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The search for the Abenaki vampire

The search for the Abenaki vampire published on 2 Comments on The search for the Abenaki vampire

I’ve been poking around Abenaki mythology recently, looking for the vampire equivalents, of which there are always several in every single culture.

A cursory Wikipedia search yielded the tsi-noo, a promising vampiric specimen: “a person whose heart is made of ice and has no soul; he eats the souls of others for sustenance and strength.” Further Web searches yielded no information about this creature, so I had to widen my search.

I looked under general terms like ” abenaki supernatural vampires,” and eventually I came upon Joseph Bruchac’s When The Chenoo Howls: Native American Tales of Terror. At this point, I began thinking that tsi-noo was an alternative spelling of chenoo, a conclusion confirmed by a search along the lines of “supernatural chenoo monsters vampires algonquian,” which yielded the story The Girl and the Chenoo. As adapted here by Elaine Lindy, the chenoo is a large, hairy, ugly, cannibalistic monster with great strength and a frightening, stoic manner. Despite his outward appearance, the titular girl treats him kindly; he helps her and her brothers out, and eventually the girl helps the chenoo to melt his evil icy heart [literally it’s a piece of ice] and turn back into a human being. The traits of the chenoo — heart of ice, scary, monstrous, no soul, consumes other people to survive — overlap with the traits of the tsi-noo, making it obvious that chenoo and tsi-noo are the same thing.

The story The Girl and the Chenoo is a particularly beautiful tale with many neat symmetries. The chenoo is supposed to be a consumer of humans, but, instead, the kindness and humanity of a human being consumes him. The chenoo is also supposed to be a creature that turns people from humans into bitter, cold, heartless creatures. Instead, the human girl is the one with the transformative powers here; combatting his negative power with her positive ones, she brings him back to his original human state. Instead of him draining the good from her, she drains the bad from him! The chenoo demonstrates the vampiric trait of absorption very clearly because he absorbs the goodwill of the girl and her brothers, but their hearts are so big [despite their nervousness] that he cannot deplete them into despair. While demonstrating the message that goodwill fosters goodwill, this story also contains the implicit point that bad will fosters bad will; therefore, the only way to break a cycle of violence is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My favorite part of the story is when the girl invites the chenoo in, calling him by the honorific of “Grandfather,” bidding him to eat dinner with her.  The poor guy is just so completely dumbfounded that anyone would ever want to be nice to him that his mind gets completely derailed from malicious thoughts, and he consents to be her guest. Lindy writes, “The Chenoo was amazed beyond measure at such a greeting where he expected yells and prayers, and in mute wonder let himself be led into the wigwam.”  You can just see him saying to himself, “Wow, someone is being friendly to me! I wonder when the other shoe will drop.” The story traces his transformation from taciturn, grumpy and suspicious to polite, helpful and much less tense.

More about the chenoo and the Anglocentrism in an 1884 collection, The Algonquian Legends of New England by Charles Leland [available for PDF download from Google Books!!], later. I have to go back to work.


Thank you very much for sharing this! If you’re interested, I have some other Abenaki stories that fit the motif even better. See M. Raymond Harrington, “An Abenaki ‘Witch-Story’,” Journal of American Folklore 14 (1901), 160 and E. W. Deming,“Abenaki Witchcraft Story,” Journal of American Folklore 15 (1902), 62-63. Both are brief, and appear to be pretty direct transcriptions from their informants–there’s probably been some editing, but this isn’t fakelore by a long shot.

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