Thirty thousand years ago, in the heart of the African continent and in the shadow of the largest freestanding mountain in the world, lived the Ibandi. For countless generations they nurtured their ancient tradition, and met survival ' s daily struggle with quiet faith in their gods. But when brutal intruders arrived from the south, a few brave souls dared the ultimate quest ' to climb the Great Mountain, seeking answers and a way into the future.
In this breathtaking blend of imagination, anthropology, and sheer storytelling magic, Steven Barnes takes us to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and into the realm of our own ancestors, who lived, hunted, celebrated, and died side by side with roaming herds of wild animals and great golden clouds of migrating butterflies. A people whose skin was the color and smell of the earth itself, the Ibandi formed a hierarchy based on strength of limb and spirit. In this extraordinary novel, we follow the adventures of two of the Ibandi ' s chosen ones: T ' Cori, an abandoned girl raised by the powerful and mysterious medicine woman Stillshadow, and Frog Hopping, a boy possessing a gift that is also a curse.
Though they live in different encampments, Frog and T ' Cori are linked through the revered and powerful Stillshadow, who has sensed in them a destiny apart from others ' .
Through the years, and on their separate life paths, T ' Cori ' s and Frog ' s fates entwine as an inevitable disaster approaches from the south ' from the very god they worship. For as long as there have been mountain, sky, and savannah, there has been a home for the Ibandi. Now, in the face of an enemy beyond anything spoken of even in legend, they must ask their god face ' to ' face: Do we remain or do we depart
Great Sky Woman not only brings to life the world of prehistoric man but also shines a brilliant light on humanity itself. For here is a story of rivalries and alliances, of human fear and desire, of faith and betrayal ' and, above all, a story of how primitive man, without words or machines, set in motion civilization ' s long, winding journey to the present.
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June 27, 2006
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Excerpt from Great Sky Woman by Steven Barnes
Stillshadow was ancient now, what her people called a ' woman of dust. ' Four tens of warm rains had moistened her deeply weathered face. Daily walking on plains and hills, hot tea brewed from the poison-grub plant ' s spiky leaves and milky roots, and the grace of Great Mother Herself kept the old medicine woman ' s back straight and her tread light. Stillshadow was thought tall, standing a handsbreadth higher than the average Ibandi woman, the height of a typical male. Her skin was the color of dark clay, her black hair tightly coiled, her wise old eyes black and flecked with gray. Like other medicine women, other dream dancers, she covered her breasts and genitals with beaten and softened deerskin flaps, partially for protection from the cooler air atop Great Earth, but also in recognition that her seventh eye belonged to Father Mountain and His sons the hunt chiefs.
She clicked and clucked to herself, and slipped a wrinkled hand into the speckled brown deerhide pouch dangling at her waist. From it she extracted a fibrous pellet of crushed insects, ground leaves and herbs, bound with fresh moist fungus from sacred caves on Great Earth ' s western face, the powerful hallucinogenic mixture medicine women called godweed. The crone tucked it between her gum and lip, savoring the chewy texture with anticipation. Her cheek tingled as the extracts of nettle-berry, thistleroot and poison-grub leaves filtered their way into her blood.
Her eyes rolled back in their sockets, exposing the whites. Stillshadow surrendered to the divine connection, sinking back against the broad flat rock she and the mothers before her had called their sitting stone. From there, she gazed down from Great Earth ' s heights to the valley floor, the rock-tumbled, bamboo- and grass-filled plain, familiar slopes she had walked and climbed since childhood. Two days ' walk to the north, filling the horizon, stood Great Sky, the tallest mountain in all the world, in whose misty heights the Creators themselves lived their fierce, jealous, eternal love.
Squatting, eyes tilted to the clouds, Stillshadow hummed a trance song to herself, idly scraping lines and curves in the loose black soil with the tip of her walking stick. Her eyelids slid closed, newborn stars scintillating in the pulsing blackness. Once immersed in this state of waking dream, the old woman ' s scrawling intensified. After a time she opened her eyes to examine what she had created. Most days, little met her eyes save an overlapping tangle of meaningless doodles. From time to time her mystical state produced something of unusual symmetry, truth or beauty. Those few drawings she etched again upon her sitting stone, carved into a tree trunk or painted upon one of the countless rock walls and shelves jutting from Great Earth herself.