Air Date: Week of December 24, 1999
Dovie (DUH-vee) Thomason, a Lakota/Kiowa Apache storyteller, spins the tale of the great dance contest between an ant and a bear. It's all about the competition for darkness and light that takes place at this time of year.
CURWOOD: The concept of night and day is the subject of our next story. It's the tale of an ant and a bear who have different ideas on how to divide the night from the day. Our storyteller is Dovie Thomason , a Lakota Kaiwa Apache storyteller and cultural educator based in Virginia. Her latest recording is called Lessons from the Animal People. Welcome, Dovie Thomason.
CURWOOD: Now, your story is Ant Dances for Light. Is this Lakota or a Kaiwa story?
THOMASON : It was a story told to me by my Kaiwa Apache grandmother, but she would borrow stories from Nova Scotia or the Yukon. To me it's just grandma's story.
CURWOOD: Well, let's hear it, then.
THOMASON : In the beginning times the Earth was not as we know it today, for it was an Earth of darkness. Dark and cold covered this earth in all directions, and it was a difficult Earth for the animals who lived upon her. In the darkness they could not see each other. So it was those animals with eyes that could see in the dark, those animals who were sharp of tooth and claw who did well on this earth, and the others? They were the hunted. That was their place. They were the meat. And they were afraid in this dark world. They hid, they ran, but they could not spend their lives hiding and running. They wanted something else. They wanted a difference in this earth. But they could imagine nothing but the darkness that was their world. There were other problems. In this world of darkness the animals crashed into each other, stepped on each other, tangled with each other -- oop! Augh! Ow! Ooh! Who's on my paw? Who's that antler, get that antler -- who did that? That hurt! Ow! Ooh! Ow! Soon, they were arguing. There was trouble with the planet. There were troubles with the animals who lived in this place. They fought, who was doing what to who? Whose sharp toe? Whose claw was that? And there was trouble, trouble, in this dark place. There had to be another way. But they could not conceive of it.
So they went to the maker of this place. They went to the maker and asked that he could rethink this creation. Something was missing. They wanted something, they did not know what. The maker looked at them. "You cannot imagine. There is something else. You cannot imagine it. It is called light. It will bring warmth. You will be able to see." Oh, to some of the animals, this sounded so good. The birds having wings knew that they -- they could do something with them if they could but see. This world of light, it sounded good to them. But then the great animals, the hunters, stood. It was bear who spoke for them. "I want no light. I want the dark. I like the night."
And now the animals began arguing again. The birds spoke out for light. "We want to fly! We want this light. We want the light," but other birds turned on their own. "We don't want it. We like the dark." It was owl and nighthawk, those hunters of the night. They were happy with the Earth as it was, and soon all of the creatures of this Earth were arguing before their very maker.
He raised his hands. "There must be a solution. An Earth of light. An Earth of dark."
And suddenly a little voice spoke out before him. It was Ant. "Could -- could there not be dark and light? I can almost imagine color. Color. We would see in light. There would be goodness in both dark and light. Could we not have both?"
Bear looked down at her. "I don't want it! I don't like it! I don't want to see it. I like dark!"
And before the argument could erupt again the Maker raised his hands and said, "This must be settled fairly. We will settle this as many things have been settled, with a dance contest." (Audience laughter) "There will be dancing and the winner, the one who creates the greatest, strongest, dance, the one who stands at the end of the dance, that is the way it will be. Bear, you will dance for dark." And Bear pulled himself up tall. "And I see none who truly want an Earth of only light." And they did not. They could not imagine this. What if they changed for something much worse? "And Ant, will you dance for dark and light?" And she agreed.
And so all the animals began to prepare for this great contest. They prepared the food, for each contest is ended with feasting, where all hard feeling is lost in the joy of the feast. And Bear prepared to dance as he prepares to do everything: he ate. And ate. And ate. He ate so much the animals preparing for the feast thought there would be none left for the feast. And he ate, and ate. While Ant prepared in a different way. She sat and folded her hands. She prayed. She fasted. She sipped only of pure water.
Bear had eaten enough. He was ready to dance. He stood. The animals looked up at him. He was big. He was strong. He took his first step. "I am Bear! I dance for Night! I want the dark, I want no light! I am Bear, I dance for Night!" And his dance was strong. The animals watched and thought ooh, we are going to live in darkness. (Audience laughter) And then it was Ant's turn. She stood, they looked at her. Tiny before them, she pulled her belt tight, and she began to dance. She danced for dark. She danced for light. She danced for day, she danced for night. She danced for peace among all people, and that everyone would get what they need. And then she sat and the animals thought: that was -- different. But it was strong. It was beautiful. It was graceful, but -- then Bear stood up, he had been eating all this time, and he was huge! "I am Bear!" And Earth shook under his feet and the animals shook, thinking of the darkness that would be their home forever. "I dance for Night! I want the dark, I want no light! I am Bear, I dance for Night!"
Ant had been fasting. Ant had been praying. She stood, she was lightheaded and dizzy. She tightened her belt against her hunger. And she danced. She danced for dark, she danced for light, she danced for day, she danced for night. She danced for peace among all people, and that everyone would get what they need. And the people smiled. It was good, this dance, it was strong, this dance. Perhaps it could be as she was dancing, as she was praying, but then Bear stood. He'd been eating still more. His belly was like a boulder in front of him. "I am Bear! Uuhhh..." (Audience laughter)
And he fell forward with a great crash! And soon was snoring. The animals cheered. The Earth was going to change. Ant had won. She didn't need to dance again, but she did. She danced for dark, she danced for light, she danced for day, she danced for night. She danced for peace among all people and that everyone would get what they need. Now, when we see the ants today, the ones I grew up with, their bodies are black and red, the color of the night, and the colors we can only see in light. And we all notice their tiny waists.
CURWOOD: Dovie Thomason , the story you just told us, Ant Dances for Light, this just isn't about how day and night were divided, is it? But it's a lesson on moderation?
THOMASON : The lessons for the stories I've been told are what we each take away from them. For me, it's a story about the power of small things and that each of us have our own needs, and that somehow we have to accommodate those and respect them.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.