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Pamola and the Hunter: An Abenaki Story

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

One of my favorite stories and images of Pamola is found in “The Faith Hunter: Abenaki Stories” by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki author and storyteller. The image is drawn by John Kahionhes Fadden, a legendary indigenous artist. Pamola is most well known for being a terrifying and dangerous giant winged guardian who lives atop Mount Katahdin.

However in Abenaki stories, while he is still powerful he is also sometimes helpful and is frequently encountered away from the mountain. In this story a hunter is drinking water at a river and sees in the reflection above him a winged human-like being approaching. The hunter hides behind some rocks, and the being, Pamola, lands for a drink himself. Before Pamola drinks he removes a shining ring from his mouth and places it on one of the rocks. The hunter sensing that this ring is the source of Pamola's power, steals it while he drinks. When Pamola notices the ring is missing, he is angry and demands it back, when this gets no response he offers a bargain, telling the hunter it is of no use to him but that without it Pamola cannot stay in any one place long - and offers the hunter good hunting and good fortune for it's return. The hunter agrees and calls Pamola his friend and asks not to be betrayed. Pamola flies the hunter to his land, a land of many powerful spirits, and tells the man to hunt otters and beaver, but that at noon he must be done and return to the same spot so Pamola can fly him away home. At noon, the other powerful spirits will awake, and would surely destroy the hunter. The hunter catches many beavers and otters and returns with their furs to the meeting place, where Pamola flies him away home just as the other great powers begin to shake the Earth as they wake up. The man never again steals from the spirits and enjoys good fortune for the rest of his life.

Like many old stories, this one is filled with important lessons about living on the land and with others. We must treat others, including (and perhaps especially) spirits of the land with respect - throughout the story Pamola and the hunter refer to each other as friends. If we do, our relationship with others and with the spirits of Nature and the otherworlds, this relationship will bring us a bountiful life. We must keep our bargains and agreements, but if we do something wrong we can right that wrong (in this case by returning the shining ring) - redemption is always possible through right action, relationship, and restitution. The underlying theme is, terrible things and destruction will happen if we do not follow these lessons. I love old stories and especially Wabanaki stories because they are about how to live together on this land we call home (which is of course the traditional homeland of the Wabanaki people). If more of us strove to follow these lessons, we would all be better off for it.

No matter what your culture is, it's important we not forget the lessons our ancestors passed down to us through stories. This book is now out of print, and Kahionhes, the artist, sadly, passed away last year. I hope more people will pick up these stories and pass them on as they learn to live in this world. For as Joseph Bruchac himself tells us in his wonderful little book: "They entertain, they instruct, they empower. Although told first for Native America people, they also may be of use to any human being who wishes to live in a good relationship with the world and the beings around us."

I definitely recommend any book by Joseph Burchac, especially "The Faithful Hunter" (1988).

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