Review: Chicora and the Little People

The first Lumbee legend to be told in a children's picture book, this story teaches children the importance of honoring the wisdom of children and other "small" voices, and of being courageous in the face of riducule. 



Chicora and the Little People:

The Legend of Indian Corn, A Lumbee Tale


Written by Arvis Boughman (Lumbee)

Illustrated by DeLora Cummings

Published by Llumina Kids, 2010

Additional Information: 23 pages, Color illustrations; Grades 1-4


From Lumbee author Arvis Boughman comes the first ever Lumbee legend to take the form of a children’s picture book. In this story within a story, young Chicora tells the adults in her community about her encounter with the little people, and a mysterious new type of rainbow-colored corn that they created. Even as the adults mock her telling of this “fanciful” tale, Chicora continues on to tell them that while the little people wanted Lumbees to be afraid of this new, odd-looking corn, it is actually a blessing that they should celebrate.

Chicora assures the adults in her community that this new corn is good to eat, and proves it to the distrustful group, by taking a big bite of it herself. Just as she does this, a respected Lumbee elder, Chief Eno, confirms Chicora’s story to the people, and urges them to celebrate the wonderful new corn that Chicora has brought to them.

The story closes with the community coming together to dance the seven-day corn dance, and celebrate Chicora and her new multi-colored corn. “From that day on,” Boughman writes, “the Lumbee viewed Chicora with respect. Now, her people call her Deep Thinker, not Daydreamer.”

This beautifully illustrated children’s book brings together several subtexts that are valuable for young children, Native and non-Native alike. Most prominent among these is the commonly held indigenous value on the unique gifts that children contribute to their communities. While the adults in this story begin by mocking and belittling Chicora, the book clearly delivers the lesson that this is not the proper way for adults to address their little ones. Instead, the elder, the wisest of the adults, teaches the others to honor and trust the insights of their sacred children. That Chicora is a girl child should not be lost on readers either. This story teaches the lesson of lifting up the smallest voices so that all may benefit from their wisdom.

This book teaches respect for those who are marginalized in multiple ways – Chicora is not only a woman but a very young one at that. Crouched not so deeply between the lines of this story is the lesson to honor those who occupy the most disregarded positions in society, and to listen to the wisdom they have to offer. Chicora brought to her people a message to not be afraid of the new rainbow-colored corn, which was a resource that could be deeply valuable to the community. Through this, Boughman suggests that any community that dare not listen to the voices of its children would be losing the opportunity to benefit from the treasures that Creator has provided to them through these young voices.

Children will be able to take from this book the lesson of having courage in the face of ridicule. At first when the adults begin teasing Chicora for her story, she does begin to cry, but she continues to tell her tale, even through her tears. In the end, after she has sobbed through the last words of her testimony, she is rewarded not only with being celebrated by her tribe, but also by the achievement of having delivered such important knowledge to her elders. By insisting on validating herself, she is finally validated by the adults.

The names, geographical references, and illustrations in Chicora and the Little People are culturally appropriate and accurate. Boughman takes great care in presenting well-researched content, as well as being transparent about his process of adapting this story from several sources. Boughman even introduces several words in this text, which he recovered from archives documenting historic speakers of the Cheraw language (a group from which Lumbees descend). This element of cultural revival and renaissance is particularly relevant to Lumbee people and many other Southeastern tribes who are resourceful in adapting and reconstructing their cultural traditions.

There are several subtle themes in this book that speak well to the experiences of Native peoples, and of Lumbees in particular. Being in a location that experienced very early contact with Europeans, Lumbee people have long been able to integrate cultural features from several different origins, and this adaptation to their changing socio-political environment has benefitted the tribe’s ability to avoid removal and remain on their ancestral lands even to this day. That the familiar corn in this story is a single, red color, and the new corn being introduced is multi-colored, seems to very subtly reflect this history of diversification and adaptation. It is appropriate that the lesson held for the adults in this story is to not be afraid of change, but to recognize that there is strength in their own ability to adapt in a changing world. This ethic has done so much to allow Lumbee people to resist colonization by hanging on to their most precious cultural treasure: the continued connection with their land.

A second subtle but salient theme in this story is the validation of newly recognized cultural practice. As a tribe that has long struggled with the federal government and Western academia’s fanciful notions about indigenous “authenticity,” Chicora offers a refreshingly indigenist perspective on the issue of cultural process and issues of tradition. The stereotypes projected onto Native peoples are felt on the individual and collective level, and Lumbees in particular have come up against this challenge in that their resilient cultural history does not reflect romantic notions of primitive savages who retain the same static practices from “time immemorial.” In their efforts to fight for full federal recognition, Lumbees have repeatedly been rejected for not fitting a script that Euro-American narratives have prescribed for them. It is symbolically significant that young Chicora leads her people to greater transcendence by gaining recognition for a cultural feature for which her adult audience has no reference, and initially rejects. To the trained eye, there is an analogy to be drawn with the broader recognition of the tribe, which in so many ways defies Euro-American expectations and stereotypes of how Indian people “should” be.

DeLorna Cummings provides whimsical watercolor illustrations, and vividly weaves emotion into this rich story of fear, courage, and resilience.


- Cora Garcia, Oyate



© Oyate 2012


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