Cherokee folktales: Awi Usdi, the Little Deer


The Cherokee folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, is a story that is very relevant to most human societies all around the world today. The Native American Cherokee people of the Southeastern states of the USA lived close to nature and before the arrival of Europeans a balance was achieved that benefited man and nature. Many of their myths, legends and folktales reflect this and evolved to explain the natural world, their place in it and express their spirituality. Presented here is a version I have curated, edited and adapted of the Cherokee folktale of  Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, followed by a thought of where it all may end.

The folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

In the early days when the world was young humans and animals spoke together as friends and lived peacefully side by side in happiness.  Although humans needed to kill animals for food or to make clothing it was only done out of necessity.  An understanding existed between humans and animals and the animals knew humans had to do this, because some of them had to kill other animals to live.  The hunted accepted the hunter  and the hunter respected the hunted and nature was balanced.

Then humans invented bows and arrows and learnt how to use them to kill animals quickly and easily.   They began to kill animals with their bows and arrows not out of necessity but because they could and for the thrill it gave them and this tipped the balance of nature.  As time wore on more and more animals were being killed unnecessarily and the animals grew worried that they would soon be exterminated.  All of the different clans of animals held meetings in their different clans to discuss what could be done to stop this.

The Bear clan meets

The bears met in their clan and after much debated decided they should fight back.  The problem was they did not know how. One of the their great warriors pointed out that humans would simply shoot them with their bows and arrows before they got near enough to fight them.

Then Old Bear their chief said to defend themselves the bears must learn how to make and use bows and arrows to restore the balance to nature.  So the bears set to work and managed to make a powerful bow and some arrows to fire from it.  bear-907684_1280The problem was that that when they tried to use it their long claws got in the way.

One of the bear warriors said that he would cut his claws and then try.  So he cut his claws and he found he could use the bow very well and shoot with great accuracy.  Old Bear looked on and then told him that he was very good with the bow and arrow but then asked him to climb a tree.

The warrior bear tried but without his claws he could not get a hold on the trunk.  Old Bear shook his head in dismay and said that without claws they could not climb trees, could not dig for food and could not hunt.  He told them because of these problems they could not use the same weapons against humans that they used on animals so they could not fight back like that.

All of the other animal clans held similar meetings one after the other.  Many different ideas were suggested but none was found that could work. The conclusion was that the animals had no way of fighting back against the humans.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

The very last of the animals to meet was the Deer clan and their leader was Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.  When all the members of his clan were gathered he spoke and told them that he could only see one way.  He told them that here was nothing that could be done to stop humans hunting animals and told them that was the way of the world.  The wolf hunts rabbit because it is the natural law and there is a balance and respect.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer then said, “Humans are breaking the natural laws.  They kill animals out of greed not because they need to eat or clothe themselves.  They no longer respect us or nature.  In this way all of the animals are in danger of being wiped out by human greed and ignorance.  They have altered the balance and no longer respect us.”


He then said, “I will visit the humans in their dreams and teach them what they must do.  First when they wish to kill a deer they must first prepare by holding a ceremony.  Secondly, they must ask permission to kill a deer. Thirdly, when they do kill a deer they must respect the spirit of the deer and ask it for pardon.”  

Then Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, told his clan that if humans did not obey these simple and fair rules he would work his magic on them crippling their limbs.  This would prevent them from using their bows and arrows and return the balance.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer did as his word and went to the humans in the night and whispered into their ears teaching what they must do when hunting.  In the morning when they awoke the humans thought they had experienced a strange dream and many could not tell if it was real or not.

Some of the humans understood that Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had visited them and tried their hardest to follow and keep to what he had taught them.  They obeyed the natural laws and only hunted animals out necessity for food and clothing.  Just as they were told they prepared in a ceremonial way and asked for permission and pardon when a kill had to be made.

Sadly, there were still hunters that ignored what Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had taught and continued to kill animals when there was no need.  As he had promised Awi Usdi, the Little Deer visited them in the night and caused their limbs to become bent and crippled.  It was not too long before all humans began to treat animals with the respect they deserved and followed the teaching of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.

This is why there are still animals in the wild today because  Awi Usdi, Little Deer taught the humans to show respect.  Because of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, Cherokee people show respect. Even though humans and animals can no longer talk with each other respect must be given to the animals they hunt as Awi Usdi, the Little Deer taught  and the balance of nature maintained.

Where will it end?

But all this happened a long, long, time ago. Once again humans are inventing new and more powerful weapons and worse still have learnrt how to mechanise their killing of animals in numbers undreamed of in the past.  The natural balance has been lost and the sixth mass extinction has begun and no one knows where it will end. Perhaps if we listened to the teachings of Awi Usdi, Little Deer we may find it again, or perhaps it’s too late.  What do you think?

© 16/03/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 16th, 2016 zteve t evans