A few weeks ago, my roommates and I were palming through a New York State Encyclopedia (don't even ask me why). I came across this painting, and it really stuck with me. I find it very powerful.
It's called "Sky Woman" by Ernest Smith. It was published in 1936 about the Indians. You can see how important the turtle is, but even more interesting to me was the depiction of this "underworld" and the woman who is falling into it in the center of the painting. Hm, why a woman? Why a turtle?
For knowing nothing about Indian culture, this painting just blows me away and leaves me curious and confused about the meaning.
I found one myself. Feel free to elaborate or argue to mine or this one:
"Sky woman depicts a moment in the Haudenosaunee story of the World's creation in which a woman falls from the Sky World toward the dark watery world below. Soft winged birds fly up to slow her descent. A great turtle offers its back as her resting place, while a muskrat dives for soil to place on its back. The soil spread and become the Island on the Turtle's back.
Our world sits on the back of a turtle. The turtle swims in a vast, dark, watery world where many beings, most of whom we call "Grandfathers," live. We give the Grandfathers our utmost respect for they will be our helpers in life. If we do not respect them, they can cause us great harm.
Beyond the dome we call the sky is Sky World. Here live the creator and our ancestors who have reached this place by slipping under the western rim of the dome. A large tree with sweet fruit and bright flowers light the Sky World. Our Grandmother, Sky Woman, fell from here to the back of the turtle when the Ancient Chief uprooted the tree for her to see what was beneath it. It was the turtle which offered its back as a home for the woman from above, and here grow the trees, plants and other forms of life with which human beings co-exist.
Many beings share the back of the turtle with us. Everything here is alive, and we maintain a relationship with them as brothers and sisters. Some of these beings are very powerful. Like the Grandfathers around us, they deserve our respect. Still other beings come to teach us lessons, threaten us when we do not walk the correct path or help us overcome some of the dangers we as human beings face day to day."
Sometimes I wish our culture was as peaceful or meaningful as the Indians' is.