of Indigenous Arts and Culture
MICHABO THE GREAT HARE:
A PATRON OF THE HOPEWELL MOUND SETTLEMENT
By CHARLES C. WILLOUGHBY
MICHABO (1) the Great Hare, the Algonquian culture hero, was the creator of the world and the impersonation of life. He was
reputed to possess not only the power to live but also of creating life in others. He was chief of all the animals and in ancient times
caused man to be born from the dead bodies of the first of these who died, thus giving rise to the widespread belief among these
Indians that they had their being from animals. He impersonated life in an unlimited series of diverse personalities. He was life struggling
with many forms of want, misfortune, and death that come to the bodies and beings of nature. In his journeying over the earth, he
destroyed many ferocious monsters of land and water whose continued existence would have placed in jeopardy the fate of the people.
One of these monsters was the Great-Horned Serpent. The fossil bones of extinct animals, occasionally brought to light, are said to be
the remains of monsters destroyed by the Great Hare.
He placed beneficent humanized beings (the four winds?) one at each of the four cardinal points or world-quarters to aid in promoting
the welfare of the human race. The one at the east supplies light and starts the sun on its daily journey; the one on the south supplies
warmth, heat, and dews causing the growth of corn, beans, and squashes, also herbs and shrubs which bear fruit; the one at the west
sends cooling and life-giving showers; and the one at the north supplies snow and ice, enabling the tracking and successful pursuit of
wild animals. Under the care of the man-being of the south lesser beings were placed, dominantly bird-like in form.(2) Throughout the
entire Algonquian area these Indians never tired of gathering around their camp-fires and repeating the stories of Michabo. He was the
highest divinity recognized by them, powerful and beneficent beyond all others. Traditions relating to him seem to have been universal
among the Indians of this stock. Some of the stories are also found among certain tribes of neighboring stocks who doubtless obtained
them from the Algonquians. He was sometimes called the Great Light, the Spirit of Light, or the Great White One. He was the loyal friend
and patron of the human race. It is significant that in the Peyote ceremony of the later Arapaho, introduced to the Winnebago, the Great
Hare is identified with Christ.(3) There are many scores of stories current among the Algonquians in which Michabo took a leading part.
As one would expect in such a mass of material these stories are often illogical or contradictory.
Copyrighted 2007 by Auld/Powhatan
(1) Michabo, Nanabozho, Manibojou, Messou, Moshop, etc., all refer to the same being.
(2) The above is taken largely from the article by J. N. B. Hewitt, in Bulletin, Bureau of American Ethnology, 30, Pt. 2,
pp. 19-23, and from Daniel G. Brinton's Myths of the New World.
(3) Paul Radin, in Thirty-seventh Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 376.
Left: Grave of an Algonquian Great Hare shaman from the Great Mound at Hopewell, Ohio. The red arrow points to a
copper hare headdress highlighted above the head of the skeleton. Similarly, Powhatan II is believed to be burried under a
like mound on the Pamunkey Reservation in King William County, Virginia. The structure on the reservation indicates that
the Powhatan were also part of the mound building tradition that may have originated in Central America's
Right: A Powhatan Museum Story Shirt that relates a traditional Algonquian Great Flood tale about Michabo the Great
Hare and how men and women were born.
Line (1) Michabo the Hare pictograph story begins with a hunting scene with his wolf friends as they enter a lake.
Line (2) A Great Flood ensues and covers the earth but he is saved by his magic bow and arrow. Similar to the
Biblical flood story, Michabo sends out Raven to try to find dry land. However, Raven is not successful.
Line (3) He sends out Otter next but Otter is also unsuccessful. So he sends out Muskrat.
Line (4) Muskrat returns with rich soil under her claws. Hr replenishes the earth eith the soil.
Mechabo fires his magic arrows into the barren trees, they
flower and bear fruit.
Line (5) Michabo marries Muskrat and this is where men and women come from.
Note for the skeptics: Either you believe this tale or the "monkey story". Do you prefer to be descended from a hare and a
muskrat or from a monkey?
Items from the grave
(below) of a shaman in
the Great Mound,
Michabo and the Great Deer: How the
Great Hare Placed People Around the World
Recorded by Captain John Smith in Virginia.
The wall composition to the left is a contemporary
interpretation by educator/artist/historian and
storyteller Rose Powhatan of the only surviving
Michabo the Hare story that her ancestors once
told. Captain John Smith collected the sequel to
the above story from a member of the Powhatan
Confederacy/Chiefdom after his 1607 landing at
what later became "the Founding of America" at
Jamestown, Virginia. The wall piece is composed
of a deer's skull mounted on buckskin with a fire
incised illustrated story. The tale relates that after
Michabo brought men and women into the world
he placed them in a bag for safekeeping. It goes
on to relate how the Great Hare protected the
people against cannibalistic giants. He went on to
create fish and other living tings in the fresh water.
In addition to making a Great Deer he made the
Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash for the
deer to eat. The giants changed themselves into
the Four Winds from each of the cardinal
directions of the earth. They attacked and killed
the Great Deer and from its gathered hairs
Michabo made herds of smaller deer. He then
populated the world with the people from his bag.