In the beginning, when the World was New
Old Man and Old Woman walked with each other and talked:
"Let us decide how things will be," said Old Man.
"That is good," said Old Woman. "How shall we do it?"
"Well, since it was my idea," Old Man said, "I should have the first say in everything."
"That is good," agreed Old Woman. "Just so long as I have the last."
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The Hero Twins and The Swallower of Clouds
To the American Indian people of the dry Southwest, few things are more important than rain.The people speak of different kinds of rain: the male rain which strikes hard on the Earth and washes away; the female rain, which falls the Zuni people praise the mountains from which clouds come.
Clouds are powerful and benevolent, so when the Zuni tell the story of the giant, Swallower of Clouds, they speak of a terrible monster indeed.
They say when the world was young, a giant lived in the cliffs above Canon de Chelly, a little known National Monument in Arizona. The food he ate was human meat, for drink he caught the clouds and squeezed the rain into his mouth. The people called him Swallower of Clouds, the bravest of men tried to destroy him. But all who went to kill the giant were never seen again.
Before long, because he was swallowing clouds, snow stopped falling in the north. Because he was swallowing the clouds, rain no longer came from the west. Because he was swallowing all the clouds, mist above the mountains to the east disappeared. Because he had swallowed all the clouds, springs to the south dried up completely. Crops withered and died. People suffered from hunger and thirst, and soon they too, began to die.
The Hero Twins saw these things come to pass. "We will go and kill Swallower of Clouds." As they followed the path, they came upon a spider web close to the trail.
"Grandmother spider," they said, "Are you well?"
"I am well, Grandchildren," said the spider. "Where are you going?"
"We are going to kill the giant, Swallower of Clouds."
"That is good," said Grandmother Spider. "But first let me warn you, the giant has a trick. He stretches himself out on the top of the cliffs. He pretends to be sleeping, and then tells whoever comes to pass beneath his legs which he keeps arched over the trail. But as soon as they pass under, he grabs him and throws him over the cliff where he dies slowly so the giant doesn't have to eat him right away."
The Twins looked at each other, then asked, "But Grandmother, there's two of us. What should we do?"
"I will go ahead of you," she said. "Wait for a little before you follow." Grandmother Spider didn't have to go far before she came upon the giant, stretched out on top of the cliffs with his legs over the trail. His torso was as huge as a hill, his legs bigger than tree trunks.
He pretended to be asleep. Grandmother Spider was so small the giant didn't hear her, with his eyes closed he didn't see her. She was so small that he didn't feel her when she let herself down on his forehead with the lightest, thinnest strand of silk. While the giant pretended to sleep, Grandmother Spider wove her strongest web across his eyes so he would not be able to open them.
Meanwhile, back on the trail, the Hero Twins started on their way, and they began to sing their war song.
"Who is that?" the giant's voice boomed as the Hero Twins came close. "I am old and tired, too tired to move out of the way."
But the Hero Twins didn't do as the giant expected. Instead they split up, one ran to the right, and one to the left. The giant tried to open his eyes to see where they were, but couldn't.
"Where are you?" he roared, striking out and missing them.
Swallower of Clouds struck out again, but he missed them again. Then the Twins leaped upon him and struck him in the head, the other in the stomach. Then they pushed his body over the cliffs where he had thrown all those brave men.
Now the clouds were able to pass again through the mountains. The snow returned to the North. Rain came again from the west. Mists formed once more over the mountains to the east. Springs of fresh water flowed once again to the south. Crops grew, and the people again thrived and happy.
They say that when the giant fell, he hit the dirt so hard that his feet drove into the Earth. He stands there to this day, blood red all up and down his great body. Though some may call that stone by other names, the Zuni know it is the Swallower of Clouds and give thanks to the Hero Twins for giving back their life-giving rain. And, unlike us, they've never forgotten that mankind belongs to the earth, not the other way around.
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Storytelling is not a task given to just anyone. The storyteller is a person of great responsibility and importance. It is not we who keep the stories. It is the stories that keep us. If we lose our stories, we are in danger of losing all we hold dear and sacred. In fact, it is oft said that 'If there is no story, there was no occasion.' Such is the Muskogee Way.
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