The Corn Maiden's Friend

Where did the first dragonfly come from?

Dragonfly painting made form with flowers

The dragonfly is said to be one of the most ancient living creatures, dating back 250 million years. But according Native American legend, the tiny flying creature was first created by two starving children. Far from being the Devil's tool as its shown Western European folklore, the dragonfly then came to their aid in this Zuni folktale...

Long ago, lived Ashiwi people who were blessed by the corn maidens. Their farms flourished as each year, the corn maidens brought a strong spring breeze to blow away the winter, misty summer rain and gentle sun to create abundant corn.

One day, the chief saw some children playing by slinging mud at each other. He had an idea. Rather than mud, they should hold a play fight throwing all variety of corn dough, batter and bread at each other to show off to the other villages how rich their harvest was.

They invited many guests from all around to witness this display of wealth. The corn maidens wandered into town to find out what all the excitement was about. On the way they came across two children eating cakes dripping with honey. The children offered to share with the strangers, but an elder chastised them and shamed the old women for scrounging like coyotes.

The feast went ahead, culminating the mother of all food fights as enough corn to feed a village for a year was thrown around in various guises. But the corn maidens were angry that the tribe's refusal to share with them and disgusted by this flagrant waste. They sent pests to eat all the leftovers and raid the storerooms and thunderstorms to wash away the remaining crops. The storerooms were so full that the villagers still had enough to last the winter. But next come next spring, the corn maidens did not blow away the winter or send misty summers rain to make the new seeds grow. Starving and desperate the people had to leave their village to find food.

But the two children were left behind. Waking to find themselves alone, the brother found an empty corn husk and fashioned a long thin butterfly-like creature from it to distract his younger sister from her hunger. This dragonfly came to life and called on the children to set it free. The sister let it go and it flew off away from their hut, as they fell asleep once again weak with hunger.

The dragonfly sought out the corn maidens and told them of the children's plight. The maidens remembered how these children had tried to offer them food and were moved. Overnight they filled the hut with corn and squash to eat.

The children were grateful and gave thanks as they ate. They returned some corn to the earth in spring, and it grew faster than ever as the corn maidens favoured it. Their people returned and marvelled at the flourishing fields. 'We are truly blessed,' cried the elders. But the Chief said, 'No, these children are blessed and they have taught us an important lesson – to be grateful for what we have.'

Still today when you see the corn growing, look closely and there will be the dragonfly moving from corn stack in the summers sun.

Daniel's Dragonfly design is available as a greetings card.

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