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Native American Legends

Earth Making

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 with cords.

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 eat crawfish.

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 birth.

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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