Native American Legends
Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden
A Tewa Legend
Long ago in the ancient home of the San Juan people, in a village
whose ruins can be seen across the river from present-day San Juan,
lived two magically gifted young people. The youth was called Deer
Hunter because even as a boy, he was the only one who never returned
empty-handed from the hunt. The girl, whose name was White Corn
Maiden, made the finest pottery, and embroidered clothing with the
most beautiful designs, of any woman in the village.
These two were the handsomest couple in the village, and it was
no surprise to their parents that they always sought one another's
company. Seeing that they were favored by the gods, the villagers
assumed that they And in time they did, and contrary to their elders'
expectations, they began to spend even more time with one another.
White Corn maiden began to ignore her pottery making and embroidery,
while Deer Hunter gave up hunting, at a time when he could have
saved many of his people from hunger. They even began to forget
their religious obligations. At the request of their worried parents,
the tribal elders called a council. this young couple was ignoring
all the traditions by which the tribe had lived and prospered, and
the people feared that angry gods might bring famine, flood, sickness,
or some other disaster upon the village.
But Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden ignored the council's pleas
and drew closer together, swearing that nothing would ever part
them. A sense of doom pervaded the village, even though it was late
spring and all nature had unfolded in new life.
Then suddenly White Corn Maiden became ill, and within three days
she died. Deer Hunter's grief had no bounds. He refused to speak
or eat, preferring to keep watch beside his wife's body until she
was buried early the next day.
For four days after death, every soul wanders in and around its
village and seeks forgiveness from those whom it may have wronged
in life. It is a time of unease for the living, since the soul may
appear in the form of a wind, a disembodied voice, a dream, or even
in human shape. To prevent such a visitation, the villagers go to
the dead person before burial and utter a soft prayer of forgiveness.
And on the fourth day after death, the relatives gather to perform
a ceremony releasing the soul into the spirit world, from which
it will never return.
But Deer Hunter was unable to accept his wife's death. Knowing
that he might see her during the four-day interlude, he began to
wander around the edge of the village. Soon he drifted farther out
into the fields, and it was here at sundown of the fourth day, even
while his relatives were gathering for the ceremony of release,
that he spotted a small fire near a clump of bushes.
Deer Hunter drew closer and found his wife, as beautiful as she
was in life and dressed in all her finery, combing her long hair
with a cactus brush in preparation for the last journey. He fell
weeping at her feet, imploring her not to leave but to return with
him to the village before the releasing rite was consummated. White
Corn Maiden begged her husband to let her go, because she no longer
belonged to the world of the living. Her return would anger the
spirits, she said, and anyhow, soon she would no longer be beautiful,
and Deer Hunter would shun her.
He brushed her pleas aside by pledging his undying love and promising
that he would let nothing part them. Eventually she relented, saying
that she would hold him to his promise. They entered the village
just as their relatives were marching to the shrine with the food
offering that would release the soul of White Corn Maiden. They
were horrified when they saw her, and again they and the village
elders begged Deer Hunter to let her go. He ignored them, and an
air of grim expectancy settled over the village.
The couple returned to their home, but before many days had passed,
Deer Hunter noticed that his wife was beginning to have an unpleasant
odor. Then he saw that her beautiful face had grown ashen and her
skin dry. At first he only turned his back on her as they slept.
Later he began to sit up on the roof all night, but White Corn Maiden
always joined him. In time the villagers became used to the sight
of Deer Hunter racing among the houses and through the fields with
White Corn Maiden, now not much more than skin and bones, in hot
Things continued in this way, until one misty morning a tall and
imposing figure appeared in the small dance court at the center
of the village. He was dressed in spotless white buckskin robes
and carried the biggest bow anyone had ever seen. On his back was
slung a great quiver with the two largest arrows anyone had ever
seen. He remained standing at the center of the village and called,
in a voice that carried into every home, for Deer Hunter and White
Corn Maiden. Such was its authority that the couple stepped forward
meekly and stood facing him.
The awe-inspiring figure told the couple that he had been sent
from the spirit world because they, Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden,
had violated their people's traditions and angered the spirits;
that because they had been so selfish, they had brought grief and
near-disaster to the village. "Since you insist on being together,"
he said, "you shall have your wish. You will chase one another
across the sky, as visible reminders that your people must live
according to tradition if they are to survive."
With this he set Deer Hunter on one arrow and shot him low into
the western sky. Putting White Corn Maiden on the other arrow, he
placed her just behind her husband.
That evening the villagers saw two new stars in the west. The first,
large and very bright, began to move east across the heavens. The
second, a smaller, flickering star, followed close behind. So it
is to this day, according to the Tewa; the brighter one is Deer
Hunter, placed there in the prime of his life. the dimmer star is
White Corn Maiden, set there after she had died; yet she will forever
chase her husband across the heavens.
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