How the Ojibwe Got Maple Syrup

Each Ojibwe tribe has their own unique story of how they came to get maple syrup.  Each story varies but all have the same theme running through them .  Here is one adapted from Robert E. Ritzenthaler and Pat Ritzenthaler, 1983, The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes, Prospect Heights IL: Waveland Press.tap

One day Winneboozhoo was standing under a maple tree.  Suddenly it began to rain maple syrup (not sap) right on top of him.  Winneboozhoo got a birch bark tray and held it out to catch the syrup.  He said to himself:

“This is too easy for the People to have the syrup just rain down like this.”

So he threw the syrup away and decided that before they could have the syrup, the People would have to give a feast, offer tobacco, speak to the manido and put out some birch bark trays.

sugarNokomis, the grandmother of Winneboozhoo, showed him how to insert a small piece of wood into each maple tree so the sap could run down into the vessels beneath.  When Winneboozhoo tested it, it was thick and sweet.  He told his grandmother it would never do to give the People the syrup without making them work for it.  He climbed to the top of one of the maples, scattered rain over all the trees, dissolving the sugar as it flowed into the birch bark vessels.

“Now we have to cut wood, make vessels, collect the sap and boil it for a long time. If we want the maple syrup, we have to work for it.”