Monday, December 08, 2008

Something to get you into the Christmas Spirit

Did you know that the inhabitants of the American continent also knew of the birth of Jesus Christ? I wrote this story about the signs that let them know about the birth of the Savior.

P.S. There are endnotes which give translations of the Quichua words used in the text.
To learn more about the account of the first Christmas on the American continent read 3 Nephi 1:4-21.

To read prophesies about the birth of Jesus Christ by prophets who lived on the American continent anciently, go to 1 Nephi 11:13-23, Mosiah 3:2-8, Alma 7:7-13, and Helaman 14:1-8.
On the Morrow
Mashcag inhaled deeply. He loved the scent of the soil just after the rains ended. It mixed with the smell of harvested choclo1 and reminded him that the festivities to celebrate the harvest would soon begin. His stomach growled, anticipating the feast that Mama2 would prepare. Perhaps she would make Mashcag his own roasted cuy.3 He was practically a man: thirteen harvests had passed since his birth, and he could work a full day with his older brothers and Taita.4 Harvesting choclo made Mashcag very hungry, and the hind legs of a cuy would not be enough this year.

Clouds of tiny flies buzzed around Mashcag’s head, and some landed to feed. They couldn’t get through his thick, black hair and started biting his face, chest, and arms. His ears itched, but scratching them didn’t help. A larger fly landed on one of his knuckles bit. Mashcag slapped it, leaving a bloody smudge on his hand. He hated the bugs in the choclo. He wondered why all bugs couldn’t be like fireflies. They didn’t bite; instead, they scattered darkness. Mashcag was just a boy when he first saw them. He remembered reaching out to catch them. Each glowed just enough to light up a small, pale-green circle on his dark skin. He had asked Taita what they were:

"Mashcag," he had said, "every night, all year long, the stars look down on us from the heavens. They see us eating choclo and squash, and after the harvest, when we eat cuy, they get jealous and come down to feast with us."

"They want cuy, Taita?" Mashcag had asked. "Then why don’t they come down for weddings? We eat cuy then, too."

Taita had smiled and said, "Yes, Mashcag, but the stars are very high in the heavens, and it takes a long time to come down. The choclo harvest lasts many weeks, but a wedding is only for a day. It’s the harvesting that lets them know they need to come down."

Mashcag still remembered the twinkle in Taita’s eyes and his sly smile when he told him, but as a six-year-old, he believed everything that his father said. And he was crushed when his oldest brother, Weyana, said that the stars didn’t come down from heaven to eat cuy: the lights were only bugs. But when Mashcag went crying to Taita, his dad smiled again and said, "Of course they’re bugs. Didn’t you know why bugs have wings? To go home to heaven after they’ve eaten cuy!"
The fireflies had come and gone several times after that night, and it was time for them to come again. The harvest would be over tonight, and the feasts would begin tomorrow. Mashcag would wait for them after he finished his work.

Even though a cool breeze blew from the west, the sun’s rays were oppressive. Sweat dripped from Mashcag’s nose and stung his eyes. He wanted to wipe his face, but his hands were dirty. Examining his bare arms and chest, he decided that his right forearm was the cleanest. Leaning forward, he drew it across his eyes.

"Get back to work, Mashcag, or we’ll never finish by tonight," Taita said as he bent and cut a choclo stalk. He handed it to Mama, who was trailing him. She quickly plucked the dried ears from the plant, placed them in a woven, reed basket, and handed the bare stalk to Sumag, Mashcag’s eight-year-old sister. Sumag’s arms were full of choclo stalks, so she carried them to Cusi who piled them into a hut-shaped stack. They had been working all morning, and Sumag was exhausted. Her brown eyes drooped, and her cheeks were limp. Usually, she danced and laughed until Taita, Mama, or one of her brothers would beg her to stop, but the long hours in the field had been too much for her. Her hair, which glistened like obsidian in the sun, had come undone from the cloth which Mama had used to wrap it into a pony tail, and it spread across Sumag’s back.

"Taita’s right. You’re already falling behind, and I don’t want to wait for you again," Weyana said. He had already cut six stalks and laid them on the ground for Mashcag to strip, bundle, and carry to Cusi. Weyana was scowling, and Mashcag knew he had better listen.
It was difficult to match Weyana’s pace, and as Mashcag worked, he watched the smooth strokes his brother used to harvest. When Weyana used his obsidian-toothed sickle to cut the choclo stalks, the muscles and veins in his forearm bulged. Mashcag looked at his own undeveloped arms and wondered if his muscles would ever be like Weyana’s.

Moments later, Mashcag had enough plants to bring to Cusi. Gathering them, he tried to flex his forearm and sighed. Not even a ripple. Mashcag jogged to Cusi, handed him the stalks, and sprinted back to keep Weyana happy.

"Go put the choclo in the hut, and I’ll start on the next row." Weyana said after Mashcag got to him.

Mashcag nodded and lifted the basket. It was heavy, perfect for building muscles. As he walked to their home, he curled his wrists up and down until his forearms burned.

The hut was comfortable. Mashcag had helped Taita pack mud between the horizontal, wooden poles that framed its walls. The roof was thatched with a mixture of weeds and choclo stalks. Inside, three more wooden poles ran across the ceiling. Taita had built a platform where Weyana, Cusi, and Mashcag slept. About a dozen pairs of choclo ears tied together by their husks hung on the uncovered parts of the poles. Mashcag was relieved to see that most of the floor was covered with choclo. He hadn’t realized how close they had been to running out. There were two rooms on ground level, one for eating and Sumag to sleep in, the other was Taita and Mama’s bedroom. The shade in the home was cool, and Mashcag wanted to curl up on the pounded-dirt floor to sleep.

Suddenly, Cusi screamed for help. Mashcag dumped the choclo in the middle of the main room and ran to Cusi, but both Taita and Weyana were there before him.

Cusi looked more silly than hurt: lying flat on his stomach, choclo stalks buried him to his waist; his face was covered with dirt. Weyana and Taita stood over him and smiled. Taita bent as if to pull Cusi from under the pile. Instead, he plucked a slender-stemmed weed and put it between his teeth.
"Chewry,5 do you know what happened?," Taita said, trying not to laugh. "You were trying to make it look perfect, but you forgot to make it stable. First make it sure, then make it pretty." He bit off the end of the weed and spat it out before he put the stem back in his mouth.
"Taita, please get this choclo off me," Cusi said. "I was just trying to please you and build the stack like you and Weyana can." Cusi’s voice trembled and cracked as he blinked back tears.
"Wowkeygo,6 now you want our help?" Weyana said. "‘I can do it myself,’ you said. You sure did." Laughing, he turned to Mashcag, "Did you see Cusi’s face when the stack fell on him? He looked like a cuy about to be roasted." Mashcag chuckled as Weyana screamed in horror, turned to run, and fell beneath the weight of an imaginary choclo stack.
Cusi couldn’t hold back the tears now.
Taita looked at Weyana and shook his head. Throwing his weed to the ground, he grabbed one of Cusi’s arms. Weyana, a little embarrassed, helped to pull Cusi from under the choclo stalks, making the plants’ dried leaves rustle. Mama brought water, and Cusi washed his face.
Taita, Weyana, and Mashcag started gathering stalks to rebuild the choclo stack, but before they could start the base, Cusi said, "Get back to work. I’ll fix the stack. It fell because of me, and if you three don’t finish harvesting, then we’ll have to come back tomorrow." He took Mashcag’s bundle of stalks and began rebuilding.
"But Chewrygo,7 it’ll take all night to . . . ," Taita began.
"Then it’ll take all night, but I’ll get it done," Cusi interrupted. His face tensed, and he yanked his dad’s bunch from him.
"Alright, let us know if you need our help," Taita said. Cusi nodded but didn’t look at him.
"Taita, are we done yet?" Sumag asked. Her eyelids sagged, and her arms hung at her sides. Taita walked to her and picked her up.
He hugged her and said, "No, but I think you are. Would you like to go lie down?" Sumag nodded, and Taita started for the house. "Take a break, and we’ll get back to work after I get back."
Sumag was asleep before Taita and she left the field.

Taita returned, and the harvesting continued. Hours passed, and Mashcag dropped the field’s last bundle of stalks next to where Cusi was working. Taita and Weyana had finished cutting at the same time and were taking turns drinking from a bowl of water. Taita walked to Cusi and said, "That’s a good looking stack, chewry. Let me help you finish it," he said.
"Taita, I told you I’d fix it, and I will," Cusi growled.
Taita shrugged his shoulders and said, "Whatever."
Mashcag filled the water bowl and drank it. He filled it again and poured it on his head. The sun had descended a little and its rays weren’t as oppressive. Its golden light accentuated the green, rectangular fields which covered the valley floor and climbed the ridge of mountains surrounding them.
Mashcag’s people had wandered here from the north long ago. It was one of his favorite stories: famine had driven his ancestors from their homes. They had traveled from valley to valley, but either other people lived in them, or their soil was unfruitful. One morning, after many years of traveling, the sun cast its first light on the peak of a green mountain in the west and gradually forced the night’s shadows to retreat to the east toward another mountain. As the sun melted the shadows and light climbed the slopes of the eastern mountainside, a heart-shaped crater appeared. Mashcag’s ancestors said that it was a sign from the Great Spirit. They began planting their fields and building their homes that same day. To honor the mountains surrounding the valley, they named them. They called the western mountain Mama Cotacachi because she gave birth to their hope, and they called the eastern mountain Taita Imbabura to honor the great Father who led them to their new home and saved them from starvation.
Almost four hundred harvests from that morning, Mashcag stood on the bench of Taita Imbabura, directly beneath its heart. Below him, Hatune Cocha sparkled. Mashcag could see several dozen people bathing and swimming along its eastern shore. He envied them. Hatune Cocha’s water was cold and would feel perfect after a long day in the fields. A stream wound from the lake’s western shore northward like a silver serpent until it fell into a canyon and became the sacred falls of Peguche.
"Cusi, are you thirsty?" Mashcag asked. He had already filled the bowl. Cusi kept working. He had nearly rebuilt the stack that fell on him. It wasn’t as neat as his first attempt— several choclo stalks jutted out from its edge—but it was steady. Cusi sat on top of the stack, as he worked to taper it to a point.
"Thanks. I’m almost done with this one. Could you hand me another bundle of stalks, Mashcag? I don’t want to jump down just to climb back up," Cusi said.
Taita and Weyana had gone home.
Mashcag grabbed an armful of stalks and gave them to Cusi. After finishing the stack, Cusi jumped down, and Mashcag handed him the water.
"Let’s go home. I think that Mama should have supper ready by now," Mashcag said.
"What makes you think that I’m done? Look at what I still have to do," Cusi said pointing to the pile of choclo stalks which had been gathered while he was repairing the first stack. Maschag looked at the canes and sighed. There was enough for another full-sized stack.
"That’ll take you all night. Leave it for tomorrow, and let’s go eat," Mashcag said.
"No. I’d rather get it done. Besides, I told Taita that I would finish tonight, and I will!" Cusi said and emptied the bowl. Giving it back to Mashcag, he turned and started stacking stalks.
Mashcag rolled his eyes. "What if I helped you? Instead of being out here all night, we’ll be done in half the time," Mashcag said, even though he was tired. "Anyway, I wanted to watch the fireflies tonight. I might as well be doing something productive at the same time."
"But you don’t know how to stack choclo. You’d just slow me down. And I couldn’t let you help me after I refused both Taita’s and Weyana’s help," Cusi said.
Mashcag shook his head and sighed. Mashcag’s muscles ached. His stomach was growling, and he wanted to go home. But Cusi kept plodding along, even though he was sweating and struggling against the weight of his arms, and Mashcag wasn’t willing to leave him without help.
Mashcag thought for a moment and said, "Teach me then. I wouldn’t be helping you; you’d be helping me." Cusi stopped working and looked at Mashcag. Their eyes met, and Cusi nodded.

"Thanks, wowkeygo. I’d love to teach you," Cusi said and smiled.
Mashcag and Cusi worked together for an hour. As they worked, they talked. At first, Cusi explained the proper technique of stack building, but after Mashcag learned it, their conversation shifted to the festivals and to the girls who would dance in them. They laughed often, and Cusi seemed to have forgotten about his accident. He was smiling. Realizing how grateful his brother was for the help, Mashcag felt new energy. He was surprised by how quickly they were building the choclo stack.
"You two didn’t come to eat when I called you." Mama stood behind them holding two large bowls, one in each hand. Neither Mashcag nor Cusi had heard her coming: they had been debating which of the village girls was the prettiest. They stopped talking, and Mashcag blushed. Setting the bowls down, Mama pulled a towel from her anacoo8 and motioned them to come to her. "I know you want to get your job done, but there is always time to eat. Now, wash up." She dipped the water bowl, and Mashcag held out his hands. Mama let the water trickle from the bowl as Mashcag scrubbed. "It was nice to stay and help your brother, Mashcag," Mama said.

Mashcag took the towel which Mama was holding and dried his hands while Cusi washed his hands and face.
"I’m not helping him, Mama. He’s teaching me. I figured that it might be my turn to stack next harvest," Mashcag said.
"And he’s a quick learner. Besides, it’s nice to have someone to talk to," Cusi said.
"Either way, it’s time to eat," Mama said, uncovering the two bowls which were filled with small, red potatoes and toasted choclo kernels. Mashcag could smell ground ewchews,9 and his mouth watered. Sitting between the two stacks of choclo, he began eating.
"Thanks, Mama. I couldn’t have gone much longer without eating, and Cusi won’t go home before we’re finished," Mashcag said.
"That’s right, and I’ll stay here until the job’s done," Cusi said while Mama handed him his bowl.

"Thank you, Mama," he said and sat beside Mashcag.
"So, you’re still determined to work through the night. . . . Taita and I are worried that you two will work yourselves to death. We don’t want you to get sick," Mama said. "Please come in if you’re too tired."

"I’m fine now that I’ve got food. Will you be alright, Mashcag? You still want to watch the fireflies, don’t you?" Cusi said in between bites.
"I can go on for a few more hours, at least, and I have been waiting for the fireflies to come. They’re late, and I can feel that they’ll be here tonight," Mashcag said after he had swallowed a mouthful of potato.
"You and fireflies! Mashcag, I don’t understand why you like them so much," Mama said, "but they are pretty." She smiled and pinched a piece of potato skin from Mashcag’s cheek. "Well, how often do the stars come to earth?" Mashcag asked.
The sun was sinking behind the skirts of Mama Cotacachi. Taita Imbabura had visited her during last night’s storm, and snow lingered on her rocky, saddle-shaped peak. Shadows stretched across the valley as the sun’s last rays deepened the countryside’s colors to golden greens and deep browns. The sun sank until only a sliver of light remained and its golden hues dimmed to red and turned the clouds purple.
"Do you still believe that the fireflies are the stars?" Mama asked. "They should be here soon, Mashcag. I hope that they’re as wonderful as you remember them, and I hope they don’t eat your cuy." She breathed in the dusk air and looked at the sunset.
The day’s last beams of light danced on Mama’s face and made her black hair shine. Wrapping her arms around herself, she said, "You can keep your fireflies and their starlight, Mashcag. I prefer sunsets. Each is different, and you don’t have to wait a whole year to see one."
The sunset’s rose-colored light faded to a pale blue-gray. But as it did, Mashcag noticed that Mama Cotacachi’s shadow—rather than melting into a darkened valley—grew increasingly defined and shorter. Slowly, the sky brightened. But the light didn’t come from the west or the east, and the sun stayed behind the mountains. The light, it seemed, came directly from heaven until the valley glowed as if it were midday. All darkness fled: the clouds, trees, and mountains cast no shadows.
Mashcag’s weariness disappeared with the shadows, and he wondered if he were asleep. The beauty of that moment was too beautiful to be real, and he decided that he was dreaming.
"Mama, is something wrong with my eyes? I saw the sun go down, but it isn’t dark." Mashcag heard Cusi say and realized that he wasn’t asleep. Any wonder he had been feeling was gone as quickly as the light appeared. His stomach felt upset, and his heart began pounding. He felt uncovered in the light and wanted to run for the hut. But he was too afraid to run, let alone stand.
"I see it, too," said Mama.
"What’s happening? What evil is doing this?" Cusi asked.
Mashcag swallowed and waited for Mama to answer.
"Not evil, Cusi, not evil," Mama said and took both of her sons by the hand. "Look!" she said, pointing to the sky with her puckered lips. The sky’s brilliance had prevented all of the stars from shining except one.
"That is one big bug," Cusi said.
Mashcag ignored him and said, "But that can’t be giving off all this light. It’s too small."
"No, but this must be a sign from . . . ," Mama said and paused. "Do you hear that?" Tears welled up in her eyes. "I’ve never heard anything more beautiful. It’s as if—as if the mountains, valley, lake, and river were singing." Mashcag strained to hear what his mother was hearing.
And in an instant, his ears were opened.
"I hear it, too, Mama; I hear it, too," Mashcag said, and Cusi nodded. "I hear voices singing, but what are they saying?" All three began sobbing, and Mashcag sensed something he had never felt.
"Peace. They’re saying, ‘peace,’" Mama said.
The singing of the unseen voices granted them peace and filled them with love for each other.
They sat together for several minutes watching and listening. Mashcag’s hunger was gone, although he had only finished half of the potatoes and choclo. Anyway, eating would distract him, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with the vision. He placed his bowl behind him, and pulled his knees to his chest.
Wondering about his father, Weyana, and Sumag, Mashcag looked toward the hut and saw them. Taita carried Sumag in his left arm, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. Weyana put his arm around Taita’s waist, and Taita’s arm rested on Weyana’s shoulder.
When Taita saw Mashcag, he smiled and said, "Lovely, isn’t it?" Mashcag could only nod and return the smile. Weyana sat beside his brothers, and Sumag reached out for Mama to take her. After letting Sumag down, Taita sat next to his wife and held her. The six of them, illuminated by celestial light and music, didn’t want to move.
"What does this all mean?" Cusi asked. "Do any of the village elders’ stories explain it, Taita?"
"No, Chewry, none," Taita said.
"Then do you know what’s happening?" Weyana asked.
"No, I’ve never seen anything like this," Taita said. "But I feel that we needn’t be afraid. A few minutes ago, while Mama brought Mashcag and Cusi their dinner, I went to the cuy pen with some of the stalks we harvested today. I stopped for a moment to enjoy the sunset, and as the sky grew lighter instead of darker, I collapsed in fear. I thought that we had offended some ayah10 and that our valley was being consumed in flames," Taita paused. Sighing, he continued,
"As I trembled on the ground, I heard someone singing ‘peace.’ "
"We heard it too, Taita," said Mashcag.
"I hear it right now," Sumag said.
"Yes, my beauty," Taita said taking her little hand in his. "I think we all do." Taita’s voice cracked, and he began crying. Mashcag was amazed because Taita never cried.
The valley glowed brighter, and the singing grew louder and more beautiful. Mashcag had listened to many birds singing and the rushing of the river. He had heard the wind blow through the mountain passes. All of them had awed him, but none could compare to the heavenly song which he was hearing. But he couldn’t understand anything but "peace": the other words seemed muffled and confused. But still, they were beautiful, and there was something familiar about them.
The golden light from heaven brightened to vivid white. All of the colors of the mountains and plants blended with it and glowed. Mashcag looked at his family; even they shimmered, but it seemed that they were not merely reflecting the light.
And in the midst of the light a man dressed in a robe whiter than snow-capped mountains appeared. He had piercing blue eyes. When Mashcag first saw the man in white, he was startled, and chills ran up his back.
"Fear not; for I have been sent to teach you of these signs and wonders," the man in white said and smiled. His smile filled Mashcag with such love that any fear that he had felt disappeared. "On the morrow, in a far away land shall be born the Hatune Keyshpeecheeg Apoonchy, or Savior."
"A Savior, a Savior from what?" Taita asked.
"A Savior from sorrow, pain, death, and sin," the man in white said.
"Who is this Savior," asked Mama.
"He is the Son of Taita Howapachamanta,11 even the Son of God, the Creator of the heavens and of the Earth. His name is Keyshpeecheeg Apoonchy Utahshcah,12 but He shall not come to this land in mortality for He is called to another nation." The man in white closed his eyes, and for a moment, his countenance saddened. "And after He has done all that He was called to do and has ministered to His brethren, they shall mock, torture, and slay Him, and this land will be as dark as it is now light. Fires shall not be kindled, nor shall the sun shine." The man’s face softened as his smile returned. "But the Savior shall rise triumphant over death and hell, and He will come to visit you and your kindred."
"Why must He suffer?" asked Taita.
"He shall endure these things so that you don't have to. With his blood, He will purchase your souls, and He will give you everlasting life and joy if you follow Him," the man in white said.
"What must we do to follow Him?" Taita asked.

"All will be revealed to you in time, but I have told you all that I have been commanded, and I must return to He who sent me," the man in white said.
"Please stay. You have said many things that we cannot understand. Please, teach us of our Savior," Taita said, kneeling in front of the man. Mama was weeping.
But the man in white just smiled and said, "Be patient and glorify Taita Howapachamanta." The light which surrounded him gathered until it formed a pillar reaching heaven, and he disappeared.
The westerly breeze rustled several bushes that bordered the choclo field. Bathed in the heavenly light, their bright orange blossoms shone brilliantly against their dark green leaves. Mashcag gasped as the once muffled words of the heavenly song became clear, and looking heavenward, he saw thousands of men and women dressed like the man in white singing in the sky. Their chorus echoed throughout the valley, "Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men."
Had he tried, Mashcag couldn’t have described what he was seeing and hearing. He simply let it wash over him. And as suddenly as the host had appeared, their glory faded into the light, and the singing stopped.
But peace remained.
Mashcag and his family sat together, and no one dared move. But after Mashcag was sure the visions had ended, he stood and gathered a bundle of choclo stalks. Silently, he laid the stalks down and continued building. Taita, Cusi, and Weyana joined him. No one spoke; they didn’t need to.
Turning to look at the heart-shaped crater on Taita Imbabura, Mashcag paused. The heavenly light revealed the heart’s center, and it glowed as if it were on fire.
"Who needs fireflies?" Mashcag said.


1. Corn. In order to maintain the phonetic quality of the words in Quichua, I have anglicized those that would lose their pronunciation if their correct spelling were maintained.

2. Mom

3. Guinea pig

4. Dad

5. Son

6. Little brother

7. Little son, used as a term of endearment

8. Cloth which women wrap around their waists as a skirt

9. Peppers similar to jalepenos

10. Spirit

11. Heavenly Father

12. Anointed Savior or Jesus Christ.


Sean said...

Very nice story. I love the little details about daily life. What a privilege to have served your mission among some of the purest Lamanites to be still found on the Earth.

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