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Kewaa’s baskets


rowing up a woman was not an easy task for the women of Kewaa’s village. The burdens of every day were hard on a woman’s spirit and body. Kewaa saw this through her young eyes.

One day, as she helped her mother scrape a hide in preparation to make clothes from it, she dared to ask, “Why do we work so hard and when we are sad and so tired, we have to keep all these woes to ourselves?”

Kewaa’s mother stopped and, taken by surprise by her daughter’s question, very softly asked, “Why do you ask such questions? Complaining will not get anything done and no one wants to hear our problems. You should not let anyone hear you talk like that, especially the men.”

“But the men have their games and sit around and talk. They can complain,” Kewaa was quick to answer.

“I know, my daughter,” her mother replied. “You are right. There are days when it is very hard for me to do my tasks. There are times when I think about your grandmother, my mother and how I miss her so. My sadness keeps me from doing my work. Where did all these questions come from my daughter? You are always so quiet. You are young. You should not worry so over such things.”

Kewaa became quiet for a while, but she felt she had to answer her mother and explain her feelings. She told her mother she also had days of sadness and days when she was so tired that she found it hard to work. She was no different because she was younger. Illness, sadness and just being troubled do not happen only to older people, but to everyone.

Her mother sighed and said, “You think too much.”

Kewaaa became very quiet and went on with all her tasks of the day.

Later on, as the sun was starting to leave to make room for the moon, she took a walk to the river. It was her favorite place to go. She would watch the fish peek at her from the river; listen to the trees sing their song in the breeze and just try her best to feel good about her day. But that evening was different. She was sad and she could not help herself. Tears rolled down her face as she leaned over to look into the world of the river. Crying seemed the only way to get rid of her burdens.

As she wiped her eyes, she noticed the reflection in the water. The reflection was not her own, but a beautiful woman with long white hair. Startled but not scared, she asked the woman in the water, “Who are you?”

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“It matters not who I am,” the reflection answered. “But I know who you are and I am used to a smiling face. I have never seen you sad. Why do you cry?”

Kewaa told all her complaints and woes to the kind face in the water and it made her feel good. “I am sorry to tell you of all my burdens, but what could I do?” The woman smiled and said, “You need to find a way to put these burdens to rest in a special place. Make baskets from the reeds and grasses. Have the other women help you. Then make sure every home has a basket in it placed by the entrance.

“Your homes are a sacred place. You do not want to fill them with worries, illness and anger. Explain to all that they should put their worries in the basket before they enter their homes. Also put their anger there. Send all these burdens and bad feelings away. Let the baskets help you to reach within yourselves for inner strength and wisdom and to solve problems. Let them be the keepers of all your private thoughts. Also tell the people the baskets will make their burdens lighter because, as they give the baskets their burdens, they will become less and so disappear.”

Kewaa promised she would do as the woman told her, but asked, “Who should I tell the people told me this?”

“Tell them the Creator, for he makes the river and I speak for him. Kewaa, please tell your people not to enter another’s home with bad feelings or woes, but to put them in their basket. It would not be good to leave one’s troubles in another’s home. You go now. You have a lot to do. The next time you visit me I hope to see you smiling.”

“You will!” Kewaa replied. “Thank you.”

Off she ran to her home to tell her mother. By the time Kewaa got home, it was past her time for bed and her mother was concerned that something had happened to her.

But after Kewaa told her of her day and what she experienced her mother was very happy. They planned to gather everyone together in the beginning of the new day. After all, there were baskets to be made. As the day was new, Kewaa was sure to be up extra early. She could not wait to spread the word for all to come to her home so she could tell them what she learned. As the people showed up, Kewaa’s mother stood proud as her daughter spoke of the burden baskets. Everyone listened and even then the men helped in gathering reeds and different grasses, for they too needed places to put their burdens.

For the next two days, everyone was busy making baskets; and as they wove the baskets all had a chance to talk and share stories, which made everyone feel good. Laughter ended the night. They finished the last basket. After that night, all had their baskets and all did as Kewaa had said. It helped each one find the strength they needed and make their burdens lighter. Kewaa never saw the woman in the river again, but some say she was looking at herself as an elder.

I, myself, am not gifted in the craft of basketmaking, but you can be sure I have a basket at my door and try to lay my burdens in it every time I come home.

Lim Lim.

Ken “Rainbow Cougar” Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.