In this new series, I retell the the Cherokee folktale How They Brought Back Tobacco. This myth tells about the near-extinction of our people when we were on the verge of losing The Ancient One or the Old Tobacco plant, a sacred plant that was essential for our survival.
Each block in my block printing process is first sketched with graphite and next carved by hand. This block is then pressed onto handmade cotton paper and layered with my own unique monotype printing process.
Old tobacco or Tsâl-agayûñli, also known as The Ancient One, is considered to be a “food of the spirits” in Cherokee culture. Tobacco carries the smoke’s message to the sky spirits to provide protection.
In the beginning, when plants, people, and animals were all the same, the Dagûl’kû geese stole the tobacco and carried it far off to the South. Across the land there began great suffering. Without the plant, the people were in danger. An old woman lay in her house, growing thin and pale. She would soon die if she didn’t receive the blessing from the tobacco.
In council, many animals offered to retrieve the tobacco. But after each trial, the animals were killed by geese, who watched over the tobacco by day and night.
Finally, Hummingbird offered to go to the South. “Hummingbird, you are far too small. You might as well stay home” she was told. Despite this, Hummingbird knew she was ready to try. She immediately started off to the South.
Before the Geese knew what had happened, Hummingbird found the plant, darted towards it and snatched the flower and seeds from the top of the plant. Quickly, she returned to her homeland.
Upon her return, she blew smoke from the Tobacco plant onto the old woman’s face. Immediately the woman sat upright and shouted “Tsalu! (Tobacco)!” and was revived.
This piece can be found at Cielo Handcrafted on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.