Doll Beings

The Doll Beings

(A Lenape Indian Story and honor dance)

By George Clever

28 February 2013


     Grandfather Sun beat his warmth into the backs of the Lenape women as they pulled weeds, young tree saplings and briars in the garden.  Sweat from the summer heat trickled down Star Dancer’s neck along her braids wetting her buckskin shirt.  Her arms itched from berry brambles she pulled away from the corn stalks.  This was hot dirty difficult garden work not nearly as much fun as planting time.  Weeding was hard work.  The bramble’s thorny tentacles’ were driven to climb the corn stalks and steal a look at the sun to make their own plant food.  They were not pleased with this interruption and left scratches in the palms of all the hands pulling them from their search for sunlight. A few of the women dug weeds and loosened the soil around the plants with their chert hoes. 

“This is not your place.” Star Dancer said aloud as she bent to remove a most stubborn berry root from one of the three sister hills she had planted.  “You have all the ground around our sacred corn so do not complain as I jerk your roots from their strangle hold on my squash, beans and corn.” 

Intent on her work, she did not hear footsteps approaching until a shadow covered her hands and face.  Someone was standing to close to her for comfort.  Star Dancer looked up to see her daughter Cricket standing over her with a troubled look on her face. 

“We have nothing to do.  We are hungry and thirsty.  How much longer must we pick these smelly old weeds?  Look at our hands.  They are all scratched.  The thorns poke right through our deerskin gloves.”

 Cricket and her friends had been in the garden all morning with their mothers helping with the weeding chores.  There was much work to do in the garden if the plants were to produce the food needed for the long winter.

“Ok, we all need a rest from this high sun heat.  We will go to the creek and wash away the garden grim.  The cool water will make all of us feel better.”  Her mother said.

 The women gathered up their digging sticks and followed the children down the trail to village bathing creek.  The sun turned the water shallows silver, bouncing little rays off the ripples and warming the huge flat rocks the women would use as drying places for their clothes after the water had cooled everyone.  Lunch was gathered from the deerskin sacks for all who needed new strength for the long gardening afternoon ahead.  Star Dancer was scrubbing the dirt from her legs with sand when a familiar shadow blocked the sun from her face once more. 

“We are cold now.  Not hungry any more.  How long are we going to be here?   We want to play but have nothing here for our games.” 

“Why don’t you and your friends find nice pieces of wood to use for making new dolls?”

     The girls ran into the woods to find the special wood for the doll face and body.  Tree roots with a round knob made by boring insects were special finds as the knob could be the head of the doll.  The woods smelled cool and sweet under hemlock trees and among the white birch.  The girls knew to avoid the poison sumac giving the gift of skin rash and deer ticks with their burrowing bites. 

“Find a piece of wood soft and very easy to carve, not hard like oak wood.  I will let you use my mother’s deer bone knife.  It has a very sharp obsidian blade.  You must be very careful not to cut yourselves.  It is unsafe to let your blood paint the wood.  Your life spirit would be owned by the tree spirit.”  Cricket said.

The children scattered through the woods, lifting leaves, pulling branches from brush piles and searching for trees blown down during the terrible storms of winter.  Soon each of the children had found a perfect piece of wood to make into their own doll, a branch piece not too long and not too short.  . 

Girl Who Speaks with the Deer said, “We are never allowed to make a face on our dolls.  Grandma Owl said it would bring evil trouble to the family if we tried to make a human from the earth.  Only the Creator has the power magic to do so.”  “I think they are just trying to scare you like the old stories told by the ancient ones of W’axkook, the water serpent of the deep water who eats people”.  We can carefully carve faces on these dolls with my mother’s knife and burn the dolls in the evening dinner fire if you are afraid.”  Cricket replied.  The girls looked at Cricket as if she had just told them they could dance backward in ceremonies.  “No one ever paints faces on our dolls.”  Amber Dawn said.  “It is a taboo.  The dolls with faces might bring harm to our village.”  “We won’t let that happen.  After we play a while we can throw the sticks away or hide them in the wood bundles we must collect for fires to make our evening meals.” Cricket said.  

     Cricket was so determined to have real looking dolls for the stories she would tell in their play.  No faceless doll would do.  The girls began to carve faces for their dolls and dress them with clothes made from pine needles and beech tree leaves.  They rubbed red raspberries on the wood doll cheeks for color, cut holes in the center of shiny green leaves and slipped the leaves over the heads of their dolls.  It was the way their mothers made deerskin shirts.  Each of the dolls looked like a special and unique person when the girls finished face carving, painting and dress making.  Holding the dolls in their hands, the girls decided to pretend the dolls were at a gathering of women with their Peace Queen making important decisions about summer hunting territories. Cricket’s doll was of course, the Peace Queen.  All they needed now was to provide the dolls with something to say. 

 “Don’t hold me so tight.  I can’t breathe!”  “What kind of dress did you make for me on this occasion?  It does not fit!”  “My nose is crooked.  Who carved me this way?”  “Am I a warrior or a slave?”  “Where are my arms?  I have no arms!”  “Where are my feet?”

The girls looked to see who was saying these words.  None of their mouths moved.  None of the mothers were near enough to be playing a trick on them as all were resting by the stream or washing their clothes. 

“Our dolls are alive!  They are talking!”  The girls screamed and dropped their dolls to the ground.

      Hearing the screams, their mothers ran from the creek to see what had frightened the girls. Sky Dancer looked at the frightened children and the pile of wooden dolls on the ground.  

“Why are you screaming?  What has frightened you?”

“Mother, the dolls we made are talking!  We carved faces on these dolls and now they talk.”

“That is nonsense.  Wooden sticks do not talk.  You were told to never carve or paint a face on your dolls.  Why did you do this?”  All the girls looked at Cricket and said,

“She told us to do it.  Nothing was going to happen.”

“Now you see what happens when you don’t listen to your elders.  Gather up those sticks and scatter them into the woods.  Find a place no one will ever see them again.  Let us hope in returning them to their own place in this world nothing will come of this thing you have done.  It is time to get back to our garden work.” 

     The children soon were pulling weeds and removing stones from the garden, forgetting all about the doll beings they had created and the words they heard.  These were things better forgotten and all the children did, all accept Cricket.  She wanted her Peace Queen Doll.  She would one day be the Peace Queen if she had anything to say about it.  Every night she dreamed of her doll wondering if the wood fungus was eating it or the wood pecker pecked holes in it looking for grubs.  With the morning sun, Cricket found every occasion to remind her parents of the cruel thing her mother had done making the girls throw away their carved dolls.  There were so many occasions for her to complaining of the unfair treatment she received.  Her parents began to worry about her constant whining and unending sadness over the loss of the doll.  Perhaps it was a cruel thing to force Cricket to throw away the doll.  Maybe the loss would settle into madness for their daughter. 

     Star Dancer tucked her troubled daughter under the warm deer and bear skins hoping tomorrow would be a new day for all of the family with no talk of the doll.  The moon was three suns past being full and an unsettling time for many of the women and men of the tribe.  She prayed to Kilsheelumukweengo (the Creator) this trouble her daughter brought to their lodge was not the doing of Matanto (Spirit of Death) who would claim the child.  That night the girl was visited by Peace Queen Doll spirit. 

It said to her, “Find me and Keep me.  If you do your family will always have good health, be happy and be safe.  There is one other thing you must do.  Each Spring you are to make new clothes for me and hold a dance in my honor.”

The doll gave Cricket very special instructions on making its new clothes and the ways of the dance for the celebration.  In the morning, Cricket told her parents of the Peace Queen Doll’s visit and instructions.  She told her friends of the visit. She told the entire village, every member who would listen to her night vision. 

“We must find the wooden doll and do as we have been directed.” her father said to all gathered by the central village fire pit.  “Go quickly and find the doll before it visits all of us in our dreams.” 

     Cricket retraced her steps from the garden to the creek to the place in the deepest ravine where she had hidden the doll.           

            “I have found it.” she called out to the searchers. 

Cricket squeezed the wooden doll tightly in her grip waiting for it to say something to those gathered around her.  The doll said nothing. 

“I know it talks.  We heard it talk didn’t we girls?”   

Her mother and father ran to inspect the doll she had carved.  It was a quiet return to the village with some thinking this was just a wild squirrel chase over a girl’s crazy dream and others believing her story.  No one really cared.  It was a good story to give them a reason for a party.  In the spring they would cook special meats, grind corn to make maple nut bread and hold a fine dance, the Doll Dance!  Mother Star Dancer would make the doll new clothes.  Now every Spring when leaks are found and dug up in the forest for cooking, it is time for the Doll Dance.

Epilogue:  My Grandmother made new clothes each year for my Dopey Doll from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  She always found something special for me to eat with the gifting of the new Dopey Doll clothes like chocolate cigars and pineapple milkshakes.  Maybe it is time to do the Doll Dance again.  It has been a very long winter and we all need Spring to find us soon.  Let’s have a party and celebrate with a dance.



Corinne 19.03.2013 05:19

Very nice, you are gifted (but I always knew that). Can't wait for your story about Mary Jemison.

lori 15.03.2013 18:28

This is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing.

Jennifer 04.03.2013 19:59

Love this story and cannot wait for more to be posted.

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