Native American Legends
Legend of the Tlanuhwa and the Uhktena
A Cherokee Legend
-This story was taught to me by William Webber, Danawa Destoti
- a Kalohna (War leader) of the Ani Wahya (Wolf Clan)
When the world of the Ani Yunwiya was new all living things were
great in size and strength. Two of the many creatures that had been
created and placed upon Ani Daksi Amayeli by Unethlana the Apportioner
were the Tlanuhwa and the Uhktena.
The Tlanuhwa were very large birds with markings much like the
red-tail hawk of today. The markings or symbols of the great Tlanuhwa
could only be worn by the ancient Ani Kituhwah warriors when they
went into war. Some people say the Tlanuhwa were the original parents,
Ani Tawodi, of the great hawks that live today.
The Uhktena are enormous creatures that live in the rivers and
lakes of the great Ouascioto valleys and mountains (the Ohio Valley
and Appalachians). The Uhktena come and go from this world to the
underworld. They enter the underworld through caves that are found
under the waters of rivers and lakes and also through certain entrances
into the earth where there are springs.
The Uhktena have the body of a snake with very pretty and colorful
circles all around their torsos. They also have wings like the great
buzzard and horns upon their head like the great deer. Upon their
forehead there is a special crystal which people prize because it
has very special power over light and dark. This crystal is also
a window into the future and the past.
The crystal is called an Ulunsuti stone; it is the most powerful
thing a person can possess. The stone is carried in a circular buckskin
pouch along with a little red pigment and must never be kept in
the house but in a safe dry place outside the house away from people.
When one gazes into an Ulunsuti stone, one will see either a white
or a red blood-like streak appear. Only certain priests of the Ani
Kuhtahni of the Ani Yunwiya know how to use these Ulunsuti stones
and can invoke certain formulas or prayers which are aides to humans
when used properly. One such protection prayer (Igowesdi) that calls
upon a great Uhktena is:
"Now! Nearby here the Great Red Uhktena now winds his way.
Now! Now the glare of the purple lightening will dazzle the Red
Uhktena. Also, this ancient tobacco will be as much of a thorough-going
wizard. Now! The Seven Reversers (priests of the mounds) looking
at me will be dazzled by the Great Red Uhktena. Udohiyuh!"
At a certain place the Ani Yunwiya call Hogahega Uweyu i which
lies alongside the Wanegas (now known as the Tennessee River), there
remains one of the ancient cave homes of the Tlanuhwa. Located high
up in the cliffs by the river, it is at this place that an ancient
fight took place between the Tlanuhwa and the Uhktena. Near the
caves of the Tlanuhwa was one of the towns of the Ani Yunwiya.
The people living in the town never had any problems with the Tlanuhwa
until one day, the Tlanuhwa began to swoop down out of the sky,
grabbing young children in their talons and taking them away to
their caves by the Hogahega Uweyu i. The people of the town became
very upset and all the mothers started crying and shouting at the
men to bring back the children stolen by the Tlanuhwa.
So the men made a plan; they went very near the Tlanuhwa caves
and took vines growing there from some trees and made ropes to climb
down over the cliffs to the caves. The men waited until they were
certain that the Tlanuhwa were out of the caves. Then down the ropes
some of the men went, into the caves of the Tlanuhwa.
All of the children that had been taken from the Ani Yunwiya town
were there in the caves and, were very anxious to get back to their
homes. Also in those caves were many eggs of the Tlanuhwa.
The men had gotten the children out just in time because as they
started back up the vine ropes they heard the great screams of the
Tlanuhwa returning to their caves with more children in their talons.
So very quickly the men began throwing the unhatched eggs of the
Tlanuhwa down into the Hogahega Uweyu i far below.
When the eggs splashed into the waters far below the Tlanuhwa caves,
the great Uhktena came up from below the waters and began eating
the eggs as fast as the men could throw them into the water. This
made the Tlanuhwa very angry and they dropped the children and swooped
down upon the Uhktena. The men waiting below the caves caught the
children as they fell. Thus began a long fight between the Tlanuhwa
and the Uhktena.
The Tlanuhwa destroyed the Uhktena and tore it into four pieces.
Afterwards, the pieces of the Uhktena were thrown all around the
country along with the great crystal, the Ulunsuti stone. Many people
are still searching for that Ulunsuti stone in the mountains along
the Hogahega uweyu I.
After that terrible fight the Tlanuhwa were so angry at what the
humans had done with their eggs that they flew far away, up above
the sky vault and have never been seen since. However, one can see
the pictures that the ancient Ani Yunwiya made of the Tlanuhwa and
Uhktena, on the walls of the many caves among the Ouascito (Central
Fire) Mountains, the ancient home of the Ani Yunwiya.
It is said that today, far below the cave of the Tlanuhwa on the
banks of the Hogahega Uweyu i, one can still see the rocks that
were stained from the blood of the Uhktena and the Tlanuhwa from
the fight they had that day.
Awanisgi (I am done)
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