Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

When the Sun began to shine in their country, Noko­mis noticed that the trees which grew near her wigwam were covered with ants. At first she could not understand why it was so, but soon she saw that the ants gathered in such places where the sap came out through the bark of the trees. She tasted the sap and then called Nanabozo.

“My grandson,” she said, “go into the woods and gather for me some pieces of birchbark. I am going to make sugar.”

“And what is sugar, grandmother?” asked Nanabozo.

“Sugar is a kind of food,” explained Nokomis, “and it is so sweet and good that those who taste it will eat noth­ing else.”

So Nanabozo went into the woods, gathered some pie­ces of birchbark and took them to the wigwam. Nokomis cut the bark into smaller pieces and thin strips. She folded the small pieces, sewed the folds together with the thin strips and in this way made cups for the sugar.

Then the grandmother of Nanabozo went from tree to tree, cutting a small hole in the bark of each and placing birchbark cups under the holes so that the sap ran into the cups. Nanabozo followed his grandmother from tree to tree and watched her. When she came to the last tree, he ran back to the first one and looked into the cup. It was full of thick syrup.

Nanabozo put his finger into the syrup and tasted it. It was very sweet indeed, so he ate more. Then he return­ed with Nokomis to the wigwam. It was time for dinner, but Nanabozo felt that he could not eat anything after the sweet syrup. Even the best meat did not make his mouth water. This astonished him and he at once understood that it was not good to eat too much of the sweet syrup.

“My grandmother,” he said, “your sugar is good, but if the trees give so much sweet syrup, the people, as you say, will eat nothing else. They will become lazy and weak, they will forget how to hunt and fight, and the monsters created by my brother Chakeke-Napok will kill them. The sugar is good, but it is even too good, if you can get it so easily. I will change all this.”

Nanabozo climbed to the top of the highest tree and scattered water over the trees, like rain. And the thick, sweet syrup in the trees was at once changed into sap.

That is why the kinsmen of Nanabozo and their children always have to work hard when they want to make sugar. They gather the sap and then boil the syrup for several nights till it becomes as sweet and thick as the syrup which Nokomis had gathered into the birchbark cups.

As for the trees, they are called maples, and maple- sugar is a very good thing indeed, if you know how to make it.

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