Daughter of the sun
- Cherokee -
Many Indian legends depict the sun as a male being who impregnates mortal women. The Cherokees are one of three tribes who view the sun as female, as has been said already.
In this classic tale with an Orpheus theme, the sun is an old woman with a grown daughter and human emotions.
The sun lived on the other side of the sky vault, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the earth. Every day as the sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west, she used to stop at her daughter's house for dinner. Now, the sun hated the people of this earth, because they never looked straight at her without squinting. She said to her brother, the moon, "My grandchildren are ugly; they screw up their faces whenever they see me."
But the moon said, "I like my younger brothers; I think they're handsome." This was because they always smiled pleasantly at his mild glow in the night sky. The sun was jealous of the moon's popularity and decided to kill the people.
Every day when she got near her daughter's house, she sent down such a sultry heat that fever broke out and people died by the hundreds. When everyone had lost some friend and it seemed as if no one would be spared, the humans went for help to the Little Men. These men, who were friendly spirits, said that the only way the people could save themselves was to kill the sun. The Little Men made medicine to change two humans into snakes - the spreading adder and the copperhead - who could hide near the daughter's door and bite the old sun.
The snakes went up to the sky and lay in wait until the sun arrived for dinner. But when the spreading adder was about to spring, her bright light blinded him and he could only spit out yellow slime, as he does to this day when he tries to bite. The sun called him a nasty thing and went into the house, and the copperhead was so discouraged that he crawled off without trying to do anything.
The people, still dying from the terrible heat, went a second time to the Little Men for help. Again the Little Men made medicine and changed one man into the great Uktena, the water monster, and another into a rattlesnake. As before, the serpents had instructions to kill the old sun when she stopped at her daughter's house. Uktena was large and fierce, with horns on his head, (the Sioux "Unktehi"??? - Red Sox) and everyone thought he would be sure to succeed. But the rattlesnake was so eager that he raced ahead and coiled up just outside the house. When the sun's daughter opened the door to look for her mother, he struck and she fell dead in the doorway.
Forgetting to wait for the old sun, he went back to the people, and Uktena was so angry at the rattlesnake's stupidity that he went back too. Since then we pray to the rattlesnake and don't kill him, because he wishes people well and never tries to bite if we don't disturb him. But Uktena grew angrier and more dangerous all the time. He became so venomous that if he even looked at a man, the man's whole family would die.
Eventually the people held a council and decided that he was just too dangerous, so they sent him to Galun'lati, the end of the world, where he still is.
When the sun found her daughter dead, she shut herself up in the house and grieved. Now the people were no longer dying from the heat, but they lived in darkness. Once more they sought help from the Little Men, who said that in order to coax the sun out, they must bring her daughter back from Tsusgina'i. This is the ghost country, which lies in Usunhi'yi, the Darkening Land in the west.
The people chose seven men to make the journey. The Little Men told the seven to take a box, and told each man to carry a sourwood rod a handbreadth long. When they got to Tsusgina'i, the Little Men explained, they would find all the ghosts at a dance. They should stand outside the circle, and when the sun's daughter danced past them, they must strike her with the rods and she would fall to the ground. Then they could put her in the box and bring her back to her mother. But they must not open the box, even a crack, until they arrived home.
The seven men took the rods and the box and traveled west for seven days until they came to the Darkening Land. There they found a great crowd of ghosts having a dance, just as if they were alive. The sun's daughter was in the outside circle. As she danced past them, one of the seven men struck her with his rod. As she swung around a second time, another touched her with his rod, and then another and another, until at the seventh round she fell out of the ring. The men put her into the box and closed the lid, and the other ghosts never seemed to notice what had happened.
The seven took up the box and started home toward the east. In a while the girl came to life again and begged to be let out, but the party went on without answering. Soon she called again and said she was hungry, but they did not reply. When at last the group was very near home, the daughter of the sun cried out that she was smothering and begged them to raise the lid just a little. Now they were afraid that she was really dying, so they barely cracked the lid to give her air. There was a fluttering sound, and something flew past them into the bushes. Then they heard a redbird cry, "Kwish! Kwish! Kwish!" Shutting the lid, they went on again. But when they arrived at the settlements and opened the box, it was empty. So we know that the redbird is the daughter of the sun. And if the party had kept the box closed, as the Little Men told them to, they could have brought her home safely, and today we would be able to recover our friends from the Ghost Country. Because the seven opened the box, however, we can never bring back people who die.
The sun had been hopeful when the party had started off for the Darkening Land, but when they came back without her daughter, she wept until her tears caused a great flood. Fearing that the world would be drowned, the people held another council and decided to send their handsomest young men and women to amuse the sun and stop her crying. This group danced before her and sang their best songs, but for a long time she kept her face bowed and paid no attention. At last when the drummer suddenly changed the song, she looked up and was so pleased at the sight of the beautiful young people that she forgot her grief and smiled.
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