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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

The Clever Woman and the Cannibal with the Icy Heart

Of the old times: cannibals called Chenoos haunted the world. They began as ordinary folk but their hearts turned to ice and they began to feed on human flesh. A clever woman and her husband went into the northern forests to hunt. One day, when the husband was out hunting and the clever woman was alone a Chenoo came to the camp. His eyes were fierce and his heart was frozen. The clever woman was afraid but instead of giving in to her fear, she walked right up to the Chenoo and embraced him as father.

The Chenoo was shocked. No one had spoken to him with such kindness in a very long time. The clever woman tried to act as though everything was normal, so she gathered wood for her fire. The Chenoo watched her with his cold eyes, dark as a winter night. He stood up and her heart pounded in her chest, but he took her axe and toppled whole trees. Stop, she cried. We have enough wood. So the Chenoo stopped.

Finally, the clever woman’s husband returned from hunting and saw the Chenoo sitting by his wigwam, watching with his cold eyes and freezing heart. The woman told her husband that her father was visiting them and he understood that his cunning wife was tricking the Chenoo. He spoke kindly to the Chenoo and told him about his life in the northern forest.

Eventually, the Chenoo fell asleep. All night long, the clever woman and husband watched the Chenoo, too scared to sleep or run away. The husband was afraid to leave his wife alone with the Chenoo and so stopped going out to hunt. Eventually, the meat ran out and the Chenoo asked them: do you have any fresh meat?

He told the husband to go out with him and hunt. They came to a flowing spring. The Chenoo began to dance, in a way that was awesome and terrible, and made the spring bubble violently. A monstrous lizard leapt out of the spring and the Chenoo killed it with one blow of his axe. He cut off the lizard’s head and threw it back into the spring, explaining that it would grow into another lizard. Then he put the lizard across his shoulders. As they traveled back, the husband could not keep up with the Chenoo, for he moved as fast as the winter wind. The Chenoo told him to climb on his back and in this way they returned to the clever woman’s wigwam and when they ate the meat, it tasted like bear.

When spring came, the Chenoo told the couple that another Chenoo would come to fight him and take his icy heart. He told them to hide and stop up their ears with moss for the battle cries of the Chenoo were too terrible for mortal ears. Then he took two horns from his pack. One was curved and the other was straight and they glowed like icicles in the sunlight. They were chepichcaam horns. One horn he gave to the husband and wife, telling them that this horn could slay any Chenoo and that if he lost, they must use it to kill the other Chenoo or they would surely be killed and eaten. Then he clasped the other horn and he began to grow, taller than the tallest pine tree.

The clever woman and her husband hid in the cave and stopped up their ears with moss and they waited. The battle was fierce and the other Chenoo seemed to be winning. She taunted him, telling him that no one would help him and that she would eat his icy heart. But the clever woman and her husband had spent all winter with the Chenoo man and they couldn’t bear for him to be killed, so they ran from the cave and plunged the chepichcaam* horn into the Chenoo woman’s ear and in an instant she was dead.

The Chenoo declared that he would eat her heart. But the clever woman and her husband took the heart and threw it into the fire and the icy heart melted away like snow. Then the Chenoo became like other men. His icy heart warmed and his fierce face became gentle. When the clever woman and her husband returned to their village, the clever woman told the villagers that this was her father.


A Chepichcaam is a dragon from Mi'kmaq mythology.


This is a Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy tale from North America, and has been contributed by the Fairy Encyclopedia.

It is a part of our series, Folklore Worldwide. We are currently open to submissions from around the world, and you are welcome to send us your stories!

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