(a Seneca Indian tale)
Long ago, in the beginning of time when all people spoke the same language, there lived a woman named Godasiyo who was the chief of the largest village. Godasiyo was a wise woman, intelligent and generous, kind and understanding. Her people loved and admired her, and as word spread of her goodness, many flocked to live in her village. But as the years passed, Godasiyo’s village grew too crowded, so some of the people moved to the other side of the river.
Still the people on both sides of the river were close to each other — they attended each other’s ceremonies, traded goods, visited each other’s homes and spoke each other’s language. The council of elders lived on the western side of the river, and those who wished to speak to the elders had to cross the river. To make this passage easier, Godasiyo decided the village must build a bridge. Once again the people praised her for her wisdom.
Soon after the bridge was completed, one of the village dogs gave birth to five puppies. The youngest puppy was a beautiful white dog that began to follow Godasiyo everywhere. When she saw how much the dog loved her, she took him as her own. From that day on, wherever Godasiyo walked, the white dog was at her side.
But as time passed, some people began to whisper about the dog; rumors spread. Some said the white dog was possessed of an evil spirit and would bring harm to the tribe.
One day those who did not like the dog traveled to the council to present their demand: “Godasiyo must kill the white dog.”
Naturally Godasiyo refused, so that night the delegates from the eastern side of the river burned down the bridge to protect themselves from what they believed was evil.
From that time on the people on the east side of the river and the people on the west no longer trusted each other. Bitterness, anger and jealousy grew between them, and Godasiyo saw that soon the people would make war with each other. She could not bear this thought, so she called the members of the tribe on the west side of the river to a meeting.
“I do not want to see brother fight against brother,” she said. “Those who think of me as their chief, please follow me and we shall move upriver and build a new village.”
Soon those who wanted to follow her began to build canoes of birch bark to make the journey. Two young men worked together to build a special boat for their chief. They fastened two canoes together and built a platform over the space between them. On this platform they constructed a seat for Godasiyo and her dog.
When everyone was ready, Godasiyo sat upon her platform with her white dog beside her, and the two young men began to paddle the double canoes, followed by Godasiyo’s defenders. Up the river they paddled.
When they had paddled for many miles, they reached a fork in the river, and the people began to discuss which way to go. Some wanted to go right, but others argued they must go left. Soon the argument grew heated, and people became angry and frustrated. They raised their voices. They raised their fists.
“I shall take whichever fork my people choose,” Godasiyo said. She hoped that they would soon come to an agreement, but it seemed no one could agree on a plan. Finally those whose canoes had floated to Godasiyo’s right turned their canoes and began to paddle up the right channel, while those who had floated to the left paddled to the left.
Once again the tribe separated.
The two young men who were paddling their chief also disagreed, and the canoeist on the right began to pull to the right while the man on the left pulled to the left. As they struggled, the platform slipped from the canoes and fell into the river.
Godasiyo tumbled into the water. The people, hearing the splash, turned to paddle back toward their chief, but they were too late. Godasiyo and her white dog and all her belongings had disappeared beneath the water. She and her little dog had drowned.
Dumbfounded, the people stared in disbelief at the widening rings on the water. Then suddenly, out of the water leaped a huge sturgeon and beside it a little whitefish. Could this be Godasiyo and her dog, miraculously transformed? All at once the people began to babble excitedly, pointing at the fish, but then it slowly dawned upon them that no one could understand anyone else! Puzzled and frantic to communicate, they gesticulated wildly, but it was no use. The common language of the tribe had vanished with the bodies of Godasiyo and her dog.
After that, time and time again, the people divided into different tribes, and ever since that day, each tribe has spoken a different language. No longer do the people understand each other in the peaceful way they did in Godasiyo’s time.