6 min read

Sickness and Death: Bears Belly

Sickness and Death: Bears Belly
Photo by Oscar Keys / Unsplash
This is a continuation of Bears Belly's story. Read the previous entry starting the Arikara tale of life's origins here before you read this second half of the Arikara creation story. Check out the full overview of Bears Belly's story at this link if you are new to the story.

Mother and her children soon discovered that life was difficult in this land. Things weren’t as easy as they were inside Mother’s womb, where the ecosystem provided them with everything they needed and protected them well. They now had to fight against the elements and face various obstacles in their way. 

The first obstacle they encountered was a large body of water, and they wondered how they could cross it to the land they could see in the distance near the setting sun. 

Mother let the group think about how they were going to get across. They all sought to use their specific talents to help each other cross the water safely. The water, for its own part, did not want them to cross and fought them mightily as they attempted safe passage. Those who could fly, the birds and others like them, found they could easily cross over the water, but they couldn’t carry much as they flew. 

Others began to build barriers in the water to open up dry land so they could cross. This seemed to work as they all joined in creating a path through the water and began their passage through the depths. But the barriers soon broke down, beaten by fierce waves, and the body of water swallowed some living beings up into its belly. Those children became the fish and other water-dwelling families. 

Mother Corn intervened in their failure and led the children to pray and ask Neshanu for help. They all prayed to their Creator, who heard them and responded. Neshanu chose some of the children that were caught in the water, such as the Garpike, and some of the bird children above, like the Loon, who were told to move swiftly across the water, fighting back the waves and water itself to allow for safe passage of the rest of the children. As the children did as they were told, the water separated and allowed the others to move through it safely. The water had already won its share of life and was satisfied. However, the water was never really a friend to those who crossed safely.

As they kept traveling across Mother’s lap with Mother Corn leading them, the children came across a dense and wild forest with trees, many times their size, rising above them and making wild noises as the wind blew fiercely through their canopies. Inside, the forest was dark as dusk because the light above could barely fight through the leaves. The living beings attempted to sojourn through the forest together, unified in whatever ability and skill each one had. 

As some blazed through the woods, they got lost and strayed off course, not knowing where they were headed. Mother Corn, having allowed her children to attempt things on their own, once again stepped in and urged her children to pray. They prayed again to Neshanu, who then commanded Black Owl to step up and gave him the ability to navigate the forest. 

Black Owl said, “Mother, I will make a way,” and immediately flew through the woods, clearing a path with the force of his wings, splitting branches and trees to make way for Owl’s siblings to walk through safely. Mother and the rest of her children then walked through unharmed. But Bear and Deer and all other forest beings were caught up in the belly of the forest, having thought they could rush through it without help but remaining there forever. Happily enough, at its claim of life, the forest allowed the rest to leave without further trouble but warned them it would not always do so in the future.

Leaving the forest, the group came across a large canyon separating them from the land on the opposite side. The children wandered about, some trying their best to form what resembled bridges to help them overcome the significant divide but failing to accomplish anything that worked. Some tried to use their abilities and skills and fell into the abyss below, never to be seen again. The children then approached Mother Corn and wailed, “There’s no way we can cross this. How will we ever get where Neshanu wants us to go?” 

Mother Corn sat with her children and looked upon them lovingly as they fretted. She said, “Have you not learned anything yet? When you need help, pray to Neshanu, and he will hear your cries and help you.” So, the children prayed to their Creator for help to cross what seemed to be an impossible gap before them. Mother Corn echoed their prayer for help and asked the Creator, “Who can help us?” Neshanu heard their cries and looked down upon his children. He called to the Kingfisher and said, “To you, I will give the ability to help Mother and her children.” Kingfisher walked up to Mother Corn and said, “I will make a road for you.” She kissed the Kingfisher on top of the head before it flew up high in the air and swooped down at tremendous speeds near the cliff edges, alternating sides with each swoop, causing the earth to crumble within itself and form a land bridge sturdy enough to help the children cross the chasm. The great unknown had already swallowed up its portion of the children and didn’t fight for more. 

Neshanu Natchitak, the Chief Above, looked down on the resilience of the children of the land and wanted to continue offering favor to them when they prayed, noticing that these children were much different from the first children he made. He took special care of these and revealed many mysteries of life to them through Mother Corn, helping them to know their Creator better. He gave them some tasks and duties and warned them against ignoring him. Those who wanted to spend time with him through prayer and fasting were rewarded with even more insight and some special abilities to help their fellow children with their Creator’s help. Neshanu taught these ones through Mother Corn about the sacred bundle and the pipe they would use in prayer. 

He told these special ones who devoted their lives to him of his will for them and the land and its purposes. He taught them the ceremonies they must undergo and the reasons for them. He taught them how to act right with one another and how to care for each other, even showing them which plants to gather from Mother’s lap that could be used for healing from wounds and sickness that the children would face in the future.

Neshanu finished by blessing all of the children on Mother’s lap, even those that remained in her womb. He blessed the vegetation and plant life that looked up to the sun and urged them to help the children of the earth. He blessed every child and its abilities. Whether that meant the birds of the air, the humans below, the animals that walked on fours, or those in the waters, they all received a blessing from their Creator along with an encouragement to love and respect each other. 

“You are all related,” Neshanu told them, “so do not mistreat or abuse each other. For as long as you live, you shall treat every living thing with respect. Some will give their lives to nurture others. That is the way of life on Mother’s lap. You must honor those who give their life for another.”

After Neshanu blessed them, two children who slept through it all woke up and became viciously angry with those who let them sleep through the visit and blessing. Their anger grew inside them, poisoned them, and transformed them into something else entirely. They vowed vengeance on the other children by telling them, “You neglected us, but we will not neglect you. As revenge, we will punish you and follow you always.” Neshanu saw what was going on and knew that the rebellion in the hearts of those two was ripe. They had already grown dark, their hearts containing the fires of their hatred towards the others. So Neshanu allowed the hatred to turn them into something other than life. He then called them by specific names and told them he would allow them to run free for a time. The names of these two are Sickness and Death. From then on, they both roam the earth, bringing punishment to all living things. They are rebellion against life itself.