Selu: The First Woman


This is what my grandmother told me of the beginning of the Cherokee World...

Many years ago, soon after the world was made by Oo-ne-tla-nv, a hunter named Ka-na-ti (the Hunter) and his wife named Se-lu (Corn) lived on a mountain with their son. Everyday Ka-na-ti left to hunt and never failed to bring back game which Se-lu would prepare and wash at the river. One day the voices of two children were heard playing near the river. Ka-na-ti asked his son who he was laughing with. The son said, "He comes out of the water everyday and he calls himself my elder brother. He said his mother was not a good one and threw him into the river." Se-lu and Ka-na-ti knew from this that this boy was born from the blood of the slain animals which she had washed on the river's bank.

The boy was wild but they caught him eventually and raised him and tried to tame him. He was always mischievous though and led his younger brother into much trouble. One day they came home after getting into much trouble with their father and complained to their mother that they were hungry. Selu took a basket and went to the storehouse just like she did everyday when she began to prepare food. Everyday she would take in an empty basket and bring it back full of food. The older brother said, "Let's go and see what she does in there. Where does she get all that food?"

The boys climbed up the ladder to the storehouse and took out some clay that was between the logs and looked inside. There Se-lu was standing in the middle of the room leaning over the basket. They watched as she rubbed her stomach and magically filled the basket half full of corn. Then she rubbed around her breasts and the basket was brimming with beans. Quietly the older brother said to the younger one, "We cannot have this. Our mother is a witch. We must kill her!"

Selu came back into the house with the basket of food and said to the boys, "You want to kill me." She knew of their thoughts even before they spoke them. She said, "When you do, make a circle clearing and drag my body seven times outside the circle and seven times inside the circle. Watch all night and in the morning you will have lots of corn." They killed her and made the clearing. They dragged her body across the earth and where her blood fell inside the circle, corn began to grow. Se-lu is sometimes called the Corn Mother. Her blood became the food that gave the Cherokee people life.



Selu: The First Woman Photo

10.5" H X 5" D

Medium: Hand coiled, pit fired clay with pearls, mussel shell and copper.

Description: Deep terra cotta color with buff abstract corn designs on the lower portion of the vessel and buff swirls around each breast. The vessel is adorned with a freshwater pearl necklace with a pink mussel shell gorget and pink mussel shell and pearl ear spools.

(Private Collection)