Saturday, April 2, 2016

Paul Goble and Native American Starlore

In the ancient world, people looked to the sky to understand the world around them and to navigate while traveling. Most cultures developed stories about the celestial bodies—the stars, moon, and sun. They were often associated with origin stories and other myths. The natives of North American had many different ideas about what the stars meant. Two stories representing this tradition are recorded by Paul Goble who has over many decades developed a close relationship with some of our native American tribes. His writing and illustrations demonstrate a great reverence for these people and their traditions. Her Seven Brothers and Star Boy illustrate a strong feeling of connection that many cultures had to the stars, sun, and moon. 

A young Indian girl lives as an only child with her parents. She is never alone though because she can speak with the birds and animals. Her mother teaches her to embroider with the dyed porcupine quills. The tribe marvels at the amazing skill she develops. They are sure her talent comes from the spirits. One day she begins to sew clothes for a man—a shirt and a pair of moccasins. Her mother inquires as to why she is making them. The girl reveals that there are seven brothers who live in the north country who she plans to travel to in order to become their sister.  After many months, she completes all seven sets and loads them up for her journey. Leaving her mother she says, “Soon you will see me again with my brothers; everyone will know and love us!”  The retelling of this Cheyenne legend reveals what happens when she meets her brothers and how they become the stars of the Big Dipper. 

Two sisters awake as Morning Star fills the sky.  The older sister declares her great admiration for him and longing to be his wife. Morning Star comes to her as a man and sweeps her up to the sky to meet his mother (the moon) and father (the sun). Together they live happily there, eventually having a son. Her mother-in-law gives her a stick to dig up roots.  She is told she can dig up any plant except ones with pink flowers. Like Eve and Pandora, she eventually does the one thing she is commanded not to.  When she does, she sees her family and the world she left behind. The Sun angrily tells her, “Now your heart will always be in two place; you will never be happy here, nor in the world below.  You must go back to your people.”  The woman and baby return to the tribe. The woman dies when the boy is still young, and she becomes Evening Star. Her son, Star Boy, falls in love with the chief’s beautiful daughter. She agrees to marry him but first he has to go on a quest.  This story from the Blackfeet tribe explains how he ends up in the sky too!  The book includes the traditional “Song of the Rising Sun.”

Check out these books at your local library or bookstore to find out how they end! 

Teaching Resources
  • Literature: Read Additional Stories on Native American Starlore.  Compare and contrast different ones. 
  • Astronomy: Use the stories to connect to a unit on astronomy. 
  • Local History: Study the local tribes that live(d) in your state or area. 
  • Ancient History: Compare and contrast starlore stories of Native American cultures to other ancient cultures. 
  • Other Activities: Check out this Native American Sky Legends Teacher’s Guide  for some additional teaching ideas.

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