Native American Legends
A Penobscot Legend
When Kloskurbeh, the All Maker lived on earth, there were no people
yet. But one day when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called
him "Uncle, brother of my mother."
This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened
by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the motion of the wind,
the moistness of water, and the sun's warmth which gave him life
- warmth above all, because warmth is life.
The young man lived with Kloskurbeh and became his chief helper.
Now, after these two powerful beings had created all manner of
things, there came to them, as the sun was shining at high noon,
a beautiful girl. She was born of the wonderful earth plant, and
of the dew, and of warmth. Because a drop of dew fell on a leaf
and was warmed by the sun, and the warming sun is life, this girl
came into being - from the green living plant, from moisture, and
"I am love," said the maiden. "I am a strength giver,
I am the nourisher, I am the provider of men and animals. They all
Then Kloskurbeh thanked the Great Mystery Above for having sent
them the maiden.
The youth, the Great Nephew, married her, and the girl conceived
and thus became the First Mother. And Kloskurbeh, the Great Uncle,
who teaches humans all they need to know, taught their children
how to live.
Then he went away to dwell in the north, from which he will return
sometime when he is needed.
Now the people increased and became numerous. They lived by hunting,
and the more people there were, the less game they found. They were
hunting it out, and as the animals decreased, starvation came upon
First Mother pitied them.
The little children came to First Mother and said: "We are
hungry. Feed us."
But she had nothing to give them, and she wept. She told them:
"Be patient. I will make some food. Then you little bellies
will be full." But she kept weeping.
Her husband asked: "How can I make you smile? How can I make
"There is only one thing that can stop my tears."
"What is it?" asked her husband.
"It is this: you must kill me," she said.
"I could never do that," he said.
She said, "You must, or I will go on weeping and grieving
Then the husband traveled far, to the end of the earth, to the
north he went, to ask the Great Instructor, his uncle Kloskurbeh,
what he should do.
"You must do what she wants. You must kill her," said
Then the young man went back to his home, and it was his turn to
But First Mother said: "Tomorrow at high noon you must do
it. After you have killed me, let two of our sons take hold of my
hair and drag my body over that empty patch of earth. Let them drag
me back and forth, back and forth, over every part of the patch,
until all my flesh has been torn from my body.
Afterwards, take my bones, gather them up, and bury them in the
middle of this clearing. Then leave that place." She smiled
and said, "Wait seven moons and then come back, and you will
find my flesh there, flesh given out of love, and it will nourish
and strengthen you forever and ever."
So it was done. The husband slew his wife and her sons, praying,
dragged her body to and fro as she had commanded, until her flesh
covered all the earth. Then they took up her bones and buried them
in the middle of it. Weeping loudly, they went away.
When the husband and his children and his children's children came
back to that place after seven moons had passed, they found the
earth covered with tall, green, tasseled plants. The plants' fruit,
corn, was First Mother's flesh, given so that the people might live
And they partook of First Mother's flesh and found it sweet beyond
words. Following her instructions, they did not eat all, but put
many kernels back into the earth. In this way, her flesh and spirit
renewed themselves every seven months, generation after generation.
And at the spot where they burned First Mother's bones, there grew
another plant, broad leafed and fragrant. It was First Mother's
breath, and they heard her spirit talking: "Burn this up and
smoke it. It is sacred. It will clear your minds, help your prayers,
and gladden your hearts."
And First Mother's husband called the first plant Skarmunal, corn,
and the second plant utarmur-wayeh, tobacco.
"Remember," he told the people, "and take good care
of First Mother's flesh, because it is her goodness become substance.
Take good care of her breath, because it is her breath turned into
smoke. Remember her and think of her whenever you eat, whenever
you smoke this sacred plant, because she has given her life so that
you might live. Yet she is not dead, she lives: in undying love
she renews herself again and again."
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