Tuesday's Tales - a North American Indian story

The Healing Waters

It was winter, the snow lay thickly on the ground, and there was sorrow in the encampment, for a dreadful plague was upon the people.  Every family had lost some relative; in some cases whole families were lost.

Among those who had been most sorely bereaved was Nekumonta, a handsome young brave, whose parents, brothers, sisters and children had died one by one, with him powerless to help them.  Now his beautiful wife, Shanewis, was weak and ill.  The dreaded disease had taken hold, and she knew that she must shortly bid her husband farewell and make her way to the place of the dead.  Already she saw her dead friends beckoning to her and inviting her to join them, but it grieved her to think that she must leave her young husband in sorrow and loneliness.  His despair was piteous to behold when she broke the sad news to him, but after the first outburst of grief, he was gripped with a determination to fight the plague with all his strength.

“I must find the healing herbs which the Great Manitou has planted,” he said.  He made his wife comfortable, covering her with warm furs, embraced her, and set out on his difficult mission.  All day he looked, but everywhere the snow lay deep, and not so much as a blade of grass was visible.  He wandered through the forest, over hills and across rivers, in a vain attempt to discover the means of curing Shanewis.

When he met a rabbit, he called out.  “Tell me, where shall I find the herbs which Manitou has planted?”

But the rabbit hurried away without reply, for he knew that the herbs had not yet risen above the ground, and he felt sorry for the brave.

Nekumonta came to the den of a big bear, and he asked it the same question.  But the bear could give him no reply, and he was obliged to continue on his weary way.  He asked all the beasts of the forest, but could get help from none.  How could they tell him that his search was hopeless?

On the third night he was very weak and ill, for he had had nothing to eat since he had first set out, and he was numbed with cold and despair.  He stumbled over a branch hidden under the snow, and was so tired that he lay where he fell and succumbed to sleep.  All the birds and the beasts came to watch over him.  They remembered his kindness to them in former days, how he had never slain an animal unless he really needed it for food or clothing, how he had loved and protected the trees and the flowers.  Their hearts were touched by his courageous fight for Shanewis, and they pitied him.  They cried to the Great Manitou to save his wife from the plague, and, hearing the countless whispering, the Great Spirit responded to their prayers.

While Nekumonta lay asleep, there came to him the messenger of Manitou, and he dreamed.  In his dream he saw his beautiful Shanewis, pale and thin, but still so lovely, and she smiled and sang a strange, sweet song, like the murmuring of a distant waterfall.  Then the scene changed, and it really was a waterfall he heard.  In musical language it called him by name, saying, “Seek us, O Nekumonta, and when you find us Shanewis shall live.  We are the Healing Waters of the Great Manitou.”

Nekumonta awoke with the words of the song still ringing in his ears.  Starting to his feet, he looked in every direction.  There was no water to be seen but he could hear the murmuring sound of a waterfall.  He even believed he could make out words in the sound.

“Release us,” it seemed to say.  “Set us free, and Shanewis shall be saved."

Nekumonta searched in vain for the waters.  Until it occurred to him that they must be underground, beneath his feet.  Seizing branches, stones, flints, he dug feverishly into the earth.  As exhaustion started to overwhelm him, the hidden spring bubbled into view, the waters rippling merrily down the vale, carrying life and happiness wherever they went.  The young brave bathed his aching limbs in the healing stream, and was soon well and strong.  Raising his hands, he gave thanks to Manitou.  Eagerly, he made a jar of clay, and baked it in the fire, so that he might carry life to Shanewis.  He raced home with his treasure.

When he reached his village, his companions came to greet him, their faces sad and hopeless, for the plague still raged.  However, Nekumonta told them where to find the Healing Waters, thereby giving them new hope.  He found Shanewis on the verge of the Shadow-land, and barely able to murmur farewell to her husband.  But Nekumonta would not listen.  He forced some of the Healing Water between her parched lips, and bathed her hands and brow until she fell into a peaceful slumber.  When she awoke the fever had left her, and Nekumonta’s heart was filled with great happiness.

The tribe was forever rid of the dreaded plague, and the people gave to Nekumonta the title of ‘Chief of the Healing Waters’, so that all might know that it was he who had brought them the gift of Manitou.


This isn't part of the story but felt it was apt to include it.  It's a Lakota Spirit Medicine Healing Song and I find it most peaceful.