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The Creation of the World

A retelling of a Cherokee myth

When the world began there was only water and sky. The animals all lived in Galun'lati in the sky, and after a while it began to get crowded.

The water-beetle volunteered to go down to the water to see if there was a place the animals could live. He swam over the whole surface of the water, but found no land. Then he dove down to the bottom of the water and brought up some mud. The mud began to grow until it became the island we know as earth. One of the animals—no one remembers which one—tied four cords from the sky to the earth to hold it up.

The animals wanted to go down to the earth, but they didn't know if the mud had dried. They sent Grandfather Buzzard down to see whether the earth was dry enough to live on, and as he flew around the island he began to get tired. As he was flying over the land of the Cherokees, he got so tired that his wings dipped down and touched the earth. Every time his wings touched the earth a valley was made, and wherever his wings rose a mountain grew.

When the earth hardened, the animals came down on the rainbow to settle the new land. But it was dark, so they pulled the sun down from Galun'lati and set it in a track from east to west. But they got it too close to the earth, and the crawfish got sunburned. So they moved the sun a handbreadth higher, but it was still too close. They raised it again and again, seven times in all, until it was just the right height.

The Great Spirit then placed plants on the earth, and told the plants and animals to stay awake for seven days and seven nights. Most fell asleep. The animals who stayed awake the whole seven days—the owl and the panther—the Great Spirit gave the ability to see in the dark. The plants that were able to stay awake seven days—the spruce, the cedar, the holly, the laurel, and the pine—the Great Spirit allowed to stay green all year long. These trees are good sources of medicine.

After the animals and plants settled the earth, the humans came, a brother and a sister. The brother slapped the sister with a fish, and she began to have babies—one baby every week. The earth soon began to get crowded, so the Great Spirit determined that a woman could not have more than one child per year. And so it remains to this day.

One day, the world will get old and worn out. The cords will break, and the world will sink down into the ocean again.

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