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Legendary Native American Figures: Malsum (Malsom)

Name: Malsum
Tribal affiliation: Supposedly Abenaki, Penobscot, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Micmac
Alternate spellings: Môlsem, Molsem, Molsum, Malsom, Malsm, Malsumsa, Malsun, Malsum, Malsom, Mol-som, Malsumis, Malsumsis
Pronunciation: mawl-sum
Type: Antagonist, wolf

The word "Malsum" simply means "wolf" in the southern Wabanaki languages. Sometimes it is said to be the name of an evil wolf who is the twin brother of Glooscap. However, some Wabanaki elders have been adamant this is not a real Wabanaki myth-- wolves are not malevolent figures in Wabanaki culture (the wolf, like the loon, is Glooscap's loyal companion in some Maliseet legends), and the evil-twin character does not appear in older texts. It's possible that the character of Malsum came about when early folklorists confused Wabanaki stories with those from the neighboring Iroquois and Anishinabe tribes-- the Anishinabe culture hero often has a wolf brother, such as Moqwaio, and the Iroquois culture hero has an evil twin, Flint. The first recorded version of the Malsum story that we're aware of is in Charles Leland's 1884 collection "The Algonquin Legends of New England," where he attributes it to a Micmac Indian despite the fact that "Malsum" is definitely not a Micmac name, so it certainly seems possible he may have been confused about the origin of this tale. It's also possible that some Malsum stories were originally told about Lox, a malevolent Wabanaki trickster figure. Wherever it came from, some modern Wabanaki storytellers do tell tales about Malsum today-- although Micmacs often say that the character came from the Abenakis, and Abenakis that he came from the Micmacs or Maliseets!

Malsum Stories

*Of Glooskap's Birth, and of his Brother Malsum the Wolf:
    The 'Malsum' story as originally recorded by Charles Leland.
*The Story of Leland's "purely American creation":
    Article about the problems with the Malsum legend reported by Leland.
*Kluskap Tales from the Malecite:
    The story of Glooskap and Malsum as told by a contemporary Maliseet storyteller.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

The Algonquin Legends of New England:
    Charles Leland's original collection of Wabanaki folklore including his Malsum stories.
Giants of the Dawnland:
    A good collection of Wabanaki legends told by a Penobscot Indian author.
On the Trail of Elder Brother:
    Another good book of traditional Wabanaki stories, told by a Mi'kmaq author and illustrator.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Mi'kmaq and other Algonquian tribes.

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Additional Resources

 Voice of the Dawn
 Abenaki legends
 Abenaki language
 Mi'kmaq words
 Maliseet words
 Languages spoken in Maine
 Eastern Woodland food
 Algonkians



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