The Great Fire
Illustrated By: Jacob Below
Listen to the story while you read along! Thanks to Elderberry Tales
A LONG TIME AGO, along the basin of the Amazon river in South America, there raged a terrible war between two groups. As soon as one group began to yearn for peace, an evil wizard named Sararuma would whisper something terrible to them about what the other side was planning to do.
"They plan to attack you," Sararuma would snarl. "You must act now, while the land is still dry from the drought. Set a great fire to the enemy's lands. They will never bother you again!" Then he ran to the other side. "I know your enemy plans to set fire to your land. Quickly, you must set fire to their land before they do the same to you!"
Before long all the grasslands of the countryside were ablaze. And soon both sides had completely destroyed the other.
Only one man and woman survived. They had seen the war getting worse and worse. They had tried to urge their leaders to talk to the other side, but none would listen. At last, the couple hid themselves deep in the earth by a stream with enough food to last many days, and so they were spared. After the great fire, they were the only human beings left alive on earth.
From the safety of their hole in the ground they could see the flames licking the air. They could smell the smoke still raging outside. After several days, when the worst of the great fire's destruction had settled down, the man crawled to the surface.
He stretched out a twig and at once, it caught fire.
"It is too soon," he said, and quickly returned to the safety of their den. The next day his wife tried, and again the twig smoldered. For eight more days they tried. On the tenth day, the twig did not burned nor smolder. With care, they came out of their hiding place to the surface.
And looked around.
"Ashes - everywhere," said the husband. His wife murmured, "There is nothing I recognize." No grasses, no trees were left standing. There were no people and no animals. Only an expanse of flat land, ankle-deep in places with ash and swept over by great clouds of swirling dust.
Suddenly, in front of them loomed the evil wizard Sararuma himself. His cloak, red as flame, billowed around him.
"How do you like it?" he said, snarling. "Enjoy your last moments. Soon you too, will die."
"We do not have to die," said the man.
"We will live," said the woman.
"Worse for you if you do!" he howled. "A pathetic existence, dying of hunger in this deathbed of dust and ashes."
"The land is dry for now, true," said the wife, fingering seeds in her pocket. "But it will rain. We will plant."
All of a sudden, Sararuma started to shrink. And as he dwindled in size, the tips of new grass sprouted through the ashes.
"What makes you think you're any different from the others?" he shouted, flailing his arms. "You'll end up in wars and destruction, like the rest of you filthy, despicable humans!"
"We can't know what will happen," said the man, "but we'll go on."
The charred trees began to turn green. Sararuma was barely the size of a child.
"You're the only ones left!" he squeaked in a rage. "You'll have no one to talk to."
Said the husband, "Things will change."
His wife added, "We will have children."
Then animals rose from the ashes and started to peek their noses about. Sararuma's cloak wound around him one last time as he was turned into a gust of wind that was blown away, howling.
- Why did the man and his wife hide instead of taking sides in the battle?
- Why did Sararuma turn to dust?
Retold by Elaine L. Lindy, ©2006. All rights reserved.
The Yuracaré occupy 250,000 hectares (over 600,000 acres) in the Chapare River watershed in the Department of Cochabamba in Bolivia. Of the approximately 35 indigenous groups in the country, the Yuracaré are especially known for growing greater-than-expected numbers of fruit-bearing trees. The fruit of these trees attracts the game that forms an essential part of their diet and worldview, and in 1998, in recognition of these successful forestry practices, the Yuracaré was the first indigenous group to be granted forest management rights by the Bolivian government.