The Storytelling Stone A Seneca Tale told by Joseph Bruchac
Return of the Sun: Native American Tales from the Northeast Woodlands
The Crossing Press, Freedom, California, 1989
Long ago, the people had no stories to tell. It was hard for them to live without stories, especially during the long winter nights when the snow was deep outside the lodge and the people longed for something to give meaning to their lives.
In those days, in a certain village, there was a boy whose parents had died and whose other relatives would not care for him. This boy’s name was Gah-ka, which means Crow. He lived by himself in a small lodge he made of branches. Among his few possessions were a bow and some arrow which his father had made for him. Because he had to take care of himself, he became a very good hunter. He also carried a small tobacco pouch which his mother had made, telling him that it was good to make an offering of some tobacco to thank the animal’s spirit whenever he was successful in hunting.
The people in the village did not treat Gak-ka well. They made fun of him and laughed at his ragged clothes. Finally, one autumn, Gah-ka decided to leave the village and find a better place to live. He traveled for many days. He walked and walked until he came to a place where a large stone stood. It looked like a good place to camp. He made a fire and sat in front of it, thinking about his life and wishing that he had something to offer his people, something which would lead them to respect him. It was dark now and Gah-ka felt lonely. He leaned back against the large stone and spoke.
“If only I had something interesting to hear,” he said.
“Give me tobacco and I will tell you something,” a deep voice said. It sounded as if it came out of the earth itself. Gah-ka looked around and could see no one.
“What will you tell me,” Gah-ka said.
“Give me tobacco and I will tell you something,” the voice repeated.
Then Gah-ka realized that the voice was coming from the great standing stone. He reached into his pouch and placed some tobacco at the base of the stone.
“I will now tell a story,” said the big standing stone.
It was a story of the earth itself, of the woman who fell from the sky and the animals and birds who helped her. Gah-ka listened to the story. It was the most wonderful thing he has ever heard. He listened hard, trying to remember every detail. At last the story was over. Gah-ka waited and the voice spoke again.
“When a story has been told,” the great stone said, “it will be a custom to give the storyteller a gift.”
“From now on,” the great stone said, “when one announces that they will tell a story you must say Nyo. And when the storyteller says Ho! At any time in the story you must answer hey! To show you are listening. I will now tell a story.”
“No,” Gah-ka said. Then the great stone began to relate a tale of the animal people and how the Bear’s tail came to be short. Each time the stone said Ho! Gah-ka was quick to answer Hey! As before Gah-ka listened closely, trying to remember every word of the story. Too soon, the story was ended and the great stone was silent. Then it spoke again.
“This is as long as my stories will go on this night.”
Gah-ka was sorry to have the stories end, but he placed a few more beads at the base of the great stone.
“Thank you Grandfather,” he said. Then he went to sleep trying to hold every word of the stories in his mind. When he woke the next day he wondered if he had dreamed. But the bone beads were gone and he found that he still remembered the stories. He had eaten all his food, so he took up his bow and arrows and went hunting. As always, his luck was good and he managed to shoot several birds. As he circled back towards camp by the big stone, he came across a village. Some of the people in the village welcomed him and asked him to sit by the fire with them. As they sat there, Gah-ka thought of the stories.
“Would you like to hear something,” he asked.
“No,” the people said.
“Give me some tobacco and I will tell you the story of how the Earth came to be. Each time I say Ho! you answer me by saying Hey!”
The people did as he said. They listened closely and answered each time he said Ho! Before the end of his tale, everyone in the village was gathered around to listen. When the story was done, they all gave him presents. They asked him for another tale, offering him more tobacco.
“I shall tell you how the bear lost his tail,” Gah-ka said. “Do you want to hear this story?”
“Nyo,” the people said.
When Gah-ka was the done the people begged for another story.
“No,” Gah-ka said. “That is the length of my stories this evening. I must return to my lodge.” Then after promising the people he would return again the next night, Gah-ka went back to his camp by the big standing stone, carrying his presents with him. He placed tobacco on the ground and spoke.
“Grandfather, I am ready to listen again.”
“I shall now tell a story,” said the deep voice of the big stone.
So it went on for a long time. Each evening Gah-ka would share the stories with his friends and each night the big standing stone would tell new stories to the boy. Sometimes people from the village would follow Gah-ka back to his camp and see him sitting in front of the fire listening, but they could hear nothing. The voice that came from the big stone was for Gah-ka alone to hear.
One evening, after finishing his storytelling, a girl of about Gah-ka’s age approached him. She handed him a decorated pouch.
“You have many stories,” she said. “Perhaps you can use this pouch in which to keep them.”
Gah-ka thanked the girl and took the pouch with him. From then on, each time he leaned a new story, he would put something in the pouch which would help him remember that tale. A blue jay feather reminded him of the story of how the Birds got their clothing. A small wooden Turtle reminded him of the tale of Turtle’s race with Bear. As the days and weeks passes, the pouch became filled with stories.
Each time Gah-ka went to the village, he saw that girl who gave him the pouch. They became good friends and finally the girl brought him to her house. As soon as he walked through the door, the girl’s mother looked up at them and smiled.
“I see that my future son-in-law has finally come through my door.
The next day, the girl came to Gah-ka’s camp carrying a basket of bread. “I have brought you this because my mother agreed that we should ask you to marry me.”
Gah-ka took the bread and ate it and he and the girl were married. Now the two of them lived together in his lodge near the big stone. They lived well there because Gah-ka was such a good hunter and because he had been given so many useful things by the people of the village to thank him for the stories. All through the winter he listened to stories until it was time for spring. Then the big stone spoke.
“The time for stories has ended. Now the earth is waking up and the stories must sleep. After the first frost I will tell more stories.” The next day Gah-ka told the same thing to the people of the village.
Gah-ka and his wife spent a happy spring and summer together. They planted corn and beans and squash and took a part in the life of the village. When the first frost came, the storytelling stone began once again to share its tales of the old days with Gah-ka, who was now a young man and no longer a man.
So it went in for a long time. Finally, one day, the stone ended a story and was silent for a long time. “Now I shall tell no more stories. I have told you all the stories from the old time. From now on, the stories will be carried by the people, not kept in the stones. You, Gah-ka, are the first storyteller, but there will be many more storytellers after you. Wherever they go, they will always be welcomed.
And from that time on, that is the way it has been.