Who Run the World?…GIRLS!

In American Indian Myths and Legends, Erdoes and Ortiz address various themes and motifs, one of which being the role and importance of women in Native American cultures.  Specifically speaking, “Corn Mother” and “Creation of the Animal People” clearly outline the roles of females as being nurturers, providing sustenance not only to children but to entire tribes spanning several generations.  Both stories depict women as sacrificial, as their flesh and bones are used to produce and provide for the members of her tribe, as well as crucial elements to the birth and survival of the people within these civilizations.

In “Corn Mother,” the female character is illustrated as the provider for her people, sacrificing her own life to supply them with corn (which is created from her flesh) and tobacco (which is created from her breath).  She willingly gives of herself, requesting of her husband that she be killed and her body then drug across the land to ensure a plentiful harvest, thereby associating a certain level of selflessness with women as she gave her life to care for others.  There is also a biblical undertone within this tale as the people “partook of First Mother’s flesh” allowing them to “live and flourish,” similar to the Christian last supper in which bread is a representation of Christ’s body, broken and given to his people so they, too, may live and flourish.  The final paragraph of the tale begins by reminding the people to, “take good care of First Mother’s flesh, because it is her goodness became substance.  Take good care of her breath, because it is her love turned into smoke.”  They are ordered to think of her as they eat and smoke because “she has given her life so that [they] might live,” (again, another biblical connection as Christ gave his life to save all Christians) indicating that the female spirit is something to be thought of daily and highly revered.

Similarly, in “Creation of the Animal People” it is a woman whose body has been broken and used to create and sustain life on earth. However, rather than a willing sacrifice, this one appears to be more forced, as we are told that, “The earth was once a human being: Old One made her out of a woman.”  Like the first tale, this one also goes on to describe the woman’s body as being used to supply sustenance, explaining that, “The soil is her flesh, the rocks are her bones, the wind is her breath, trees and grass are her hair.”  Her flesh is also used in the creation of humans and animals to populate the earth.  Where the first story used women to merely sustain life, this one seems to use her to create life entirely, which, again, has religious connotations with regards to creation narratives.  Both this story and “Corn Mother” depict females as essential to life at its most rudimentary levels.  Women are seen as giving and nurturing, often sacrificing of themselves to provide for others, and therefore crucial to a successful existence.

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