Tuesday's Tales - Blackfoot tale

The Wolfman

A long time ago, there was a man who had two wives.  Neither were good women for they did not look after their home.  When the man brought in plenty of buffalo cow skins, they did not tan them well.  When he came home at night, hungry and tired after hunting, there would be no food for him for his women would both be away from the home, visiting their relatives.

'Blackfoot Warrior' ~ Karl Bodmer

The man thought it might be a good thing if he moved away from the big camp, to live alone where there were no other people.  He thought that might teach his wives to become good women.  So he moved his lodge far onto the prairie and camped at the foot of a high butte.

At sundown every evening, the man would climb to the top of the butte and sit there and look out to see where the buffalo were feeding, and whether any enemies were moving about.  On top of the hill there was a buffalo skull on which he would sit.

One day, one of the women said, “It is very lonely here.  We have no one to talk with or to visit.”

“Let us kill our husband,” said the other wife. “Then we can go back to our relations and have a good time.”

'Waiting and Mad' ~ Charles Marion Russell (painting of a Blackfoot woman)

Early next morning, the man set out to hunt.  As soon as he was out of sight, his wives went up to the top of the butte.  There they dug a deep hole and covered it with sticks and grass and earth, so that it looked like the soil nearby.  Then they placed the buffalo skull on the sticks which covered the hole.

In the afternoon, they saw their husband come over the hill with meat that he had killed.  They hurried to greet him and took the meat to cook for him.  After he had eaten, he went up the butte and sat down on the skull.  The slender sticks broke and he fell into the hole.  His wives were watching him, and when they saw him disappear into the hole, they quickly packed up the lodge, took the dogs and made their way back to the main camp.  As they drew near, they began to cry and mourn so that those in the camp could hear them.

People hurried out to meet them, and said, “What is this?  Why are you mourning?  Where is your husband?”

“He is dead,” they said.  “Five days ago he went out to hunt and he did not come back.  What shall we do?  We have lost him who cared for us.” They cried and mourned again.

When the man fell into the pit he was not dead even though the hole was deep, but he was hurt.  After a time, he tried to climb out, but he was hurt enough that he could not do so.  He sat and waited, thinking that surely he would die of hunger.

Travelling over the prairie was a wolf.  He climbed up the butte and came to the hole.  Looking in, he saw the man and pitied him.  The wolf howled and other wolves heard him and came to see what the matter was.  The wolf said, “Here in this hole is what I have found.  Here is a man who has fallen in.  Let us dig him out and we will have him for our brother.”

All the wolves thought this talk was good, and they began to dig.  Before long they had dug a hole down almost to the bottom of the pit.  Then the wolf who had found the man went into the hole, and tearing down the rest of the earth, dragged out the poor man, who was now almost dead, for he had neither eaten nor drunk anything since he fell in the hole.  They gave the man a kidney to eat, and when he was able to walk the wolves took him to their home.  Here there was a very old blind wolf who had great power and could do wonderful things.  He cured the man and made his head and his hands look like those of a wolf, but the rest of his body remained unchanged.

The people in the big camp made holes in the fences of the enclosure into which they led the buffalo.  Over the holes, they set snares so that when wolves and other animals crept through the holes to get into the pen to feed on the buffalo, they would be caught by the neck and killed.  The people would then use their skins for clothing.

One night, the wolves went down to the pen to get meat.  As they got close to it, the man-wolf said to his brothers, “Stop here a while and I will go down and fix the places so that you will not be caught.”  Creeping down to the pen, he sprung all the snares then went back and called the wolves and the others, the coyotes, badgers and kit-foxes.  They went into the pen and feasted then carried meat home to their families.

In the morning, the people found the meat gone and snares sprung.  They were surprised and wondered how it could have happened.  For many mornings, the people would find the nooses pulled tight and the meat taken.  Until the night the wolves went there and found only the meat of a lean and sickly bull.  This made the man-wolf angry and he cried out like a wolf, “Bad-food-you-give-us-o-ooo-oo!”

The people heard this and said, “It is a man-wolf who has done all this.  We must catch him.”  They took good meat to the pen and many of them hid close by.  After dark the wolves came and when the man-wolf saw the good food, he ran to it and began to eat.  Then the people rushed him from all sides and caught him with ropes.  They tied him and took him to a lodge.  When they saw him by the light of the fire, they knew at once who it was, and said, “Why, this is the man who was lost.”

“No,” said the man.  “I was not lost.  My wives tried to kill me.  They dug a deep hole and I fell into it.  I was hurt so badly I could not get out.  But the wolves came and took pity on me.  They helped me out or I would have died there.”

When the people heard this they were angry, and they told the man to do something to punish the two women.

“You say well,” said the man.  “I give those women to the punishing society.  They know what to do.”

After that night, the two women were never seen again.

This story was one of many collected by George Bird Grinnell, the American anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer.  

Born in 1849, he graduated from Yale University in 1870 and became a prominent conservationist and student of Native American life.

He was known for his ability to get along with Indian elders.

The Pawnee called him ‘White Wolf’, and eventually adopted him into the tribe.

He was not only interested in the northern American plains and the Plains tribes, but also the buffalo and their relationship to Plains tribal culture.

His book, ‘Blackfoot Indians Stories’, which was one of many publications, was published in 1913.

I’m very intrigued by the ‘punishing society’ and the fact that the women were never seen again … I know the beauty of stories like this is their open-ended nature, but I wonder what happened to the wolf-man; did he stay with the tribe or rejoin his wolf brothers?

Tuesday's Tales - my version of an Inuit legend

I first learnt of Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and marine animals, from a calendar I had of paintings by Susan Seddon Boulet.  That calendar was also the first time I’d come across the magical paintings of Ms Boulet, who sadly died in 1997, aged only 55.

Sedna is also known as the Mother or Mistress of the Sea.  There are differing versions of her story, but the end is always the same, showing her as a vengeful goddess whom hunters must pray to before she will release the sea animals for them to hunt.

In the calendar, Ms Boulet had given each of the goddesses a small snippet of a story … I’ve basically taken the bones of her version of the Sedna legend, and fashioned my own account around it.  My purpose in doing so is not to cause offence, but if it does, I do sincerely apologise.

Sedna

A long time ago, in the land of the white bear, there lived a beautiful maiden.  Her skin was as pale as the moon, her hair black as the starless night, her eyes were deep pools of dark water, and her lips as red as blood.  Her name was Sedna, and she lived with her father.  She cared well for her only parent, and her father believed himself blessed to have so good a daughter.  But, if there was only one complaint he could make, it was his daughter’s stubborn pride in refusing to take a husband.

Many a young suitor found his way to the humble abode of Sedna’s father.  And, though she was faultless as a hostess, she would barely look at them or speak to them.  Afterwards, she would simply shake her head at her father’s hopeful question.

It happened one day that, while Sedna was quietly going about her work, a fulmar landed close by.  At first, she paid it no heed and, eventually, it flew away.  However, when it returned the following day and the day after that, Sedna began to watch the sky, awaiting its arrival.  She was growing fond of her feathered companion, and would spend time talking to it while she completed her work.  When her father would try to chase it away, she would beg him to leave the creature for she was growing to love it.

One day, her fulmar came as it always did, but this time it landed on the ground in front of Sedna.  It seemed then as if a mist descended to hide the bird from her.  She rubbed her eyes and when she opened them, she fell back with a cry.  Standing before her was not her dear fulmar, but a man, wearing a cloak of feathers.  He was pleasing to the eye, and Sedna lowered her gaze before the intensity of his stare.

“Sedna,” he said, “If you will consent to be my wife, I will take you to my home across the waters where you will have nothing but luxury.”

“And your love?”

He nodded.  “And my love, as I believe I will have yours.”

She nodded.  Then the fulmar went to speak with Sedna’s father who gladly gave his blessing.  And so Sedna became the fulmar’s wife, and left for her new home, though it grieved her to leave her father alone.

The fulmar’s home, across the vast waters, was indeed as luxurious as he’d said, and Sedna wanted for nothing.  But her happiness was not to last.  The fulmar’s people would not accept her for she was not one of them.  They shunned her and, before long, even her husband began to turn from her.  Her fine robes were taken from her, and she was given scraps to eat.  Thus ill-treated, but forbidden to leave, she stole to the water’s edge and there begged the fish to take word to her father to fetch her home.

Each day, Sedna would creep down to the water, and each day she would return, more desolate than before.  Until, at last, the day came when she spied her father’s boat, and hope filled her heart.

Neither said a word as Sedna's father helped her into the boat.  He then rowed away.  Looking back at what had been her home, Sedna grew fearful once more.  A flock of fulmars was flying towards them.  When they reached the boat, the screaming birds beat their wings angrily.  Black clouds gathered and a huge storm arose, churning the water into wild waves, and the boat was flung about.

“It is you they want,” cried Sedna’s father, fear turning his face ugly.  “You must return or we will surely die.”

“No!  I cannot live that life.  I would rather die.”

“Then die so I may live.”  Grabbing his daughter, he threw her into the ocean.

But Sedna clung to the boat, begging her father to help her.

Still the storm raged around them.

Unable to loosen his daughter's grip on the boat, Sedna’s father reached for his axe and chopped her fingers off.

Sedna's screams were drowned in the howling of the storm.  Falling back, she floated on the water, now stained red with her blood, and the storm began to die down.  Of the fulmars, there was no sign.  Sedna turned her anguished gaze to her father.  “You are a false father,” she said before the water slowly closed over her.  But there was movement in the now-calm water.  Sedna’s severed fingers had turned into whales, seals, and all the mammals of the sea.

Sedna’s father, wild-eyed with the horror of his deed, returned to his home.  But the memory of his daughter’s gaze, and her final words would haunt him the rest of his days.

But Sedna did not die.  Instead she descended to Adlivun, to the underworld.  In time, when it became known who was responsible for the bountiful gifts the hunters sometimes enjoyed, shamans would descend to placate this new goddess, this sometimes vengeful goddess who might deny them the new prey.  To ensure that she would not withhold her gifts, the shamans would comb her hair, and massage her mutilated hands.

Despite her vengeful nature, Sedna reminds us that nourishing gifts can be found in the dark, cold places that we most fear.

 

These past few months has been a real struggle trying to find my writing ‘mojo’, but, to my delight, I wrote that in an afternoon.  And now it feels like I’m back in touch with my muse again, and itching to get on with writing another story :)  

Tuesday's Tales - a North American Indian story

Found another North American Indian story on my internet travels, this one featuring a horse - how could I not share?

The Magic Horse of Ku-suk-seia

In the time before the white man, the Pawnee Indians lived in Nebraska, where their sworn enemy was the Sioux.

They lived in villages for, not only were they good hunters, they were also skilled farmers and potters.

In one of these villages, there lived an old woman with her grandson, Ku-suk-seia, which means ‘left-hand’.

She was a good woman, and the boy was good also.

Yet the two of them were not well thought of, because they were poor.

And while there was no shame in being poor, there was no glory either.

They had no horse, no cattle, and although their clothes were clean enough, they were much patched.

Ku-suk-seia did not even possess a fine headdress, for his father, who had died in a hunting accident, had had none to leave to him.

When the bison began to move in the autumn, the Pawnee went hunting.  They had to prepare for the winter, which would be long and bitter.  So when the chief gave the order to set off, the people gathered their tents and everything they needed for the journey.  Even the old woman and her grandson tied up their few belongings.  They had no mount or beast of burden, and had to load their baggage on their own shoulders.

So poor were they that the people would not let even them join the caravan.  Instead they had to trudge miserably along a little way away.  Humans can be very cruel, and the contempt of their own people weighed heavier than the burden on their shoulders.

One fine morning, before the woman and her grandson had gathered their belongings together, the rest of the group were already leaving the campsite.  Nearly dying of hunger, the pitiful couple searched through the site looking for cast-off food.  At that moment, a broken-down old bay horse approached, also looking for food.  Catching sight of them, the beast snorted.  But then he walked up to them and made friends, for the poor soon recognise the poor.

“Poor animal,” said Ku-suk-seia, “His owner must have got rid of him once he wasn’t fit for work.”

The poor creature was half-blind, deaf and lame.  His ribs stuck out under his dull coat, which was covered with sores.

“What a pitiful sight,” thought the grandmother.  “The poor creature is as useless as I am.”  Yet the animal would not stray from her side.  “Son of my son,” said the old woman to her grandson, “we are going to keep this old horse and feed it.  With the two of us already starving, a third poor wretch will not make much difference.”

Ku-suk-seia and his grandmother began to load their baggage onto their shoulders.  But the horse knelt down and began to whinny.

“Look,” said the boy, laughing.  “I think he wants to make himself useful, the brave animal.”  Ku-suk-seia put the baggage on the horse’s back and the beast followed them, limping all the time.  The rest of the tribe had disappeared but the grandmother knew the way of the old.

That evening, they reached the bend of the North Plate River.  Every year the Pawnee set up their main camp there before scattering across the prairie.  The bison rarely strayed from their ancient trail, and so the migrating herds almost always passed through the North Plate.  The rest of the Pawnee had already set up camp on the river bank.  Scouts had been sent ahead, and in the evening they returned.

“There is a big herd of bison moving westwards,” they said, “and a white female is close behind the leader of the herd.”

This was exciting news.  The skin of a white bison was the most precious thing to an Indian of the prairies, for white bison were very rare, and no Pawnee had ever been known to fell one.

The chief of the Pawnee prayed, calling on the helpful spirit, Awahokshu, and begging all the other good spirits to come to his aid.  Then he said to his people, “He who brings me the white skin shall have the hand of my daughter.”  A double honour awaited the fortunate hunter.

Next morning, when the sun rose, the hunters readied themselves and their horses to hunt the white bison over the wide prairie.  Ku-suk-seia too mounted his skinny horse, but the warriors mocked him.

“Look at the hot-headed steed,” they jeered.  “Is the horse carrying the rider or the rider carrying the horse?”

Their jeers cut Ku-suk-seia to the quick, but he would not show it.  He lagged behind, partly to escape the taunts and partly because the old mount could go no faster.  All alone they made their way through the high grasses of the prairie.

Suddenly the horse began to talk.  “Take me to that little valley,” he said.  Startled, still Ku-suk-seia obeyed.  A talking horse was certainly out of the ordinary, but who knew what the Great Spirit might have in store?  Soon they came to a stream.

“Cover me with mud,” ordered the horse.  “Not a tuft of hair must show, or the spell won’t work.”

Puzzled, Ku-suk-seia did as he was told.

“Now climb on my back, but don’t move yet.  Let the hunters go on ahead.”

The Pawnee warriors galloped after the bison in a cloud of dust.  Then they split into two groups and rode off in different directions, to surround the bison and cut out some of the herd.

At that moment, the old horse began to move.  No longer did he limp; instead he hurled himself onwards like a tornado, charging the herd from the side.  The warriors watched, open-mouthed.  Wasn’t that Ku-suk-seia on his old blind horse?  What magic made it gallop fast as a prairie fire?

The horse forced its way straight to the white female.  Ku-suk-seia’s spear shone in the morning light.  He took aim and hurled it with all his strength.  The white bison sank to the ground as if struck by lightning, and the horse gave a triumphant whinny.

Ku-suk-seia jumped down and dismembered the dead animal, while the rest of the herd fled.  He loaded the meat to his mount, wrapped himself in the white skin and rode back to the camp.

The news of his triumph had gone ahead of him, and the chief was waiting in front of the main tepee.  “Awahokshu was with you,” said the chief.  “The spirit brought you luck, or you could never have felled the white bison.  Give me the skin.”

“All in good time,” replied Ku-suk-seia.  “First I must go to my grandmother, for she is hungry.”

It was not a wise thing to say to a chief, and the man’s angry gaze followed Ku-suk-seia as he rode to his tepee.  Ku-suk-seia unloaded the meat himself, though this was usually squaw’s work.

“A miracle, a miracle,” said his grandmother, clasping her hands.  “H’uararu, the earth spirit, must have been with you, my brave boy.  Now we shall be hungry no more.”

“Cook us some meat, grandmother,” said Ku-suk-seia, “while I give this horse some water and something to eat.  For a rider must see to his mount before he thinks of himself.” The horse whinnied in contentment.  When it had eaten its fill, it watched Ku-suk-seia and his grandmother feasting on bison meat.

Before he went to bed, Ku-suk-seia walked over to his mount.

“Tomorrow, at sunrise, the Sioux will attack the camp,” said the horse.  “Ride me right into the enemy.  Have no fear, but kill the Sioux chief, and hurl yourself at the enemy three times.  Nothing can hurt you.  But remember, three times only.  After that, turn back, or one of us will die.”

Everything happened just as the horse said.  At the first glimpse of dawn, the Sioux war cry rang out.  Countless braves had surrounded the Pawnee camp.

Ku-suk-seia mounted his horse and rode fearlessly into the enemy ranks.  Arrows and spears rained down on him, but some unseen shield seemed to be protecting him.  Riding up to the Sioux chief, he brandished his tomahawk and killed the chief with a single blow.

Twice more he hurled himself on the enemy, killing many of the Sioux warriors.  But he became over-confident and forgot the horse’s advice.  He spurred the horse on, and now the Sioux weapons met their mark.  Riddled with arrows, the horse sank to the ground.  Ku-suk-seia escaped, but his brave mount was dead.  The Sioux cut the magic horse into countless pieces, scattered them to the four winds, and fled.

When Ku-suk-seia reached his tepee, he threw himself down, beating the ground with his fists.  Why had he ignored his horse’s advice?  Now he had lost his companion forever.  Weeping, he returned to the battlefield, and searched for the remains of the horse.  He gathered up all the pieces into a heap on a hill.

Then he sat down beside them and wrapped himself in the white bison skin.  His heart breaking, he prayed to Tirawa, the Great Spirit, to the helpful Awahokshu, and to Shakura, the sun god.

Suddenly the sky darkened.  Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled.  Huge water spouts gushed out across the prairie.  The river rose, and a great storm raged.  Hailstones came crashing down.  And it snowed, unheard of at that time of the year.  For three days and three nights, Ku-suk-seia sat wrapped in the skin of the white bison, praying. 

Then at least the veil of blackness was torn apart, and darkness gave way to daylight.  The sun shone in its brightness, and in place of the scattered bones, stood the bay horse, strong and healthy.

“Tirawa, the Great Spirit, has brought me back to life,” said the horse.  “But, tell me, why did you disobey me?”

“Forgive me.  In the heat of battle, I forgot.  Tell me what I must do.”

“You must promise to follow my counsel at all times, for it comes from the Great Spirit himself,” said the horse.

Gladly did Ku-suk-seia promise.  Returning to the camp with his horse, he handed the white skin over to his chief and received the hand of the chief’s daughter.  When the chief died, Ku-suk-seia himself became a famous chief.  He followed the advice of the bay horse at all times, and ruled the Pawnee with great wisdom and skill.

When, at last, Ku-suk-seia died, the Pawnee wrapped him in the white bison skin and laid him on the litter of the dead.

Then the warriors went to fetch his mount, to kill him on the altar of the dead so that he could accompany his master to the spirit world.

But none could find him, for the bay horse had disappeared.

Tuesday's Tales - another Pueblo Indian story

The Coyote and the Turtle 

Early one morning, when the ground was cool and damp, a turtle crawled up out of his home in the river.  He crawled along, hunting things to eat.  He found so many good things that he crawled farther and farther away from the river.  He forgot all about old Father Sun, who would come peeping up over the hills after a while, for river turtles have to keep themselves damp.  If they become too dry they cannot walk, and if the sun shines too hot upon them, they die.

While this little turtle was trudging slowly along, the sun came up and shone right down on him.  He turned around and started back to the river; but turtles travel so slowly and the sun was so hot, that he could only get halfway there.  When he saw what trouble he was in, he climbed into a shady hole in a big rock and began to cry.

He cried so hard and so loud that a coyote, who was passing by heard him.  The coyote’s ears were not very keen so he thought it was somebody singing.  “I must find out who that is singing,” said Mr Coyote, “and get him to teach me that song.”  So Mr Coyote peeped around the rock and found the turtle with big tears in his eyes.

“Good day,” said Mr Coyote, “that was a nice song you were singing.  Won’t you teach it to me?”

“I was not singing,” said the turtle.

“I know you were, for I heard you and I want to learn your song.  If you do not teach it to me I will swallow you whole!”

“That cannot do me any harm,” said the turtle, “for I have a hard shell that will hurt your throat.”

“Well, if you do not sing for me I’ll throw you in the hot sun!”

“That cannot harm me either for I can crawl under my shell.”

“Well then,” said Mr Coyote, “I will throw you into the river if you do not sing.”

“Oh, please, Coyote-man, do not throw me into the river.  I might drown if you do.  Please do not throw me in!”

“Yes, I will.” Mr Coyote took up the turtle in his mouth and threw him into the river.

The little turtle swam under the water where the coyote could not reach him.  Then he stuck his head up out of the water.  “Thank you very much, Coyote-man, for throwing me into the river.  This is my home and I had no way to get here.  Thank you for helping me.”

And old Mr Coyote trotted away very angry.