Hey everybody. I thought that you guys might like to read another small excerpt from The Age of Myths and Legends. Chapter Two of my book deals with the monsters that lurked just below the surface of the water; waiting to drag the unwary into the darkness below. Hope you guys enjoy.
Terrors of the Deep
Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee, Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Man has always felt a certain affinity for the seas, lakes, rivers, and streams that cover most of the Earth. According to some tales from the elder days, the longing and loneliness that man feels for the waters are due to the fact that Man came from the primordial depths himself. The early people of North America acknowledged water as the bringer of life, and most tribes felt a certain sense of awe and wonderment for this powerful driving force of nature.
Like the great forest-cloaked hills and towering mountains, the waters of the old world held many mysteries to be both respected and, in some cases, feared. In those days, mysterious powers were ever-present in the wide seas and meandering rivers. Sinister spirits dwelt near roaring waterfalls and turbulent whirlpools. Even the quiet lakes and dark, stilled pools held nameless terrors lying in wait for the foolish or unwary.
One such fearsome terror of the deep waters was the dreaded horned serpent, the Uktena. These creatures haunted the lakes and streams of the Southeast and preyed upon all living things that wandered too close to their watery lairs. The Uktena were old, perhaps as old as the making of the world itself, and their strength was colossal. It was said that these mighty beasts were able to smash boulders and splinter trees with their powerful tails. It was also said that the Uktena could scar and rend the very mountains themselves with the great horns or antlers that grew from their scaly heads.
However, it was a flashing jewel embedded deep within these creatures' skulls that caught the attention of any mortal unlucky enough to encounter these monsters. This gem, called the Ulun’suti, was an item of great power and magic. In the hands of the Wise, the jewel was capable of wondrous miracles, such as the healing of the sick, the summoning of rain, the gift of fertility, and the power of prophecy. Acquiring the magical jewel from the wicked Uktena was another matter altogether. The malevolent eyes of the Uktena could paralyze its victims, and the creature possessed the ability to spit a corrosive poison over a great distance.
So infected with evil was this creature that even the environment in which it lived became barren. The vegetation near its lair turned brown and brittle, and the waterways turned black and deadly even to the touch. However, these monsters of the old world did have a weakness. Along these creatures’ sinuous bodies lay numerous bands of color. Behind the seventh band of color beat these creatures’ black hearts. If these organs could be pierced, the Uktena would die.
The Creek, Seminole, Yuchi and Choctaw of Southeastern Oklahoma once avoided certain springs and lakes, because they believed that the ever watchful Tie Snake lay in wait. Descriptions of these serpents varied. Some tales held that Tie Snakes were gigantic serpents of green hue. Other tales said that Tie Snakes were pitch black and not much larger than a normal snake. However, their strength was such that they could pull a horsed rider from his mount at full gallop.
Some tales even said that Tie Snakes were sentient and could speak with Man when it suited the serpents’ needs. To converse with a Tie Snake was a very dangerous thing, though. These ancient serpents were exceedingly clever, and they could trick the unwary into bad endings. Only once have the intelligent Tie Snakes been outwitted. That particular feat was accomplished by Master Rabbit, the eternal trickster.
With that said, there are some tales that speak of the Tie Snakes' kindness to lost children. In those tales, the Lord of the Tie Snakes always sent such children home laden with many gifts. In other tales, Tie Snakes were said to spirit children away to their underwater lairs, where these children would remain captive forever.
Most tales agreed that these underwater serpents bore one or two multicolored horns upon their heads. Like the Uktena’s flashing jewel, the horn of the Tie Snake was an item of great power coveted by holy men. With a piece of the Tie Snake’s horn, a medicine-man might heal the sick, drive away evil spirits, or become well-nigh impervious to knife, spear, axe or arrow. A mortal who possessed a Tie Snake’s horn could even exercise his will over the other creatures of the lakes and streams. Fish could be made to fill the fisherman’s nets. Otters and beavers could be compelled to surrender their lives for their valuable furs. Even water fowl could be made to stand still so that the hunter’s arrow would find its mark. These miracles were so enticing that some holy men hatched elaborate plans to subdue the Tie Snakes for their powerful horns. However, only the most powerful or foolish of hierophants would even dare to kill or capture these powerful serpents.
In a recent interview, I was asked about the artwork for my book, The Age of Myths and Legends. The interviewer asked why I thought that the art was so important to this particular work. Laughing, I explained that the art was integral to the book because I am a mediocre writer at best. The artwork also allowed me to display my love for the fantasy genre as well. But, more importantly, the artwork allowed me to express these old tales in a medium that is just as powerful as the spoken word. Even though I had placed captions beneath the illustrations in the book, my hope was that readers would immediately understand what was happening in each of the images. That is probably the aim of every artist, because in truth, artist are storytellers as well. We don't often think of visual artist as such because most visual artist aren't necessarily masters of the oratory arts. However, if we take a sincere look at the storytelling traditions of most Native American tribes, we will see that artwork was, and still is, an important aspect to the storytelling art itself.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been raised in Southwestern Oklahoma as this area has always been a hotbed for Native American talent. From an early age I was exposed to so many talented artist who had created works that captured the essence of what it is to be Native American. But even before Oklahoma was a state, the tribes of this area had already been telling their stories for a very long time.
The earliest Native American artists painted with natural color pigments mixed with fat, usually buffalo or bear fat. These Native Artists then applied their paints to animal hides such as shirts, robes, leggings and teepees. Usually, the images they created held personal meaning to the artists or the artists' family. Some images commemorated great battles or successful hunts. Other paintings were used in ceremonies and made use of sacred images.
The term ledger art comes from the accounting ledger books that were a source of paper for the tribes of the plains during the late 1800's. Most of these ledgers came from traders, government agents, missionaries, and military officers. The plains artist were also exposed to new tools such as ink fountain pens, crayons, and watercolor paints. Typically, male artist tended to create images of valor while women tended to create geometric patterns.
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art is a style of painting that portrayed ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life and stories from the old oral traditions. The style is noted for its use of solid color fields, minimal backgrounds, a flat perspective, and emphasis on details of dance regalia. This style of painting was created, in part, by the Kiowa Six; Native American artist who had received formal artist training at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1920's. All six went on to enjoy international acclaim.
The 1940's through the 1970's saw an explosion of artistic styles blossom in Southwestern Oklahoma. While many artist of this era continued to create images taken from the old oral traditions, they also began experimenting with a variety of mediums and techniques. Notable artist of this era included...
Bobby Hill (White Buffalo)
The Kiowa artist Bobby Hill (White Buffalo) was noted for his dramatic use of light and texture. Undoubtedly, his work as a technical illustrator, commercial artist, promotional director, scenic artist & set designer for Lawrence Welk provided Bobby with the ability to create kinetic energy in his paintings. His early work borrowed from the clean lines of the Kiowa Six, but in time, he developed his own unique style. Bobby exhibited his artwork at the American Indian Exposition (Anadarko, OK), where he won awards for his artwork three years in a row including the Grand Award in 1969. Bobby also exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, OK) & the Peabody Museum of Salem, MA. Bobby was given a solo exhibition at the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center (Anadarko, OK) & participated in its Contemporary Southern Plains Indian Painting touring exhibit in 1972.
Bobby received commissions from the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center for exhibit projects, including a Ghost Dance shirt in 1967. In 1974, Bobby received a commission from the Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative (Anadarko) for two Southern Plains Indian tipis.
Bobby's artwork is featured in several private & public art collections, including the Carnegie (OK) High School, the Museum of Northern Arizona (Flagstaff) & the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts & Crafts Board (Washington, D.C.).
The Kiowa artist Robert Redbird was a grandson of Monroe Tsatoke, a member of the famed Kiowa Six.
With the encouragement of his grandfather, Robert went on to master oil, acrylics, watercolor, pencil, pastel, pen & ink, & prints. However, it was his use of an airbrush that cemented Robert into the pantheon of artistic greats. In 1967, Redbird designed the poster for the US International Open Polo Game tournament, which allowed him the opportunity to meet Prince Charles of Wales. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared June 7, 2003 as "Robert Redbird Day" to celebrate the artist's many creative and humanitarian achievements. The Daily Oklahoman once wrote of his work, "Perhaps the best tribute to Redbird's unusual style is that his Indian figures seem massive and monolithic, yet at the same time somehow free-floating, dreamlike and surrealistic. Blankets unite pairs of figures creating one organic, earth-rooted whole, like a kind of human boulder, in such Redbird paintings as 'Ceremonial Time' and 'Kiowa Courtship.' " Robert's artwork can be found all over the world.
Doc Tate Nevaquayah
The Comanche artist, Doc Tate Nevaquayah, has been called the Leonardo Da Vinci of the Indian art world. A self-taught artist, flutist, composer, dancer, lecturer, and Methodist lay minister, Nevaquaya gave numerous flute and art workshops throughout the United States, including classes at Brigham Young University (1972) and Georgetown University (1974). He made more than twenty-five television appearances, on shows televised nationally and by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Among numerous recognitions that came to him were six Grand Awards and the Outstanding Indian Artists Award from Southwestern State College in Weatherford (1969); Indian of the Year award from Oscar Rose Junior College, Midwest City (1975); Outstanding Citizen of Diamond Jubilee Heritage Week from the Apache Chamber of Commerce (1982); the LaDonna Harris Award from Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (1986); and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986); and the Artist of the West Award at the American Indian and Cowboy Artists National Western Art Exhibition in San Dimas, California (1994). The Governor's Arts Award named him an Oklahoma Treasure in 1995. His artwork was noted for clear, crisp colors and almost all of his paintings possessed a dream-like quality to them.
Each and everyone of these artists deserves their own page and, in the future, I may do a spotlight on the amazing works of Mirac Creepingbear, Parker Boyiddle Jr., Cruz McDaniels, Sherman Chaddlesone, Quanah Parker Burgess, The Nevaquaya Brothers, Huzo Paddlety, Thomas Poolaw, Lee Tsatoke Jr., R.G. Geionty. I could go on and on about the many artist from the area who have accomplished extraordinary things in the artistic world while staying true to their culture. Each and everyone of these artist are superb storytellers and I am thankful that I have had the chance to experience their stories. The next time you see a work by a Native American artist don't just appreciate the art for its aesthetic appeal, try to see the story that the artist is telling. I promise that it will make your art experience that much more enjoyable.
Hi everybody. My apologies for the late post. I've been incredibly busy with a move, work, and with editing the final print version of The Age of Myths and Legends: Book One.
Still, I feel obliged to make it up to you guys with something special this month. Typically, I write a short excerpt from a story that I've either heard or have come across in my readings. But this month I thought that I would "tell" you a favorite story of mine from my childhood. My grandmother used to share Sainday stories with us when we were young. These stories are among my most cherished memories.
Sainday was the Kiowa Trickster and there are so many wonderful stories about him such as Sainday and The Coyote, Sainday and The Prairie Dogs, Sainday and The Soldier, Sainday and The Bobcat, Sainday and The Giant Meatball, etc. Most Sainday tales are humorous and I think that these stories serve as perfect examples of old school Native American humor.
I wish that I could capture the magic of my grandmother's voice when she told these tales but I can't. Still, I hope you enjoy this short Sainday story.
Sainday and The Horse That Didn't Look So Good
Last week I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by tribal radio hosts Gary Fife and Darren Delaune on their awesome program Muscogee Radio. During our one hour discussion we covered a lot of ground and we spoke a little bit about the importance and meaning behind some of the old Native American myths and legends. I mentioned that many of the old tales held special meaning in their telling and at times could provide valuable lessons to the listeners.
In the old days, stories were sometimes used to correct some untoward behavior that a tribal member might be engaged in. Instead of directly confronting the wrong-doer and embarrassing them in front of the entire community, tribal elders might instead gather a large group of people (including the offending party) and impart valuable lessons while telling their stories. The old Lakota story of The Mouse Sisters is one such tale that will no doubt impart wisdom to those who procrastinate (myself included) and those who somehow never find the time to do the important and sometimes boring tasks that need to be finished in a timely fashion.
The Two Mouse Sisters
Once there were two mice sisters, an elder mouse and a younger mouse. The elder sister was both wise and fastidious. She often spent her time engaged in those activities that proved both practical and beneficial in the long run. Now the younger sister was a carefree soul who often spent her time in leisure or in play. She rarely spent any time at all on the important things in life.
As Spring gave way to Summer, the elder mouse sister knew that all snakes would begin to cast off their old skins. She left her burrow and spent most of the day gathering many fine snake skins. She then used these skins as bags and she began to fill them with acorns, seeds, pecans, and wild corn.
But the younger mouse sister spent her time singing and dancing with her friends. She spent no time at all gathering stores for the winter.
At last the days began to grow shorter and the morning air cooler. The once emerald leaves began to turn bright yellow and fiery red. Only then did the younger mouse sister realize that she did not have food stored away for the winter. She frantically went to her elder sister and said, "Sister, I have no stores for the winter as I had no snake skins with which to gather goods. Will you not share your food with me?"
The elder mouse sister replied, "Sister, what were you doing when the snakes shed their skins?"
The younger mouse sister answered quietly, "I was singing and dancing in the wide fields."
"Well", said the elder mouse, "It seems that you made poor use of your time."
The elder sister then gave her younger sister an empty snake skin and said, "Here is your very own snake skin. You had better get to work on finding you own food for the winter."
For the past three weeks I've had several people message me on Facebook to learn more about the Little People of Native American folklore and mythology. I've also had quite a few people ask to read excerpts from my new book The Age of Myths and Legends as well. Today I kill two birds with one stone by including a small excerpt of Chapter 3. in this month's Fireside Chat.
Hope you guys enjoy.
Chapter three: Masters of Wood & Water
“For know by lot from Jove I am the power
Of this fair wood and live in oaken bower,
To nurse the saplings tall, and curl the grove
With ringlets quaint and wanton windings wove;
And all my plants I save from nightly ill
Of noisome winds and Blasting vapors chill;”
-Arcades - John Milton
According to the old tales, a race of mysterious yet powerful spirits once haunted the windswept plains, lonely forest and snow enshrouded peaks. These beings were akin to the mighty race of giants in that they too were living, breathing embodiments of the Earth’s power. But where the Giants came to embody all that was chaotic and destructive in Nature’s Mosaic, these little beings came to represent the constructive purpose and order of the very Earth itself.
The Little People, as their name implies, were small, diminutive beings who varied in height from six inches to three feet. Many tales describe them as being perfectly formed men and women with long, silky black hair and possessed of a cold, unearthly beauty. Like their giant brethren, these beings were old; old enough to remember the birth of the Earth itself.
Because of this intimacy with the world, all of the Earth’s secrets were laid bare to them. They knew the tongues of all living things whether they be bird, beast, tree or man. They were also great wonderworkers, able to cast enchanting illusion or horrifying nightmares. At times they were able to walk unclad and unseen to mortal eyes or they were able to change their shape and form into that of an animal. Their potent songs of power and enchantment were without equal, differing greatly from the songs of the Wise. The hierophant, through years of discipline, learned to attune himself to Nature and was thus able to hear and mimic the distant song of the Earth. In essence, the medicine-person derived his or her strength and power from the natural world. However, the power of the Little People was rooted in the essence of their very beings rather than extracted from the Earth. Besides, if mortal men could vaguely hear the Earth’s distant chant, the Little People could, without a medium, speak directly to the Earth itself. For this reason, North American tribes honored and respected the Little People and at times made offerings and effigies to placate these mighty beings.
The Little People were known by many names across the vast North American continent. To the Quinault, they were known as Stick Indians. The overall character of these Stick Indians could be described as ambiguous at best. While not particularly evil, these Little People did enjoy playing
mean-spirited pranks upon solitary hunters. At times these Little People could be so bothersome that it became common practice for hunters and fishermen to leave shiny objects while in their domain as the Little People were fascinated and mesmerized by sparkling objects.
To the Kickapoo, the Little People served as protectors to sacred places and to the very young. They were also enforcers of cultural taboos and morals. These powerful beings were called the Muchee-Muna-Toe, and so respected were these Little People that it was taboo even to speak of them except during the winter months.
The Comanche knew the Little People by the name Nuna-Pee. It was said that on certain moonlit nights that the drums of these Little People could be heard echoing in the distant hills. But it was perilous to seek the Nuna-Pee out because they possessed invisible arrows capable of killing any mortal that trespassed too near their abode.
The Northern Ute named their Little People Mookich. These shy spirits lived in cliff dwellings well off the beaten path. Hunters were wise to leave offerings of tobacco, coins, small pieces of rope, or food whenever traveling through the Mookich domain. To do so ensured that these Little People would not be so inclined to harass the hunters or cause mischief around the camp.
Ponca and Omaha tales speak of the Gada’zhe and Ni’Kashinga Man’tanaha, the Wild Ones. These dangerous Little People were able to injure mortals internally without even piercing the flesh or spilling blood. They also had the disturbing habit of kidnapping young children.
Among the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy existed tales of the mighty Jogah. These Little People were the protective spirits of nature who kept the natural order of the world in total balance. Without them, it was believed all life on the Earth would die. These nature spirits were divided into three groups, the Gandayak, the Ohdowas, and the Gahongas. The Gandayak held all forest and rivers under their protection. The Ohdowas lived underground and held almost all poisonous creatures and monsters in check, while the Gahongas warded the mountains and hills.
The Canotila or Tree Dwellers were a solitary Little People who were both feared and honored by both the Lakota and Dakota peoples. These powerful beings served as messengers between the world of the living and the world of spirits. However, some of the Canotila enjoyed causing sickness and injury to humans, usually solitary hunters or fishermen. The Sioux dreaded even to see this creature, for doing so meant that a close relative would soon die.
The Creek tribe called the Little People I’sti Lupu’ski and often times had to employ the services of powerful medicine-men to counteract these Little Peoples’ dangerous magic. Adept shape-shifters, it was not unheard of for hunters to be lead astray deep into the dim forest by the wily I’sti Lupu’ski. On a darker note, they were also known to cause madness in even the hale and strong.
The Miwok feared the volatile nature spirit Nenakatu, who had not only power over the waters but also had the ability to mesmerize her victims. This powerful being sometimes wore the appearance of a small, wizened woman with long black hair that swept the ground. Like the Canotila of Sioux lore, to even see the Nenakatu was an omen of ill portent.
The Catawba people of South Carolina avoided certain vales and deep forests because they were the known haunts of the Yehasu'rie, the Wild People. These mysterious Little People lived deep underground and subsisted on turtles, roots, tadpoles, and acorns. Private beings, the Wild People shunned mortals unless they were on raids to steal items from tribal campgrounds such as knives, whetstones, jewelry, or feathers. However, should a man or woman accidentally stumble into their domain, then would the Yehasu'rie make their presence abundantly known. Out of spite, these creatures would tangle a horse’s hair, kidnap children, and frighten hunters with their discerning child-like cries. They also possessed magically charged arrows that could maim or kill their intended victims without the victim even realizing the damage until it was too late.
It is important to note that not all groups of Little People were so perilous to mankind. Some groups of Little People were simply watchful and uneasy when in the company of mortals. One such group was the May-may-gway-shi of Algonquin folklore. These small hairy beings were believed to have carved the ancient petroglyphs among the various caves and cliffs in the regions of the north. The May-may-gway-shi were also known for their love of fish. In that long ago age it was not so uncommon to see small canals dug along the river banks that teemed with life. These canals were supposedly the workings of the May-may-gway-shi, which they used to stock with their favorite fish. At other times, when they were in need and bold enough, they would make stealthy incursions into tribal camps to steal from the fishermen’s nets. Easily frightened, the May-may-gway-shi could travel at tremendous speeds either on foot or in their small stone canoes. Upon entering a stony outcrop or cliff, they would enter the rock face and vanish.
About two years ago I went to the Anadarko Public Library (in Anadarko, Oklahoma) to see if I could find any books about the Star Priesthood of the Pawnee. I didn't find anything useful but on my way out I saw a pile of old dusty books that the library was giving away. In this pile I found a really cool book filled with articles from The Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. In this book there were legends from the Zia, the Tsimshian, and the Iroquios Confederacy.
The Haudenosaunee tale of The Old Beggar and the Giant was a really interesting story that I came across in this book. Unfortunately I wasn't able to place this story in my own written work as I had already created the chapter formats and I was more than three quarters of the way finished with my manuscript. I had also decided to include only two stories per chapter. Adding this tale to the chapter about giants would have totally thrown off the balance of the entire book. Still I had a hard time leaving this tale out so I decided to share this story with you guys here.
The Old Beggar and the giant
Once, in the days of the grandfathers, there lived an ancient beggar who dwelt near the outskirts of a large Cayuga village. This old man always carried a large leather bag over his shoulder which contained his few earthly belongings. Fortunately for the old beggar, most of the villagers were kind enough to gift the old man with their castoffs so he wanted for very little.
One day the old beggar decided that he needed many shoes so he traveled from house to house and asked the villagers if they could spare any old moccasins. What the old beggar had planned for the moccasins none could fathom, for many of the moccasins were worn down. Some moccasins even sported large, gaping holes and broken seams. Still the old man collected many and soon his leather bag was filled to the top with the worn down shoes.
The old beggar then left the Cayuga village and traveled west deep into the forest. After walking for some time he grew tired and decided to rest for a bit. As the old man sat on a fallen tree he felt the ground rumble beneath him. Startled birds burst from the underbrush and woodland animals took to the high tree tops. The stench of death and decay filled the air. The old beggar knew what was coming but he patiently waited.
Out of the shadows stepped forth a mighty giant girded for war. His face and body were painted red and in each hand he wielded fell weapons. With a voice that rumbled like thunder the giant roared, "Old man, do you know the way to the Cayuga village?"
The old man carefully answered, "Why yes, I do know the way to the Cayuga village. Why do you wish to go there?"
The brawny giant laughed, "I go so that I might destroy this village and all its inhabitants."
"Oh my", replied the old beggar, "I feel sorry for them, for there is no way that they could hope to overcome your formidable might."
Now the old beggar knew that as powerful as giants were, they were none too bright and the old man hatched a plan on the spot.
"Just so you know," continued the old man, "The Cayuga village is many leagues away. I know this because I left this village many months ago. Look at how many moccasins I have gone through on my way from that place."
With that the old man emptied his sack of worn moccasins at the giant's feet.
The giant looked down at the mocassins with a furrowed brow. While he had truly intended to wreak as much havok and bloodshed upon the Cayuga as he possibly could, the giant was far too lazy to make such a long trek.
The giant slumped his shoulders in defeat. He then thanked the old beggar for saving him the trouble of making such a long journey and he departed to parts unknown.
The old beggar returned to the Cayuga village and lived out the rest of his days in peace.
A few years ago I was invited to Grand Ronde, Oregon for a speaking engagement with Chance Rush and his organization Cloud Boy Consulting. I had never been to that part of Oregon before and I was totally enchanted by the beauty of the countryside and the people. But I was even more impressed with the organization of the Grand Ronde tribe itself. I had never seen a tribal executive committee govern their tribe like a Fortune 500 company.
Like a handful of tribes, they owned a successful casino. But the casino wasn't the end all be all for the tribe. They used portions of their casino money to invest in the infrastructure of the town. (At that time they were busy with several road construction projects.) And instead of giving tribal members a monetary per cap, the tribe instead created college endowments. When a tribal member reached 18 years of age they had the opportunity to attend the college of their own choice. The tribe also had their own tribal college and were able to support tribal members with continuing adult education programs and vocational training. They even had an after school center for their tribal youth complete with several computers and an after school tutor. As I walked around the Grand Ronde tribal headquarters I felt a mixture of pride and maybe a little bit of jealousy.
I spent a decent amount of time in the Grand Ronde tribal library when I was free. The tribal library was easily on par with some of the public libraries that I've visited in the past. The librarians were always nice and they pointed me in the direction of some old books on tribal lore and mythology. It was here that I came across a book published in 1907 that contained several stories from the tribes of central California. There was a short story from the Tachi Yokuts that I liked called The Deer and the Antelope Race.
The deer & antelope race
In olden days the antelope and the deer once walked the wide grasslands together. But in time they began to contend against each other in all things. Eventually the antelope said: "I bet that I can beat you in a race." The deer laughed, "I think not." The antelope responded, "Let us see then." The deer replied,
"Fine, we shall run for six days straight," and the antelope agreed. The deer said, "We will go south and run to the north."
The two then traveled together far to the south even crossing the great western ocean in order to run northward to the ends of the Earth. The antelope said, "This will be my path on the west. You will take the path on the east." The deer agreed. Their path was the milky way. On the side where the antelope was set to run was a wide clear path; on the other side where the deer was set to run was a narrow path fraught with dark patches of nothingness. Too late did the deer realize that he would have to jump over these patches of darkness in order to win the race. The antelope said, "If I win this race, all of the wide open fields will be my country and you will have to abide in the brush." The deer confidently replied, "So be it, and if I win it will be the same for me." The two contestants then raced to the north for six days straight. For five days the Deer and the Antelope were even but on the six and final day the Deer grew weary from all of the leaping and the Antelope won the race.
So now he has the plains to live in, but the deer abides in the brush.
In many of the ancient myths and legends from the West (Rome, Greece, etc.), the main protagonists of the myths are often presented with a daunting task. These protagonists are then forced to travel deep into the underworld or to some other magical realm in order to seek out a boon or gift. This gift can be almost anything. Sometimes the gift is special wisdom or knowledge. At other times this gift can take on the form of magical abilities or powerful weapons. But perhaps the greatest of boons to be attained was the gift of self discovery. The heroes then return home to remedy the adversity and live happily ever after. If you've ever read Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces you will immediately recognize this particular narrative formula.
However most Native American myths and legends don't fall so neatly into Campbell's work of comparative mythology. In my opinion, Indigenous myths do not mesh so well with myths from the West because they do not follow the traditional Three-act structure. So many Indigenous tales have no true beginning, middle, or end. The Kiowa trickster Sain-Day for example has always existed and there is no true chronological order to the many tales about him. He is always "Coming Along 1".
Some of the earliest of Native American tales present themselves as dreams. These particular stories always possess a certain esoteric quality to them and it was very hard for non-tribal members to categorize them. However, that didn't stop most 18th and 19th century Ethnologist from trying to classify and catalog these ancient myths of North America. Their efforts resulted in rather dry, unimaginative interpretations that were ultimately dismissed as mere explanations of natural phenomena. At other times these same Ethnologist often wrote that these old stories were created as a form of entertainment.
While the stories like Sain-Day and the Prairie Dogs are comical they weren't created solely for the purpose of entertainment. Instead these stories were meant to teach lessons much like biblical parables. The stories were also created to ensure that tribal members adhered to the social mores and honor codes of the tribe itself. Most importantly though these stories also served to connect members to the past in ways that are hard to express sometimes.
I always think of my grandmother whenever I come across a Sain-Day story in my readings. She told me many of these tales when I was very young. My grandmother in turn remembered hearing these stories from her own grandmother Thot-Sau-Nah when she was young. Her grandmother also learned these tales as a child. So when I hear or read a story that I've known as a child I can sometimes feel that deep connection to my people stretching all the way back into the ether. And to me that is the true meaning and purpose of storytelling, connection. If the "drum" is the heartbeat of the American Indian then the "story" is the blood flow that courses through the American Indian's veins.
1. All true Sain-Day stories always begin with "One day Sain-Day was coming along."
I once had the opportunity to travel to Macy Nebraska, way back in 2005, for a speaking engagement and basketball exhibition. Councilmember and native basketball legend Barry Webster brought us in and it was a wonderful experience. I believe that our group's message of staying drug and alcohol free reached many of the students that filled the basketball gymnasium that day. But for me the highlight of that entire trip was sitting down and speaking with a few of the Omaha tribal elders who were also in attendance.
In the high school cafeteria an older gentleman told me a great story about pride and arrogance. Why he shared this particular story with me? I don't know, maybe I came off as a little arrogant on the basketball court. But the story struck home and its one that I wish that I had recorded. Sometimes the written word can surpass the spoken, except when those words are spoken by a tribal elder.
How the Wren Became Chief of the Birds
Once in olden days, the mighty birds of the land held a great council to decide whom amongst their number would be their chief.
Humming bird with his shimmering coat of green and ruby was there. He dazzled all with his blinding speed as he darted to and fro. But he tired quickly and was deemed far too small to ever be the leader of the avian clans.
Crane was there with his shiny coat of white feathers. He amazed the gathering with his great stamina and superb fishing skills. But in the end he was deemed not fierce enough to lead the great host of birds.
Horned Owl was there with his mysterious, luminous eyes. He impressed the great gathering with his fierce hunting skills and ability to see even into the blackest of nights. But the bright sun made his head hurt and most of the other birds feared his sinister reputation. He was deemed unworthy to lead the bird nation.
Eagle was there with his sharp eyes and majestic bearing. He impressed the great council with his ferocity and impressive hunting skills. He stunned the gathering with his great speed and powerful wings. Almost all in attendance believed that he should be the leader of the great bird clans.
However Wren, with his dull colored coat of feathers and small stature, spoke in objection. He suggested a contest to determine who should be the leader of the great bird nations. Eventually it was decided that the bird who could fly the highest above the clouds would be elected as the chief of the avian race. Eagle laughed at Wren for his temerity and unmitigated gall. Of all the birds in attendance only Hawk could compete with Eagle in this particular contest. What hope did Wren have?
The next day the bird council sat on a great cedar tree and prepared themselves for the contest. Eagle and Hawk eyed each other warily and most of the other competitors believed that it was a forgone conclusion as to who the winner would be. None noticed the little Wren quietly hide in the Eagle's thick feathers.
At last all of the contestants were ready. With a loud scream from Screech Owl the contest began. The great host of birds rose up as a great black cloud. The mighty gathering flew higher and higher until at last the ephemeral clouds were within sight. Hummingbird grew tired and could go no further so he returned to the earth. Next Sparrow grew fatigued and he withdrew from the contest. Cardinal and Robbin also grew weary and had to return the ground below.
The remaining host reached the misty clouds. But once there Crane and Stork grew extremely tired and decided to return to the earth below. Soon after, Horned Owl and Sea Gull both withdrew from the contest as neither could fly any further. In the end it became a contest of wills between Eagle and Hawk. Both struggled to fly higher and higher above the clouds yet they continued upward. The air grew very cold and soon the stars could be seen twinkling in the darkening sky above. At last hawk could go no further and he slowly circled back down to the earth. With a triumphant cry Eagle proclaimed himself the winner. Just then Wren burst free from beneath Eagle's feathers. Wren flew high above the clouds and Eagle vainly tried to catch up with the audacious small bird. But Eagle was totally spent and he at last made his way back to earth.
The other birds were surprised to see Eagle return so reticent and angry and they could not understand his distress. It was then that they noticed that Wren was not among their number. They looked up amongst the clouds and saw a tiny speck making its way back down to the earth. In shock the gathering realized that it was the little Wren.
For his cleverness Wren was elected as the leader of the bird nation. And that is how Wren became chief of the birds.
What Reviewers are saying...
"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
"Hill takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the tales of monsters and evil beings in Native American folklore. The similarities among the tales across peoples fascinated me and gave me goose bumps, especially when great distances separated the peoples! Hill's art masterfully adds a visual chill to the image his words paint, eliciting an extra shiver of delighted terror."
"Perfect for those who love mythology, and especially mythology of the First Americans. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series."