The Wisdom of Selu, the Corn Mother
Presented by Soulful Stuff


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Preamble To Tonight’s Story
Before the story, this small seed, Motherroot, a poem by the Tsalagi writer Marilou Awiakta, planted near your heart…..a delicious sweet smell that awakens….and, as with any seed, we can only nurture, never seeing the real private work the seed does….but only the result of diligent attention, awareness, and nurture.
Creation often
Needs two hearts
One to root
And one to flower
One to sustain
In times of drought
And hold fast
Against the winds of pain
The fragile bloom
That in the glory
Of its hour
Affirms a heart
Unsung, unseen
The Wisdom of Selu, the Corn Mother
From the top of the cornstalk, dancing in the tassels, Selu was born singing. Strong and with equa (great) tenderness, she sang.
The song danced into the heart of Kanati, the first man. He couldn’t place it…find the source….but the effect on him was pleasing, soothing, and osdadv.
Until he heard the song, all Kanati could think about was hunting and sleeping in the sun….for Kanati was a hunter, mostly of awi (deer). He was very proud of his skills as a hunter. Unfortunately, this led him to kill too many animals…..more than he needed.
He was very lonely and very bored….and the animals were very sick and tired of his behavior. So they had a meeting.
At the meeting, the animals decided to ask Creator for help. “Unetlanv, what shall we do? Kanati kills so many of our brothers and sisters every day. Soon, there will be none if he continues in this way. What would you have us do?”
Creator pondered the animals situation. After a little while, Creator sought out Kanati, who was sleeping peacefully in the sun. Very near Kanati’s heart, Creator caused a corn plant to grow up.…right beside him.
The stalk was tall and straight, the leaves were uwoduhi, curved and gleaming in the sunlight a bright green. From the top of the stalk rose an uwoduhi brown woman with uwoduhi hair, black as the Raven’s wings. Strong, and with great tenderness, the First Woman was born….singing and dancing in the breeze.
Kanati heard the singing and opened his eyes. He saw Selu, and the sweetness of his own heart stirred. Even though he was so very lonely, he remembered the first courtesy the Creator had given him. He remembered Love. Respectfully, he asked Selu to come down and held his hand out to help her.
Selu smiled, but signaled him to wait….and Kanati did. Selu quietly reached behind her for an ear of corn….for she knew you must take your heritage with you wherever you go.
Then, she took Kanati’s hand, stepped down and the two went home as one.
All was to-hi. All was in balance. All was osda.
Selu took the corn and cooked it. Soon, Kanati smelled the most delicious smell…
The sweet heart of the corn…..reminding him of the pollen of the tassels which smelled equally sweet. And so it was, that Kanati and Selu came together and the prayers of the animals were heard….but this is just the beginning…..
In time, Selu and Kanati bore a son. That son often played by the river with Kanati and Selu…..learning all the osda things a son must learn. One day, out of the woods came a child….a boy…the same age as their son. The boy would return to the forest alone every evening, as he had no other home. Selu and Kanati’s son and the Wild Child came to enjoy playing together….Selu and Kanati came to take in this Wild Child as their own….and the two boys became as brothers….learning all that sons need to learn. Kanati taught them both equally and Selu nurtured them as if they were both her own. Corn with some meat sustained them. All was tohi. All was in balance. All was osda.
One day, the boys were preparing to go hunting with Kanati. Selu placed a large pot of the delicious, hot and sweet bubbling corn on the table with some deer meat.
“Come and eat before your journey.” Selu said “You will be strong for your hunt.”
Kanati sat smiling and filled his bowl. The son sat smiling and filled his bowl. But the Wild Child just looked at the stew.
“Are you not hungry?” Selu asked
“Yes….but what is that in the pot?” asked the Wild Child
“It is called corn. I have cooked it with some meat.” Selu replied
The Wild Child saw the son eating and Kanati eating….and it did smell so sweet and delicious… he filled his bowl and ate with them.
Kanati, the Son and the Wild Child all told Selu it was the most delicious meal they had ever had and thanked her for preparing such a wonderful meal for them. Selu was very pleased.
When they returned from the hunt with some turkeys, again they smelled the sweet smell of the grits cooking. Again, hungry from their journey, they ate their fill and told Selu what an osdadv meal it was. Again, Selu was very pleased
On the third day, the boys went off into the woods. The Wild Child asked the Son—”Where does she get this thing called corn ?”
The Son replied, “It has always been…I have always enjoyed it…do you not like it?”
The Wild Child was still troubled. “Yes, it is delicious but what if something happens to her…what will become of us then?”
The Wild Child then convinced the Son to go back to the smokehouse with him at around noon the next day when Selu would go and gather the corn. They would go to a spot where there was a small hole and could see how the corn came to them. Reluctantly, the Son agreed.
So, they did. The Son could not bear to spy on his mother, but the Wild Child could not restrain himself. When they got to the smokehouse, the Wild Child saw Selu stand over a pan. When she struck her sides, corn fell from every part of her body. She came out of the smokehouse, carrying this pan of corn and began to cook it in the pot. When the Wild Child told his brother what he had seen, the boys decided they would not eat that night.
When they arrived home that evening, again, Kanati sat down with a big bowl of the delicious and sweet-smelling stew. The Son took only a very little in his bowl and the Wild Child took even less.
Selu asked, “What is wrong? You are not eating very much. Do you not like me?”
The boys lied, saying they were just tired from the day’s work.
But Selu knew. “I think that you do not like me. Or maybe you have learned something from somewhere, and that is why you will not eat.”
From that moment on, Selu became ill . She knew that they had discovered her secret. It was time to plan the future now.
“Now that I am in bed, I am going to die. When you bury me, you must put a large fence around me and bury me right out there. Something will grow from right in the middle of my grave. This thing will grow up to be tall. It will flower at the top and in the lower part will come out beautiful tassels, and inside the tassels will be kernels. It will bear two or three ears of corn with cornsilk on them. You must leave the ears alone and take care of the plant. The ears will dry; they will be very white, the shuck will be brown and crisp; the silk will be dark brown. That is when you gather it.”
“The thing they call corn is I… has its origins in me.”
“You must take the kernels off the cob and plant them. The corn will grow and be plentiful. In the summer you can boil it or in the winter you can grind it into a meal.”
“I will be the Corn Mother. Don’t ever forget where I am buried.”
The boys did as Selu asked, and the corn grew so plentiful, that everyone in the world had some.
Today, with the deep ache of Mother Earth, this law of respect is osda to remember. If you take from her, you must give back with respect and thankfulness.
In closing….
Every month
Somewhere in the world
A crop of corn
Comes ripe.
Every day
Somewhere in the world
Selu sings
Of survival.
Wilma Mankiller says,
“We must expand our concept
Of home and family
To include our environment
And our people.
We must trust our own thinking.
Trust where we’re going.
And get the job done.”
The former Principal Chief ,
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma says this.
Somewhere in the world
Selu is always singing
The question is
We be still enough to listen?
Wado nigada for listening to this story. I am grateful to the elders like Freeman Owle and to my Uncle Bee Cornwell, my dad and my alisi who took the time to teach me these stories… and most of all, to Creator who has given me this path and brought together so many uwoduhi adanvto to remember. Wado.
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