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  September: The Corn Month  [The Red Indian Fairy Book] How Indian Corn Came into the World (Chippewa)   L ONG , long ago, in a beau...

September: The Corn Month

 

September: The Corn Month [The Red Indian Fairy Book]

September: The Corn Month [The Red Indian Fairy Book]

How Indian Corn Came into the World

(Chippewa)  

LONG, long ago, in a beautiful part of this country, there lived an Indian with his wife and children. He was poor and found it hard to provide food enough for his family. But though needy, he was kind and contented, and always gave thanks to the Great Spirit for everything that he received. His eldest son, Wunzh, was likewise kind and gentle and thankful of heart, and he longed greatly to do something for his people.

The time came that Wunzh reached the age when every Indian boy fasts so that he may see in a vision the Spirit that is to be his guide through life. Wunzh's father built him a little lodge apart, so that the boy might rest there undisturbed during his days of fasting. Then Wunzh withdrew to begin the solemn rite.

On the first day he walked alone in the woods looking at the flowers and plants, and filling his mind with the beautiful images of growing things, so that he might see them in his night-dreams. He saw how the flowers and herbs and berries grew, and he knew that some were good for food, and that others healed wounds and cured sickness. And his heart was filled with even a greater longing to do something for his family and his tribe.

"Truly," thought he, "the Great Spirit made all things. To Him we owe our lives. But could He not make it easier for us to get our food than by hunting and catching fish? I must try to find this out in my vision."

So Wunzh returned to his lodge and fasted and slept. On the third day he became weak and faint. Soon he saw in a vision a young brave coming down from the sky and approaching the lodge. He was clad in rich garments of green and yellow. On his head was a tuft of nodding green plumes, and all his motions were graceful and swaying.

"I am sent to you, O Wunzh," said the Sky stranger, "by that Great Spirit who made all things in Sky and Earth. He has seen your fasting, and knows how you wish to do good to your people, and that you do not seek for strength in war nor for the praise of warriors. I am sent to tell you how you may do good to your kindred. Arise and wrestle with me, for only by overcoming me may you learn the secret."

Wunzh, though he was weak from fasting, felt courage grow in his heart, and he arose and wrestled with the stranger. But soon he became weaker and exhausted, and the stranger, seeing this, smiled gently on him, and said, "My friend, this is enough for once, I will come again to-morrow." And he vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

The next day the stranger came again, and Wunzh felt himself weaker than before; nevertheless, he rose and wrestled bravely. Then the stranger spoke a second time. "My friend," he said, "have courage. To-morrow will be your last trial." And he disappeared from Wunzh's sight.

On the third day the stranger came as before, and the struggle was renewed. And Wunzh, though fainter in body, grew strong in mind and will, and he determined to win or perish in the attempt. He exerted all his powers, and, lo! in a while, he prevailed, and overcame the stranger.

"O Wunzh, my friend," said the conquered one, "you have wrestled manfully. You have met your trial well. To-morrow I shall come once more, and you must wrestle with me for the last time. You will prevail. Do you then strip off my garments, throw me down, clean the ground of roots and weeds, and bury me in that spot. When you have done so, leave my body in the ground. Come often to the place, and see whether I have come to life.

"But be careful not to let weeds or grass grow on my grave. If you do all this well, you will soon discover how to benefit your fellow creatures." Having said this, the stranger disappeared.

In the morning Wunzh's father came to him with food. "My Son," he said, "you have fasted long. It is seven days since you have tasted food, and you must not sacrifice your life. The Master of Life does not require that."

"My Father," replied the boy, "wait until the Sun goes down to-morrow. For a certain reason I wish to fast until that hour."

"Very well," said the old man, "I will wait until the time arrives when you feel inclined to eat." And he went away.

The next day, at the usual hour, the Sky stranger came again. And, though Wunzh had fasted seven days, he felt a new power arise within him. He grasped the stranger with superhuman strength, and threw him down. He took from him his beautiful garments, and, finding him dead, buried him in the softened earth, and did all else as he had been directed.

He then returned to his father's lodge, and partook sparingly of food. There he abode for some time. But he never forgot the grave of his friend. Daily he visited it, and pulled up the weeds and grass, and kept the ground soft and moist. Very soon, to his great wonder, he saw the tops of green plumes coming through the ground.

Weeks passed by, the Summer was drawing to a close. One day Wunzh asked his father to follow him. He led him to a distant meadow. There, in the place where the stranger had been buried, stood a tall and graceful Plant, with bright-coloured, silken hair, and crowned by nodding green plumes. Its stalk was covered with waving leaves, and there grew from its sides clusters of milk-filled Ears of Corn, golden and sweet, each ear closely wrapped in its green husks.

"It is my friend!" shouted the boy joyously; "it is Mondawmin, the Indian Corn! We need no longer depend on hunting, so long as this gift is planted and cared for. The Great Spirit has heard my voice and has sent us this food."

Then the whole family feasted on the ears of Corn and thanked the Great Spirit who gave it. And, so say the Chippewa, Indian Corn came into the world.

 

The Spirit of the Corn

 (Iroquois)

THERE was a time, says the Iroquois Grandmother, when it was not needful to plant the Corn seed nor to hoe the fields, for the Corn sprang up of itself, and filled the broad meadows. Its stalks grew strong and tall, and were covered with leaves like waving banners, and filled with ears of pearly grain wrapped in silken green husks.

In those days Onatah, the Spirit of the Corn, walked upon the earth. The Sun lovingly touched her dusky face with the blush of the morning, and her eyes grew soft as the gleam of the Stars on dark streams. Her night-black hair was spread before the breeze like a wind-driven cloud.

As she walked through the fields, the Corn, the Indian Maize, sprang up of itself from the Earth, and filled the air with its fringed tassels and whispering leaves. With Onatah walked her two sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean. As they passed by, Squash vines and Bean plants grew from the Corn hills.

One day Onatah wandered away alone in search of early dew. The Evil One of the Earth, Hahgwehdaetgah, followed swiftly after. He grasped her by the hair and dragged her beneath the ground down to his gloomy cave. Then, sending out his fire-breathing monsters, he blighted Onatah's grain. And when her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean, saw the flame-monsters raging through the fields, they flew far away in terror. As for poor Onatah, she lay a trembling captive in the dark prison-cave of the Evil One. She mourned the blight of her cornfields, and sorrowed over her runaway sisters.

"O warm, bright Sun!" she cried, "if I may walk once more upon the Earth, never again will I leave my Corn!"

And the little birds of the air heard her cry, and, winging their way upward, they carried her vow and gave it to the Sun as he wandered through the blue heavens.

The Sun, who loved Onatah, sent out many searching beams of light. They pierced through the damp ground, and entering the prison-cave, guided her back again to her fields.

And ever after that she watched her fields alone, for no more did her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and Bean, watch with her. If her fields thirsted, no longer could she seek the early dew. If the flame-monsters burned her Corn, she could not search the Skies for cooling winds. And when the great rains fell and injured her harvest, her voice grew so faint that the friendly Sun could not hear it.

But ever Onatah tenderly watched her fields and the little birds of the air flocked to her service. They followed her through the rows of Corn, and made war on the tiny enemies that gnawed at the roots of the grain.

And at harvest-time the grateful Onatah scattered the first-gathered Corn over her broad lands. And the little birds, fluttering and singing, joyfully partook of the feast spread for them on the meadow-ground.

 

The Little Corn-Bringer

(Hopi)

A LONG time ago in an Indian village there was nothing to eat because it did not rain for five years. The first year the Corn grew large, but just as the ears began to ripen, the Frost came and killed them. The next year the ears were just forming, when the Frost came and blighted them. The third year, the Frost killed the stalks before the ears were formed. It was the same the fourth year. The people by this time had eaten all the Corn they had stored away, and some of them moved to another part of the country. But those who remained planted Corn the fifth year, and the Drought withered the plants soon after they came out of the ground.

Then all the people packed up their goods, and moved away; except two little children, a boy and his sister. They stayed in the village, and played together.

Well, the next day after the people had left, the boy made his sister a tiny bird cut from a Sunflower stalk. While her brother was away hunting, she threw the little bird in the air, and, lo, it became a lovely Hummingbird, shining like a jewel, and flew away. When the boy came back, she told him how the bird had become alive, and he was very much surprised.

The next morning, when the children woke up, the Hummingbird flew in at the door, and crept into a hole in the wall. The boy put his hand into the hole, and the bird was gone! But he found a little Corn ear. The children were very glad, for they were hungry, so they broke the ear in two, and roasted and ate it. Soon the Hummingbird came out of the opening, and flew away again.

The next day it returned, and entered the hole, and the boy put in his hand and found a larger Corn ear, and the Hummingbird came out and flew off. So it happened for three more days; the Hummingbird each time bringing a larger ear. On the fifth day it came back, but did not bring any Corn with it. When the boy put his hand into the hole, he pulled out the little bird, and it was no longer alive, and was only a piece of Sunflower stalk!

Well, he took it in his hand, and said, "Little Bird, go and seek our father and mother, and bring us something to eat." But the bird did not move. Then the boy asked his sister how she had made it fly.

"This is the way I did it," said she. And she took the Sunflower-stalk bird in her hand, and throwing it into the air, it became a Hummingbird again, and flew off.

It flew, and it flew, until it came to a Cactus plant on which was a single large red blossom. It pulled up the Cactus, and under its roots was a hole. Down into this the bird hopped, and found itself in a large kiva where grass and green herbs were growing. It passed through an opening into another kiva filled with Corn, white, blue, yellow, and red. There were also in this kiva Robins, Bluebirds, Wrens, Blackbirds, and all other kinds of birds. They were flying about the head of a Magician who sat there. He had put an evil spell upon the Earth so that the Frost and Drought should kill the Corn.

The little Hummingbird lighted on the Magician's arm, and begged him to take his spell off the Earth, and save the hungry children.

Then the Magician was sorry for the children, and promised the bird that he would do what he could. He gave it a large roasting Corn ear, and sent it away. It flew back with the Corn to the village.

The boy found the Corn ear in the hole, and he said: "O little Bird, thank you! Thank you! You have brought us something to eat again, and because of your goodness we are still alive. Go now and feed our parents."

So the little Hummingbird went away, and hunted over the plain for the father and mother. It found them at last, thin and dying of hunger, and brought them large roasting ears from the kiva.

Meanwhile the Magician took the evil spell off the Earth, and the warm rain began to fall. The Corn seeds sprouted in the fields, and pushed their green blades above the ground. Soon they became tall and stately plants, with leaves rustling in the wind. From their sides grew many large ears of Corn with their green silken tassels.

Then the father and mother, seeing the rain, came back to the village. But the little Hummingbird flew away and was never seen again. As for the boy and girl, they grew up, and were great Chiefs of their tribe; and they were never hungry again.

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