How Corn Came to Be, a Senecan Creation Story
Adapted from an 1883 recording by Jeremiah Curtin
In the time before time, the people lived high above in the blue sky. An
enormous tree grew in the middle of their village, a tree whose blossoms gave
off light. One woman dreamt that a man told her to uproot the tree. He said to
dig a circle around it, so a better light would shine brighter. The people cut
around their tree, and it sank under the ground and disappeared. Their world
became dark, and the chief, enraged, pushed the dreaming woman down into the
hole. Down, down, down she fell.
Still she fell. The world below was made of water, where waterbirds and animals
lived and played. They looked up and saw her fall, and began to make a place.
Diver-to-Darkness brought mud up from below. Loon told everyone to get some
more, and heap it onto turtle’s back. Beaver flattened it with his tail. Then
kingfisher gently brought falling woman down, and they worked together to make
the world. The earth grew, trees grew, bushes and flowers appeared. The woman
gave birth to a baby girl.
The girl grew up very fast. When she was a young woman, she went out walking,
talking to the animals and birds, gathering flowers. She met a fine young man.
When they made love, day and night came. At the morning star, she went to meet
him, and the earth shone with light. At twilight, she returned home, and
darkness fell. One night as she left him, she turned to say goodbye, and she
saw only a huge turtle where he had been. She knew the turtle had tricked her.
Young woman went home to her mother. She had gained the turtle’s wisdom, and
knew she would soon die, and her body would become changed and beautiful. She
told her mother this would happen.
Young woman give birth to two babies and then she died. Her mother buried her
and covered her body well. From her breasts grew two stalks, and on those
stalks ears ripened. When the cornsilk was dry, and the leaves bright green,
the Grandmother fed those children the new grown corn. That is how Corn came to
be, nourishing the people ever after.
Grass became as milk to the creatures of the animal kingdom, and corn became the
milk for mankind Frank Waters
The corn comes up; it comes up green; here upon our fields white tassels unfold.
The corn comes up; it comes up green; here upon our fields green leaves blow in
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