January 04, 2009

Cannibal Giants of the Snowy Northern Forest

A wendigo from a BPRD comic.

The holiday season has come and gone, but we still have two months of winter to get through. What better symbol of the coming cold months than the cannibal giants of Algonquin mythology?

Many people have heard of the wendigo, the cannibal monster found in American Indian folklore across much of the northern US and Canada. Wendigos have been featured in movies, comic books and TV shows. In northern New England, the five Wabanaki tribes talk about a similar creature, known either as the chenoo, the giwakwa, or the kiwakwa. You should avoid it no matter what it's called!

According to Frank Speck's 1935 article "Penobscot Tales and Religious Beliefs" in The Journal of American Folklore, the word "kiwakwa" means "going about in the woods." If you don't want to see one of these monsters stay out of the woods during the winter.

The chenoo/giwakwa/kiwakwa is a human being who has been transformed through dark magic into a cannibalistic giant. Much like the Incredible Hulk, they get larger as they get angrier, and often tower above the tallest tree. Unlike the Hulk, they are emaciated, have enormous fangs, and often have eaten their own lips in hunger. They are always hungry, and their scream will kill any human who hears it. Sometimes, a dead shaman of great power may return from his grave as a chenoo. Chenoos usually appear in the winter.

Chenoo get their evil powers from a lump of human-shaped ice in their stomach. There are several tales where clever people make a chenoo vomit up the ice lump, which returns it to human form. In some stories, making a chenoo eat salt will melt the lump.

Chopping a chenoo into many small pieces is the only way to be certain it won't regenerate, and even after it's killed people will avoid the spot where it died.

There are many chenoo legends online. The Girl Chenoo tells how a young woman is turned into a monster by a rejected suitor; it's a downer! A story with a similar title but happier outcome is The Girl and the Chenoo, which tells how a wife saved her family from being eaten.


Peter S. Wallis said...

My name is Peter Wallis.

I am a Graphic Novelist


I am in interested in your blog regarding Wendigo's and Wabenaki giants of New England.

I have returned to Vermont after working in residence on a Graphic Novel about the Spanish civil war and Guernica mural in Barcelona.

I am working on a masters program at Goddard College and wanted to include your article with research on a new project that includes
concepts of :

Abenaki Myths and Legends
The Eddy Brothers
And a suicide.

Check out my work on my blog,
All I want to do is site your article in a short story.

Nice work,


not sure if this will get to you as
a blogger comment

Peter Muise said...

Hi Peter!

Glad you like the post. Feel free to cite it in your story. The Frank Speck article I mention in the post is very informative. It contains dozens of legends in very condensed form.

You can email me at hilldwellingpete@hotmail.com if you want any more information.

Peter M.

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Rich Clabaugh said...

Great post Peter! As if the cold winter nights aren't enough to give you shivers!

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Anonymous said...

Growing in size the more he eating, like a caterpillar... Hes remind me of the Nordic-ieclandic Dreygor/Draugor (parallel of the dokkalfar, grendel and the slavic opir-ubor and strigoi) his sea ver Draugen - an metamorphosis of the body of the buried of the burial mound (room like grave with the burid's belongings) to a supernatural/fae-like Creature. The nordic people didnt believe in death, but in zecondary existence as one of the trow (parallel to german fae/elves) similiar to the agyptian burial-belivies.