Native American Legends
Arikara Corn: The first to know maize
An Arikara Legend
A young Arikara man was the first to discover maize. While hunting
atop a high hill he scouted a large bull buffalo standing at the
confluence of two rivers. While deciding how to best approach the
buffalo the young man was forced to look around him closely, and
was taken with the beauty of his surroundings.
Though the banks of the river were nice and timbered, the buffalo
was facing north, so the young man could not take a shot from either
side. He decided he would wait until the buffalo moved nearer the
timbered banks or wandered into the hills or ravines where the young
man could hide in shrubs.
By sundown, the buffalo had not moved at all, so the young man
returned to camp disappointed. His night was not easy. He spent
it thinking about how scarce food was among the people, and how
much good he could have done if he had taken the buffalo.
Just before dawn the young man got up and went back to the place
he left the buffalo to see if it was still nearby, had it moved
at all. As the sun rose, from his spot on the high hill, the young
man saw the buffalo was still in the same spot but now it faced
the east. And so it stood again, all day.
Disappointed again, the young man spent another sleepless night
wondering why the buffalo would stand so steadfastly in one spot
without eating, drinking or lying down to rest.
The next day was the same, except the buffalo faced south and the
next day west. Now the young man was determined to know why the
buffalo acted in this way. He settled in to watch, and told himself
the buffalo was behaving this way for some mysterious purpose, and
that he, too now, was under the same mystery. He went home to sleep
and yet again spent the entire night wondering.
The next day he rose before dawn and ran to his mysterious scene.
The buffalo was gone! Where it had stood there was a small bush.
The young man approached with disappointment, but also curiosity
and awe. The plant was nothing familiar to him, surrounded by buffalo
tracks, north to east and south to west. In the center was a single
buffalo track from which this strange plant grew. No buffalo tracks
led away from the plant.
He ran back to camp and told the chiefs and elders of his strange
experience. They all traveled to the spot and found what he told
them to be true. They saw the tracks of the buffalo at the spot,
but no tracks coming or going from the site of the strange plant.
Now while all these men believed this plant had been given to the
people by Wakanda for their use, they were not sure what that use
Thinking it might need time to ripen like other plants they knew,
they posted a guard to wait and see if more information would come.
Soon a spike of flowers appeared, but they knew from other plants
this was a flower and not the fruit. Soon a new growth appeared.
First it appeared as if it had hair at its top, soon turning from
green to brown.
They determined this growth was the fruit of the plant, and approached
with caution and although they wanted to know what it would provided
no one dared touch it. The young man finally spoke:
"Everyone knows how my life since childhood has been useless,
that my deeds among you more evil than good. So, since no one would
regret should any evil befall me, I will be first to touch the plant
and taste its fruit."
The young man gave thanks and prayer and grasped the plant. He
told the people it was firm and ripe and inside the husk it was
red. He took a few kernels, showed them to the people and then carefully
replaced the husks. When the youth suffered no ill effects, the
people were then convinced the plant was given to them as food so
they would never be hungry.
The kernels were dispersed among the people and a great, fruitful
harvest was gathered in the fall. The Arikaras decided to hold a
feast and they invited many tribes and six came. The Arikara's shared
the kernels with their guests, and so the knowledge of maize was
spread among all.
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