When Kanna first moves to the Southern Watertribe, she is unsure of what she will find.
Her only contact with them, has been a few short letters to her cousin, who hadn’t yet been born, when her aunt’s family traveled to the Southern watertribe when she was 8 years old.
She writes to him of her life, chores, and what she likes to do for fun, and what is expected of her. She longs for a family, as she has no siblings, her mother has passed, and her father would much rather have had a son.
She is sad and happy at the same time, when he expresses his disgust with the way women are treated in her tribe. Sad, because a man treating a woman like an equal is simply impossible here, and still she longs for a life like that, and happy, simply because her cousin’s wife and any daughters he might eventually have, will never be treated like her.
When she writes to him of her impending marriage, and to warn him that she will not be able to send anymore letters, she expects to simply find a return letter that says that he regrets, but will listen to her and will of course, cease all contact.
Weeks later, a mere 10 days before the wedding, that is not what she gets. Instead, the letter says;
I have read through all your letters once again, and it seems to me like you are not happy with your life in the Northern Watertribe. It pains me also, that we might never know each other.
I have a proposition, if you please. Included in this letter is a map to the southern watertribe, some money, and a family pass, to be shown at the gates of the southern fort.
You are my family too, Kanna, and I would not have you live a life of unhappiness, when you could have another option.
Come live with us, here in the south. We would love to have you.
All our love
Barnok and family”
She leaves immediately. This is a chance for a new life, that she did not realize existed, but she will take full advantage of it now.
Her mother was an herbhealer, as was her grandmother before her. Kanna is just as good as them, if not better. It becomes her job, when she has settled with her cousin’s family.
She goes to the pregnant women, the newborn children. The ones where water healing, no matter how good, could potentially do more damage than healing.
This is also her first meeting with one of the major cultural differences between the sistertribes. None of the families will name their children, until the youngest is 2 months old, and robust enough to travel.
Kanna expresses her confusion with this, to her cousin.
“Are they not afraid that the spirits will take them?? In the Northern watertribe, every child is named as soon as possible or else the spirits will take their souls and inhabit their bodies.”
He simply looks at her in horror.
“No. No the spirits would never do that to us.” He seems so confused, asking her about the awakening, and looking even more scared, when she confesses that she has heard of it from her patients, but has no idea what it is.
“Come,” He says at last ”I must take you to the elders. They must hear of this. And you must learn of the awakening”
The Elders seem just as shocked as Barnok, as they convene to explain the tradition, and tell her the story behind it.
“The awakening is this; every time a child is born to our tribe,” elder Tekka begins, “we wait until that child is 2 months old, or until the youngest of the children born is so, and then the whole tribe travels inland, to the sacred opening to the spiritworld. Here, the newborns, and their mother and father, together with the healer that helped deliver the child, goes deep into the forest of dead trees, until they come upon a lone living tree.”
Here elder Eskan takes over the tale. “The tree is a huge wisteria, and shields under its branches a host of different spirits. Here, one by one, the parents and their child, plus the healer, go under its branches. They together with the spirits and watched over by the Great Mother Wisteria, find a guardian spirit for the child.”
Kanna is the one shocked now. She has never heard of anything like this, and everything she knows of spirits say that those children should be dead. She says nothing though, not wanting to interrupt the elders.
“To understand why though, we must go further back. This agreement was started a little after the Southern Watertribe first settled here and traveled inland. At the time, the avatar was one born to the waterbenders, and she heard of the horrific tales of children going missing, and food sources suddenly disappearing. When asked, all the villagers could tell her was that it had started when the men had traveled inland for food and had returned frightened and in a hurry.” Here the elder Eskan seems to tire, and Elder Tanrok takes over.
“The problem was thus. The men had unknowingly traveled towards the opening to the spiritworld, which at the time was very nearly closed. They had accidentally blown it wide open when one of them had died in a hunt, and the others had decided to hold a brief wake for him, near the then barren valley. Upon wakening the next morning and seeing the previously barren valley suddenly full of dead trees, they were understandably frightened, and traveled home with all haste, leading the newly free spirits right to their village.
Spirits being spirits, when the avatar went to talk to them, they didn’t actually know that they were hurting the villagers. They had just seen a fun little soul to play with and a more challenging hunt for the grown creatures. They wouldn’t go back to the spiritworld though. Not now that they had tried being on this side and had found it very pleasing indeed.
And so, an arrangement was made. The Avatar was taken to the forest of dead trees, and there she found the wisest and oldest of the spirits and with her permission, tied her to and ancient dead wisteria tree. The spirit made the tree come back to life and she became known as Great Mother Wisteria. There they made the pact that every time a newborn child had been named, the humans would take it to Great Mother Wisteria, and she, along with the child’s parents, and the healer as witness, would select a spirit to tie to the child as a guardian for life. The humans got a guarantee of safety from spirits, along with a lifelong protector and companion, and the spirits got to travel with their humans wherever they went, and got free access to the entire south pole, even when not tied to a human.”
“And thus ends the tale. Now you must tell us Kanna. Do you truly not have anything like this in the north? For if you don’t, we must go with all haste to the Great Mother Wisteria and obtain a guardian spirit for you also. You are much too vulnerable to other spiritual manipulation otherwise.”