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Legendary Native American Figures: Pogumk (Black-Cat)

Name: Pogumk
Tribal affiliation: Maliseet, Passamaquoddy
Alternate spellings: Pokomk, Po'gum'k, B'gumpk, Pogumpt, Pogump, Pogunuk
Pronunciation: poh-gomk
Also known as: Fisher, Black-Cat, Black Cat
Type: Hero, fisher

Pogumk is a hero in Maliseet and Passamaquoddy legends. The name Pogumk literally means "Fisher." Sometimes it is erroneously translated as "black cat." Fishers are actually a species of large weasel, like this. Pogumk was the chief of the Fishers, and his hero cycle had to do with defending his family and his tribe from the witch Pukjinskwes, who wanted to get rid of him so that she or her husband could become chief in his place. Despite being identified as fishers, Pogumk, his family and his rival are usually portrayed as humans in Wabanaki legends. It is typical of Native American legends for the line between humans and animals to be blurred in this way.

Some folklorists have claimed that Pogumk was in reality an alter ego of the culture hero Glooscap. However, we consider this highly unlikely. First, Maliseet elders have dismissed this possibility. Second, the Fisher hero cycle is the only myth in which the name Pogumk is used, and if this was really another name for Glooscap, it would be used more frequently in other myths and legends, since Glooscap is such a major figure in Wabanaki mythology. And third, there are too many differences between the two heroes. Glooscap has powerful magic from the time of his creation, which he used to shape the earth, change monsters into small creatures, etc. Pogumk has no magic powers until his friend Fox lends him some. Pogumk's mother features prominently in this story, whereas Glooscap never knew his mother (either he was created directly by the Great Spirit, or his mother died in childbirth.) Pogumk has more similarities with other heroes of Eastern Woodlands folklore, who are often stranded by their enemies on islands, in bird nests, in caves, or other remote places from which they need to use their ingenuity and the help of nature to escape.

Pogumk Stories

Black-Cat and the Sable * Pogumk and Pook-Jin-Skwess:
    Two versions of the story of Pogumk and Pukjinskwes.
*Glooscap and the Panther-Witch:
    The story of Pogumk and Pukjinskwes, retold with Glooskap as the protagonist.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

Giants of the Dawnland:
    Good collection of Wabanaki legends told by a Penobscot Indian author.
On the Trail of Elder Brother:
    Another good book of traditional stories, told by a Mi'kmaq author and illustrator.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Maliseet and other Algonquian tribes.

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Additional Resources

 Twelve Thousand Years
 Maliseet words
 New Brunswick Native
 Woodlands Native
 Algonkian



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