Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Folktales of the Week

Here are this week's folktale of the week. The first is Cherokee, the second is Sioux.

80. The Spirit Defenders Of Nïkwäsï'
(From James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee)
Long ago a powerful unknown tribe invaded the country from the southeast, killing people and destroying settlements wherever they went. No leader could stand against them, and in a little while they had wasted all the lower settlements and advanced into the mountains. The warriors of the old town of Nïkwäsï', on the head of Little Tennessee, gathered their wives and children into the townhouse and kept scouts constantly on the lookout for the presence of danger. One morning just before daybreak the spies saw the enemy approaching and at once gave the alarm. The Nïkwäsï' men seized their arms and rushed out to meet the attack, but after a long, hard fight they found themselves overpowered and began to retreat, when suddenly a stranger stood among them and shouted to the chief to call off his men and he himself would drive back the enemy. From the dress and language of the stranger the Nïkwäsï' people thought him a chief who had come with reinforcements from the Overhill settlements in Tennessee. They fell back along the trail, and as they came near the townhouse they saw a great company of warriors coming out from the side of the mound as through an open doorway. Then they knew that their friends were the Nûñnë'hï, the Immortals, although no one had ever heard before that they lived under Nïkwäsï' mound.
The Nûñnë'hï poured out by hundreds, armed and painted for the
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fight, and the most curious thing about it all was that they became invisible as soon as they were fairly outside of the settlement, so that although the enemy saw the glancing arrow or the rushing tomahawk, and felt the stroke, he could not see who sent it. Before such invisible foes the invaders soon had to retreat, going first south along the ridge to where joins the main ridge which separates the French Broad from the Tuckasegee, and then turning with it to the northeast. As they retreated they tried to shield themselves behind rocks and trees, but the Nûñnë'hï arrows went around the rocks and killed them from the other side, and they could find no hiding place. All along the ridge they fell, until when they reached the head of Tuckasegee not more than half a dozen were left alive, and in despair they sat down and cried out for mercy. Ever since then the Cherokee have called the place Dayûlsûñ'yï, "Where they cried." Then the Nûñnë'hï chief told them they had deserved their punishment for attacking a peaceful tribe, and he spared their lives and told them to go home and take the news to their people. This was the Indian custom, always to spare a few to carry back the news of defeat. They went home toward the north and the Nûñnë'hï went back to the mound.
And they are still there, because, in the last war, when a strong party of Federal troops came to surprise a handful of Confederates posted there they saw so many soldiers guarding the town that they were afraid and went away without making an attack.
* * * * * * *
There is another story, that once while all the warriors of a certain town were off on a hunt, or at a dance in another settlement, one old man was chopping wood on the side of the ridge when suddenly a party of the enemy came upon him--Shawano, Seneca, or some other tribe. Throwing his hatchet at the nearest one, he turned and ran for the house to get his gun and make the best defense that he might. On coining out at once with the gun he was surprised to find a large body of strange warriors driving back the enemy. It was no time for questions, and taking his place with the others, they fought hard until the enemy was pressed back up the creek and finally broke and retreated across the mountain. When it was over and there was time to breathe again, the old man turned to thank his new friends, but found that he was alone--they had disappeared as though the mountain had swallowed them. Then he knew that they were the Nûñnë'hï, who had come to help their friends, the Cherokee.

THE UNKTOMI (SPIDER), TWO WIDOWS, AND THE RED PLUMS
(From Marie L McLaughlin's Myths and Legends of the Sioux, 1916)
There once lived, in a remote part of a great forest, two widowed sisters, with their little babies. One day there came to their tent a visitor who was called Unktomi (spider). He had found some nice red plums during his wanderings in the forest, and he said to himself, "I will keep these plums and fool the two widows with them." After the widows had bidden him be seated, he presented them with the plums.
On seeing them they exclaimed "hi nu, hi nu (an exclamation of surprise), where did you get those fine plums?" Unktomi arose and pointing to a crimson tipped cloud, said: "You see that red cloud? Directly underneath it is a patch of plums. So large is the patch and so red and beautiful are the plums that it is the reflection of them on the cloud that you see."
"Oh, how we wish some one would take care of our babies, while we go over there and pick some," said the sisters. "Why, I am not in any particular hurry, so if you want to go I will take care of my little nephews until you return." (Unktomi always claimed relationship with everyone he met). "Well brother," said the older widow, "take good care of them and we will be back as soon as possible."
The two then took a sack in which to gather the plums, and started off towards the cloud with the crimson lining. Scarcely had they gone from Unktomi's sight when he took the babies out of their swinging hammocks and cut off first one head and then the other. He then took some old blankets and rolled them in the shape of a baby body and laid one in each hammock. Then he took the heads and put them in place in their different hammocks. The bodies he cut up and threw into a large kettle. This he placed over a rousing fire. Then he mixed Indian turnips and arikara squash with the baby meat and soon had a kettle of soup. Just about the time the soup was ready to serve the widows returned. They were tired and hungry and not a plum had they. Unktomi, hearing the approach of the two, hurriedly dished out the baby soup in two wooden dishes and then seated himself near the door so that he could get out easily. Upon the entrance of the widows, Unktomi exclaimed: "Sisters, I had brought some meat with me and I cooked some turnips and squash with it and made a pot of fine soup. The babies have just fallen asleep, so don't waken them until you have finished eating, for I know that you are nearly starved." The two fell to at once and after they had somewhat appeased their appetites, one of them arose and went over to see how her baby was resting. Noting an unnatural color on her baby's face, she raised him up only to have his head roll off from the bundle of blankets. "'My son! my son!" she cried out. At once the other hastened to her baby and grabbed it up, only to have the same thing happen. At once they surmised who had done this, and caught up sticks from the fire with which to beat Unktomi to death. He, expecting something like this to happen, lost very little time in getting outside and down into a hole at the roots of a large tree. The two widows not being able to follow Unktomi down into the hole, had to give up trying to get him out, and passed the rest of the day and night crying for their beloved babies. In the meantime Unktomi had gotten out by another opening, and fixing himself up in an entirely different style, and painting his face in a manner that they would not recognize him, he cautiously approached the weeping women and inquired the cause of their tears.
Thus they answered him: "Unktomi came here and fooled us about some plums, and while we were absent killed our babies and made soup out of their bodies. Then he gave us the soup to eat, which we did, and when we found out what he had done we tried to kill him, but he crawled down into that hole and we could not get him out."
"I will get him out," said the mock stranger, and with that he crawled down into the hole and scratched his own face all over to make the widows believe he had been fighting with Unktomi. "I have killed him, and that you may see him I have enlarged the hole so you can crawl in and see for yourselves, also to take some revenge on his dead body." The two foolish widows, believing him, crawled into the hole, only to be blocked up by Unktomi, who at once gathered great piles of wood and stuffing it into the hole, set it on fire, and thus ended the last of the family who were foolish enough to let Unktomi tempt them with a few red plums.

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