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so it begins: snaring of the sun
Winnebago Legend

At the beginning when the earth was new, the animals were the chiefs. They were more powerful than humans, whom they hunted, killed, and ate.

Finally they killed all the people except one girl and her little brother, who lived in hiding. The brother was very small, no bigger than a newborn child, but the girl was normal in size. Because she was so much bigger, she took care of him and did all the work.

One winter day the girl had to go out and gather food in the woods. To keep Little Brother occupied, she gave him her bow and arrows. "Hide until a snowbird comes," she told him. "Wait until he looks for grubs in the huge dead tree. Then kill him with one of your arrows."

She went off, and the snowbird came, but Little Brother's arrows missed him. "It doesn't matter," the sister said when she came home. "Try again tomorrow."

The next day she went into the forest again. Once more the bird came, and this time the boy's arrow hit and killed him. Proudly he showed the bird to his sister when she returned at night.

"Sister, I want you to skin the snowbird and stretch the hide," he said. "I'll be killing more birds, and when we have enough skins, you can make a feather robe for me."

"But what shall we do with the meat?" asked the girl. At that time people ate only berries and other green things, because they didn't hunt; it was the animals who hunted them. "Make soup out of it," said Little Brother, who was clever in spite of his size.

Every day for ten days he shot a snowbird, and his sister made him a fine feather robe from the skins. "Sister, are there no other people in this world?" he asked one day. "Are we the only ones?"

"There may be others," she said, "but we don't dare go looking for them. Terrible animals would stalk and kill us."

But Little Brother was consumed with curiosity. So when his sister went off to gather food again, he set out to look for other humans. He walked a long time but met neither people nor animals. He got so tired that he lay down in a spot where the sun had melted the snow away. While he was sleeping, the sun rose and shot fiery rays upon Little Brother.

Waking up, the boy found that his feather robe had scorched and tightened around him so that he couldn't move. To free himself he had to tear it apart, ruining it. He shook his fists and shouted, "Sun, I'll get even! Don't think you're so high that I can't get at you! Do you hear me up there?"

Angry and sad, Little Brother returned home. He wept when he told his sister how the sun had spoiled his feather robe. He lay down on his right side for ten days and refused to eat or drink.

Still fasting, he lay on his left side for another ten. After twenty days he got up and told his sister to make a snare for him to catch the sun. She had only a short length of dried deer sinew, and out of that she made a noose. "I can't catch the sun with this little thing," he said. So the girl made a string for him out of her hair, but he said, "This isn't long or strong enough."

"Then I'll have to make a snare out of something secret," she said.

She went out and gathered many secret things and twisted them into a strong cord. The moment he saw it, Little Brother said, "This is the one!" To wet the cord he drew it through his lips again and again, so that it grew longer and stronger.

Then Little Brother waited until the middle of the night, when it is darkest. He went out and found the hole through which the sun would rise, and at its entrance he set his snare.

When the sun came up at the usual time, he caught and held fast, and there was no day that day. There was no light, no warmth.

Even though the animals were the chiefs who had killed and eaten the people, they were afraid. They called a council of all their elders and talked for a long time. At last they decided that the biggest and most fearsome of all the animals should go and gnaw through the cord holding the sun.

This animal was Dormouse, who was not small, as it is now, but as big as a mountain. Even so, Dormouse was afraid of the sun. "What you want me to do is dangerous," she said, "but I'll try."

Dormouse went to the place where the sun rises and found him in the snare.

Struggling to free himself, the sun had grown hotter. As Dormouse approached, the hair on her back smoked and was singed off, but she crouched down and began to gnaw at the cord. She chewed and chewed and after a long time managed to bite it in two.

Freed at last, the sun rose at once and made everything bright again. But the heat had shriveled Dormouse down to her present size, and the sun's rays had half blinded her. So she was given the name of Kug-e-been-gwa-kwa, Blind Woman.

Though brave Dormouse had freed the sun, everybody realized that Little Brother, who had snared the sun, was the wisest being in this world, and the one with the greatest power.

Since that time the humans have been the chiefs over the animals, the hunters instead of the hunted.


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