A Just So Story
ne of the best descriptions of native peoples' views of the world formed the basis for the tale of "How the First Letter Was Written," one of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories.
The speaker is a young prehistoric North American describing (in Edwardian English!) a combination map-and-letter made on birchbark to guide a visitor ("Strangerman") to the cave where the speaker's mother lives. The speaker is named "Taffy"--an appropriate name for an English girl of the late 19th century; but probably not just so for a Neolithic Indian:
"You go along till you come to two trees (those are trees), and then you go over a hill (that's a hill), and then you come into a beaver-swamp full of beavers. I haven't put in all the beavers, because I can't draw beavers, but I've drawn their heads, and that's all you'll see of them when you cross the swamp. Mind you don't fall in! Then our Cave is just beyond the beaver-swamp. It isn't as high as the hills really, but I can't draw things very small. That's my Mummy outside. She is beautiful."
Taffy is clearly using map symbols, pictures and words together to describe distance and location. She is also conveying a safety warning and a personal touch.
--John Logan Allen