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Native American Legends

Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man

A Hopi Legend

In the beginning the Pueblo peoples did not know how to make pottery. They had no bowls to cook their rabbit stew. They had no jars to carry cool water. The people had no pots to store their seeds for next year's planting. The Wise One in the Land Below saw how hard their life was. Taking some clay, she made one man and one woman. The Wise One named them Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man. She sent them onto the earth with a big ball of clay and her blessing for the Pueblo peoples. Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man found themselves in a pueblo. They sat down in the middle of the plaza and the wife set to work with the clay. Curious children crowded close. Women with their babies peered from the rooftops of the houses around the plaza.

Clay Old Woman rolled the clay into long coils between her two rough hands. Around and around she wound the coils to build a pot. The men standing on the log ladders propped against the houses leaned closer for a better look. Clay Old Woman made pot after pot. Her husband began to sing and dance. The longer his wife worked, the louder Clay Old Man sang. The more pots she made, the harder he danced. Puffs of dust danced in his footsteps. Clay Old Man became so caught up in his dance that he tripped. He fell hard against the largest, most beautiful pot. The pot shattered. The people held their breath, wondering what would happen next.

Clay Old Man collected all the potsherd. He handed them to Clay Old Woman and apologized. Clay Old Woman soaked the pieces of the broken pot in water and rolled them back into a ball of clay. Clay Old Man gave a piece of it to every woman in the pueblo. "You have watched my wife work," he said. "You know what to do." The women began to knead their clay. Clay Old Woman nodded to herself as she watched the women work. She was very pleased.

"The Wise One has given you a gift to treasure for all time," said Clay Old Woman. "Do not lose her gift. Never forget how to make pottery."

And the Pueblo peoples have never forgotten.

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