Legend of the Sacred Tobacco
For longer than anyone knows, Native Americans throughout the Americas have smoked tobacco and other plants for pleasure and for praying, as well as for medicinal purposes.
The smoke was the Great Spirit's breath taking the prayers up to the Ones Above. With a pipe in hand, a man could speak nothing but truth.
Walter Raleigh learned the use of tobacco from the Natives. To the White man,
smoking became an addiction; but to the Native American, pipe and tobacco were
sacred, and smoking was a holy ritual. If a man had killed a member of his tribe,
he was not allowed to smoke ritually with the others; but had to smoke a mean
little pipe all by himself---hard punishment.....
There once were four brothers, all spiritual men who had power. In a vision the oldest of them heard a voice saying, "Out there is a sacred weed; pick it and burn it." The man looked around, saw the strange weed, and put it in the fire. It gave off a pleasing aroma.
Then the second brother had a dream in which a voice said; "Take this herb, chop it fine, put it into a hide bag." The man did as the dream had told, and the dried herb in his hide bag was wonderfully fragrant.
The third brother had a vision in which he saw a man hollowing out a bone and putting the strange weed into it. A voice said, "Make four pipes like this," and the fourth brother carved four pipes out of an animal's leg bones.
Then the youngest of the brothers had a vision. A voice told him ;"You four men light your pipes and smoke. Inhale the smoke, exhale it. Let the smoke ascend to the clouds." The voice also taught him the songs and prayers that went with smoking.
So the four medicine men, born of the same mother, smoked together. This was the first time that men had ever smoked, and they sang and prayed together as they did.
The brothers, who called the scared weed, "Nawak'osis", were meant to teach it's use to the people. But Nawak'osis made them powerful, and wise, and clear-minded, and they did not want to share it with the others ..
They planted the scared weed in a secret place that only they knew of. They guarded the songs, prayers, and rituals that went with smoking. They formed a Tobacco Society, just the four of them.
So there was anger, there was war, there was restlessness of spirit, there was impiety. Nawak'osis was meant to calm anger, to make men worship, to make peace, to ease the mind. But without the scared herb, unity and peace was lacking.
A young man called Bulls-by-Himself said to his wife; "These four powerful ones have been given something good to share with the people, but they are keeping it for themselves. So things are bad. I must find a way to plant and reap the scared weed they call, Nawak'osis."
Bulls-by-Himself and his wife went to a scared lake and set up their tipi close by its shore. The man left every day to hunt and look for the plant, Nawak'osis. The woman stayed in the lodge to quill, tan and prepare food.
One day while she was alone, she heard somebody singing beautifully ..She searched everywhere to find the source of the music and discovered that it was coming from a beaver house close by the shore. "It must be the beavers singing," she thought. "Their songs are so lovely. I hope they don't stop."
Her husband came home with plenty of meat, but had not found Nawak'osis. The woman called his attention to the music, but he said, "I hear nothing, it's your imagination." "No, she said, I hear it clearly, put your ear to the beaver lodge". He did, but still heard nothing. Then the wife took her knife and made a hole in the beaver lodge. Through it they could not only hear the beavers sing, but also watch them performing a strange, beautiful dance.
"My young brothers," the wife called to them, "be of a sharing spirit, teach me your wonderful song and medicine." The beavers answered, "Close up the hole you have made because it let's the cold in, then we will come out and visit with you."
So she sealed up the hole and that night four beavers came to Bulls-by-Himself's lodge.
As soon as they were inside they turned themselves into humans. One asked," What have you come for?" "I have come to find the sacred weed called Nawak'osis," said Bulls-by -Himself. "Then this is the right place," said the man-beaver. "We are water people, and Nawak'osis is water medicine." We will give you this scared herb, but first you must learn the songs, prayers, and the dances and ceremonies that go with it. Here is what you must do. By day, go out and get the skin of every four legged and two legged creature that lives in and around the water, expect, of course, beaver. You must get the skins of all creatures that represent water. Sun and water mean life, Sun begets life, and water makes it grow."
So everyday Bulls-by-Himself went out for the skins, while his wife scraped, tanned and smoked them. Every night the four man-beavers came and taught them the prayers, songs and dances that go with Nawak'osis.
After a while, the beavers said ,"Now all is ready. Now you have all the skins, and now you have all the knowledge. Make the skins, which represents water power, into a bag, into a medicine bundle. Tomorrow night we'll come again for the last time to tell you what to do."
The following night the beavers came as they had promised. They brought with them the sacred weed, Nawak'osis. The top of the stalks was covered with little round seeds, and the man-beavers put the seeds into the medicine bundle the woman had prepared.
"It's planting time now", said the beavers. "Don't touch Nawak'osis before you're ready to plant. Choose a place where there is not too much shade and not too much sunlight. Mix plenty of brown earth with plenty of black earth, and keep the soil loose. Say the prayers we have taught you. Then you, Bulls-by-Himself, must take a deer horn and with the point, make holes in the earth, one hole for each seed, and you, his wife, must use a buffalo-horn spoon to drop one seed into each hole. Sing the songs we taught you all the while. Then both of you dance lightly over this earth, tamping down the seeds. After that, you just wait for Nawak'osis to grow.
"The young men left, turning back into beavers as they went. Bulls-by-himself and his wife planted the scared weed as they had been told.
The four medicine-brothers said to one another, "What can this man and his wife be planting? Their songs sound familiar." They sent a spy to find out and he came back and said, "They are planting the scared weed, and doing it in the scared manner." The four brothers began to laugh "No, it can not be, It's some useless weed, no-one but us knows the medicine of Nawak'osis."
But when it was time to harvest, a great hailstorm destroyed the secret tobacco patch of the four brothers. Nothing was left, not even a single seed. The four brothers sent a spy to see if Bulls-by-Himself's patch had also been destroyed. The spy came back and said, "The man and his wife had no hail on their field, and this is what they are growing." He showed the brothers the leaves he had picked. "It is indeed Nawak'osis," they said, and they shook their heads in wonder.
Thus with the help of the beaver people, Bulls-by-Himself and his wife, brought the scared tobacco to the tribes, who have been smoking it in the sacred manner ever since.
American Indian Myths & Legends selected & edited by Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz, December 20, 1984, retold from nineteenth-century sources.
Original teller unknown
Transcribed here by myself
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