A long time ago, the gods decided to give humans the gift of weaving.
The gods were tired of looking at humans naked. They were even more tired of all the havoc that human nakedness wreaked. The humans needed clothing and blankets and curtains, perhaps even baskets to carry their clothing and blankets and curtains.
But gods are lazy. Thus, they decided they would teach one human to weave. Then that human would have the task of teaching the rest of humanity.
And gods are arrogant. Thus, they couldn’t decide which god had the best weaving technique. They argued for half a millennium. Finally, the great goddess Aphresa become tired of the arguing and decided there would be a contest.
Aphresa temporarily granted three human girls the skill of weaving and declared they would have a time period of 100 loops of the sun to weave a masterpiece. On the appointed day, the gods would judge the most beautiful cloth and its creator would become the Griot Weaver.
Aphresa knew that, on their own, humans could never make anything worthy of a god’s vote. Their work would be ridiculed and reviled. Thus, Aphresa also granted each of the girls one additional gift of their choosing, so they could create a piece that would make a god take notice.
The first girl asked for the gift of flight. With this she could fly as high and as long as her heart desired and go places no other human had ever gone.
The second girl asked for the gift of the rainbow. With this, she could see, name and create colors beyond what any human or animal had ever seen.
The third girl asked for a walking stick that would never break. With this, she could … walk.
Aphresa was dismayed by the third request and tried to get the girl to choose something else. But the girl refused to change her mind. Aphresa shrugged her mighty shoulders — convinced that now it would only be a contest of two — and granted each of these requests.
A century later, the three girls — now wizened old women — returned to the gods. One by one, they stepped forward to present what they had created.
The first woman revealed mountains of magnificent tapestry inspired by the heavens. She had used her gift of flight to sit among the clouds, to leap from star to star and get a close look at the sun. The brilliance of the skies was woven into her cloth. And the stars, oh the stars! She had traveled amongst the galaxies and captured images of stars more vast than any universe humanity could ever imagine. It was truly breathtaking — if not a bit lifeless — and the gods were impressed.
The second woman revealed miles of cloths in uncountable arrays of color. Some were so bright the gods had to shade their eyes; some were so deep that looking at them for long periods of time lulled the gods to sleep. With her gift, dissected every flower, watched every leaf change and studied every sunrise and sunset, peeling back each and every hue. When she exhausted all the colors in the world, she created her own and wove them in, too. Truly the colorful panorama was a joy to behold — if not a bit confusing — and the gods were impressed.
The gods then began to talk amongst themselves — deliberating over the winner — while the third woman stood there quietly and waited.
Out of genuine, though patronizing kindness, Aphresa brought the gods to attention, reminding them of the third contestant. Some snickered, some huffed, but all agreed to be still while the third woman revealed her work.
The third woman took a small step forward and revealed an ocean of the most intricate, most well-crafted, most unfathomably designed and brilliantly orchestrated collection of weaving anyone — god or human — had ever seen. The patterns seemed to laugh, the designs seemed to dance, the colors seemed to leap off one cloth and mesh with another. Each piece seemed to enhance the piece next to it, while still maintaining a resounding beauty within itself. In fact, if the gods were not mistaken, every individual thread hummed with a purpose of its own, while singing harmonious glories of the full tapestry.
Aphresa and all the gods had been mistaken. Clearly this woman was the winner of the contest. But how had she done it?
The third woman quietly explained. She had simply used her gift — her walking stick — to walk the earth and weave the people. The patterns, the purpose, the individual brilliance of each thread, the unimaginable genius of the full tapestry … Well, that was just humanity. And all she had needed to create her piece was the time to meet the people and the humility to honor their stories.
And with that, the gods declared the third woman Griot Weaver, awarded her the promised gift and instructed her to share it.
And that is how weaving came into the world.
About the writer …
Tonya Maria Matthews is president and CEO of the International African American Museum.