Our Dance Stories

by Trudy Sable and Julia Sable

Mi’kmaq have woven their dances, stories and history into their culture and way of life. A story that the Baptist missionary, Silas Rand, recorded in the mid-1800s talked about the power of dance.

Part of the story came just after Kluskap, a hero/deity of the Mi’kmaq, told Keekwahjoo (Ki’kwa’ju) how to get past a giant, dangerous skunk and later, some beavers. Ki’kwa’ju is the Mi’kmaw word for wolverine, a mischievous animal in a number of Mi’kmaw stories. The names of two other characters, Keukw (Kukwes) and Kaktoogwasees (Kaqtukwaqsis), mean “Earthquake” and “Little Thunder.” Among Mi’kmaq, many natural forces in the world, such as thunder and lightning, were referred to as living ‘persons.’ These beings live just as we do, eating, drinking, hunting, and celebrating (Whitehead 1998: 232). In this story, Kluskap told Keekwahjoo (Ki’kwa’ju) and those with him that they had to charm the skunk and beavers until the animals danced. Rand relates the rest of the tale:

“Having imparted this information and given these directions, the party boosijic (set sail). They go on a long distance; and just as they are rounding a point of land they see a huge skunk standing ready to give them the benefit of his powers when they come within range. Keekwahjoo (Ki’kwa’ju) takes up the cheegumakun (ji’kmaqn), and begins to beat upon it and to sing; when lo! the skunk changes his position and begins to dance with all his might. So, they pass in safety. . . [o]n and on until they come in sight of a large village, where they land and take the path that leads directly to the chief’s lodge.

“They enter and the chief, previously apprised of the object of their visit, or divining it, gives his consent in the usual way, by addressing Kaktoogwasees (Kaqtukwaqsis/Little Thunder) as his son-in-law and inviting him up to the place of honor, the back part of the wigwam. This chief’s name is Keukw (Kukwes/Earthquake), and arrangements are immediately made for celebrating the next day.  But Little Thunder dances the mystic dance called ‘nskowokun,’ by way of introduction that evening, and raises such a storm that old Earthquake is alarmed for his own personal safety. . . Early the next morning there is a gathering around the old chief’s lodge. The wigwam is completely filled with subordinate chiefs and their men. Before the door, they clear away a spot, level it down, and make it smooth for the dancers” (Rand 1894: 114-116).

The story continues to tell of the challenges and obstacles Kaktoogwasees (Kaqtukwaqsis) faced until he prevailed in the end. This short section shows how dance and chants could give people power. It also taught people to dance to celebrate and welcome others. Later in the legend, Kaktoogwasees (Kaqtukwaqsis) danced again when he returned home and celebrated his wedding.