The Indigenous story "The Earth on Turtle's Back" tells of a time before the Earth existed when there is only water. In the sky lived a chief and his people. After his wife has a prophetic dream, the chief orders the great sky tree torn down. The wife falls into...
The Indigenous story "The Earth on Turtle's Back" tells of a time before the Earth existed when there is only water. In the sky lived a chief and his people. After his wife has a prophetic dream, the chief orders the great sky tree torn down. The wife falls into the hole where the trees roots have been. The animals living in the water become determined to save her by bringing up some earth from under the sea so she has a place on which to stand. One by one the animals try to swim down and reach the earth but they all fail. Finally the lowly muskrat manages to grasp a handful of earth, which is placed on the back of the Great Turtle. The earth grows into the world and the woman is saved, and the seeds she has brought create the plants of the Earth.
This story, which is told by Northeastern peoples such as the Lenape and the Iroquois, offers an explanation for why some Native Americans refer to the North American continent as Turtle Island. The primary theme of this story is creation. Like other creation stories told by cultures around the world, it offers an explanation of how the world came to exist.
Another theme of "The Earth on Turtle's Back" is the subservience, benevolence, and magnanimity of the animals of the Earth towards humankind. When the animals living in the water below see the chief's wife falling, their first thought is to somehow save her. They devote all of their efforts to this until they succeed. This shows the primary importance of humankind in relation to the rest of the animals, and it also indicates the debt and respect that humans owe to the animals of the Earth.
A further theme in this story is the need for persistence when pursuing important goals. The animals each try with all of their strength to save the woman until one of them succeeds.
Finally, the story has the theme of the triumph of the underdog, or one who would not normally be expected to succeed. Larger, more powerful and proficient animals attempting to swim down and reach the earth fail, but the tiny, lowly muskrat is the one who finally reaches the goal and enables the creation of the world.