In Episode 127, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger hike into the deep woods of northern Maine in search of the Chenoo, a cannibal ice giant from Algonquin folklore that hunts and kills people foolish enough to wander into his domain. This is the story of a Micmac family who takes on a Chenoo with an unlikely weapon.
Read the episode transcript.
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Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: Lorna Nogueira
Theme Music by: John Judd
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The Cheenoo of Northern Maine.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[WALKING THROUGH SNOW]
RAY: Jeff… you seem nervous.
JEFF: Yeah, Ray. This week I’m a little freaked out by who we’re looking for.
RAY: Look around us, Jeff, we’re in the woods of northeastern Maine. There’s no one around for miles.
JEFF: Yeah, I’m not sure this thing is human. But this hideous creature has been talked about for centuries, since the time the Micmac people live here.
RAY: What does this thing look like?
JEFF: It’s a grotesque and violent ice giant. A cannibal with a heart of solid ice. Today, we’re out in the woods of Maine using ourselves as bait for the Chenoo.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to episode 127 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us as we explore the six New England states in search of monsters, ghosts, history, folklore, and strange things that bump in the night. If you want to become an even bigger part of the movement, join our super-secret Facebook group, or call or text our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.
JEFF: And please do us a favor. If you enjoy our show, subscribe to it, post a review, and tell a friend or two about us. It goes a long way in growing our community. And we love when you folks reach out to us with the legends you’d like to see us explore. That’s what Charles Sanzone did, thanks for the lead on this week’s story, Charles.
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JEFF: So, the Chenoo comes from Micmac folklore. And most of what we know about this story comes from Charles G. Leland’s 1884 book, The Algonquin Legends of New England.
RAY: The Micmac people lived for thousands of years throughout the region of northeastern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. They’re part of the much larger group of Algonquin people who stretched all the way down to Appalachia.
JEFF: It’s cold up here in northeastern, Maine, Ray. And that was even more the case centuries ago because the most recent ice age was keeping temperatures even cooler than they are now. Winter is a dangerous time.
RAY: Of course, winter is a season to fear. Will you survive the cold temperatures? Do you have enough food? Will your shelter hold up under the snow and ice and wind?
JEFF: And now you’ve got a monster to worry about in the Chenoo. A monster they say was born from a Micmac who resorted to cannibalism when he couldn’t find food. They say the Chenoo grows into a giant when he’s angry, and then he seeks out other humans to eat.
RAY: So we’re in the woods looking for a cannibalistic ice monster.
RAY: And we’re the bait?
RAY: Yikes! Okay, let’s head way back in time and set this up.
RAY: The year is 1605. It’s a cold, winter afternoon here in the woods. A young Micmac boy is hunting birds with his bow and arrow, while his mother is gathering wood for the fire. The father is off hunting for food. There’s a wigwam nearby that was built to get this family through the winter months.
JEFF: Things are calm and peaceful, but then the woman hears something.
[RUSTLING IN THE BUSHES]
JEFF: There’s a strange sound coming from the bushes. Like some large beast. The woman tip toes up to the bushes, she looks up, and is horrified by what she sees! There’s an awful face staring back at her. A creature that looks like a man and a devil, a beast. He looks like a haggard man, with eyes like a wolf, his shoulders and lips are gnawed away, as if he’d been partially eaten. On his back he carries a bundle. This woman knows this is a Chenoo, a creature who was once a man, but is now both devil and cannibal with a heart of solid ice. She’s in serious trouble, as his her son, but she thinks quickly and addresses the beast.
WOMAN: My dear father! Seeing you makes my heart glad. Where have you been for so long?
RAY: The Chenoo is stunned by these words. He’s used to cries for help, others may try to attack him, but this reaction leaves him confused. He doesn’t protest when the woman takes his icy hand and leads him to the wigwam.
WOMAN: I’m sorry to see you so woe-begone. (PAUSE) Here, my husband’s clothes will fit you. Please dress yourself and be clean.
JEFF: The Chenoo stands and follows the woman. Though she’s wise, hidden deep inside, she’s petrified. She suspects at any moment this monster will kill her and then her son. Outside, the Chenoo approaches her.
CHENOO: Give me the axe!
RAY: She does as she’s told. She’s sure she’s moments away from death. But then, the Chenoo does something she doesn’t suspect.
[CHOPPING DOWN TREES]
RAY: The Chenoo is chopping trees one after the next. No man has ever chopped so many trees so fast.
WOMAN: My father, there is enough!
JEFF: The woman calls out. The Chenoo sets down the axe, and walks back inside the wigwam. The woman gathers the fire wood and sets it down by their home. As she’s stacking logs, she hears her husband approach. She runs to him and whispers.
WOMAN: (WHISPERS) Do as I do.
MAN: My father-in-law. Where have you been for so long?
RAY: The Chenoo is perplexed by this. His hard face seems to soften just a little. For three days the Chenoo stays in the wigwam. He’s sullen, he doesn’t eat, and the Micmac family try their best to act normal and treat him as a guest though they’re absolutely petrified. On the third day, the Chenoo’s face softens a little more.
CHENOO: Woman, do you have any tallow?
WOMAN: Yes, we have much. I will get it for you.
RAY: Tallow is the hard fat substance that comes from animal fat. It can be used in making candles, soaps, and many other things. The Chenoo places the tallow in a pot and holds the pot over the fire until it boils.
RAY: When the fat is liquid and scalding hot, the Chenoo drinks it down in one gulp. And suddenly, the Chenoo doesn’t look well.
RAY: The Chenoo looks sick. He starts to sweat. He’s dizzy. And then he falls to the floor of the wigwam.
RAY: Where he sleeps for three days.
JEFF: When the Chenoo awakens, he’s changed. He motions for food.
WOMAN: Here, father. Eat.
JEFF: And he eats, and eats, and eats. Once he’s full of good, natural, cooked foods. He’s different, and the family is no longer afraid of him.
RAY: For the rest of the winter, the Chenoo proves himself to be a good friend and companion to the family. He’s strong. He hunts animals to provide meat for all of them to eat. He can gather a week’s worth of firewood in just a few minutes. Everyone is happy. But as winter’s chill starts to fade a little with Spring drawing close, the Chenoo seems agitated.
WOMAN: Father, do tell us what’s troubling you.
CHENOO: Something terrible will soon come to pass. An enemy, a Chenoo woman warrior will come on the wind from the north to kill me. There will be no escape from this battle.
RAY: His Micmac friends pledge to help their new friend, but the Chenoo explains that once the Chenoo war whoops start, they must cover their ears because the sound alone can mean death to a mortal. Still, the Chenoos friends want to help.
CHENOO: Woman, go to my bundle. Open it. Throw away that which offends you. But bring me the smaller bundle wrapped inside.
RAY: You may recall the Chenoo first arrived carrying a bundle. It had been hanging from a nearby tree untouched since he arrived. The woman sets the heavy bundle on the ground and opens it up. (PAUSE) The smell smacks her face. There are human legs and arms with flesh half-eaten. The woman looks away in disgust, but collects herself enough to throw away the foul meat. She brings the smaller bundle to the Chenoo.
JEFF: The Chenoo opens the small bundle and lifts up two horns from a dragon. One horn has two branches, the other is straight and smooth. They glow a bright, golden color. The Chenoo hands the straight horn to the man, and keeps the other for himself. The Chenoo explains these are magic weapons, and the only weapons that can possibly help in the coming battle. If these mortals should survive hearing the first yells of the Chenoo woman, then they will be okay, and may very well be able to offer help in the fight.
RAY: Now they wait.
[HORRIFIC WOMAN SCREAM]
CHENOO: She draws near.
RAY: The Chenoo shows no fear.
CHENOO: Should you hear me call for help, then hasten with the horn, and you may save my life.
RAY: The battle begins. The two Chenoo grow to the size of mountains.
RAY: Rocks crumble and smash as the two giants fight.
RAY: The ground trembles and shakes! The fierce woman Chenoo pushes her foe to the ground and kneels on top of him.
CHENOO: My son-in-law, come and help me!
JEFF: The man sprints to his friend’s aid. Running as fast as he can with the dragon’s horn. The woman Chenoo is locked in to battle and doesn’t notice the little man. Her face hovers just above her foe as she tries to stab his ear with her own magic weapon.
CHENOO: Now! Thrust the horn into her ear!
JEFF: And with that, the man leaps to her shoulder and plunges his dragon horn into her ear. The horn suddenly extends through the giant woman warrior’s head, out her other ear, and down into the ground where it takes a deep root. The man carries the other end of the horn and wraps it to a nearby tree where it suddenly coils around the trunk like a snake. The woman warrior is now held to the ground and defeated. With the battle over, both Chenoo return to their normal size.
RAY: The male Chenoo explains that the only way to truly destroy this being is to cut her into the smallest of pieces. And each piece must be completely destroyed by fire. If even a small piece of her remains, it can grow into a new Chenoo.
[HACKING WITH AN AXE]
JEFF: The Chenoo chops and hacks the defeated warrior into pieces, as both the man and woman help him burn each piece in a fire. But the warrior’s icy heart takes the most work. The fire takes an entire day to melt and consume the frozen heart. Once the heart is ashes, the battle is truly over.
RAY: When winter passes, the Chenoo joins his friends on their journey south to warmer pastures. But the Chenoo is used to living in the frozen north, as the temperatures climb, he grows weaker, more frail. It’s as if he’s aging several years per day. By the time they reach the summer village, he’s like an old man on his death bed. The other Micmac stare in awe at the frail Chenoo, and listen to the tales told by the man and woman, until the Chenoo passes away.
JEFF: And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Okay, this has such a Game of Thrones, white walkers feel to it!
JEFF: It kind of makes you wonder if George RR Martin maybe heard the legends of the Chenoo somewhere along the way.
RAY: This story touches on so many elements. I mean there’s cannibalism.
JEFF: Of course. If you’re stuck in the dead of winter with no food, sometimes people resort to horrible acts as a way to survive.
RAY: Plus, cannibalism is one of the universal taboos in almost every culture around the world.
JEFF: So this is a legend that speaks to that. If you resort to cannibalism, you’ll survive, but it comes at a heavy price: you become a monster.
RAY: But it’s also the story of redemption, isn’t it? The Micmac man and woman see this monster and resort to kindness and compassion. And with that, they melt the monster’s heart.
JEFF: I love this legend, a little bit of a different kind of story for us, certainly an older one, but it’s a reminder that we’re a product of everyone who came before us, and in this case, the Micmac and their descendants have thousands of years of New England history before Europeans arrived.
RAY: If you like our show each week, please get more involved. Tell a friend or two. Join our super-secret Facebook group, or follow Jeff and I on social media. We love hearing from you especially when you post a review of our show on iTunes, or wherever else that you listen to us.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Lorna Nougeria for lending her voice acting talents this week, and our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: Hey, that’s me! John Judd from Monroe, Connecticut. until next time remember, the bizarre is closer than you think.
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