Culture - Who we are
Late at night around the campfires, Seminole children safely tucked into mosquito nets, used to listen to the elders retelling the old stories. These priceless legends of mischievous Rabbit, the Corn Lady, the Deer Girl, and all the creatures of the Florida Everglades impart valuable lessons about living in harmony with nature and about why the world is the way it is. Many of these stories, which tell about the way of life and beliefs of the Seminoles of Florida, have been collected and told on a riviting CD called Seminole Fire by Chief Jim Billie. This book joins another book collection called, Legends Of The Seminoles, by Betty Mae Jumper. Both Legends Of the Seminoles and a video featuring Betty Mae Jumper called The Corn Lady are also available at the Marketplace
Legends of the Seminoles
When the Creator, the Grandfather of all things, created the earth, there were many things he wanted to put there. Birds, animals, reptiles, insects, and many different living things. The Creator did have certain favorite animals. He liked the Panther, Coo-wah-chobee - crawls on four legs, close to the ground. The Panther would sit beside the Creator and He would pet the Panther, over and over, across its long, soft, furry back.
The Creator made sure that certain animals and plants possessed unique healing powers. When the Creator touches certain things longer than normal, His powers automatically go into what He touches. He told Panther, "When it's complete, I would like for you to be the first to walk on the earth. You are majestic and beautiful. You have patience and strength. There is something special about you. You are the perfect one to walk the earth first."
Creator went to work making all sorts of animals and birds. Animals on all fours, animals with hooves, animals with paws, birds with claws, insects, reptiles - why, there was nothing the Creator left out. When the earth was ready, Creator put all the animals in a large shell. He set it along the backbone of the earth - the real high mountains. "When the timing is right," He told the animals, "the shell will open and you will all crawl out. Someone or something will crack the shell and you must all take your respective places on the face the earth." The Creator then sealed up the shell and left, hoping the Panther would be first to come out.
Time went along, and nothing happened. Alongside the shell stood a great tree. As time passed, the tree grew so large that its roots started encircling the shell. Eventually a root cracked the shell. The Panther was patient, which the Creator liked. But, at this particular time, Panther was too patient. The Wind started circling around the crack in the shell, round and round the inside, so vigorously that the crack was made larger.
The Wind, however, remembered that the Creator wished for the Panther to be on earth first. "We will fulfill the Creator's wishes," said the Wind, reaching down to help the Panther take its place on earth.
The Wind was everywhere. The Wind was the air we breathe. After Wind helped the Panther out first, the Panther thanked Wind for the honor. Next to crawl out was the Bird. The Bird had picked and picked around the hole, and, when the time was right, stepped outside the shell. Bird took flight immediately. After that, other animals emerged in different sequences. Bear, Deer, Snake, Frog, Otter. There were thousands of others, so many that no one besides the Creator could even begin to count them all. All went out to seek their proper places on earth.
Meanwhile, as Bird was flying around looking for a place to live on earth, the Creator was watching. He watched each animal and did not intervene, but left the animals on their own. The Creator often allows things to happen along their own sequences. Sometimes a thing must happen on its own merits.
When the Creator saw that all was done, He decided to name the animals and put them into Clans. For being such a good companion, the Creator rewarded the Panther with special qualities: "Your Clan will have the knowledge for making laws and for making the medicine which heals," Creator told Panther. "You, the Panther, will be in possession of all knowledge of different things. The Panther will have the power to heal different ailments and to enhance mental powers."
Creator believed the actions of the Wind were very honorable and noble, so He told the Wind: "You will serve all living things so they may breathe. Without the wind - or air - all will die."
The Bird, for being able to take flight, will be ruler of the earth, said the Creator: "The Bird will make sure that all things are put in their proper places on earth."
So this is how the beginning was made. Some call it the Creation. Though there were many, many animals put on this earth by the Creator, all came to know their proper places on earth.
Today, among the Seminoles and other Indian people, there are ceremonies on the occasion of the greening of the earth. At these ceremonies, you can see the Panther, with brother Wind, mixing the medicines for all people to use.
If you enter the festival grounds and don't know your place, you seek out the head of the Bird Clan - usually a man ranked high within the Clan - and ask where to make your camp. He will ask you "What is your Clan?" If you say "Panther," he will give you a direction and instruct you to seek out the head of the Panther Clan and he will tell you exactly where to sleep.
Stories such as the Creation and many other legends do have important meanings to us. Sometimes, however, interpreting them may confuse us. Seminole, Miccosukees, Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, and many other tribes tell tales of Creation. These stories may or from Clan to Clan. For good reason - they all live in different locations on the earth and that has much to do with the way the stories are told.