Monday, May 23, 2011

The Crow and the Beaver

A good friend e-mailed me and shared a vision they had and asked me to comment on it.
I went out yesterday evening for my prayers during that mysterious "in-between-time" when the ancestors come and sing and dance. Although I can't share their vision, this is what I saw and heard in a story form. It seemed so appropriate for many walking the red road that I had to share the story I wrote.
You know who you are.
Enjoy and understand ...............................................................

Back in the time when Turtle Island was still young and the people spoke with the animals,
there lived a Holy man who had two daughters. Both of the daughters desired knowledge.
The first daughter wanted knowledge so she could walk in harmony and balance on Turtle Island. The second daughter wanted knowledge so she could teach others to walk in harmony and balance.

The Holy man knew that knowledge was useless without understanding so he sent his daughters on a journey out in to the world to seek understanding. The sisters were as sisters should be, always helping each other, almost as if they were one. The sisters traveled many suns and finally came to a wide stream. They spent the night at the stream trying to figure out how to cross it. The sisters always shared their dreams with one another and today was no different. The first sister said she dreamed of a big crow that swooped down and carried her away. The second sister said she dreamed of riding on the back of a big beaver.

They walked down to the stream and saw that there were now large rocks going halfway across the stream. After they had eaten their breakfast they decided they would try to cross the stream by walking on the rocks even though the rocks only went halfway across the stream.
As they stepped out on to the rocks they noticed that one portion of the stream was quiet and slow moving while the other part was fast moving and rough with waves. They were shocked to see that the rocks disappeared as they stepped off of them. There was no way back. Carefully stepping on the slippery rocks the sisters walked out to the middle of the stream and stopped. They could go no further.

The sisters questioned each other as to what to do next. Suddenly they noticed a crow feather floating by … going downstream. The first sister became excited because she had dreamed about a crow. Surely this was a sign they should travel downstream. Another crow feather floated by, yes, this had to be a sign. The sisters didn’t know what to do. Six more feathers floated by, the sisters looked at one another in amazement. As another feather began to float by, the first sister stepped out onto the feather and started floating gently down the stream. The second sister stared as her sister drifted off. Again another crow feather floated by, should she step out on to it and join her sister floating down the stream? Suddenly she heard the call of a crow and turned just in time to see her sister turn into a crow and rise up from the stream and fly off.

She was sad because she had never been separated from her sister. She decided when the next feather came by she would step out on to it and float down stream. But another feather never came by. The second sister waited and waited …. no more feathers came by.The sun was beginning to go down and she knew she would have to do something soon. She sat on the stone in the middle of the stream waiting.

Just then another stone rose up out of the water. She stepped out on to it. She would wait for another stone to rise up and then she could walk across the stream. As she stood waiting for another stone to appear she felt the water start moving faster.
It became difficult to stand on the rock. The water was rising. She felt her toes grasp the surface of the rock. She looked down and was surprised to see that the rock had turned into a huge beaver. The beaver sunk lower in the water and began swimming upstream. As she clung to the back of the huge beaver she was not afraid. She knew the Creator had made the beaver for such waters as these.

She knelt down for a better grip and noticed her fingers and toes had grown long hairs and claws like the beaver’s. She was not afraid as she held on to the beaver. She noticed more hair growing on her arms. She was becoming one with the beaver. She smiled as she swam up the raging stream, she had become the beaver.

On a small hill far away sat the Holy man. He opened an old beaver skin medicine bag and took out a long black crow feather. He caressed the feather lovingly and took the medicine bag and softly touched it to his weathered cheek.
He smiled.
His daughters had learned well.
You can’t always choose your stream in life. For some it may be a gentle, easy flowing stream. For others it can be an upstream battle filled with rough currents, whirlpools and sharp rocks. Only when we become one with the stream and content with our position in it …. does the journey become easy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Am

I am the stillness of the receding night, I am the touch of the morning dew on the green corn.
I am the sound of the Katydid singing to the rising sun, I am the buzz of the Honey Bee dancing across the face of the Sun Flower.
I am the warmth of the early morning rays of Grandfather Sun warming the People’s lodges.
I am the breeze that makes the leaves of the Standing People sing, I am the breath of the grass as it dances to and fro.

I am the heart beat of Mother Earth as she gives the rythum to life.
I am the quiet murmer of the People as they awake.
I am the soft voices of the women at work.
I am the laughter of children at play.
I am the snap of a bowstring as young men hone their skills, I am the silence of the Elders as they meditate, speaking with the Ancestors.
I am the smoke from the Sacred Fire carrying prayers up to the Creator.
I am the soft song sung by a Grandmother as she weaves a reed basket.
I am the rythmic sound of women grinding corn, I am the gentle rocking of a Grandmother as she comforts a child.

I am the Anisahoni clan making medicines to keep the children well.
I am the swishing sound of the Anigilohi clan as they strut through the camp with their long hair flowing.
I am the Anitsiskwa clan repairing their bird snares and practicing with their blowguns.
I am the Eagle catcher as he prepares to hunt the mighty Eagle.
I am the Aniwodi clan as they sit making medicine for the People.
I am the Anikawi clan as they stalk through the woods hunting the deer.
I am the Anigatogewi clan as the walk the swamps and streams seeking wild potatoes and roots for the People.
I am the Aniwayah clan as they prepare to track the Wolf.
I am the War Chiefs and the Peace Chiefs that defend and keep order in the village.

I am the crackling of the fire as meals are prepared.
I am the flash of lightening followed by the distant voice of Thunder.
I am the freshness of a shower and the smell of fresh moist dirt.
I am the Sunset as Grandfather Sun begins to give up his light and warmth.
I am the “In Between Time” that sacred time between light and dark when the Ancestors return to sing and dance.
I am the brightness of Grandmother moon as she shares her healing energy as she searches the Great Sky Vault for her lost love.

I am the voice of the story teller as he tells of the joys and sadnesses of the People.
I am the stories told around the campfire, a living history of the Peoples.
I am that which never dies ….. I am the spirit of the People.

Monday, January 31, 2011

How The Bee Got its Stinger

As a young kid there was only one thing better than walking down to Weaver’s pond and swimming on a hot afternoon. On the way back to Grandfather’s it was going by his bee hives. These were old bee hives made out of hollowed logs with the tops covered with old oak planks. They were always loaded with honey and the bees were always busy working to make more. Ududu (grandfather) had been tending these hives for as long as I could remember.

I would stop at one of the hives, remove the rock that held the planks on the top,
take a long stick and poke it down into the hive. When I removed the stick it would be covered and dripping with delicious fresh honey. I did this almost every day. I may have just been a kid but I was smart enough to make sure ududu was no where around. My sweet tooth got so bad (greed) that I took one of Ulisi (grandmother) silver spoons and hid it by one of the hives. You can get more honey with a big spoon then you can with a stick. The bees never seemed to bother me and tolerated this invasion.

They say all good things must come to an end. My attacks on the bee hives finally came to a terrible end. One hot summer day as I lifted the planks to get several spoons of honey, apparently I caught them in a bad mood.

By the time I had run to the back door I had already been stung about twelve times. Fortunately or unfortunately, depends on how one looked at it, Ududu was sitting on the back steps stripping some willow branches.
Still swatting at honey bees I sat down next to Ududu and tried not to cry out in pain.

Ududu continued stripping the willow branches in silence, not even giving me a second glance. As the tears began to roll down my face and the red welts began to grow larger, he finally spoke.

“Usdi Duya, have you been in my bee hives again”? He rose from the steps and walked over to where he had some special tsola (tobacco) growing.

I sat there wiping away the tears trying to figure out how to get out of the trouble I knew I was in. How did he know I had been robbing the hives? I respected Ududu to much to even consider telling an untruth. I was raised not to lie, that was the Tsalagi way. One only spoke truth.

He returned chewing a big mouth of tsola and sat back down and said,
“A question usually requires an answer. “ His voice was stern but not angry.
“Yes Ududu, I have been in your hives,” I said. As I said those words I could feel the shame in my voice.

Ududu turned to me and spit out the chewed tsola into his weathered hand.
He began smearing the chewed tsola on the bee stings. The red welts began to become smaller and the pain eased.

I looked at Ududu and said, “I am sorry, I did not ask permission of the bees before I took their honey. I am sorry that I did not ask your permission. I don’t understand why the Ulnelanvhi (Creator) gave a little insect such a hurtful stinger.”

Ududu reached over and picked up his Mason jar of iced tea, offered me a drink, then took a big drink himself and put the lid back on it and sat it down.
He leaned back and stretched out his legs and let out a sigh.

“Usdi Duya, In the long ago times when Turtle Island was still new and the people were more pure and could talk with the animals and the Unelanvhi (Creator) would visit with them, the people asked the Unelanvhi for something that was uganasdv (sweet) to the taste. So the Unelanvhi sent the wadulisi (bee), but the wadulisi had no stinger. The wadulisi found a suitable tree in which they could build their hive. A place to live in and produce honey, multiply and feed its young. Soon the people came to the wadulisi and asked for some of the sweet syrup and the wadulisi gave each person a atlisdodi (bowl) full. The people loved the syrup and greedily ate it, then went back to the wadulisi for more.

But the Queen wadulisi (the wadulisi had a matrilineal society just like the Tsalagi) replied, 'I have no more to give you for a while. You will have to wait.' The people were not alihelisdi (happy), as they craved the uganasdv syrup. So they called upon the Unelanvhi, saying, 'the wadulisi does not give us enough of the uganasdv syrup. We want more.'

The Unelanvhi listened and sent down the Atsilvsgi (Flower) People. The Atsilvsgi People began to spread all types of anitsilvsgi (flowers) across the land giving the wadulisi greater access and variety of anitsilvsgi (flowers) to pollinate and make more honey. The Atsilvsgi People spread all kinds of beautiful wild flowers around to attract the wadulisi; bright blue, red, orange, purple and yellow. More wadulisi were created to help pollinate the anitsilvsgi.

The hive grew to be udohiyu equa (very large). The people seeing how equa the hive was went to get more of the uganasdv (sweet) syrup. So the wadulisi gave all the syrup to the people but left enough to feed their young. The people devoured the syrup and wanted more. The wadulisi responded, 'We don't have anymore, you will have to wait.'

The people were angry and asked the Atsilvsgi People to make more flowers so they could have more of the uganasdv syrup to eat. The Atsilvsgi People responded, 'We made all the flowers we could and they are all pollinated. You will have to wait until Spring.'
'No, said the people, 'We want more now.' So they went back to the wadulisi hive and tore it apart killing almost all of the wadulisi and taking the syrup. The remaining wadulisi were angry.
They asked the Unelanvhi what to do. The Unelanvhi (Creator) was also upset at the behavior of the people, so he told the Atsilvsgi People to create some 'briar bushes' and for the wadulisi to eat the briars.

The wadulisi did as the Unelanvhi said, they ate the briars and these were transformed into stingers. The Atsilvsgi People created an entire briar patch around the bee's tree.
The next day, the people came back and started toward the wadulisi hive for more syrup; but the briars around the tree scratched and tore at their bodies. Some of the people made it through the briars to the hive. Covered in welts, they yelled at the wadulisi, 'Give us some more syrup now, or we will do the same as we did yesterday, kill your young and destroy your home.'
The wadulisi became angry and a loud hum came from the hive in the tree, and out they swarmed. The wadulisi stung the people all over until they were covered in welts and sent them running.

After that day, the people treated the wadulisi, anitsilvsgi, and digakohidi (plants) with great respect and always promised to ask permission and replace whatever they asked for and never be greedy or take more than they needed.”

“Now, Usdi Duya, I have work to do. Perhaps you can find something to do also.”
Ududu stood, gathered up his stripped willow branches.

“Wado, Ududu,” I said as he walked off. He nodded his head as he headed toward the water pump. I got up and immediately headed to the wadulisi hive.
The wadulisi were still buzzing around the hive but I had no fear of being stung.
I apologized to the wadulisi for my greediness.
I got grandmother’s spoon and headed to the house to apologize to her for taking it without asking first.

It seemed to me, although I had done wrong, that all was right with the world.
I may have learned a good lesson about greed but to this day honey is still my favorite sweet. And to this day I never take more than I need.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why the Trees Lose Their Leaves

The walk back from Pete’s grocery was short and I walked it with happy feet.
It wasn’t often that I had money to spend on candy and I was more than happy to part with my nickel. It seems that a nickel just doesn’t go far when it comes to candy.
I had to hurry home and hide my five pieces of candy before my brother found out.

Grandfather was at the pump washing some dandelion greens. It would be disrespectful to go in the house without speaking. My mind started working over-time trying to figure out what I would tell him. You see, Ududu (grandfather) had a notorious sweet tooth, almost as big as mine. If he knew I had candy, he would expect to be offered some.

Ududu spoke first, “Osiyo, Usdi Duya (It is good to see you, Little Bean)”, not even looking up from his task.
“Osiyo, Ududu. Dohitsu (how are you)?”
Grandfather rose to his full stature and looked at me with those eyes that always seemed to look through you. There was never hiding anything from grandfather.
“Osda, osdadv, (good, very good)” he said. As he spoke those words his eyes began to twinkle. I knew I had already been found out. With one hand working the pump handle and the other holding a dipper gourd, grandfather filled it with fresh cool water and offered it to me.
“Wado, Ududu,” I said between sips of water.

“Uwola, (sit)” grandfather said as he pointed to a spot next to the pump.
As I sat there and watched grandfather reach for his personal pipe and his leather bag
of tobacco mixture I knew a story was coming. Now it was me whose eyes began to twinkle. Grandfather sat down on an upturned log next to me and lit his pipe.
Through the blue haze of pipe smoke, grandfather began to speak.

“In the long ago times, the trees and animals were able to talk to one another. They lived close to each other and shared many things; but every year, the cold time (Uyvtlv Iyuwakodi) came and the birds would fly south to where it remained warm (Uganawa) and would return with their families in the spring, when the warm season returned.
One year, as the cold season approached a little bird (usdi tsisqua) was injured. He would not be strong enough to fly to the uganawa lands with his family, so he made his family fly south to the uganawa lands without him.

Injured, he knew he would not survive the uyvtlv season. So he sought out the help of the trees. He approached Oak (Tsusga). ‘Tsusga, I am injured, and cannot fly, the uyvtlv season approaches, and if I do not find shelter before then, I will surely shall die. Howatsu (please), Tsusga, let me shelter among your many leaves and branches during the uyvtlv times, that I may heal and greet my family on their return in the spring.’
But Tsusga was a stubborn old tree, and did not relish the idea of having a guest in the cold time, so he told the usdi tsisqua: ‘Little bird, go find somewhere else to spend the cold time. I do not wish you to spend the cold time with me.’

And the poor little bird was hurt in his spirit and turned away.

So usdi tsisqua went to the Tlvwaga (maple) and asked her. ‘Tlvwaga, I am hurt and not able to fly to the uganawa lands with my family for the uyvtlv season. Howatsu (please) let me stay among your many leaves and many branches during the uyvtlv (cold) time, or I will surely perish.’ And Tlvwaga, though a very sweet tree, did not enjoy the thought of a guest for the cold time and she too, turned the little bird away. ‘ Usdi tsisqua go ask someone else to shelter you. I do not wish for you to spend the uyvtlv time with me.’

And again, hurt in spirit, the little bird was turned away.

Usdi tsisqua went in turn to each of the trees and asked each for shelter in the cold time; and each, and every time, the little bird was turned away...... until there was no tree left to ask, except Notsi (pine). With no hope left..., but not willing to accept death...., the little bird approached Pine.

‘Notsi, I am injured and hurting, and not able to fly south to the uganawa (warm) lands with my family. If I do not find shelter and safety before the uyvtlv (cold) time, I will surely perish. Howatsu (Please)...., let me stay among your leaves and branches during the uyvtlv time...’
Notsi thought to himself, ("I am the least of the trees, what can I do?") ....but his heart heard the little bird's plight. ‘Usdi tsisqua ... My leaves are tiny... more like needles... my branches are not as many as the other trees ... but what I have you are welcome to share.’
And so, usdi tsisqua spent the uyvtlv time with Notsi. And when the warm times returned in the spring, the little bird's family returned. And usdi tsisqua had healed over the uyvtlv time and flew to greet their return.

Unelanvhi (Creator) had seen and heard all that had happened between the little bird and the trees. And Unelanvhi (Creator) called a great council of the trees and spoke to them..., ‘You, who were given so much......, who had so much, would not share the least of what you had with this little bird in his need. Because of this.., from this day forward, when the uyvtlv time is upon the land, your leaves shall wither and die and blow away.’
Unelanvhi then spoke to Notsi. ‘Notsi, you, who had the least of all the trees, gave so much, have touched my adanvdo (Spirit). When the uyvtlv times come, you of all the trees shall keep your leaves. They shall remain green through all the seasons for the gift you have given me, through the little bird.’

And that is why, to this day, that when the uyvtlv iyuwakodi (cold time) comes to the land, all the leaves wither, and die, and blow away.... except for Notsi.”
Grandfather became silent and removed the bowl from his pipe and placed it in his pipe bag. I knew the story was over and I knew the point had hit me hard. As grandfather rose to continue his work I spoke;
“Ududu, I have some candy, would you like some?” I held out the small bag of candy to him. Grandfather looked at me and smiled as he emptied the contents of the bag on to his weathered hand. My mouth dropped open as he took four pieces and placed the remaining piece back into the bag.

“Wado, Usdi Duya”, he said as he walked away placing a piece of peppermint candy in his mouth. I turned and walked toward the house carrying my little bag with one piece of candy. As I was about to enter the back door I smelled the scent of pine in the air.
In the kitchen my brother was helping grandmother (ulisi) peel potatoes.
With out hesitating, I offered the last piece of candy to my brother.

Later that night as I lay in my bed going over the happenings of the day, I felt the crunch of paper under my pillow. Lifting the pillow I saw a small paper bag. In the darkness I poured the contents of the bag into my hand and found it held five pieces of candy and a shiny nickel.
Again I could smell the scent of Nosti.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How The Tsalagi Got The Sacred pipe

The sun had set and the horizon gave off its last glow of light. I could see Grandfather's siloutte as he sat at his evening fire. As I started to approach I could see a puff of smoke and knew Ududu (grandfather) had his pipe, I knew to go no further. I stopped and stood in silence. A small cough was my signal to him that I wished to approach.

"Nvla (come), Usdi Duya," Ududu said quietly almost in a whisper.

It was always a privelege and honor to be asked to sit by his fire when he smoked the pipe. Ududu always seemed to be in another world when he smoked his pipe and always had a story to tell. I walked to the fire as quietly as a ten year old boy could walk.

"Uwola." (sit) Ududu sat there with his ganvnawa (pipe) resting in his lap. The silence that followed this invitation seemed endless. Finally he spoke, again in almost a whisper.

"What brings you to my fire, Usdi Duya?" I don't know why he even bothered to ask what I wanted. It seemed that Ududu always knew what was on my mind.

"Ududu, I come to hear the story of the ganvnawa. I am almost a man and need to know," I said in as calm a voice that I could.
Ududu let out a small chuckle and then said, "yes, perhaps it is time."

He lifted his ganvnawa to his mouth and with a burning twig touched the flame to the bowl. A puff of smoke drifted up into the air. I could smell the sweetness of the tsola (tobacco). My mind was trying to identify the different smells.
Grandfather's voice brought me back to the 'now time.'

"In a time when the gantlai (animals) still spoke with the Aniyvwiya (the real people, meaning the Tsalagi) and taught them to live with and care for Turtle Island (earth, the land) there lived among the people a mighty woman warrior called Gatlida Ageyv (Arrow Woman)".
I had never heard of a woman warrior before. Grandfather must have felt my surprise because he went on to say.
"Gatlida ageyv learned to use the bow, the spear and the knife. Even though it was a man's job to hunt and fight, Gatlida ageyv could shoot straighter with the galitsadi (bow) than anyone, she could throw the hayelasdi (knife) farther than any man. She could throw the digatisdi (spear) into the eye of tawodi (hawk) as it flew. No one would tell her to be like a woman and do woman things.

One early morning while out hunting, Gatlida ageyv came upon the tracks of Yonv (bear). She saw blood on the ground and knew he was injured so she followed his tracks. She followed his tracks high into the mountains. Soon she came to a place that she did not know. It was in this place, a place known only to the animals that she finally saw Yonv. He was cut deep on his side and was bowing down in prayer. She saw him bowing toward a large field of tall grass and speaking words that she did not know.

Suddenly, the grass began to glow and shimmered and became a lake. Gatlida ageyv saw Yonv dive into the water. After much time had passed he emerged from the water, his side was completely healed. Yonv saw Gatlida ageyv and walked to her. Yonv spoke to her, "this is the sacred lake of the animals. It is known only to the animals. It is where we come for healing and strength. You are the first man creature to see the sacred lake. You must never tell the Aniyvwiya (real people) of it's location for it is the home of 'The Great Uktena'. With these words Yonv turned and walked into the woods and disappeared."

I stared into the fire. Grandfather's words turned into pictures in the fading smoke. It was like I was there watching what was happening. I waited as Grandfather again lit his ganvnawa.

"Gatlida ageyv was tired so she decided to rest a while by this lake. She built a small fire and sat down to eat some meat that she had brought with her. She took a drink of the water from the lake and felt instantly refreshed. She was amazed, she felt as strong the Yanasa (Buffalo). She felt as if she could run faster than Golanv (Raven) could fly.

The woods were still and quiet. The wind was sleeping, the sun was shining bright but was not hot, the surface of the lake was completely calm, Gatlina ageyv began to get sleepy.
It was then that she saw 'Uktena'. She had been told stories of him when she was a small child but no one in her tribe ever claimed to have seen him. Suddenly high above the water he raised his great serpent-like head, the jewel in his forehead glistening brightly. He began to move toward her. Gatlida ageyv quickly rose and grabbed up her spear ready to face the great creature. She raised her spear and prepared to strike this huge beast."

As Grandfather said these words I could see the huge creature coming towards Gatlida ageyv in the smoke of the fire or was it just my imagination. My muscles tightened in fear for Gatlida ageyv. I stared into the smoke and heard once again Grandfather's words.

"Uktena stopped a spear's length from her. He opened his mouth which was larger than a man was tall and full of teeth longer than a man's forearm.
He spoke to Gatlida ageyv, 'Put down your weapon for I mean you no harm. I come only to teach.'
Gatlida ageyv laid down her spear and began to relax, somehow knowing Uktena spoke truly.

Uktena told her to sit and listen. Uktena dipped his huge head below the surface of the lake and came back up a moment later. In his mouth he held a strange stick and a leather pouch. These things he laid on the ground in front of Gatlida ageyv.
Then the Great Uktena began to teach. He said,'This that I have laid before you is the Sacred Pipe of Unelanvhi (The Creator).' He then told her to pick up the pipe. 'The bowl is of the same clay Unelanvhi (Creator) used to make your kind. The clay is Woman kind and is from the Earth. Just as a woman bears the children and brings forth life, the bowl bears the sacred tobacco (tsola) and brings forth smoke. The stem is Man. Rigid and strong, the stem is from the plant world and like a man it supports the bowl just as a man supports his family.'
Uktena then showed Gatlida ageyv how to join the bowl to the stem saying, ' Just as a man and a woman remain separate until joined in marriage so too are the bowl and stem separate. Never to be joined unless the pipe is used.' Uktena then showed her how to place the sacred tsola into the pipe and with an ember from the fire light the tsola so it burned slightly. He told her this, "The smoke is the breath of Unelanvhi (Creator), When you draw the smoke into your body, you will be cleansed and made whole. When the smoke leaves your mouth, it will rise to Unelanvhi. Your prayers, your dreams, your hopes and desires will be taken to Unelanvhi in the smoke. Also the truth in your soul will be shown to Unelanvhi when you smoke the pipe. If you are not true, do not smoke the pipe. If your spirit is bad and you seek to deceive, do not smoke the pipe.'

Uktena continued his lesson well into the night teaching Gatlida ageyv all of the prayers used with the pipe and all of the reasons for using the pipe. He finished just as the moon was beginning her nightly journey across the sky in search of her true love. He told Gatlida ageyv to wrap the pipe in cloth, keeping the parts separate. With this done He told her that she would never again be able to find this place but to remember all that she had learned. Uktena then turned and slipped back into the depths of the lake. Gatlida ageyv saw the water glow and shimmer and become again the field of grass. She left, taking with her the pipe and her lessons and a wondrous story. Ever since that time, The Aniyvwiya have used the sacred pipe and never again has any man seen the sacred lake of Uktena.

I sat in silence not batting an eyelash. I heard Grandfather's voice change. It became heavy and charged with an unseen seriousness. I listened closely for I knew what came next would be the lesson to the story.

"The pipe is not a symbol of things that are sacred. The pipe itself is sacred. Not everyone is called upon to be a pipe bearer. The person who carries the pipe and practices the pipe ceremonies and traditions has a great responsibility to his brothers and sisters, his land and country and even to the Earth Mother.
The pipe bearer does not 'own' the pipe he carries. He simply carries the pipe until the time comes for him to pass it to the next bearer. The pipe bearer is given certain powers of sight from the pipe as well as an ability to heal and purify. Should the bearer fall from grace and become a liar, thief, or neglected his duties when asked, or become deceitful, the pipe would repossess these gifts and then the possibility of misfortune for the former bearer may exist.

One should be ready to accept the responsibility of the pipe for it may make demands upon you. It will become your teacher and guide. It can also be your worst enemy if used wrongly.

Some day, Usdi Duya, this pipe will pass to you and with it the responsibility to use it wisely. Remember always you are Tsalagi of the Aniwodi clan."

Ududu removed the bowl from the sacred ganvnawa and placed it in a small leather bag. He then took the stem and wrapped it in a piece of worn red cloth. These things he placed in the pipe bag. He then placed some sacred tsola on the dying embers and stood up. Together we walked hand in hand to the house.
The past and the future, joined as one.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Holy Man and Unelanvhi

Deep in thought I sat on the back steps soaking up the late morning sunshine. I was unaware of Grandfather's approach. The soft touch of his big hand on my shoulder startled me back to reality.

"Good for you I was not a Inadv (snake), Usdi Duya (Little Bean). Did you forget to put your digaleni (ears) on today?"
"No, Ududu, I have my digaleni on today."

I moved over and Grandfather sat down. Together we sat there in silence. The only sound was that of the bees as they danced around the spearmint plants on each side of the steps. Each lost in our own thoughts we sat there in silence.
Grandfather finally spoke. "What troubles my Usdi Duya this fine Sunday"?
I sat there searching for words.
Grandfather grunted, a signal to me that he had asked a question that required an answer.

"Ududu, the preacher told me this morning that if I didn't mend my ways I would go to hell and never see the glory of heaven."
"And this troubles you? "Grandfather laughed.
"No, Ududu, I would like to know what heaven and hell are like then I can decide where I want to go."

Again we sat in silence. After some time Grandfather reached over and gave me a handful of spearmint leaves. Putting several leaves in his mouth he sat there. Then as if the spearmint was a magic formula his face filled with a huge smile.

"I have a story (kanohelvsgi)," Grandfather said. It was my turn to smile as I sat back and put spearmint leaves in my mouth and chewed. I would have to listen close because Grandfather's stories always held answers.

"A Holy man (Galvquodiyu asgaya) was having a conversation with God (Unelanvhi) and said, "Unelanvhi, I would like to know what heaven (galvladitsosv) and hell (tsvsgino) are like."
The Creator led the Holy man to two (tali) doors (disdudi). He opened one of the doors and the Holy man looked in.

In the middle of the room (kanvsulv) was a large round table (gasgilo). In the middle of the gasgilo was a large pot (tsulasgi) of stew which smelled delicious and made the Holy man hungry (uyosi).
The people sitting around the gasgilo were thin and sickly. They appeared to be very uyosi. They were each holding a spoon (adidodi) with a very long handle that was tied to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the tsulasgi of stew and take a spoonful.
But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the adidodi into their mouth.

The Holy man shuttered at the sight of their misery (agiliya) and suffering (anigiliyogv).

The Unelanvhi (Creator) said, 'You have seen hell (tsvsgino).' They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one.

There was the large round gasgilo (table) with the large tsulasgi (pot) of stew which made the Holy man uyosi (hungry). The people sitting around the gasgilo were equipped with the same long handled spoons, but here the people were well fed, plump, laughing and happy (alihelisdi).

The Holy man said, ' Tlaigoliga, Unelanvhi (I don't understand, Creator).'

'It is simple', said Unelanvhi. 'It requires but one skill (saquu asinasvi).

You see, they have learned to feed each other.

The greedy think only of themselves.'

The Holy man smiled at the sight of their joy and happiness."

I sat there with my eyes shut as I listened to Grandfather's story (kanohelvsgi).

I had decided heaven was where I wanted to go when I felt a cool breeze touch my face and I opened my eyes.
Ududu was gone, leaving as quietly as he had arrived.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where The Wolf Ran

As a small child some of the greatest words to hear came from my grandfather when he would say, "Usdi Duya (Little Bean) nvla (come)." There would be no telling where we would go or what we would do but you knew it would be something exciting. My heart would leap at the sound of those words.

It was June ("Dehaluyi"), the month of the green corn moon and I was busy tracking a trail of ants through the garden when I heard, "Usdi Duya nvla". By the time I reached the back door Grandfather had his old leather bag and was heading down the road. Catching up and out of breath I asked grandfather where we were going and he replied with one of his short one-word answers, "Equoni." My heart raced faster knowing we were going to the river.

The sun was sinking behind the trees by the time we reached the river bank. Grandfather began walking along the river's edge tying fishing lines to low hanging tree limbs. Seeing this I knew we were there for the night. The sun was gone by the time all the lines were secured and the hooks baited. Now grandfather sat down and pulled out a mason jar of sweet spearmint tea a refreshing treat for the long night ahead. As darkness came closer the noises changed from day light sounds to those of the night creatures. Now stretched out on the river bank we listened to the sounds as we gazed up into the night sky and watched the stars twinkle.

At each sound I would ask grandfather what made the noise. The sound of a fish ("atsadi" ) jumping, the croak of a bullfrog ("kannuna" ). "Close your eyes and see with your ears, grandfather said." See with your ears? "I don't understand, grandfather," ("Tlaigagoliga, edudi" ) I replied. Grandfather had a way of confusing me until I thought out the words. He did not answer, so I listened and saw with my ears. I "saw" the whippoorwill (tsgawalegwala), I "saw" the rabbit (tsisadu) moving towards the water, I "saw" the owl (wahuhi) as it flew lower in search of the rabbit. Opening my eyes I saw millions of stars moving across the sky. I knew that those stars made up the Milky Way.
"Grandfather how did the Milky Way come to be?" Pulling out some of grandmother's homemade bread from his bag, grandfather broke me off a piece and began a story that I remember to this day.

" Listen, Usdi Duya, once there were people in the southern part of the world that made corn meal. The women would pound the dried corn in a pounder with a large stick till it was a fine powder. They would work all day to make the powder and then store it in large kettles, pots, and bowls in a storehouse for the winter. After a few days of pounding the corn they began to notice that some of the kettles were not as full as they were supposed to be. It was being taken. They examined the ground around the storehouse and noticed tracks. They decided to hide and watch the next night to see who was stealing the corn meal.

Seven women decided to hide inside the storehouse. They crouched behind the large pottery kettles and waited. Well after midnight all the women had gone to sleep except one. She watched and waited in the darkness. Suddenly she heard a noise outside and then noticed a bluish glow like a bright moonlight. The light came closer to the storehouse. The woman crouched even further behind the kettles, afraid of what was coming toward her. She picked up a stick laying beside her. The door to the storehouse opened.

In walked a wolf with a strange glow around it. The wolf walked over to one of the kettles that was brimming with freshly made corn meal and began to eat. Suddenly the woman began to scream, waking the other women. They opened their eyes and noticed the wolf inside. They all jumped up and ran towards it. The woman with the stick began hitting it till it ran out of the storehouse. The wolf became so frightened that he jumped into the air and began flying in a wide circle back toward the north. As he flew drops of corn meal fell from his mouth. They glowed as the wolf did and so he left a trail that today we call the Milky Way.

I laid there thinking about this remarkable story as "edudi" silently slipped off into the night to check the lines. Sleep came upon me as I pictured the "waya" flying across the sky. A gentle touch to my forehead woke me as "edudi" stood there with his old leather bag over his shoulder and a large string of fresh catfish in his hand. "Where are we going, grandfather ?", I asked. As he walked off I heard him say in his quiet voice, "owenvsv "(home).

It was this childhood story that was the inspiration for this series of "Cherokee story bowls". "Where The Wolf Ran" ("Waya Tsunstanunyi") is the first in the series as I try to take the stories held in oral tradition and make them a living piece of Cherokee history. I hope you enjoy "reading" the bowl and sharing the story with others.

This gourd bowl measures 21 inches around with a diameter of 7 inches. The opening is 5 inches in diameter with a height of 4 1/2 inches.

It is decorated with blue beads and copper cones with Bluebird feathers. It tells the Cherokee story of how the Milky Way was made.

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