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The Mastodon

The Mastodon

It was long, long ago, in the most ancient times, when Kishelamàkânk, the Creator, used to appear and talk with our wise men (lèpâ'chik) and council with our people. At that time, our people understood the ways of the forest, and the Creator was pleased and very close to his Lenapé children.

At that time, our Lenape'wàk believed that courage, truth, honesty and generosity were virtues necessary to admit one to Awâsakàme, the Land Beyond. The Lenape'wàk were good and obedient children, following the original instructions given to them by the Creator, and so he was interested in our well being.

It was in that time, long ago, that there were mighty beasts that walked the forests, valleys and plains upon our Mother Earth. Many of these are found no more.

Yakwawi, the Mastodon, was one such beast, placed upon the Earth to be useful to man; but the great monstrous beast was fierce, powerful and invincible. Its hide was so strong and so thick that the sharpest spears and arrows could hardly penetrate it. This terrible creature made war against all the other animals that lived in the woods and on the plains; other animals that the Creator put here to be used as meat for the Lenapé people.

Then one day, a great battle was fought in which all of the animals joined together against the Yakwawi'àk, Mastodons. The Creator told the Lenapé that they were also to take part in this fight, and if necessary they should kill the Yakwawi'àk.

Our Old Ones have told us that the legendary Great Bear also came to help, and that he was seriously wounded in this battle, which is said to have taken place in the Ohio River Valley, west of the Alleghenny mountains.

During the battle, Kishelamàkânk, the Creator, came and sat upon a flat rock on top of the Alleghenny mountains to watch. Great numbers of the giant Yakwawi'àk came and still greater numbers of the other animals.

The battle was fierce, and the slaughter was terrible! The mastodons were gaining victory and the Ohio River Valley ran thick with the blood of the fighting animals. But slowly the battlefield turned into a great quagmire, and many of the Yakwawi'àk, because of their great weight, sank into the mire and were drowned. (This is why the land now called Kentucky was called the dark and bloody ground, because of all the blood that was spilled there. It became a common hunting ground for the various tribes, as no one would set up a village there, being greatly afraid of the ghosts of those slain Giants.)

Now, the Creator became angry with the mastodons, and from the top of the high mountain he hurled bolts of lightning at them until all of them were destroyed, except one very large bull. This bull cast aside the lightning bolts with his tusks and defied everything in his path, killing many of the other animals in his rage, until at last he was badly wounded.

So, he turned and fled, bellowing as he crossed the Ohio River; he ran along the mighty Namès Sipu, the Mississippi River; then he turned and swam the Great Blue Lakes, and he was groaning with pain as he disappeared into the far reaches of the northland where, it is said, his evil spirit lives to this very day.

Traces of that great battle may yet be seen. The marshes and swamps are still there and in them the bones of the Yakwawi'àk are still found as well as the bones of many other animals. In that great battle there was a terrible loss of animals that were made for food for our Lenapewàk, and the people were sad at heart to see such a waste of meat and fur.

So, in remembrance of that day, Kishelamàkânk, the Creator, caused the cranberry (pa'kim) to grow in the marshland, that it could be used as food by humankind. The coat and covering of the cranberry is the color of blood, in remembrance of that awesome battle that took place in that time long ago.

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Taken from The Grandfathers Speak, by Hìtakonanu'laxk
Interlink Books, New York, 1994

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