This is the second in a series of three columns about local storyteller Carol Brown.
Local storyteller Carol Brown brings appropriate crafts and artifacts from American Indian Cherokee culture to her programs. She integrates lessons about the purpose of the items into the subjects of history, math or language for the benefit of youngsters in the classroom or into a subject requested by an organization or church group audience. Her hands-on experience with American Indian craftmakers - some she feels privileged to call friends - adds interest and tangibility to each legend.
The Browns' son, Tab, 25, married this summer. It comes as no surprise that the former Salem High School student and son of lifetime educators married an educator. The Browns' new daughter-in-law, Allison, teaches fourth graders in Oxford, Ala. Carol Brown, who loves family ties, found it no problem to travel to Alabama last week and present her program to Allison's class.
While vigorously telling the Cherokee legend of the monster, The Uktena, who lives in a crevice of a mountain and reaches out to grab passersby, Brown noticed a student on the front row listening intently to the story. She used his interest to come close to him, snorting and snarling in monster fashion and quickly reaching as if to grab the youngster.
"Well, he turned positively wide-eyed and white with fear," said Brown.
Brown thought she had simply provided the fourth grade children with entertainment to benefit their knowledge of an ancient culture. She later learned from her daughter-in-law that the child listening so intently had been a problem child - but for that day, at least, subsequent to the monster story, he remained totally focused and well behaved. The Cherokee folk tale, in this instance, benefited the teacher as well.
The following story, as retold by Carol Brown, taken from "History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee" by James Mooney, attests to the bravery and accomplishment that is possible from the smallest of creatures.
"The First Fire"
As obtained by
James Mooney from the
Cherokee and interpreted by
A long long time ago, the animals were cold and the world was dark because they had no fire. So the Thunders, who lived up in Galunlati, sent fire to the earth in the form of lightening, which they put in a hollow sycamore tree on an island in the middle of the water. The animals could see the fire, but they could not get to it because of the water. And they still were cold.
So all the animals came together in a great council and said, "Who will go and get the fire, for we are cold?"
The great raven, who was the biggest and strongest of the birds, said, "I'll go." So he flew across the water, landed on the top of the hollow sycamore tree, and, as he was sitting there trying to decide how he was going to bring back the fire, the heat belched up from the tree and burnt all his feathers black. So he flew back without the fire, and today he is the blackest of all the birds.
Once again the animals asked, "Now who will get the fire?" and the owl, Wahuhu, said, "I'll go." So Wahuhu flew across the water, lit on the top of the sycamore tree and looked down into it thinking about how he would get the fire. Suddenly, the smoke burned his eyes so that he flew away without the fire. Today, his eyes are still red.
Then two more owls, Tskili and Uguku, said, "We'll go." So, together, they flew across the water and landed on the top of the tree. As they sat trying to figure out how to get the fire, the wind blew so strong that it blew ash up into their faces. They rubbed and rubbed, but they could not get the ash from around their eyes, so they flew back without the fire, and today they still have white circles around their eyes.
Well, no more birds would go. So the animals came again to the council and asked, "Now who will go get the fire, for we are still cold!?"
The great climbing snake, Gulegi, said, "I'll go." So he swam across the water, climbed up the outside of the tree, got to the top, and immediately fell into the fire. It was so hot he quickly came out a hole in the bottom of the tree, without the fire, and his skin was burned as black as the little black snake.
Then the little black racer snake said, "I'll go." So he swam across the water, went into the hole in the bottom of the tree, but when he got in the fire was so hot he went this-a-way and that-a-way, and this-a-way and that-a-way, and back out the hole. Well, he came back without the fire, and today the little black racer snake still goes this-a-way and that-a-way.
No one else would try, so the animals gathered again in a council and said, "We are still cold. Now who will get the fire?"
The little water spider, Kananeski Amaiyehi, spoke up and said, "I'll go."
"You?" the animals all said.
But she said, "I'll go!" and she began to spin her web and made it into a tusti bowl which she placed on her back. She then walked across the water, went in the hole in the bottom of the tree, picked up one tiny coal of fire and placed it in her tusti bowl, and walked back across the water. And from that day to this, the animals have had fire. And from that day to this, the little water spider still carries her tusti bowl on her back.
Carol Brown can be reached at 770-483-1295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda Reynolds is a columnist for the Citizen. She is interested in stories about historical landmarks in Rockdale and Newton counties. If you know of a special story, place or event, e-mail her at email@example.com or call her at 770-483-7108, ext. 252.