USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Native American myth’
Myths
Narrative

American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.

Myths
Narrative

The Myth of Suha and the Superstition Mountain Flood- Pima Indian Legend

“After man was created near the Verde and Salt Rivers by the Great Butterfly, the Earth Maker became mad at mans behavior and decided he might drown them. He decided to warn them through voices in the wind and called out to Suha, a Pima Shaman. The North Wind came to him first, telling the people to change their ways or else they would be destroyed by floods. He warned his people but they didnt change their ways. The East Wind came next with its warning but Suha was unable to change his people. The North and South Winds later came, but with no avail. The South Wind then warned Suha and his wife to gather spruce gum and stock it with nuts, water, and deer meat to nourish them when the food would come, for he and his wife were obedient to the warnings. A flood later came, destroying the valley due to the peoples selfishness. He and his wife crawled into their gum ball and closed the door tightly, waiting for the floods to subside. Finally, the rains subsided and they landed upon Superstition mountain and descended onto the valley where they created a new people that prospered there for thousands of years.”

            When I visited my family in Arizona over spring break, my aunt told me this story after taking a hike through the Superstition Mountains. She has always been fascinated by Native American legends and myths, especially those of the Navajo, Anazazi, Pima, and Hopi for whom Arizona was called home. My aunt was born in California but moved to Arizona with my uncle in the 90’s due to his job. She had been a stay at home mom, but after my cousin grew up she decided to take a job as a librarian and read several books about Native American folklore, learning hundreds of stories about the origins of man and the creation of the earth.

I found this myth particularly interesting because its not the first time I’ve heard a version of it. It sounds almost identical to that of Noah and the Ark, though with different motifs. Water is a universal symbol for purification, so it’s no surprise that it is the medium of choice across cultures when retelling the cleansing of the earth. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia is also another similar story I can think of that too utilizes a great flood. It’s fascinating to see that both the New and Old World came up with almost identical stories to describe the history of earth and its people despite lacking contact until the 1500’s.

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