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

"Selu and Kana'Ti" - or - "The Origin of Game and Corn"


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. According to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian web site, "In Cherokee myth, the First Man and First Woman, Kanati and Selu lived at Shining Rock, about thirty miles from the present-day town of Cherokee, N.C."

Cherokee Tales

Related Appalachian Tales Related Tales from Other Regions Hispanic Connection

Awiakta, Marilou. Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom. Golden, CO:  Fulcrum, 1993. A blend of story, essay, and poetry by a Cherokee/Appalachian writer and activist. A retelling of "The Origin of Corn" (pp. 10-14) provides a spiritual "compass" in the book.

Pennington, Daniel. Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival. Illus. Don Stewart. Watertown, MA: Tailwinds/Charlesbridge, 1994. This picture book focuses on the green corn festival as a boy and girl experience it, not on the corn mother myth.  Included are Cherokee words with pronunciation guides and images on the left of animals and traditional objects named in the story illustrated on the right-hand pages. The children's grandfather tells a story within the story, about Rabbit and Wildcat, a brief tale similar to Tar Baby trickster tales, with a Stickyman and raspberry patch. A number of Cherokee traditions before the coming of the Europeans are depicted. Background is given in the preface and an appendix with the Cherokee syllabary.

The Origin of Grain and of Corn. Cherokee tale online at Stonee Web Lodge. This tale says "Kenati, a Cherokee Indian hunter and his wife Selu, lived on Looking-glass Mountain in North Carolina. They had a little son named Good Boy." This version is similar to the one retold by Haley (below). Good Boy and Wild Boy, who emerges mysteriously from the water, cause many kinds of mischief, and spy on the Corn Mother.

The Coming of Corn is another version online at Stonee Web Lodge, posted 1995.

Red Earth. Selu and Kana'Ti: Cherokee Corn Mother and Lucky Hunter. Mondo Folktale Series. Greenvale, NY:  Mondo, 1998. Series Folklore Consultant: Bette Bosma. Red Earth learned these tales from her Cherokee grandmother. The children of Selu and Kana'Ti are spying on their parents, releasing the animals their father has kept in a cave and watching their mother shake ears of corn from her body.  After their secrets are revealed, the parents die and the children must hunt and harvest for themselves. Corn grows only in certain places and must be planted twice because the children dragged Selu's body around the field twice, not seven times as instructed. Notes, art, and photos at the end give background on Cherokee history, the ancient pourquoi tale that explains particular farming and hunting practices, and the art in this picture book.

Blevins, Wade. Se-lu's Song. Cherokee Indian Legend Series. Prairie Grove, AR: Ozark Publishing, 1994. 43 pp. "Forced to leave their home in the Smoky Mountains and settle in Oklahoma, a Cherokee family finds little success growing corn until they pray to Se-lu the Corn Maiden" (WorldCat). Blevins is a young Oklahoma Cherokee author who learned old tales in his family. Includes drawings by Blevins.

"The Coming of Corn." In Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. Keepers of the Earth:  Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1988. "Awi Usdi, The Little Deer" is the other Cherokee tale from North Carolina in this collection.

Section 3. Kana'tï And Selu: The Origin Of Game And Corn and Section 72. The Hunter and Selu. In Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (originally published in 1900). From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. These links are to a copy in John B. Hare's The Internet Sacred Text Archive. See also Mooney in Appalachian Folktale Collections.

Haley, Gail E. Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale. New York: Dutton, 1996. Haley's gouache illustrations in earth tones include Appalachian flora and fauna. Wild Boy emerges strangely from the water to become Boy's brother. They spy on their father, Kanati the hunter, and their mother Selu. She produces corn by rubbing her stomach in the direction of the sun, and beans by rubbing in the opposite direction. The disobedient boys lose their house and their parents go away to the Western Land of the Darkening Sun. After that people had to hunt for meat and work in the fields. Haley notes that this legend was "recorded by Swimmer, a famous Cherokee shaman and storyteller" (born 1835), who learned the Cherokee alphabet developed by Sequoyah. A detailed critique of Gayle Haley's Two Bad Boys appears in a review by Cherokee storyteller and writer Gayle Ross, in the blog American Indians in American Literature, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007.

"Ganadi, the Great Hunter, and the Wild Boy," as told by Freeman Owle. In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998, pp. 231-36. Ganadi would hunt for everyone in the early days of creation. One day a drop of blood falls from a carcass into the river, introducing evil "like the apple in the Garden of Evil." The drop of blood becomes the Wild Boy who plays with the hunter's son and gets him to spy on the father. The evil child can magically transform himself into things like a feather. Later, after the boys release the animals from the cave and people are hungry, the Wild Boy is like the Prodigal Son, welcomed back to the village because they need help hunting. The story ends with comments that the people on this side of the earth, the Cherokee, had taken good care of things; they "revered the earth" and nature was in order when the settlers arrived from Europe. The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storytellers' "rhythmic style," using the "oral poetics" method developed in the 1970s.

"Kana'ti and Selu: The Origin of Game and Corn." In Francisco, Edward, Robert Vaughan, and Linda Francisco, eds. The South in Perspective:  An Anthology of Southern Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001. In this anthology for adults, the section "Appalachia Recognized" contains 3 other Cherokee tales besides this one ("How the World was Made," "How the Terrapin Beat the Rabbit," and "The Rabbit and the Tar Wolf"), as well as an introduction on Appalachian literature and other literary selections.

Cunningham, Maggi. The Cherokee Tale-Teller. Illus. Patrick DesJarlait. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1978. 158 pp. "Contents: Atagahi, the Wonderful Lake. - Selu Corn Woman and the Crows. - Deer Song. - Princess of the Deer. - The Monster Utlunta. - Desata and the Forever Boy. - The Fire Watcher. - The Red Bird. - Tlanuwa, the Great Hawk. - The Nunnehi, the Gentle People" (WorldCat). Cataloged as a juvenile book.

"Keeper of the Animals." In Curry, Jane Louise, reteller. The Wonderful Sky Boat and Other Native American Tales of the Southeast. Illus. James Watts. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001, pp. 91-96. In this tale about Kanati, his two boys are called Wild Boy and Lodge Boy. The book includes an introduction by the author (from Ohio), notes on the tribes that tell these tales, and some background references.

Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Where It All Began: Cherokee Creation Stories in Art. Cherokee, NC: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 2001. Companion book to a museum exhibit. Creation stories are retold throughout the book with photographs of art in different media by 14 artists. Includes a modern painting of Wild Boy with discussion by Eastern Cherokee artist Luzene Hill.

Turner, Fritz. "The Story of Corn Mother (Making Connections Throughout the World)" is an article in the section Educational Application: Folklore in the Classroom, in Traditions: A Journal of West Virginia Folk Culture and Educational Awareness, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1999). Published by West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont State College.

Bradley, Ramona K. Weavers of Tales: A Collection of Cherokee Legends. Published by the author, 1967. Rpt. Cherokee, NC: Betty Dupree. No date given in book if this is a reprint later than 1967. With sepia drawings by the author, wife of an Eastern Cherokee, and several photos. Includes an introduction on prominent Cherokee storytellers (especially A'yn'ini or Swimmer, the main informant for Mooney's 19th-century records of tales), a Foreword on the land of the Cherokee and a page in the back called "Cherokee Sounds," for pronouncing Cherokee names. Kanati appears in "The Four-footed Tribe."

"Kanati the Hunter and the Cave of Animals." In Young, Richard, and Judy Dockrey Young, eds. Race with Buffalo and Other Native American Stories for Young Readers. Little Rock: August House, 1994. Also contains Cherokee tales "Possum's Beautiful Tail," "Ball Game Between the Animals and the Birds," and "Where the Dog Ran across the Sky."

Note: Books by Pennington, Bruchac and Awiakta are recommended by, a web site that gives guidelines for evaluating books depicting Native American peoples and traditions.

McCrumb, Sharyn. The Rosewood Casket. New York: Penguin, 1996. Early in the novel, a section titled Spring 1824 describes Nancy Ward or Nanyihi in old age, telling of her life as a Cherokee hero, famous for her youthful courage in battle as well as her later attempts to assimilate with white people in order to make peace. She thinks of Selu several times, imagining, for example, that Selu would have smiled at the white man's idea that God wanted him to treat women like servants. At an early age Nanyihi was given the sacred title Ghighau, or Beloved Woman. Later, before the Trail of Tears, she foresaw that Native Americans could not prevent the invasion of countless white settlers. She is on the mountain "called Udawaoguhda—the bald mountain. Here the great Shawnee conjurer Groundhog's Mother had fought a magical giant lizard he had encountered in his search for the serpent monster Uktena" (p. 8). She thinks that she and "her people must go. Now the new race would have the forests and the mountains beloved of Selu and Kanati" (p. 14). More details on this novel at Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

brown quilt square Related Appalachian Tales

"Corn Woman Spirit." 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. 228-31. This tale explains that the Cherokee honor ravens as the ones that helped people and restored the corn crop by rescuing the Corn Woman from the evil spirit Hunger, who couldn't see the ravens in his dark cave. The matrilineal structure of society and respect shown to women are stressed at the beginning. The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storytellers' "rhythmic style."

Other Cherokee pourquoi tales about plants include The First Strawberries, The Legend of the Cherokee Rose, and The Legend of the Corn Beads.

"Star Woman." In Ellington, Charlotte Jane. Dancing Leaf. Johnson City, Tenn: Overmountain Press, 2007. p. 121 (chap. 9). 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. Star Woman falls to earth because she is curious about drumming she heard below heaven. Animals make a place for her on the watery earth, where her body gives crops, her tears form rivers, and "her blessings lighted the spark of mind. All human bengs can trace their roots to Star Woman. One mother is the mother of us all." See also AppLit's list of Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

"The Bear People." In Ellington, Charlotte Jane. Dancing Leaf. Johnson City, Tenn: Overmountain Press, 2007. p. 38 (chap. 4). This tale explains why bear hunters fast and sing the bear song each morning, remembering the people who turned into bears after fasting and moving "to a place of abundant food," offering their bodies to people when they were hungry. See other details on this book above.

Appalachian Picture Book Bibliography: Cherokee Tales

brown quilt square Related Tales from Other Regions

The Strange Origin of Corn. An Abnaki tale online at Stonee Web Lodge (Native American Lore). This tale is quite different but also involves a woman's body and fertility of the earth. A beautiful woman insists that a lonely man drag her body over burned ground. Corn grows up and the silk hair of the corn reminds people of her.

Stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, and Jacob and Esau in Genesis. The twins who are opposites (like Jacob and Esau) give in to curiosity and the desire for knowledge (like Adam and Eve). As punishment they must work to obtain food.

Haley points out that "Wild Boy features in the myths of many countries . . . a half-grown child, he never seems to know right from wrong . . . so we expect mischief from him whenever he shows up" (About the Story, Two Bad Boys).

brown quilt square Hispanic Connection

"Food from the Gods" (How maize came to the people): an Aztec myth. In Vigil, Angel. The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Stories from Mexico = El águila encima del nopal: cuentos tradicionales de Mexico. Transl. Francisco Miraval. World folklore series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 2000.

Links checked 9/8/03   |   Top of Page   |   Last update: 3/28/17


Return to AppLit Folktale Index

Links to Other Online Texts

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

AppLit Home

Site Index