Odyssey -- for adventures in science!

Long Sash

by Mary Algozin, from the February 1989 issue

You’ve probably heard of the Pueblo Indians – Indians of the American Southwest who lived in permanent cities, even before the coming of the white people. One tribe of Pueblo Indians, called the Tewa (TAY-wah), settled along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. They told a story about how their tribe came to live in that place.

A long time ago, the Tewa people lived far to the north. They were surrounded by fierce tribes. They could not even grow their corn in peace. Even as they cultivated their crops, enemy raiding parties would attack them. The attackers would take their corn and capture people to be their slaves. Sometimes they even killed people.

The Tewa called a tribal meeting. They spoke to Long Sash, one of their leaders. "This cannot continue," they said. "We must find a new home."

Long Sash agreed to lead them, although he knew that the way would be hard and the trail would be long.

The people started their journey. They took only their most precious possessions and a supply of food.

Long Sash organized the trek. He kept the group moving and helped them share their meager resources. When food was running out, Log Sash showed them how to hunt. They trapped rabbits and gathered nuts and roots along the way. Since they were constantly short of water, they kept a lookout for groups of scrubby trees that would show where a stream might run.

They came to a strange land where the Sun never set. They trudged along, getting hotter and hotter. The old people could only walk slowly. The little ones moved slowly, too. The journey seemed endless.

Their clothes turned to rags. Everyone got thinner and thinner. Some of them died. People wondered if they would ever reach their new home. The constant hardship wore them down, and they began to complain and argue with each other. Fights even broke out.

Finally, the exhausted group came to a spot where game was plentiful and there was a small but steady water supply.

"We will stop here for a while," Long Sash said. "This is the place of decision. You must make a choice. Will you follow me, or will you go your own way? Rest while you think about it." The people, exhausted, sank to the ground.

They rested for a long time, regaining their strength. They decided to continue and to follow Long Sash to the end of their journey. They knew they were dependent on each other and promised to get along. But their problems weren’t over.

Now Long Sash himself began to worry. Am I doing the right thing? he wondered. What if I’m wrong? What if we never reach a new homeland? They’ll all die, and it will be my fault!

He began to pray to the spirits. "Fathers and mothers in heaven, give me a sign that I am doing the right thing!" And he fell into a deep trance.

When he awoke, he knew the answer. "We do not have far to go," he told his anxious followers. "Our long ordeal is almost over."

They soon came to the land he had promised them.

A Tewa woman who told this tale pointed out that you can see many figures from this story in the stars. The brilliant constellation Orion is the hero Long Sash. On a February evening, you can find Orion easily if you face south and look for the three stars in a row that mark Orion’s belt. To the northeast of Orion are the twin bright stars of Gemini. They mark the place of decision, and they remind us to stop and think things through when we must make an important choice. The faint stars of Cancer, to the east of Gemini, are Long Sash’s feather headdress; he placed it on the ground to mark the spot where he listened to the spirits. The Milky Way, which crosses the sky, is the endless trail of the people’s journey.


Copyright © 2001 Cobblestone Publishing