Legend of the Origin of Baskets

Long ago, there was a young woman whom we would call in our language “aiyaiyesh” meaning “stupid” or “lazy.” While all the other young people of her age helped their elders, the aiyaih girl would sit beneath the Cedar Tree, day after day and all day long, watching the world go by. Finally, the Cedar Tree could not stand it any longer, and spoke to her.

“You’re so aiyaiyesh” the Tree said. “Now watch and I will show you how to do something.” The Tree showed her how to take its roots, coiling their cool moist paleness into circle upon circle, fashioning the first hard root cedar basket in the Pacific Northwest. Circles are very sacred to Native people . . . the wind moves in its strongest power in a circle . . . the circle represents the world, which turns in a circle. When she completed this first basket, the Cedar Tree approved of it but pointed out that it was naked and that a basket to be really finished required patterns – designs.

The aiyaiyesh girl began crying for she knew no patterns. The Cedar Tree told her to start walking, keeping her eyes, her ears, and her heart open, and she would discover and so it was she traveled, and different beings would speak to her . . . the rattlesnake showed her its diamond shaped designs; the mountains showed her the shape of triangles; the salmon showed its gills . . . all around her were the designs of shadows and leaves and colors. And when she had learned to put all of these designs into her baskets, she returned to the village where she taught her relatives and her friends how to make these baskets. And she wasn’t aiyaiyesh anymore. Ana cush nai.

(Traditional Sahaptin Legend)

Acknowledgement: GONA

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