Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leeches in the Osage Creation Myth

The North American native Osage Nation's creation legend concerns their ancestors' spirits ("the little ones") arriving on Earth but finding it totally covered in water. Eventually, the Great Elk manages to make the land appear by throwing himself down on the water, but not before the little ones have consulted a variety of animals, such as Macrobdella decora...

The Wi'-gi-e
The Sho'-ka hastened to the Red-breasted leech
And quickly returned with him
To the Red-breasted leech the people spake, saying: O, grandfather,
It is not possible for the little ones to dwell upon the surface of the water.
We ask that you make a search for a way out of our difficulty.
The Leech replied: You say it is not possible for the little ones to dwell upon the surface of the water.
You ask me to a search for a way out of your difficulty
I shall make search for a way.
Thereupon he pushed forth even against the current
Pulling himself repeatedly as he pushed on.
He came to a fourth bend in the current
Where he paused and spake, saying: It is not possible, O, my grandchildren.
Although it is not possible for me to give you help,
I will tell you: My walk in life is on the surface of the water.
The little ones shall make of me their bodies.
When the little ones make of me their bodies,
They shall be free from all causes of death.
When the little ones make of me their bodies,
They shall cause themselves to be difficult to overcome by death.
When the little ones make of me their bodies,
They shall enable themselves to live to see old age as they travel the path of life.
The days that are calm and beautiful
The little ones shall also enable themselves to live and see.


Francis La Flesche, 1922, Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology #36

Thanks to Peter Whiteley for informing me about this, to Kara O'Neil for sending me these particularly pretty specimens of Macrobdella decora from her pond, and to Sara Watson for the photos.

1 comment:

kmo2001 said...

That was a beautiful story. The pictures were wonderful.