

"No!" cried Turtle, "Not the river! I will drown!"

"Then that is exactly what I will do!" said the man. "I will drag you into the river and drown you!"

As soon as the man dragged Turtle into the water, Turtle let go of his leg and swam as fast as he could for the bottom of the river. As he retreated, he gave up all hope of making war on the Aln8bak.

Even today, if you see Turtle sunning himself on a log in the river, you can still see the cracks in his shell from when the man hit him with the stick. And if you look very closely, you can still see the war paint on his cheeks. But if you get too close, Turtle will dive into the water and hide on the bottom of the river. Turtle is very much afraid of the Aln8bak.

And you will never see Turtle paddling a war canoe.




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