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.


  1. Thank you for sharing this story of the sacred pipe. I had never heard it. I understand a great deal more now.

  2. Thank you for sharing the message of the sacred pipe - I wept with its telling.

  3. Wa-do KickingBear. This story is beautiful and told so well I felt as if I were sitting there by the fire listening. The message is deep. I will share this with my husband. He will appreciate it too.

  4. Wado KickingBear, I got so caught up in it I did not want it to end. This is such an enjoyable way to learn about the Tsalagi ways.

  5. It was SO time for another of your wonderful, thought-provoking stories. Thank you so much for sharing and teaching through your gift for words. ~karen

  6. Wado KickingBear for teaching us about the Tsalagi ways.

  7. Thank you kind teacher. You pass on the old ways and educate in a most beautiful way. The story leaves a vivid strikingly gorgeous picture in my mind.
    uwola anilonesgv

  8. I do so enjoy your "history lesson" of the old ways of your people. To hear how the Tsalagi people found their treasures and incorporated them into sacred rituals is truly beautiful. It's good to hear you again, my wise friend.

    S & T Creations

  9. Wado for passing on these stories, it is an honor and so very enjoyable to know you Kicking Bear !
    Uwodhi Adanvdo

  10. Was Arrow Woman a two spirit? It is plan to see she had the spirit of a warrior. Was it ever important in the old days to enslave a persons spirit and make it the same as the body they were born into? I hear it was not. I see spiritual slavery as a mass injustice that conquest brought us. Freedom should be for all who do not seek to harm another. A female can be a very good warrior some chose to love a female and some chose to love a male and some care not the physical sex of the one they bond with. males are very different many can not love a female that way and some can't love a male that way, some can love either.d