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The Legend of Rock Donda, Lake Massawippi

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medium_donda.jpgRock Donda stands before us like a nut-brown maid, quietly holding herself aloof from the waters that have paid her homage all these years.

'Tis said that on this rock was once carved, in bold relief and with much skill, an Indian's head with a serpent encircling the neck. The Indian looked out across the waters like a sentinel, while the serpent held him in thrall; but the sculptor had not imparted any expression to the features that would give the beholder the conception of pain; only that of silent dignity.

What did it mean? Not even the oldest inhabitants of that rich and fertile section of country could tell. They only knew that this was Rock Donda, a relic of the early days. Time and the elements have effaced the strange symbol, only a bare rock remaining, but when we gazed upon it we seemed to be transported to the mystic past when the original from which the sculptured head was carved, actually walked among men...

THE LEGEND:
Long years ago forests stretched on either side of Lake Massawippi, and the world of men and money seemed far away. The hills in their silent, unrecorded past, full of mystery as though deep in their breasts lay the secret of the universe, were crowned with a noble growth of maples and birches, pines and cedars... These hills cradled within their silent, solid arms the rippling waters of Lake Massawippi.

When the Chieftain of the tribe of Indians that came down from the North beheld the beauty and natural wealth of this rugged section he gathered his warriors about him and together they descended the steep slope. There they beheld the lake lying before them in the shadow of the hills like a jewel in a jade setting... Here it was decreed should be built their wigwams, and their camp fires lighted.

The Chieftain had a daughter, the pretty Leeliwa, and she was beloved by Donda, the brave warrior whose eyes saw keenly through the forests and whose arrow was swift and sure. Among his Indian brothers Donda was famed as a mighty hunter, and the Chieftain decided that Leeliwa should become his bride.

With the capriciousness of her sex Leeliwa loved O-ne-ka, the handsome athlete, the agile swimmer, who could breast the waves when the wind and mist came down the lake and tossed the waters into white-capped Furies.

While the hunters were away in the forests Leeliwa loved to cross the lake with O-ne-ka... Donda, filled with jealous longing, was wont to go to the top of a high cliff, and crouching in the shadows, watch the lovers, who were unconscious of his sombre vigil.

One night, when the moon was partly hidden under fleecy clouds, Leeliwa and O-ne-ka were on the lake watching the revels of the Wind and the White Birches on the western shore. A fierce gust of wind came down the lake, caught their canoe and overturned it. O-ne-ka grasped Leeliwa firmly and together they fought the waves, but there seemed to be an evil eye upon them.

Where was O-ne-ka's strength and agility? He could not make the shore! Leeliwa looked into his eyes, her head drooped, and they both sank into the seething waters.

On the high rock Donda crouched. He saw the canoe capsize... With a gasp of horror he saw them disappear! Then with a loud cry he sprang from the cliff into the white-capped waves.

He was too late! They were beyond his aid. He sorrowfully returned to shore and threw himself upon the sandy beach; then springing to his feet he watched closely for some sign that would tell that they still battled for their lives.

Suddenly he saw a silver path stretching across the lake and leading up to the steep hillside. In this path he saw a white canoe making its way to the shore. As it grated the stony beach he saw Leeliwa spring from the canoe, and running up the hillside, disappear among the white birches...

"She has gone to search for the Big Waters where she hopes to find O-ne-ka," Donda whispered.

"Leeliwa I come!"

He sprang into the lake and the waters closed over him.

The Medicine Man of the tribe through his weird art learned of the tragedy of Love's triangle and told the Chieftain, who deeply mourned for his daughter. On the rock where those lonely vigils had been kept, the Chieftain decreed that the face of Donda should be carved, and with a serpent, the symbol of jealousy, coiled about the neck.

The eyes of Donda gazed out across the waters, watching, always watching for his Leeliwa to come back to him from among the white birches along the silver pathway.

This was many years ago. The tears of heaven and the south winds have effaced his image from the rock, but on moonlight nights the silver pathway still stretches across the lake; the white birches still whisper in the wind, and with half-closed eyes one may perchance see Leeliwa's canoe making its way toward the Gateway to the Happy Land of Rest, the "hills of shad'wy black and green."

Source:
Bertha Weston Price, Legends of Our Lakes and Rivers, Lennoxville, 1937, 6-11.