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-KEEPERS OF THE FIRE-

 
 

THE FIRST FIRE

 
 
In the beginning there
was no fire, and
the world was cold,
until the Thunders
sent their lightning
and put fire into the
bottom of a hollow
sycamore tree which
grew on an island.
The animals knew it
was there, because
they could see  the
smoke coming out at
the top, but they could
not get to it on account
of the water, so they
held a council to decide
what to do.  This
was a long time ago.
 
Every animal that could
fly or swim was anxious
to go after the fire.  The
Raven offered, and
because he was so large
and strong they thought
he could surely do the
work, so he was sent first.
He flew high and far across
the water and alighted on the
sycamore tree, but while he
was wondering what to do
next, the heat had scorched
all his feathers black, and he
was frightened and came
back without the fire.  The little
Screech Owl volunteered to go,
and reached the place safely,
but while he was looking down
into the hollow tree, a blast of hot
air came up and nearly burned
out his eyes.  He managed to fly
home as best he could, but it
was a long time before he could
see well, and his eyes are red
to this day.  Then the Hooting Owl
and the Horned Owl went, but by
the time they got to the hollow
tree the fire was burning so fiercely
that the smoke nearly blinded them,
and the ashes carried up by the
wind made white rings about their eyes.
They had to come home again
without the fire, but with all their
rubbing they were never able
to get rid of the white rings.
 
Now no more of the birds
would venture, and so the
little Uksu'hi snake, the black
racer, said he would go through
the water and bring back some
fire.  He swam across to the
island and crawled through the
grass to the tree, and went in
by a small hole at the bottom.
The heat and smoke were too
much for him, too, and after
dodging about blindly over
the hot ashes until he was
almost on fire himself he
managed by good luck to get
out again at the same hole,
but his body had been scorched
black, and he has ever since
had the habit of darting and
doubling on his track as if
trying to escape from close
quarters.  He came back,
and the great blacksnake,
Gule'gi, "The Climber," offered
to go for fire.  He swam over
to the island and climbed up
the tree on the outside, as the
blacksnake always does, but
when he put his head down
into the hole the smoke choked
him so that he fell into the burning
stump, and before he could
climb out again he was as black
as the Uksu'hi.
 
Now they held another council,
for still there was no fire, and
the world was cold, but birds,
snakes, and four-footed animals,
all had some excuse for not
going, because they were all afraid
to venture near the burning
sycamore, until at last the Water
Spider said she would go.
This is not the water spider that
looks like a mosquito, but the
other one, with black downy hair
and red stripes onher body.
She can run on top of the water
or dive to the bottom, so there
would be no trouble to get
over to the island, but the
question was, how could
she bring back the fire?
"I'll manage that," said the
Water Spider; so she spun a
thread from her body and wove
it into a tusti bowl, which she
fastened on her back.  Then
she crossed over to the island
and through the grass to where
the fire was still burning.  She
put a little coal of fire into her bowl,
and came back  with it, and
ever since we have had fire,
and the Water Spider still keeps
her tusti bowl.
 


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Last Update: 10-1-2000