Thursday, November 8, 2012

Native American Skies -- The Pleiades

Last week I told a short version of the story of the  Ani Tsutsa, the Seven Boys, who got angry with their mothers and danced into the sky to become the constellation we know as the Pleiades.  Some have asked me why they were angry with their mothers.  So, here is the “rest of the story” as told to James Mooney, “Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayu’ sti game, rolling a stone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike.”
Game of Gatayu' sti
Painting by George Catlin

Gatayu’ sti, also known as Chunkey, was played with a stone disk about an inch thick and three inches in diameter.  The disk was rolled across the ground and the players would “chunk” long spears at it.  Closest got one point, hitting it gave two points.

“Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayu’ sti stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner.  When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said, ‘Since you like the gatayu’ sti better than the cornfield, take the stones now for your dinner.”

This story had different versions in different tribes.  The following Iroquois story is from a wonderful book by Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson called “They Dance in the Sky”, “One autumn many years ago, a band of Onandaga Iroquois were walking toward their winter hunting ground near a large lake in southeast Canada.  They had to travel slowly, because the land was wild and rough.  When they finally arrived at the place they called Beautiful Lake, they were very thankful because, as in years before, they found much game and fish there.  Clear water flowed from the many springs in the lovely valley nestled among the hills.

“Tracks-in-the-Water, the chief of the band, thanked the Great spirit for their safe arrival and for the abundance of wildlife.  “We will camp here for the winter,” he told his people.  “It will be a good winter.”  Everyone was happy.  They knew they would prosper in this peaceful valley by Beautiful Lake.

“Soon autumn ended and the weather turned colder.  Eight children from the band tired of helping their mothers and fathers in the daily chores and began to dance by the lake to amuse themselves.  They picked a quiet place away from the village.  Each day they met and danced for hours at a time.  Though they got hungry and lightheaded, they still danced on and on.

“For a long time everything went well.  Then one day, while the boys and girls were dancing, a glorious old man appeared to them.  He shone like silver in the late autumn sunshine and was covered from head to toe with a cloak of brilliant white feathers.  His gleaming hair was very long and white.  He was kindly, but he warned the children not to keep on dancing or something terrible would happen to them.

“The children didn’t want to hear his words; they continued to dance.  Each day, Bright Shining Old Man, as they called him, came and warned them, but the children ignored him.

“One day the children decided to take food along with them so they could stay out longer the next day.    They asked for food, but their parents refused.  “You must eat at home as usual.  Then you may go play.”  But they resolved to dance all day long just the same.  After a while, the children became hungry, and their hunger made them lightheaded.  Then slowly, little by little, they began to rise in the air.  Suddenly one youngster cried, “Don’t look down, something strange is going on.  We seem to be dancing on the air!”

“”What great fun!” thought the children.  At first they were excited and pleased, but soon dancing on air frightened them.  Now they couldn’t stop or they would fall to earth far below.  Bright Shining Old Man looked up, shaking his head.  He watched them rise farther and farther up into Sky Country.

“”If only they had listened to me,” Bright Shining Old Man thought sadly.
The Pleiades Constellation
Ani Tsutsa to the Cherokee
Oot-kwa-tah to the Iroquois
“Soon an old woman in the village noticed that that the boys and girls were floating away.  She called and called for them to come back, but they did not stop dancing.  Then the whole band gathered below and tried to call the children back, but to no avail.

“All this time the children kept on dancing faster and faster.  They did not look down.  One small boy recognized his father’s voice above the others.  The chief, Tracks-in-the-Water, called loudly to his son, “Come back, come back!”  The boy looked down and saw his father.  At once he became a falling star.  The other children just kept floating up, up, far into the sky.  The Onandaga call them Oot-kwa-tah.

“Now whenever the Onondaga Iroquois see a falling star, they are reminded of Oot-kwa-tah, the band of headstrong dancing children.”

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