Snake Boy and Snake Man
Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.
The Snake Boy
There was a boy who used to go bird hunting every day, and all the birds he brought home he gave to his grandmother, who was very fond of him. This made the rest of the family jealous, and they treated him in such fashion that at last one day he told his grandmother he would leave them all, but that she must not grieve for him. Next morning he refused to eat any breakfast, but went off hungry to the woods and was gone all day. In the evening he returned, bringing with him a pair of deer horns, and went directly to the hothouse (âsï), where his grandmother was waiting for him. He told the old woman he must be alone that night, so she got up and went into the house where the others were.
At early daybreak she came again to the hothouse and looked in, and there she saw an immense uktena that filled the âsï, with horns on its head, but still with two human legs instead of a snake tail. It was all that was left of her boy. He spoke to her and told her to leave him, and she went away again from the door. When the sun was well up, the uktena began slowly to crawl out, but it was full noon before it was all out of the âsï. It made a terrible hissing noise as it came out, and all the people ran from it. It crawled on through the settlement, leaving a broad trail in the ground behind it, until it came to a deep bend in the river, where it plunged in and went under the water.
The grandmother grieved much for her boy, until the others of the family got angry and told her that as she thought so much of him she ought to go and stay with him. So she left them and went along the trail made by the uktena to the river and walked directly into the water and disappeared. Once after that a man fishing near the place saw her sitting on a large rock in the river, looking just as she had always looked, but as soon as she caught sight of him she jumped into the water and was gone.
The Snake Man
Two hunters, both for some reason under a tabu against the meat of a squirrel or turkey, had gone into the woods together. When evening came they found a good camping place and lighted a fire to prepare their supper. One of them had killed several squirrels during the day, and now got ready to broil them over the fire. His companion warned him that if he broke the tabu and ate squirrel meat he would become a snake, but the other laughed and said that was only a conjurer's story. He went on with his preparation, and when the squirrels were roasted made his supper of them and then lay down beside the fire to sleep. Late that night his companion was aroused by groaning, and on looking around he found the other lying on the ground rolling and twisting in agony, and with the lower part of his body already changed to the body and tail of a large water snake. The man was still able to speak and called loudly for help, but his companion could do nothing, but only sit by and try to comfort him while he watched the arms sink into the body and the skin take on a scaly change that mounted gradually toward the neck, until at last even the head was a serpent's head and the great snake crawled away from the fire and down the bank into the river.
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Source: Myths of the Cherokee, by James Mooney. From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. Weblink.
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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