Sunday, April 26, 2009

Red & Yellow, Black & White

I've always been a big fan of Native Americans. In fact, as a kid I rooted for the Indians and booed the Cavalry. [I reasoned the Cav never played fair and after all, the Indians were here first]. Of all the tribes in the United States, the Cherokee have always been my favorite. No, I have no idea why. Yes, they did once extend as far south as I am, but the majority ended up in North Carolina. Before the Trail of Tears. I think the first book which effected me as to man's inhumanity to man was "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee". I cried. I wrote the Bureau of Indian Affairs to demand an explanation of why Native Americans were treated so badly. I was twelve. The BIA sent me a few brochures and praised my interest in human rights.

Yep. Government hasn't changed much.

Interestingly enough, neither has the way Cherokee legends effect me. The Cherokee, like most Indian nations, believe that we don't own the Earth, but are Mother Earth's guardians. Since Earth Day just passed, I thought I'd share one legend which shows we humans truly are a connected lot. Remember, this story has been passed along for generations.

The Earth is a great island floating on a sea of water and suspended at four corners by a cord that hangs down from the sky. The four corners represent the four points of the compass. If the Earth grows old and misused, the cords will break and the Earth will sink.

In the beginning, the Great Spirit gathered all his people and told them they would be changed into four different colors and sent in four different directions. Each group was given a task on a stone tablet. When the group reunited, they would share their collective knowledge and live in peace as one great civilization. But if their tablets broke, the Earth itself would die.

The Great Spirit made the first group Red and thus the Indians were sent to the East as "Guardians of the Earth" to learn about plants and healing herbs. He sent their Yellow Asian brothers to the South to be "Guardians of the Wind" to learn about breathing and spiritual advancement. To the West he sent the Black men, "Guardians of the Water", to learn about the power and humble spirit of water. And to the North he sent the White men, "Guardians of Fire" who would create ways to move upon the face of the Earth and reunite the human family.

According to legend, the Red Tablet was kept at the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona at an area called Four Corners. The Black Tablet went to the foot of Mt. Kenya, the Yellow Tablet to Tibet and the White Tablet to Switzerland. And so to the four corners of the Earth went these people, all of them to live on high mountains to overlook the Earth. If they failed to come together as a family, the Great Spirit would grab the Earth in his hands and shake it.

The legend says the Great Spirit shook the world twice because Man began to hurt the Earth by taking what he wanted instead of gathering just what he needed. The Great Spirit predicted that life would speed up because of Man's greed. He offered Man a clue to when this would begin: when "an Eagle will land on the Moon". The Great Spirit reminded Man that when all four colors came together, they could share wisdom and bring peace to the Earth.

Just a story, you say? Interesting how legends filter into our lives. In spite of how many missionaries tried to "save the heathen", the truth is those religious brethren had much to learn about the stewardship of the Earth. I always found it ironic that those who came forth to help the Red Man learn basically stole their land and beliefs in the process. Or did they? Learning is a two way street. Otherwise, why would I have sung the following song as a child in Sunday School?

Jesus loves the little children.
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

This is a Mohegan tribal medicine wheel which hangs above my desk.
t represents the Earth, the four points of the universe and yes...
Red and Yellow, Black and White....all the people of the world.


Susan said...

Nice post, with a big sigh of 'if only' from here!

If you ever get a chance, drive north and visit Yogaville, near Charlottesville VA; they celebrate the idea of "truth is one, paths are many" where everyone in the world regardless of ethnicity or religion actually gets along. The gardens are spectacular; the whole place worth a long drive.

And the next time you're in a library, ask for The Long March: it's a children's picture book that tells a story of the Choctaw after their Trail of Tears and the Irish during the Great Hunger; wonderful if you enjoy the 'brotherhood of the oppressed' type story, as I do LOL.

Ok, I've bossed you enough for today. Didn't mean to give you 'homework'!

Peggy said...

Loved your post. My niece is native american and we can learn so much from their culture!

Linda McGeary said...

I also loved your story, and personal feelings about our "Red" siblings, I love the music of the plains flute and the South American flute, the Ocarina. I play them both. I taught myself because there was no one around to teach me or who would take the time. I immersed myself in the music of those like Mary Youngblood, Carlos Nikkei, and many others. Some local players who have CD's and began making up my own flute songs.
My oldest son, when he was getting married, ask me to write them a song and play at their wedding.
"The Sun and the Moon" a wedding song.
I've been playing now for about 7 years.
Another family story, yours reminded me of was when my boys were 4 and 6 and we went to a conference in Eugene Or, the boys were talking to a small group of women in the kitchen who were working on the lunch prep.
One of the women ask who is your mother? Toby our youngest, said, "Earth!"
She laughed, "No, I mean who did you come here with?"
"Oh," says Toby, pointing at me accrossed the room. "That lady over there."
When the woman talked to me later, and ask what relation those two cute little boy where to me, and I said my sons, she told me that story.
The boys and I had just spent some time on not littering, because it was just like spitting in your mother's face. We talked a lot about Earth being our Mother.

hope said...

Susan...I expect you to lead the way with interesting books. :)

Peggy, my family always thought I was nuts because I keep thinking there HAS to be a Native American in the family tree. I feel such an affinity for them, with no explanation. Thought I'd found one: last name Featherstone. Turned out to be German of all things!

Linda, I've always wanted to play a Native American flute. Maybe I should put that on my next "Things I Want to Do" list. :) I love Carlos Nakai! I think it's wonderful that you've written your own song...and raised such fun kids! ;)

dvanhoeven said...

Red, Yellow, blackand white--that is the theme of our special needs camp, Camp Sunshine (Camp need to know where you got your Mohegan Wheel--we want some like that one to use as visuals for our people--thanks for helping us--

hope said...

Hi! I got the medicine wheel on a trip to Canada but I believe that particular tribe is also in the N.Y. area as well. Perhaps if you try googling the name of the tribe, you'll come up with a gift shop...or a link to a Native American craft site. Good luck!

Otherwise, feel free to use my picture if it can help. :)