Letakots-Lesa (Eagle Chief) and Natalie Curtis on Pawnee songs

Initial "I" in The Indians' Book (New York; London: Harper and Brothers, 1907), page 96.N the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals,[a-1] for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon should man learn. Tirawa spoke to man through his works, and the Pawnee understands the heavens, the beasts, and the plants. For all things tell of Tirawa.

When man sought to know how he should live, he went into solitude and cried until in vision some animal brought wisdom to him. It was Tirawa, in truth, who sent his message through the animal. He never spoke to man himself, but gave his command to beast or bird, and this one came to some chosen man and taught him holy things. Thus were the sacred songs and ceremonial dances given the Pawnees through the animals.

So it was in the beginning.

In the beginning Tirawa gave to man the corn. The corn told man that she is mother—–almighty, like Tirawa. If a grain of corn be split, within it will be found a juice like mother’s milk. So the corn is mother, because she nourishes.

That is why, long ago, woman had all the work of planting. We might, indeed, call all women “mother.” Men might call their wives “mother,” for women grow the corn and cook for men; they nourish men, and give them food.

The corn is mother, but the bow and arrow is father, for the father always protects. So man must wield the bow and arrow. Thus it was long ago.

The Pawnees hold the Bear in reverence. He has wonderful power. A chosen man once saw the Bear. The Bear came to him and revealed to him a dance, and gave him all the Bear Songs. The Bear had been commanded of Tirawa thus to instruct the man, and to tell him that Tirawa had said that certain beasts would give man wisdom and power.

But the animal supreme for the Pawnees is the Otter. His is a message of wisdom, for of all beasts the Otter is the wisest. No other people than the Pawnees has deeper knowledge of medicines, roots, and herbs, and of all that lives upon the earth, in the air, and under the ground.

The Eagle is Tirawa’s bird. Of all birds Tirawa loves this one the most. For the Eagle has two eggs, and only two, and this tells the story. All things in the world are two—–man and woman. This is true whether of men, of animals, of trees, of flowers. All things have children of two kinds in order that life may be. Look well upon the eagle-feathers worn by Letakots-Lesa: the one on the right side is tall and fair and decorated with a tuft. This is man. The one on the left is short and unadorned. This is woman. So do the feathers tell the story–—man and woman.[b-1]

All things in the world are two. Man himself is two in everything. Two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two hands, two feet—–one for man and one for woman.[b-2] Stand in the sunshine and behold how man is two—substance and shadow, body and spirit. Even so there are sun and moon, and in moonlight as in sunlight man is two, always two.

All things in the world are two, the Eagle’s eggs tell us this story. But behold, the Eagle’s feather tells the story also, for the feather in itself is two—–half dark, half light. So we see upon it daylight and darkness, summer and winter. The white tells of the summer when the earth is fair, the dark of the winter when the skies are gloomy. Even in a single day we may see weather that is two—–cloud and sunshine.

All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two—–good and evil. With our eyes we see two things–—things that are fair and things that are ugly. Through our nostrils we smell two things—–things that are good, things that are bad. With our ears we hear two things—–things that fill us with joy, things that fill us with sorrow. We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.

This is the Eagle’s story, known to the fathers of Eagle Chief, and handed down from son to son. Thus did the Pawnees learn of the wisest bird, and thus did they learn of the Otter and of the Bear. Even so came the messages of Tirawa to man.

All this will make clear the songs, and will tell why Letakots-Lesa wears the necklace of bear-claws, the turban of otter-skin, and two eagle-feathers in his hair.
— Letakots-Lesa (Eagle Chief) in his “Introduction to the Pawnee Songs” in The Indians’ Book: An offering by the American Indians of Indian lore, musical and narrative, to form a record of the songs and legends of their race, recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis, (New York; London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1907), p. 96.

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"'N the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals"


[a-1] Some animals are spiritual beings with deified attributes, each one possessing a psychic quality peculiar to itself. The actual animals upon earth are the diminutive earthly image of these divine ones, and are placed here for the good of man. The spiritual animals are often symbolic of forces in nature. The Pawnees say that the Bear–—the divine, generic Bear–—is hard to kill, and this not only because of his thick hide but because of the psychic quality of ever-renewing life within him. The man who has learned of the Bear, or upon whom the Bear has bestowed power, has attained something of the nature of the Bear; he has become like the Bear, hard to kill because of the miraculous life force within him. The Bear has his power from the Sun, and the Bear himself is oftentimes the symbol of the Sun. The Sun is recognized by man throughout the world as the ever-renewing life principle. This knowledge of the power of the Bear is the secret of the Bear Society, a secret never lightly told.

[b-1] The feathers are in accordance with the law of nature that makes the male creature, whether bird or animal, to be the larger, the stronger, and the more beautiful.

[b-2] The idea evidently is that the human form is in itself symbolic of all created life, in that it is two in everything, typifying the male and female principles. Indeed, it would seem that to the Pawnees the right side typifies man, the left side woman. See the above description of the wearing of the eagle-feathers. Also compare Tawi’-Kuruks, Song of the Bear Society, p. 107, where the warrior wears the Father-Hawk on the right side and the Mother-Corn on the left.

Letakots-Lesa Natalie Curtis Posted on behalf of Letakots-Lesa, and Natalie Curtis on Friday, July 30th, 2010 under Quotations.

One comment so far

  1. Beautiful story

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