Native American Legends
A Cherokee Legend
Earth is floating on the waters like a big island, hanging from
four rawhide ropes fastened at the top of the sacred four directions.
The ropes are tied to the ceiling of the sky, which is made of hard
rock crystal. When the ropes break, this world will come tumbling
down, and all living things will fall with it and die. Then everything
will be as if the earth had never existed, for water will cover
it. Maybe the white man will bring this about.
Well, in the beginning also, water covered everything. Though living
creatures existed, their home was up there, above the rainbow, and
it was crowded.
"We are all jammed together," the animals said. "We
need more room." Wondering what was under the water, they sent
Water Beetle to look around. Water Beetle skimmed over the surface
but couldn't find any solid footing, so he dived down to the bottom
and brought up a little dab of soft mud. Magically the mud spread
out in the four directions and became this island we are living
on - this earth. Someone Powerful then fastened it to the sky ceiling
In the beginning the earth was flat, soft, and moist. All the animals
were eager to live on it, and they kept sending down birds to see
if the mud had dried and hardened enough to take their weight. But
the birds all flew back and said that there was still no spot they
could perch on.
Then the animals sent Grandfather Buzzard down. He flew very close
and saw that the earth was still soft, but when he glided low over
what would become Cherokee country, he found that the mud was getting
harder. By that time Buzzard was tired and dragging. When he flapped
his wings down, they made a valley where they touched the earth;
when he swept them up, they made a mountain.
The animals watching from above the rainbow said, "If he keeps
on, there will be only mountains," and they made him come back.
That's why we have so many mountains in Cherokee land.
At last the earth was hard and dry enough, and the animals descended.
They couldn't see very well because they had no sun or moon, and
someone said, "Let's grab Sun from up there behind the rainbow!
Let's get him down too!"
Pulling Sun down, they told him, "Here's a road for you,"
and showed him the way to go - from east to west. Now they had light,
but it was much too hot, because Sun was too close to the earth.
The crawfish had his back sticking out of a stream, and Sun burned
it red. His meat was spoiled forever, and the people still won't
Everyone asked the sorcerers, the shamans, to put Sun higher. They
pushed him up as high as a man, but it was still too hot. So they
pushed him farther, but it wasn't far enough. They tried four times,
and when they had Sun up to the height of four men, he was just
hot enough. Everyone was satisfied, so they left him there.
Before making humans, Someone Powerful had created plants and animals
and had told them to stay awake and watch for seven days and seven
nights. (This is just what young men do today when they fast and
prepare for a ceremony.) But most of the plants and animals couldn't
manage it; some fell asleep after one day, some after two days,
some after three.
Among the animals, only the owl and the mountain lion were still
awake after seven days and seven nights. That's why they were given
the gift of seeing in the dark so that they can hunt at night.
Among the trees and other plants, only the cedar, pine, holly,
and laurel were still awake on the eighth morning.
Someone Powerful said to them: "Because you watched and kept
awake as long as you had been told, you will not lose your hair
in the winter." So these plants stay green all the time.
After creating plants and animals, Someone Powerful made a man
and his sister. The man poked her with a fish and told her to give
After seven days she had a baby, and after seven more days she
had another, and every seven days another came.
The humans increased so quickly that Someone Powerful, thinking
there would soon be no more room on this earth, arranged things
so that a woman could have only one child every year. And that's
how it was.
Now, there is still another world under the one we live on. You
can reach it by going down a spring, or a water hole; but you need
underworld people to be your scouts and guide you.
The world under our earth is exactly like ours, except that it's
winter down there when it's summer up here. We can see that easily,
because spring water is warmer than the air in winter and cooler
than the air in summer.
The Cherokee are one of the very few Indian tribes who conceive
of the sun as female. This version is unusual for the Cherokee because
it refers to the sun as "he".
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