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How Death Came Into the World

Long, long ago, all the animals and all the human beings lived together as one family, and they spoke one language.

One day The Great Leader called everyone together and said, "You have all noticed how the family of Earth is growing and growing.   That is because we have all been having babies, and the babies have grown up to have more babies.   As the generations go on, the Earth is starting to fill up.   Today there is plenty of room, and plenty of food, but as we keep on bringing more and more babies into the world without ever sending anyone away, we are running out of room.   Soon the animals and plants will go hungry, and Mother Earth will suffer.

"I can see two possible solutions to our problem.   One solution is that we could stop having babies.   We would then go on living this way forever.

"The other solution would be to keep bringing in babies through the door called Birth, but we would make another door, which we would call Death.   After you have been here and experienced the Earth for a time, you would go through the other door, and experience a different place."

Everyone asked The Great Leader about the different place, but she said she hadn't been there and didn't know much about it.   She said that the Ancient Spirit was there, and had made a star path in the sky for them to follow.   She said that they would have to leave their bodies behind, because only their spirits could enter the land of Death.

So all the animals and all the humans went back to their clans, and the clans went into male and female groups, where they discussed what The Great Leader had said.

The men eventually decided that it would be best to stop having babies altogether, so that the Earth wouldn't get too full.

The female creatures had made one big circle; the men went over to see what was going on.   In the center of the circle were all manner of cubs and children   —   lions, wolves, puppies, bears.   The young creatures were cavorting and playing.   The women were all laughing, as if they were celebrating.

The males turned to the oldest member of their clan.   "Speak for us," they said.

The Old Man stepped into the circle of females, and cleared his throat.   "We have decided," he said.   "The males have decided that there should be no more babies, so that the Earth can remain as it is."

The females fell silent.   Then their own elder stepped forward and spoke. "We have decided otherwise," she said.   "We do not yet know enough about Life and Creation here on Earth.   We keep making the same mistakes, and then we find new mistakes to make.   These little ones that come to us from the Creator ... they are messengers.   Each one brings a new teaching from the Creator.   They make us want to do right for them, and for their children, and for their children's children.   They make us want to learn, and they make us want to do better."

And because the females were in charge of birth and of raising the little ones, they had the last word.   And that's how it's been ever since.

      — adapted from a story in The Children of Morning Light: Wampanoag Tales

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