Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

It was winter, the snow lay thickly on the ground and the weather was very cold. It was time to go hunting, but Nekumonta, the best hunter of the village, could not leave his wigwam. Together with the cold weather a terrible fever came to the village. Every wigwam had suffered from it. In a few days it had carried away whole families. Nekumonta’s parents, brothers, sisters and children had died one by one before his eyes. And now his wife, the beau­tiful Shawenis, was weak and ill. She felt that soon she would die too. Already she heard the voices of her dead friends who were calling her to the Land of Shadows. She loved her husband so much that she could not even think of telling him the sad news. But at last she had to tell him everything. The brave warrior turned pale, but soon he got over his grief and decided to fight against the fever with all his strength.

“I must find the healing herbs which were planted by the Master of Life,” said he; “I must find them and save Shawenis and all the people of our village.”

So he asked one of his old aunts to look after Shawenis, covered her with warm furs, and hurried into the forest. All day he looked for the healing herbs, but everywhere the snow was too deep. When night came, he continued his search on his knees, thinking that he could find the herbs by their smell.

For three days he wandered through the forest, but could not find the healing herbs. When he met a little rabbit, he cried out,

“Tell me, where shall I find the herbs which the Great Manito has planted?”

But the rabbit hurried away and did not answer because he knew that in winter the healing herbs were dead.

Nekumonta came to the den of a big bear and asked the same question. But the bear could give him no answer. After that he asked all the beasts in the forest, but none of them could help him.

On the third night he was very weak, for he had eaten nothing all those days. He stumbled over a branch and fell into the snow. He was so tired that he could not get up; he lay in the snow and soon he fell asleep.

All the birds and the beasts that lived in the forest came to watch over him and covered him with dry leaves and snow to make him warmer. They remembered his kindness to them, and they knew that he never killed an animal if he really did not need it for food. They also knew that he loved and protected the trees and the flowers. Their hearts were touched by his fight for the life of Shawenis, and they did all that they could do to help him. They cried to the Great Manito and asked him to save Nekumonta’s wife from the fever. And the Master of Life heard them and sent Nekumonta a dream.

In his dream Nekumonta saw his beautiful Shawenis. She was pale and thin, but she smiled at him and sang a song which was like the murmuring of a distant spring. Then he saw a spring. Its waters sang to him:

“Seek us, О Nekumonta, and when you find us, Sha­wenis will live. We are the Healing Waters of the Great Manito.”

When Nekumonta awoke, he still heard the words of the song. He jumped to his feet and looked around. He could not see water anywhere, but it seemed to him that he heard the murmuring sound of a spring.


Again Nekumonta looked around and again he saw no­thing. Then he suddenly understood that the waters must be under his feet, in the ground. Seizing branches, roots, stones, he dug the ground with his knife and fingers. He was so weak and the ground was so hard, that he thought he would never come to the hidden spring. But at last he dragged out a large stone and saw the waters. They sang merrily, promising life and happiness to all. The young man washed his face and hands with the water of the spring and in a moment he was well and strong. After that he filled a jar with the Healing Water and hurried home, carrying life to Shawenis and to all his people. When he reached the village, the people ran out of the wigwams to greet him. Their faces were sad because they had no hope to save themselves from the fever. But Nekumonta told them to take jars and sent them to the spring. When he ran into his wigwam, Shawenis was dying. She gathered all her strength to say farewell to her husband, but Neku­monta did not listen to her words. He made her drink some of the Healing Water, and soon she fell asleep. When she awoke, the fever had left her, and she smiled happily at Nekumonta.

The tribe never suffered from the fever again and the people gave to Nekumonta the name of “Chief of the Heal­ing Waters.” After that everybody knew that he had brought the Indians the gift of the Great Manito.

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