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The Rolling Head

Once upon a time, and American Indian legend says, there were two brothers. Once day a beautiful young woman came to see them.

"May I come and live with you?" she asked. "I'd like to keep house for you. I'll see you won't regret it."

The two brothers talked the idea over in private.

"Very well," said the Older Brother at last. "You can be the Younger Brother's wife."

And so she married the Younger Brother, and they all lived happily together.

One day the two brothers were out fishing when an immense fish swam up to the surface. The men looked at each other.

"How on earth can we catch that?" asked the Younger Brother.

"The best way," said the Older Brother, "is for you to tie a rope of hickory fibre round your waist and wade in after the fish. When you've caught it, I'll haul you in."

And this is what they tried. But the fish was much too big. He just swallowed the Younger Brother and cut the rope with his teeth. The Older Brother watched in horror from the bank, then ran for help.

"Help! We must catch this huge fish!" he cried, but not a single animal came forward to help him. They were all terrified. He ran up and down calling till at last the oystercatcher heard him.

"I'll help, Older Brother," it called.

The oystercatcher dived onto the fish again and again, raining blows with its pointed beak till the fish was dead. The Older Brother dragged the fish to the bank and opened it up. Too late! The Younger Brother's body had already been digested, and only his head remained. The Older Brother began to weep.

Then the strangest thing happened. The Younger Brother's head opened it's mouth and began to speak.

"You can help me, Older Brother. Wash me carefully and put me on a tree trunk. Tomorrow morning I'll come home, and then I'll sing a magic song."

The Older Brother did as the head had asked. Then he went home and told everything to the Younger Brother's wife.

"He;s not a man any longer," he said to the woman, "he's nothing but a head. You're my wife now."

Next day the Younger Brother's head came flying through the air. It perched on the roof and sang a magic song:

Back to my home I am come now to rest.

Here I grew up, and here's all i love best.

Days now passing, and I will not roam.

Listener, stay with me here in my home.

The Older Brother and the young woman shivered. Without leaving their house they called to the head, "What do you want, head of Younger Brother?"

"I want my wife," replied the head.

"But she's my wife now," sid the Older Brother. He had no intention of giving up his wife.

"I see," said the head, and thought at once of revenge. "But I'm hungry. Won't you at least pick me some fruit from that tree?"

The woman was frightened. "Don't go out," she begged the Older Brother. "He's going to kill us."

But the Older Brother felt he could not refuse the head, as it could not pick the fruit itself. The couple came out of the shelter of the house and set to work. Suddenly the head flew over, bit into the fruit and spat the skin into the woman's face. She gave a piercing cry, and the Older Brother went to climb the tree and chase the head away.

Don't do it, Older Brother," warned a crow, "or you'll be killed. Run away with your wife while there's time."

So the Older Brother seized his wife by the hand and they ran away as fast as they could. But the head chased them, sometimes rolling along the ground and sometimes flying through the air.

"Give me my wife!" it kept crying. "Give me my wife!"

In their distress the Older Brother and his wife took refuge in the clay house of wild wasp. Inside, the woman lay trembling on the ground. Outside, the head was still wailing, "Give me my wife!"

"She isn't here," called out the wasp.

"You're lying," replied the Younger Brother's head. "Older Brother and my wife have hidden in your house. I can see their footprints in the clay."

But the wasp turned the woman into a man. Now the Older Brother and the New Man could leave the house.

"Give me my wife!" Give me my wife!" yelled the head again when it saw them.

"She's not here," said the wasp. "Can't you see the Older Brother and came with a man?"

But the head did not belive her. "You've hidden her, wasp," it shouted, and froced it's way into her house. It soon saw there was no one there, but it was still suspicious.

"You've dressed her as a man, wasp," it said.

"Of course I haven't" said the wasp, " and what's more I can prove it."

We'll have an archery contest between Older Brother and the man you think is your wife."

The Younger Brother's head agreed, and the wasp set up a row of four clay pots as targets. The New Man hit all four, the Older Brother only one.

"Do you still believe this is your wife?" asked the wasp.

"I suppose not," admitted the head, "but let's see if he's a good hunter."

And it set off with the New Man to go hunting. Soon their way was barred by a muddy river.

"Show me you can swim!" demanded the head. "Let's see who can reach the other bank."

In they juped, but under the water the New Man sang the magic song:

Back to my home I am come now to rest.

Here I grew up, and here's all i love best.

Days now passing, and I will not roam.

Listener, stay with me here in my home.

And when the head heard this song, it becaume forever a captive of the water. The New Man regained her true shape and went on. For some time she had been pregnant, and after a while she had three babies. She hid them in the hollow of a bamboo, and she wandered on.

One day she came to the house of a tribal chief. She was so beautiful that the chief married her. He even made his chief wife, something which made his othre wives very angry.

"This won't do," said the women to each other. "We must show our husband she's no good. Let's suggest a competition."

They went to the New Wife and said, "Let's see who can roast the most maize."

The New Wife agreed, and went to her friend the wasp.

"Help me, she begged. "The chief's other wives want to get rid of me."

So the wasp sent the oystercatcher to help her. It flew round the villages gathering roast maize, and soon brought her so much that the New Wife won the competition easily.

The other wives were very vexed. soon they had another idea.

"You're a beautiful woman," they said to the New Wife slyly. "Let's see which of us has the shiniest hair. Our husband can decide."

This time a bird with glossy, shimmering plumage flew to the New Wife's aid. He rubbed his breast on her hair, which then took on his marvelous colors. When the woman appeared with her rivals before her chief, her hair shone in the sun with a wonderful silky sheen, and she won the contest outright. Furious, the other wives withdrew.

"She must go," they whispered to each other. "The chief only has eyes for her. He takes practically no notice of us now."

They agreed to invite the New Wife to play ball. They would kill her with a bat, making it look like an accident.

Now the wasp itself flew to the New Wife's aid and gave her some advice. The game began. In the middle of it, before the other wives could set their plan in motion, the New Wife brought out her children from the hollow bamboo where she had hidden them.

They were powerful creatures: the wind, the thunder and the lightning. The wind blew up a storm, stirring up the dust and throwing the women to the ground. The thunder roared, and the lightning struck them dead.

When it was all over, the woman and her children left that place and went towards the west. As she journeyed, she sent her chilidren and grandchildren in all directions. That is how the Earth came to be colonized, for the woman's descendants founded villages wherever they went. They were the first men and women of the American Indians.

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