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American Indian/Wabanaki



Alternate Names

Gluskabe, Glooscap

Appears In

Northeastern American Indian creation mythology


Formed out of the dust from Tabaldak's hands

Character Overview

Gluskap is a culture hero of the Algonquian-speaking people of North America, usually known as the Wabanaki (pronounced wah-buh-NAH-kee). Tabaldak, the creator god, made Gluskap and his brother Malsum from the dust that had built up on his hands. According to the mythology of several tribes in the Northeastern United States and Canada, Gluskap was responsible for making all the good things in the universe—the air, the earth, the animals, and the people—from his mother's body. His evil brother Malsum created the mountains and valleys and all the things that are a bother to humans, such as snakes and stinging insects. Malsum is sometimes described as a wolf.

There are many tales about Gluskap's adventures and how he served his people, teaching them to hunt, fish, weave, and do many other useful things. In one story, a giant monster stole all the water and would not share it with anyone else. Gluskap fought the monster and turned it into a bullfrog. In another myth, Gluskap freed all the rabbits in the world, which were being held prisoner by the Great White Hare. The rabbits then became food for his people.

Gluskap in Context

To the Wabanaki people, Gluskap reflected the importance of treating the land and nature with respect. He was often tasked with correcting imbalances in nature, such as returning water to the world or limiting a giant bird's ability to create storms with its wings. After the Wabanaki people came into contact with white settlers, their differing views on the treatment of the natural world were reflected in their myths: Gluskap, it was said, was unhappy with the way the white people acted toward the land and creatures of the earth.

Key Themes and Symbols

One of the main themes in the myths of Gluskap is the idea of protecting the order of the natural world. Gluskap is associated with order, in contrast to his brother Malsum, who is seen as an agent of disorder and difficulty. It is Malsum who disrupts the natural state of things and makes circumstances difficult for both humans and animals.

Gluskap in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

As with many characters from American Indian myth, Gluskap was given little opportunity to become part of mainstream American culture. In recent years, however, as the significance of these belief systems has been recognized, Gluskap has experienced more popularity than ever before. Statues of the hero have been erected in Parrsboro and Truro, both in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Gluskap is the featured character of the children's book Gluskabe and the Four Wishes (1995) by Joseph Bruchac, and is mentioned in the Newbery Honor book The Sign of the Beaver (1984) by Elizabeth George Speare.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

To the Wabanaki people, Gluskap worked hard to maintain harmony between the different parts of the natural world. Some modern critics of the environmentalist movement suggest that nature itself—not humans—is the best regulator for keeping balance in the natural world. They point to examples where human interference with nature, such as the prevention of small-scale forest fires, has unintentionally led to bigger problems (massive forest fires that could have been prevented by natural, small-scale burns). Do you think human attempts to regulate nature are helpful, or do you think the unintended consequences of these actions are more damaging to nature? What about human attempts to “clean up” damage that has resulted from human activity?

SEE ALSO Animals in Mythology; Native American Mythology