The Origin of Strawberries

Friday Folklore

For the next little while, until I’m either bored or something else catches my attention, I want to focus on folklore from Native Americans, primarily North America and Hawai’i.

My paternal great-grandmother was full Santee Indian, which is why many of my father’s family are swarthy with black hair. It’s only been in recent generations that we have “lightened”. I take most of my coloring from my mother’s side.

Elizabeth Stephens Trail of Tears Friday Folklore
Elizabeth (Brown) Stephens walked the trail of tears in 1838. Photo taken 1903.

Anyway, I went to school with kids from the local Santee reservation and my father had been invited to become a full member of the local tribe. However, Dad turned them down. Meanwhile, I never got to really know the reservation kids. I couldn’t do anything about Dad’s decision (which was based on the fact he “dallied” with the daughters of the men on the tribal council). I could have gotten to know my schoolmates, though, and I regret not doing that. I feel as if I’m missing a large portion of my heritage.

So, in a bid to feel a little closer to my great-grandmother, who passed away when I was an infant, I want to look more into Native American lore. I know that lore and beliefs vary from tribe to tribe, and Nation to Nation, but I have to start somewhere.

Today, I’m sharing a story from the Cherokee. The Cherokee are the largest and most well-known of the Native American Nations. They were also among the first to become friends with the white settlers, though the settlers weren’t as kind in return. Eventually, the Cherokee were forced-march to new settlements, an event known as the Trail of Tears. The following story is very beautiful, I think, and connects love and longing with strawberries.

The Origin of Strawberries (Cherokee)

Strawberries Love CherokeeWhen the first man (a s ga ya) was created and a mate was given to him, they lived together very happily for a time, but then began to quarrel, until at last the woman (a ge ya) left her husband and started off toward the Sun land (Nundagunyi), in the east.

The man followed alone and grieving, but the woman kept on steadily ahead and never looked behind, until the Creator, took pity on him and asked him if he was still angry with his wife. He said he was not, and Creator then asked him if he would like to have her back again, to which he eagerly answered yes.

So Creator caused a patch of the finest ripe huckleberries to spring up along the path in front of the woman, but she passed by without paying any attention to them. Farther on he put a clump of blackberries, but these also she refused to notice. Other fruits, one, two, and three, and then some trees covered with beautiful red service berries, were placed beside the path to tempt her, but she went on until suddenly she saw in front of her a patch of large ripe strawberries, the first ever known.

She stooped to gather a few to eat, and as she picked them she chanced to turn her face to the west, and at once the memory of her husband came back to her and she found herself unable to go on. She sat down, but the longer she waited the stronger became her desire for her husband, and at last she gathered a bunch of the finest berries and started back along the path to give them to him. He met her kindly and they went home together.

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