COMMENTARY: Revelations from Selu

by May 13, 2024OPINIONS0 comments


Mt. Pleasant, N.C.


In 2001, Jenean Hornbuckle, an Eastern Band of Cherokee artist, and I were hired to produce a statue of Selu. Selu was the Cherokee mother of corn. My first step into the project was to read the Selu story.

In the story, Selu and her husband Kanati, along with their son were a very happy and secure family. Selu provided vegetables for the family and Kanati, the Hunter, provided the wild game. A boy, called Wild Boy, befriended Selu and Kanati. Wild Boy wanted to know how Kanati got his game and discovered that his secret cave full of game. He also found out the secret to Selu’s power to give birth to corn, beans, and squash. Wild Boy decided Selu was a witch and killed her (by beheading). Wherever Selu’s blood touched the ground, sprouts of corn grew.

A statue of Selu designed by Jenean Hornbuckle, an EBCI artist, and constructed by Ray Moose, stands at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. (Photo by Ray Moose)

The story seemed brutal to me, yet I kept working toward the goal, a statue of Selu. I asked for an understanding of the story. One day while working around the statue’s face, she revealed the symbolism and truth of the ancient story.

Many of the crops that we enjoy today were developed by American Indians. Many centuries ago, in the highlands of Guatemala, the people had an idea. There was a wild grass that had seeds that grew on the upper part of the plant. It had leaves like corn. They isolated the plant and gave it special attention. From the little wild grass, corn was developed. The wisdom of the ancient people saw the perfection in Mother Earth. They also knew that humans have the potential to cause great harm. Over hunting and burning of firewood and forests, depleting resources that have immediate effect on life. These lessons were generally learned over the centuries and avoided when possible.

Separating a plant from the natural circle of life, making it completely dependent on humans for survival was of concern to them, even though creating corn was a wise decision and benefitted humanity. Yet, to this day, corn cannot survive on its own.

The modern mind disconnected from Mother Earth does not think twice about reengineering all that it can. There is nothing wrong with doubting, like the ancients did. The jury is still out on the modern approach.

Selu’s story stresses the fact that she came from a wild, natural plant that can thrive on its own. The decapitated modern corn has now become a plant that symbolically has to be grown in the field from the blood and sweat of humans. What a brilliant story!

Artist Jenean Hornbuckle designed the statue of Selu, and I constructed it. It stands at the edge of Soco Creek on the grounds of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.