Skywoman: A Story Before Time

Sky-woman-JB-Thomas-933x445The Haudenosaunee Story of Creation

By Santee Smith

A very long time ago there existed a wondrous place called Sky World. In this world high above the clouds lived a great nation of Sky Beings known as Sky Dwellers. Sky Beings looked exactly like human beings but their bodies were made of light. They sparkled like stars.

Sky World was the most peaceful and beautiful place in the universe. It looked very similar to the natural world we live in today. There were trees, plants, mountains and valleys and all sorts of animals, four legged ones and winged ones too. In the middle of the Sky World grew a great celestial tree. The sacred tree shone so brightly it lit up the entire Sky World.

All the creatures lived in harmony and they cared for and loved each other. Many families lived in peace in the Sky World and no one ever got sick or died.

Exploding Flower was a beautiful Sky Being girl who one day became mysteriously ill. Her family grew concerned for her health and tried to make Exploding Flower well again with medicines but nothing seemed to work so at last they decided to take her to see the Great Chief.

The Great Chief called upon the forces of Sky World to heal her and to everyone’s delight Exploding Flower became well. The Great Chief fell in love with Exploding Flower’s beauty and soon after they were married and expecting a child.

One night in a dream, the Great Chief was visited by a Spirit. The Spirit told him of a world that existed far below Sky World. This under world was covered with a thick blanket of clouds, an endless sea and complete darkness. The spirit explained that Exploding Flower’s sickness was a sign that she must journey to this Lower World.

The Great Chief sadly told his wife that she must travel to the dark world far below to bring forth new life. Obeying the dream they uprooted the roots of the Celestial Tree and Exploding Flower was placed in the hole of the Sky World’s floor.

As she fell through the hole Exploding Flower grasped onto the roots of the great tree but she continued to fall. She floated down and down into the darkness of the Water World below where only birds and water creatures lived.

The hole in the sky created a great shaft of light that partially lit up the dark Water World.The animals became alerted when they saw the sky open up and a bright white beam of light cut through the darkness. As she fell she heard the sounds of rushing air, rattles, waves and the honk of geese.

A group of geese became alarmed and flew up to investigate and discovered a beautiful pregnant “Sky Woman” falling from above. Thus, Exploding Flower became known as Sky Woman because she came from the sky above.

The animals and birds grew worried and wondered where she would land. They formed a great animal council to decide what they could do to help. The geese volunteered to catch Sky Woman on their wings to soften her fall. Circling her they joined their wings together, creating a feathery blanket to support her. Still there was nowhere for her to land.

Just in time a giant snapping turtle rose from the depths of the great sea and offered her back for Sky Woman to be placed upon.

The geese carried her gently down and Sky Woman landed safely on the great turtle’s shell. But a shell was too hard and barren for Sky Woman to survive on.

The animals decided that one of them should dive down to the bottom of the ocean and gather earth to place on the turtle’s back. But it was a very difficult swim to the bottom of the sea.

First a Beaver dove down and the animals waited but he surfaced without the earth. Then the leader of the Otters volunteered and disappeared with a splash. Everyone waited anxiously but he too returned empty handed.

Finally, it was a little muskrat that dove down last. The animals waited for a long time. Just when they were about to give up waiting for little muskrat she surfaced with a piece of earth clutched tightly in her paw. The small amount of earth was placed on the back of the turtle.

To thank the animals Sky Woman began to sing and dance shuffling her feet all the while spreading the earth over the turtle’s shell. From her hands and clothes and from under her finger nails dropped plants, roots and seeds that she had carried with her from the SkyWorld.

As she continued to spread the earth the turtle’s shell grew and grew forming an island. The turtle’s back became her home. Her home became known as Turtle Island which is also called North America.

Sky Woman gave birth to a baby daughter she named Hanging Flower. Together the mother and daughter were the only Sky Dwellers living on Turtle Island.

Hanging Flower grew up with all of the animals as her friends and guardians. They watched over her as she ran and sang happily.

Hanging Flower was full of energy, always ready to run and play, exploring far and wide. She quickly grew into a young woman and was given a gift of a magnificent singing voice. When she sang it caused the stars to twinkle. However, she often wished for a friend like herself.

One day a Thunder Being called West Wind heard a lovely sound as he was traveling the universe creating gusts of wind. West Wind heard the enchanting voice of Hanging Flower and rushed to her side.

Mesmerized by her voice he approached Hanging Flower. Hanging Flower was surprised and excited to see someone who looked like her. They visited for a long time singing and dancing together. Hanging Flower was so happy but grew weary from her adventurous day.

West Wind began to sing her to sleep with his favourite lullaby. Hanging Flower fell fast asleep and West Wind took two arrows from his leggings. One arrow was very sharp and the other one was dull. He formed a cross with the two arrows and placed them on her stomach. With a swirl and one last gust of air West Wind was off traveling the earth again creating winds, storms and thunder.

Awaking from a restful sleep Hanging Flower remembered her time with West Wind and then noticed the arrows. The crossed arrows on her stomach meant that she was going to have a baby. Over the following months, the young mother’s body changed.

Together Hanging Flower and her mother, SkyWoman, eagerly awaited the birth of a child. What they did not know was that Hanging Flower was going to have twins.

Inside her womb twin boys grew; and as they grew, they began to argue.

There was no peace between them as they pushed back and forth. They even quarrelled about how to be born and who would be the first one.

Holder of The Heavens wanted to do be born the right way as normal children enter the world. He was the first twin to be born peacefully and perfectly. Hanging Flower cradled him gently in her arms and sang him a loving song. His body and spirit were strong and his skin was smooth and glowed like his Sky Being ancestors.

However his twin brother, named The Bent One became furious for being born last and chose to come out in the opposite direction. Angrily he cut through his mother’s armpit with his sharp combed head. His body was misshaped and bent over with sharp edges and he had dark flinty scales for skin.

Sadly, Hanging Flower did not survive the birth of The Bent One. As she lay dying, Holder of the Heavens stood close to his mother’s side watching over her as The Bent One sulked and pouted in the distance.

When Sky Woman came upon them she rushed to her daughter’s broken body. Seeing Holder of the Heavens standing over her lifeless daughter Sky Woman mistakenly thought he was the one responsible for Hanging Flower’s death.

The Bent One quickly pointed to Holder of the Heavens in an accusing way. Sky Woman was over come with grief and banished Holder of the Heavens from her side.

The Bent One and his grandmother Sky Woman lived on Turtle Island together. She spoiled and cared for only The Bent One while Holder of the Heavens had to live all alone.

Holder of the Heavens buried his mother and from her body grew corns, beans and squash, strawberries and other medicines and from her head grew sacred tobacco. Hanging Flower became known as Mother Earth.

Alone, Holder of the Heavens grew up to be truthful, creative and a powerful leader. He had a good spirit. Full of wonder he explored Turtle Island speaking and learning from the animals that cared for and loved him.

His Grandfather, the Great Chief visited him in spirit from the Sky World and taught him how to create life. Holder of the Heavens roamed Mother Earth creating tall beautiful trees, animals like deer and chipmunks, flowing rivers and healing medicines.

Filled with hatred and jealousy, The Bent One tried to undo all of his brother’s wonderful work and often changed or destroyed Holder of the Heavens creations. The Bent One experimented with his own creative powers and changed some of the tall trees into knotted bushes and placed thorns and poisonous fruit on them.

The Bent One’s evil spirit created dangerous rapids in the smooth flowing rivers and he even created animals that killed the animals that Holder of the Heavens created.

On Turtle Island Sky Woman grew old and died. It was Holder of the Heavens who decided to place her head up into the nighttime Sky where she could always watch over her daughter, Mother Earth and her grandchildren. She became known as Grandmother Moon and she is responsible for the growth of plant life, the cycling of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the oceans and creation of new life.

The twins continued to disagree. Holder of the Heavens did not like all of his beautiful creations being hurt and changed. He wanted only love and peace in the world. But The Bent One did not want peace and so began the Great Argument of the brothers.

They decided to have a contest to see who would be the ruler of the earth. They battled back and forth for many days and nights. As they wrestled, tumbled and ran their bodies created the hills, valleys and mountains on Turtle Island.

Desperate to win The Bent One grabbed a spear to kill Holder of the Heavens. Using a deer antler for protection Holder of the Heavens wounded The Bent One in self-defense.

Holder of the Heavens banished his brother The Bent One to live in the bedrock and darkness of the earth. The two brothers decided to share Mother Earth and divided the world into light and dark.

Peace was restored and balance on Mother Earth was put into place. Later, Holder of the Heavens became known as Sonkwaiatison, for he created human beings from Mother Earth. Humans were born from a being of light — a star from the Sky World.

Courtesy of Santee Smith/Kaha:wi Dance Theatre – A Story Before Time.

 

 

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