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From: Bill <>
Subject: [OH-NW-HERITAGE] Black Swamp Heritage, "The Moon Basket",26 October 2008, Vol 7 #35
Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2008 12:05:42 -0400
Black Swamp Heritage Articles
© Bill Oliver
26 October 2008
Vol 7 Issue: #35
Good Evening from the Black Swamp of NWoHIo,
"The Moon Basket"
What do Mark Twain and the Pawnee have in common? If you thought –
stories and storytelling – you would be on this wavelength.
"Very often, of course," Mark Twain writes in "How to Tell a Story,"
"the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point,
snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be
alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub
by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the
pretense that he does not know it is a nub. Artimus Ward used that trick
a good deal; then when the belated audience presently caught the joke he
would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had
found to laugh at." Mark Twain was a master of such deadpan trickery. He
was so good at it that one time he came onstage and said nothing. He
just stood there expressionless. He held the audience on the very edge
of their seat waiting. He wrote home, "An audience captured in that way
belongs to the speaker, body and soul."
The Great Plains of North America stretch from the Mississippi River to
the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada. South of
the midpoint of this expanse of flat, arid territory lies what is today
southern Nebraska which was inhabited by eagles, pronghorn antelope,
elk, deer, wolf, coyote, jacktabbits, prairie dogs and bison. In the far
southeast of the Great Plains lived the Caddo who came from what is
today Mexico. The Pawnee and the Caddo were related. About 1200 A.D. the
Pawnee moved and settled in southern Nebraska.
These people developed a rich culture that included rituals and
ceremonies founded on the cultivation and harvesting of corn. To the
Pawnee, corn and bison were given to them by The Creator. They believed
that they were descended from heavenly bodies – the moon and other
planets. Thus, spiritually, with one foot planted in the stars and one
in the fertile prairie they lived in harmony with their environment.
Their days were spent tending their crops and hunting while nights were
enjoyed by rituals, ceremonies and storytelling. A story from my
collection attributed to be Pawnee follows.
After the World was first created, All was in darkness. There were many
spirits and many animals in the World. Then First Boy and First Girl
were made out of mud of the Earth. Tirawa, The Creator, gave First Boy a
bow and arrows and instructed him to go hunting. He was told that the
animal he brought down would be the determining factor in how much light
there would be in the World.
The black deer ran passed him. So, also did the gray elk and the white
antelope. But, he did not shoot them. Then the ground began to shake and
a bison, half white and half black, ran by. First Boy fixed an arrow in
his bow and shot the bison. This established that half the time it is
light and half of the time it is dark.
During the days when it was light they were happy and busy with their
tasks. When the light left and it was dark they were not happy.
One night, they heard drumming and voices singing. They followed the
sounds and came to a field with tall plants. These were First Corn. In
the middle of the field was a clearing with a huge lodge made of long
poles covered with bison skins.
A woman with a shinning face, who called herself Moon Woman, greeted
them and invited them into the lodge. Inside were many girls dancing.
Moon Woman explained that they were her daughters, the Stars.
Singing and beating drums were four old men whom Moon Woman introduced
as Wind, Cloud, Lightning, and Thunder – the four powers of the sky.
As First Boy and First Girl watched closely to the dancing and listened
carefully to the singing, the brightness of Moon Woman filled the lodge
with light. Moon Woman picked up a beautiful basket made of long,
slender willow twigs woven together. Inside the basket was a beautiful
ball of white light.
"Daughter," Moon Woman said to First Girl, "look at the basket. Look at
how it is made and then you can make your own baskets." Moon Woman then
showed First Girl how to bend willow twigs and weave them together. She
showed her how to coat the inside with mud so that it would carry coals
without burning or carry water without leaking. Moon Woman said that the
mud makes it like earth and it stands for creation."
The Four Old Men showed First Boy how their lodge was made, how the
poles were put together, and how they were covered with bison hides. The
Four Powers of the Sky also showed First Boy the plants that grew
outside the lodge. There was corn to help feed all the people to come.
Moon Woman now took First Girl and First Boy outside. There she held up
her Moon Basket and the Moon rose up into the sky. Wind, Cloud,
Lightning, and Thunder sang. Moon Woman's daughters, the stars, came
from the lodge and danced up into the night sky. The night sky became
bright and filled with light.
Moon Woman said, "Tirawa, the Great Creator, wants things this way. The
light of my daughters will fill the night sky and you will see my
shining face in the Ball of Light that is the Moon. You can see the
Dance of Life in the movements of the Moon and the Stars. The Moon
Basket will remind you of all that we have taught you."
First Boy and First Girl remembered the things Moon Woman taught them.
They sang the songs and danced the dance of the stars. They thanked
Tirawa, the Creator, for filling the night sky with light. First Boy
made a lodge like the lodge of the Four Powers of the Sky and First Girl
made a Moon Basket of willow twigs and lined it with clay. They taught
all this to the people who came after them.
I know not how the truth may be, I tell the tale as ‘twas told to me ....
e-la-Di-e-das-Di ha-WI NV-WA-do-hi-ya NV-WA-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony)
"Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our
lives ..." Alexander McCall Smith, Dream Angus
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