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Native American Legends: Ayas (Ayash)
Tribal affiliation: Cree,
Alternate spellings: Âyâs, Ayâs, Aayaash, Ayaash, Aayaase, Ayash, Ayashe, Iyash, Iyas, Ayasi, Ayas'e, Ayas'i, Ayasa, Ayassi, Aioswé
Pronunciation: Varies by dialect: usually eye-yahss, eye-yahsh, or ah-yah-shay
Ayas is an epic hero of the Cree tribe and the neighboring Ojibwe, Innu, and Algonquin communities.
Some folklorists have connected Ayas with the Cree culture hero
but our Cree volunteers are adamant that they are two completely different heroes.
Ayas is essentially the main character of a single heroic epic, beginning with his betrayal by family members and ending with
the world fire. The details of Ayas' story vary from one community to another, but he always ends up abandoned on a deserted
island by either his father or stepfather through no fault of his own. (Usually Ayas was either being punished for protecting
his mother from abuse, or else the older man's second wife had falsely accused Ayas of rape and her husband believed her.)
Old Lady Fox becomes his mentor and with her help,
Ayas has a series of adventures in which he kills or defeats strange monsters, then returns them to life as good people or
animals. In the end Ayas finds his family again, rescues his mother, and kills the others by fire (including the second wife's
baby, who he then resurrects as a duck.) The fire then consumes the world, which is also reborn better than it was before.
Ayas ends his saga by turning his mother into a woodpecker and himself into a crow (or in some versions, a tamarack tree
or toad.) Ayas is not a trickster character and his adventures are not humorous in nature.
There is some confusion surrounding Ayas' name. In some stories both the hero and his father have the same name. In others
it is the father who is named Ayas, and the hero is called Son of Ayas. In other tellings the son alone is called Ayas, and his
father or stepfather has a different name like Waymishose.
Note that the story of Ayas is a heroic saga intended for an adult audience, not a children's learning story. It resembles the
Epic of Gilgamesh more than Aesop's fables-- the legend of Ayas discusses the origin of sexuality and contains mature content.
If you're looking for children's legends, a good source is
this Anishinabe website and a
good book to share is this Cree picture book.
Saga of Iyash:
Retelling of the Aayaash legends in Oji-Cree with English translation.
The Legend of Ayas:
Audio file of a James Bay Cree storyteller narrating the story of Ayas.
Son of Aioswé:
Another Cree version of the Ayashe story.
Ayas'e and the Bats:
Anishinabe legend about Ayashe turning cannibal women into harmless bats.
Brief Wikipedia article about the Anishinabe hero Aayaase.
Recommended Books of Ayas Stories
Cree Legends and Narratives from the West Coast of James Bay:
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links
Comprehensive book of Swampy Cree and Moose Cree stories, including the complete epic of Ayas.
Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Cree and other Algonquian tribes.
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