Published on January 14, 2013 by Casey
Lenape myth about a magical winter child.
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There’s an old Lenape story that tells how people became cannibals when the snow was so deep they couldn’t find anything but each other to eat. Other stories tell the good side of winter; for example, how corn magically appeared in an old stump during the cold months when people were starving. The story of Snow Boy is actually two tales in one. The first part tells the bad side – how winter sucks the life out of your fingers. The second part gives the good side – how the body of the snow person, spread out on the ground, helps hunters track game.
One time long ago a young girl had a baby boy. No one knew who was his father. They say he had no father.
When he was old enough to crawl around, he would get angry at the other children sometimes, and when angry would take hold of their hands and suck their fingers.
It was seen that their fingers turned black and stiff as if frozen from cold when he had sucked them.
When he got a little older, he told people that he could stay with his mother, that he did not belong there, he must go.
“My name is snow and ice,” he said.
He said he had been sent by those above to show them how to track anything-people or animals. And he told them how to do it.
“When I come again,” he said, “you can track anything: remember when snow falls that it is I who have come to visit you.”
Then he told his mother to take him down and put him on a piece of ice-to go down to the river, for it was early spring.
They took him down and and put him on a cake of floating ice. And beside him they put a bark vessel full of sweetened, pounded parched corn, kahamakun, for they thought he might need food. Then he drifted away down the river.
Until recent years the Delawares would go down to the river with a little bark vessel of kahamakun as an offering to the snow boy. When a large piece of ice appeared, they would give two or three whoops, and the ice would swing in towards the shore.
Then they put the little bark boat on the ice and talk to Snow Boy. They tell him they are glad to see him again and tell him to take this corn with him. Then they ask him to help them in tracking game.
From The White Deer and Other Stories Told by the Lenape. Edited by John Bierhorst, William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York, 1995