Folklore of the Paiute People: The Legend of the North Star

The Paiute people of North America are spread over a wide territory ranging across Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho and Oregon. They are an ancient nomadic people who made a living from hunting and gathering and some basic farming.  The Paiutes were made up of two or three main groups which were split into a number of tribes and bands that lived scattered across their territory.  Their spiritual beliefs reflected their closeness to the natural world and they created many myths and legends which attempted to explain the world they lived in.  The following is a rewrite of a legend that tells how the North Star was created and how it helped the Paiutes and other earth-dwellers find their way in the dark.

The Legend of the North Star

Many, many, years ago when the world was still in its youth the People of the Sky were restless and wandered through the heavens leaving their trails behind them.  Today, people on Earth can see the ways they went by watching the trails they left which show in the night sky.  Of all the millions and millions of stars we see in the night sky the only star that does not appear to journey across the night sky is the North Star.

However, the North Star does move.  It moves in a small circle around the north celestial pole each day but from earth, it looks stationary.  Unlike the sun, moon, and stars it does not rise or set.  It appears like the hub of a wheel to stay still in a constant position in the sky and in the northern hemisphere is used as a guide to find north.  However, according to Paiute tradition back in the time of the earth’s youth there was not a  North Star.

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Käna’sta: The Lost Settlement of the Cherokees

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le:Chief Standing Deer – Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina (5756036106).jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Source: Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Author: Boston Public Library

James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who studied among the Southeastern Native American people as well as those on the Great Plains.  He spent several years living with the Cherokee people and compiling their myths, legends, and traditions into a book,  Myths of the Cherokee (1902),   Some of these legends and myths reveal that the Cherokees believed that there existed a kind of “otherworld”.  This was populated by a people who appeared similar to themselves but were invisible unless certain rituals and fasting was performed which allowed the Cherokees to make contact with them.  However, these people could make themselves known to the Cherokee at will and sometimes did. There were also various spirit beings large and small similar to giants, dwarves, and fairies.  Presented here is a legend collected by Mooney called  Käna’sta, The Lost Settlement that feature the belief in the otherworld and its spiritual inhabitants  and what follows is a rewrite base upon this.

Two Strangers Arrive

A legend says that one day two strangers visited Käna’sta and asked to be taken to see the chief as they had a message for him.  The strangers looked very much the same as the villagers and did not seem to be a threat so they were taken to see the chief.

After making the traditional greetings and welcoming them with full Cherokee hospitality the chief asked them what message they carried to him, thinking they were probably from a Cherokee village to the west of Käna’sta. To his surprise, they told him,

“Like you, we are also Cherokees and our town is very close but you have never seen it, but we are there.  In Käna’sta you have sickness and disease.  All around you are enemies who make war on you when they can. One day a stronger enemy will attack and drive you from your homes and take Käna’sta and make you homeless and miserable.  All who live in our town are happy and free of sickness and no enemy can find us.  We have been sent to Käna’sta to invite you to come and live with us in Tsuwa`tel’da which is the name of our town.”

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In Search of Five Fabled Islands

Published on  #FolkloreThursday.com under the title Five Legendary Islands in Folklore by zteve t evans

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Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – By Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598) – Public Domain

Five Fabled Islands

Hy-Brasil, Buyan, Saint Brendan’s Isle, the Island of Antillia, and the Isle of Avalon are five fabled islands that were once believed to have existed by many people through the ages.  All had their own magical qualities and characteristics that were given to them by the human culture they appeared in. 

From the elusive island of Hy Brasil, King Breasal had a safe place to rule the world ensuring the natural order was kept. The Slavic people gave Buyan magical qualities to keep safe important concepts such as the Alytar and the Sacred Oak Tree and it was safe enough for Koschei the Deathless to keep his soul there.
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St Brendan’s Voyage – By Unknown mediaeval scribe. (University of Augsburg, Germany (image)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For Saint Brendan, although he found many islands,  the Land of Promise,  which he really sought may have been more of a goal of spiritual attainment. The seven Visigoth bishops found a distant island where a way of life they believed in and cherished could continue untroubled and in safety out of reach of their enemy.  The Isle of Avalon holds a special place in the mythology of the British Isles as the place where their King awaits the call to return and save his people. Of course, there are many other ideas concerning these mythical places, but what really matters is what each person makes – or is made, from these five islands of fable.

Petrification Myths: The Children of Waitaiki

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By Arthur James Iles (1870 – 1943) – Photographer (New Zealander) Born in Oamaru, New Zealand. Dead in Rotorua, New Zealand. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Poutini

In the myths and legends of the Ngai Tahu people who live on Te Waipounamu also known as the South Island of New Zealand, Poutini was a water spirit they called a Taniwha.  Poutini was the protector of the people and was also the guardian of several types of mineral including nephrite jade, serpentine, and bowenite and often known collectively as greenstone today.  The Ngai Tahu people called the greenstone, Pounamu and it was a highly prized mineral in their culture used for carving jewelry and ornaments in particular. They believed that all things had a life force or essence they called mauri and Poutini was the guardian of the life force of this special mineral.

Waitaiki

Poutini was believed to have his home in the wild seas off the West Coast of the South Island, or “Te Tai o Poutini”.  There was once a time when he would roam far from home. One day while he was basking in the warm waters off Tuhua, which is now known as Mayor Island which lies off the Bay of Plenty of the North Island, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life and he wanted her for himself.  Without further thought, he lunged forward and grabbed her and carried her off to the mainland. The woman’s name was Waitaiki and she was married to a mighty chief named Tama-ahua who was skilled in the magical arts and the ways of the world of the spirits.  As soon as he realized his wife had been kidnapped he threw a magical dart high into the air.  The dart pointed the way and Tama-ahua paddled his canoe across the sea following the dart.

Tama-ahua

Meanwhile, Poutini had reached the mainland and Waitaiki was chilled through to the bone.  He lit a fire to warm her but he hearing Tama-ahua coming he immediately took up Waitaiki and carried her across country with Tama-ahua hard on his trail.  The chase continued but every now and then Poutini was forced to stop to light a fire to warm his shivering captive.  Each place he stopped at to light a fire became an important source of Pounamu.

The Tears of Waitaiki

With Tama-ahua hot on the trail Poutini carried Waitaiki southward to Piopiotahi which is now called Milford Sound. All this time poor Waitaiki was weeping, frightened and very, very cold and she begged and begged Poutini to take her home.   Poutini would not listen and was still inflamed with lust for her and carried her up the Arahura River to its headwaters hoping to lose his pursuer.  However, Tama-ahua was still being guided by his magical dart and whichever way Poutini went trying to throw Tama-ahua off his trail the dart pointed the way.  It was only a matter of time before Tama-ahua caught up.  When he found his wife’s tears that she had shed that had turned to stone he redoubled his efforts in anger. The Ngai Tahu people find these petrified tears of Waitaiki and call it Tangiwai  which means tears that come from great sorrow.  They are clear like glass but are found in various shades and are also called Bowenite.

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By Vassil (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Turned to Pounamu

Realising Poutini had changed direction he followed his dart along the seashore to the Arahura River.  He followed the river upstream until nightfall and decided to stop and rest for the night so that he could be strong and as fresh as possible for the final confrontation with Poutini being confident he would catch up with him the next day.
Poutini knew that Tama-ahua was closing in on him and while carrying Waitiki he could not go any faster and he grew afraid.  He feared the strength and courage of Tama-ahua and feared his magic but vowed he would never give up Waitaiki. He made up his mind that if he could not have her no one else would.   Summoning up his own magical powers he changed Waitaiki into his own essence which was the same as that of Pounamu and placed her on the river’s bed.

The Children of Waitaiki

Then he sneaked past Tama-ahua while he was asleep and headed back downstream towards the sea.  When Tama-ahua awoke he followed the river upstream until he came to the headwaters where he expected to find Poutini, but he had gone.  Looking around Tama-ahua found Waitiki laid out on the riverbed.  Her body was hard and cold and had  been turned into the greenstone that the Ngai Tahu people call the Mother of Pounamu.  To them, her children were the fragments that break off her as the river washed over her and were carried down to the sea and she became the motherlode of all of the pounamu of the Arahura River.

The Tangi of Tama-ahua

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By Captain Richard Aldworth Oliver delt. Dickinson & Co. lith. [London, 1852] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Poutini went back home where he still swims along the coast and remains the guardian of pounamu.  As for Tama-ahua, overcome with grief he composed his Tangi which is a song of mourning.  He sang this with all his heart and soul and his voice is said to still resonate in the mountains today.

© 07/06/2016 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 7th, 2017 zteve t evans