Native Americans * Indigenous languages * Indian tribes

  * Find Native American ancestors in your family tree

Ustahli, The Giant Inchworm [archive]

This article has been archived from the now-defunct Tsalagi.org site (http://www.tsalagi.org/) for educational purposes. Contents are the property of the author. Please visit our Article Archive Index for further information. If you are the author of this article and would like to make changes to it, or if you are the author of another article you would like us to add to our archives, please contact us.

Ustahli, The Giant Inchworm

This story was recorded at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian by Mrs. Golinda Hill of the Big Cove Community. Mrs. Hill was told the story as a child by her father the late Jonah Armachain. It was transcribed from the tape recording and translated into English by author. A grammar and Dictionary of the Cherokee Language (Duane King, unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Georgia, 1975) was used as a reference.

Gloss

1. ethi - yvhno
A long time ago

2. tsike - se - ?I
it was

3. e - kwa
large, giant

4. tshko - ya
worm

5. tse - he - ?I
lived

6. ani - yv - wi - ya
Principal People, Cherokees

7. aye - ?li
Nation

8. nu - nv?nv?I
where they had

9. yuhlstayvhna - hno
when it ate

10. yv - wi
people

11. te - kayaki - ske - ?I
it ate them

12. atahkhwa
wood

13.i - yuhsti
like

14. nitsu - tv - ne - ?i
there it was

15. katsano - sta
straight as

16. u - nv -ta - sv
mountain

17. katu - ?i
on top of

18. ke - stihno
not

19. kvhsu - ya ki - sti
distinguish

20. yike - se - ?i
could be

21. u - stahli
Inchworm

22. ani - ska - yahno
men

23. yu - nino - le - na
went hunting

24. yitsu - tale - yvsta - na
when it leaped forward

25. e - la -ti
ground

26.i - tsa
toward

27. tika - naki - ske - ?i
it picked up

28. ake - hya
woman

29. hilv - hno?I - yani
several

30. ani - ke - hya
women

31. kv - waniyoho - se - lv
lost

32. khi - la
until

33. u - nate - loho - se - ?I
noticed

34. I - yuhsti
what

35. nanahlstiskv - ?I
what was happening

36. tu - nila - wa tse - ?ihno
they had a council

37. i - yuhsti
what

38. iyu - natvhnti
what to do

39. u - nihihsti
to kill

40. u - stahli
Inchworm

41. tu - nila -wi - tso - nahno
after the council

42. u - natahnthe - le - ?i
they decided

43. atsi - la
fire

44. uhnto - ?i
to use

45. u - nisatv?ti
to trap

46. u - stahli
Inchworm

47. ski - hno?i - yvhno
at that time

48. e - kwa
large, giant

49. u - notha - ne - ?i
built

50. ani - skaya
men

51. ski - na
that

52. nu - nv - neho - na
when they finished

53. nv - ya
rock

54. tu - nikha - nito - le - ?i
set up

55. ko - thv - ?i
fire

56. yv - wi
people

57. tsa - ni no
sitting

58.i - yuhsti
like

59. nu - nv - nele - ?i
they made

60. u - nilo - nvhe - le?ihno
they fooled

61. u - stahli
Inchworm

62. ani - no - le - kv
hunting

63. u - natse - lvne - ?i
pretended

64. ani - skaya
men

65. tsu - te - loho - sahno
when it saw

66. u - stahli
Inchworm

67. I - yuhsti
what

68. nu - natv - nelv - ?i
they have done

69. ani - skaya
men

70. tsu - tale - tvhstane - ?i
when it leaned forward

71. ake - hya
woman

72. unihyti
to catch

73. u - tu - li - skv - ?i
wanted

74. knilahno
at that time

75. u - te - loho - se - ?i
they saw

76. nvya - akwi
rock

77. ke - sv - ?i
was

78. ahskwa - niko - skv - ?ihno
in its amazement

79. tiko - thv
in the fire

80. wu - te - li - tse - ?i
went

81. u - stahli
Inchworm

82. ta - ya - hno
really

83. tsu - lati - svhnile - ?i
wriggled

84. ha - nahi
there

85. te - kanvsatv - ?ihno
legs

86. nika - ta
all

87. tu - le - yvse - ?i
burned

88. skihno?I - yv
from that time

89. takv - watale - nv - ta
started

90. ke - sti
not

91. yv - wi
people

92. u - ska - sti
afraid

93. yi - ki
(not) be

94. u - stahli
Inchworm

95. uwe - ta - stihno
its movement

96. ke - sv - ?i
was being

97. nikv - khwsti
still

98. ate - lo - hohihsti
can see

99. tu - le - yvsv - ?i
where it was burned

100. hiko - hihno
today

101. tsi - ki
is

102. Tu - hlino - hiyv
left

103. te - kanv - satv - ?i
legs

104. tikv - ko - khthv?ti
still see

105. ahkv - yi - tsa
toward the front

106. no - le
and

107. ohne - ?i - tsa
toward the back

108. ski - hno
for that reason

109. I - yuhsti
like

110. tsa - tsilo - sko
measuring

111. so - kwo
one

112. I - si - tha - tv
inch

113. tsinatv - neho - ?i
does (habitually)

114. yu - naki - sa
when it moves

Free Translation

A long time ago lived a giant Inchworm ("Usta : hli") in the Cherokee country. The Inchworm subsisted by eating people. Standing as straight as a tree on top of a mountain, the Cherokees below could not distinguish the Inchworm from the other trees. When the men went hunting in the forest, the Inchworm would lean forward and grab a woman from the village. After losing a number of women to the hungry Inchworm, the Cherokees realized what was happening. A council was held to decide how to kill the giant Inchworm ("Usta : hli"). The consensus was to trap the Inchworm by using fire. According to plan, the men built a huge fire. Then they set up rocks around the fire to resemble people. By pretending to leave for the hunt, the men fooled the Inchworm. "Usta : hli" leaned forward from the mountain to grab one of the women, only to find it was just a rock. In its surprise, the Inchworm fell into the fire. There it desperately wriggled back and forth. All of its appendages were burned off. Since that day the Inchworm has never been a threat to Man and its method of locomotion still shows evidence of the fire. Because remnants of its legs remain only on the very front and very back, the Inchworm has the appearance of measuring one inch each time it moves.

Commentary

Peculiar characteristics of many life forms are explained in Cherokee mythology. Several of these are accounted for by fire or extreme heat. In the Creation Story, for example, the "tsi : sko : kili" (red crayfish) attained its color from the scorching sun. In the sacred myth in The Origin of Fire, certain physical characteristics of a number of animals are also explained. The "Uhstahli" myth is unique in that it combines the motifs found in the animal stories with those of the wonder stories. The Inchworm in the myth is not only a life form but a monster and a threat to humanity. The destruction of a human life is recurrent in the Cherokee wonder stories.

--written by Laura King, published originally in the Journal of Cherokee Studies in 1976

Additional Reading

 Cherokee Indian Legends
 Cherokee Alphabet
 Cherokee Indians
 Cherokee History
 Cherokee Words

Sponsored Links



Return to our main Indian culture site
Read our article submission guidelines
Language of the day: Apache Indian languages

Native Languages

Native art * Native American name meanings * Comanche nation * Inuit raven * Indian necklaces

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?