AppLit Home Native American Tales from Appalachia / Tales of Strong Women Tina L. Hanlon

"The Daughter of the Sun" or "Dancing Drum"


Note: The Cherokee homeland was in the southern Appalachian Mountains for hundreds of years before Europeans and Americans forced most of the Cherokee to move west. AppLit includes tales from Cherokee oral traditions that continue to be retold within Appalachia and elsewhere.

Cohlene, Terri. Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend. Illus. Charles Reasoner. Native American Legends Series. Vero Beach, FL: Watermill Press, 1990. The Sun thinks the People of the Mountain do not like her because of the way they squint at the sunny sky, while they sing and dance at the Moon. The jealous Sun scorches the earth until the boy Dancing Drum goes on a quest to relieve his people's suffering in the drought.  In spite of the advice and help he receives, Dancing Drum kills the Sun's daughter by mistake and then tries unsuccessfully to rescue her from the Land of the Spirits when the grieving Sun makes the earth too cold. Finally, when Dancing Drum and his people sing and play to her, "Grandmother Sun came out of her house to once again smile down on her Children of the Mountain." The book contains a section on Cherokee history, language, and culture, with photos and paintings, but no background on legends such as this one. The text of this tale is reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism, Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, in Part 3 on Oral and Written Literary Traditions.

"The Daughter of the Sun." In Ellington, Charlotte Jane. Dancing Leaf. Johnson City, Tenn: Overmountain Press, 2007. p. 83 (chap. 7). A novel in which "authentic Cherokee legends begin each chapter and are woven into the adventures of Dancing Leaf, a character based on the adopted daughter of Cherokee chieftainess Nancy Ward" (Worldcat). She pursues a journey of self-discovery while away from the man she loves, Blue Lake. Chapter titles (available with other excerpts in Google Book Search) indicate the legends retold in this book. In "Sun and Moon" (chap. 1), Sun is a male in the East, "searching for a magic lake." Moon is his lover, who stays behind him because she was embarrassed about approaching him in the dark hours. Ashy spots that Sun rubbed on Moon's face are still visible and the stars are Moon's tears. She thinks of Sun and Sun searches for her every day. See also AppLit's list of Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

 The Origins of the Story

Daughter of the Sun is a Cherokee tale online at Stonee's Web Lodge, from James Mooney's work collecting myths of the Cherokee. It contains helpful Little Men and Uktena, the water monster. It is like the Greek myths of Demeter and Persephone (or Ceres and Proserpine), and Orpheus and Eurydice, and a little like "Snow White," when seven men carry Sun's daughter from the ghost country in a box they must not open, but she convinces them to open the box, escapes, and becomes a redbird. Thereafter, people can never bring others from the ghost world. Sun is a cruel and sad old woman until the people's dances cheer her up at the end.

"The Daughter of the Sun." Told by Freeman Owle, a Cherokee storyteller. In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998, pp. 208-12. From the same tale in James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1900), but told in Freeman's "own language, with different details, including some historical research on the Nikwasi Mound story." In the tale, Owle says "it's unusual that the Sun would be a woman." The people who are scorching while the sun is angry at them send people turned into a rattlesnake and a copperhead to kill the Sun, but they kill the Sun's daughter, the Moon, by mistake. When they try to take the daughter of the Sun away from the land of the dead, she escapes as a redbird that sings in a bush. This makes the Sun happy enough to cool off. "From that day forward the Sun has been good to the Cherokee people." The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storyteller's "rhythmic style" (22).

"The Sun's Daughter," a Cherokee tale in Yolen, Jane and Heidi E. Y. Stemple.  Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folktales for Mothers and Daughters to Share.  New York:  Penguin, 2000, pp. 96-98.  When the jealous, spiteful Sun is killing people with her heat, the Little Men change two men to copperhead and spreading-adder snakes to bite Sun, but they fail. The Sun blinds spreading-adder so that he can only spit out yellow slime to this day. Again the Little Men change two men into Uktena and a rattlesnake to kill the Sun. The rattlesnake kills the Sun's daughter, leading to a period of darkness when the Sun stays indoors. The Little Men try to bring the Sun's daughter back from the ghost country but she turns into a redbird, as in the versions described above. People dance for the Sun to make her stop grieving and smile. This is a collection compiled by a mother and daughter, arranged by theme, with conversation sections by Jane and Heidi. "The Sun's Daughter" is in the section labeled "Persephone." Yolen and Stemple discuss the way these tales depict separation anxiety, and show that "the fertility of the earth is tied to the mother-daughter relationship" (p. 107).

"The Daughter of the Sun" from James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee. In Smith, Philip, ed. Favorite North American Indian Legends. Dover Children's Thrift Classics. Illus. Thea Kliros. New York: Dover, 1994, pp. 49-55. With one full-page black and white drawing of the Sun's daughter dancing in the Darkening land. The book has twelve other Native American tales.

"The Daughter of the Sun." Told by Gayle Ross. More Best-Loved Stories Told at the National Storytelling Festival. Jonesborough, TN: National Storytelling Press, 1992. Contents of the book listed at Story-Lovers web site.

See also:

Cherokee Little People

"How the Redbird Got his Color" is a different Cherokee tale about Redbird getting his color from a plant called Red Paint Brush. Wolf shows it to him after he gets involved in tricks between Raccoon and Wolf, and makes Wolf agree to play fairly with Raccoon. In Ellington, Charlotte Jane. Dancing Leaf. Johnson City, Tenn: Overmountain Press, 2007. p. 83 (chap. 7). See more details on this book above.

Compare with:

The Greek myth of Demeter or Ceres. Retold in many books, including Saltman, Judith, ed.  The Riverside Anthology of Children's Literature, 6th ed.  Boston:  Houghton, 1985, pp. 482-83 (from Edith Hamilton's Mythology). The earth suffers famine while Demeter, the earth goddess, grieves for her daughter, Persephone, taken as the bride of King of the Underworld. Persephone is restored to earth for all but four months of each year, which then become the infertile winter season. Reprinted online at as Ceres and Proserpine.

Yolen and Stemple's anthology (see above) groups together "Persephone," "The Sun's Daughter," "Rolando and Brunilde" (from Italy), and "The Singing Sack" (from Spain). All these tales contain kidnapped daughters.

Sherman, Pat. The Sun's Daughter. Illus. R. Gregory Christie. New York: Clarion, 2005. Picture book based on an Iroquois legend, about the Sun's three daughters, Maize, Pumpkin, and Red Bean, who bring crops as they walk on the earth. When Maize disobeys her mother and is trapped by Silver, the Sun vows to avoid the earth until her daughter is returned. The pewee bird saves Maize and keeps the people from starving.

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