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Native American Legends

Stealing the Sun

A Cherokee Legend

Long ago the Cherokee people lived in a dark world. They had no Sun or Moon or light of any kind. It was so dark that the animals, birds, and insects kept bumping into each other.

One day the animals called a meeting to see what could be done.

Woodpecker spoke first. "I've heard," he said, "that people on the other side of the world have light. Maybe if we go there, they will give us some."

I'll go," said Owl. "I can see in the dark."

"No, I should go," Opossum said. "If they are stingy with their light, I'll steal some and hide it under my bushy tail."

They all agreed, so Opossum started at once. As he headed East, the world grew lighter. Soon he had to squint to keep from being blinded, but he kept on going until he found the Sun.

Carefully he placed a small piece of it under his tail. He set out for home as fast as his short legs would go, but that piece of Sun was so hot it set his tail on fire.

The people who lived in the land of the Sun demanded that he return the piece he took. Poor Opossum. He now had to squint, his fine bushy tail was ruined, and the animals still had no light.

The animals called another meeting, and this time Buzzard volunteered. "I can fly far and fast," he boasted. "I can bring back the light in no time."

He flew East and stayed up high so the people couldn't see him. Then he dived straight down, snatched a piece of the Sun, and hid it on top of his head. But as he was flying away, his beautiful head feathers caught on fire. Buzzard dropped the piece of Sun at once, but his head had turned bright red and was completely bald, just as it is today.

The animals met once more, "What shall we do now?" they asked. "We must have light!"

Grandmother Spider crawled out of the nearby grass. "You big creatures have done all you can," she said. "Perhaps a smaller creature could do better."

"You'll get burned up!" squawked the Owl. "Maybe not," answered Grandmother Spider. They were so desperate for light they agreed to let her go.

Grandmother Spider felt around until she found some damp clay. Then she rolled it into the shape of a bowl. "It will dry slowly as I travel in the dark," she said to herself. "That way it won't crack."

As she traveled, she spun a trail of thread to find her way home.

When she came to the place of the Sun people, she quickly reached out and took a piece of the Sun. She dropped it into her bowl and covered it. Then she quietly followed her thread-trail back home.

When the animals uncovered Grandmother Spider's bowl, they could hardly believe their eyes. The first light they had ever seen shot out its rays. Even today, the spider's web is shaped like the rays of the Sun.

From that time on, not only did the Cherokee people have light, but pottery making became honored work among them.

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