Do you know the Lenape's story of the woman who fell from the sky? It is a story about individual and collective responsibilities to and between multispecies beings and the land on which they live together. It is about compassion, generosity, and gratitude against the gendered forces and consequences of greed, jealousy, and competitiveness. It presumes beings see one another and do whatever it takes to take care of one another, even if it means changing the very purpose of their existence. It is about the power of transformation and reciprocity. It is about our origins in the stars and our connections and travels between the worlds of ground and space. Sky Woman is not merely a “creation figure.” She is a figure of generation and reciprocity. The Lenape are not the only ones who tell her story; there are many other stories of Sky Woman. And in these many tellings I wonder if she is still at work — everyday recreating the world we live in, in collaboration with other nonhuman beings, against the ongoing forces of imperialism and colonialism. Chitkuwi is a retelling, a reimagining, of the story of Sky Woman.
The Woman Who Fell From the Sky
The Old Man lived in a lodge in the middle of the people’s village. He had a beautiful wife. For reasons no one quite understood he became jealous and brooding. No one could cheer him up or figure out what was wrong.
One day, a man of the village suggested that, perhaps, the Old Man wanted the rather large tree in front of his lodge pulled up and moved away. It was, after all, one of the things he complained about the most. So the people, desperate to help the Old Man, figured it was as good a reason as any and pulled up the tree. In doing so, they created a large hole where the ground fell through.
The Old Man walked over to the hole and leaned far over to look through. He called his wife to join him. “Come on, Old Woman, come see what everybody is looking at!” The Old Woman was curious but uneasy. He nudged her again and said, “You really must take a look. Don’t be afraid. I am standing right here.” The Old Woman walked over to the hole and leaned far over to look through it.
Suddenly the Old Man grabbed at her and pushed her through the hole. As the Old Woman fell through the hole, she grabbed at the roots of the tree, taking roots and dirt and seeds with her. She fell far, down through the hole, down towards the great waters far below the sky world.
She was falling when the Fire Serpent met up with her. “I am sorry that the Old Man tried to kill you. It is me that he is jealous of.”
Water beings below watched and decided to hold council. “Who will look out for Sky Woman?” they said. Turtle spoke up and said that she would break Sky Woman’s fall. So when the woman reached the waters, Turtle raised her back and caught her.
Sky Woman was grateful to Turtle and wept as she offered all that she had in gratitude. She placed the roots and dirt and seeds on Turtle’s back and danced in gratitude. From her dancing the dirt expanded and the roots took hold and the seeds began to grow until the whole earth was formed. The animals and birds were also grateful, for now they had a place to rest upon.