The White Spider’s Gift

Origin: South American Paraguay

Theme: Magical help and commitment can win.

In a dense forest in Paraguay lived a widow and her only son. His name was Piki. One morning they were walking to the spring to fill their earthen jars with water. Piki stopped and looked at something in the yerba mate bush.

“Look, Mother, my little white spider is waiting to greet me. She has made a beautiful web. I think she remembers me from when I saved her from the spring. Remember last week, I saw her spinning around in the spring. I scooped her up in my hand and held her until she was dry. After she dried out, she danced in my hand, then I put her on this very bush. She looks happy now,” Piki said.

“It’s amazing, this spider seems to know you. Who could imagine a spider could know a person?” the mother said.

The mother looked at her son with pride, he was strong. She felt lucky to have him. Piki was now eighteen and he looked so handsome and strong. The mother and son startled as they heard the splash of oars in the stream next to the spring. Piki looked up from the spider, and saw a beautiful young Indian woman paddling her canoe. She had on a white cotton tunic with a purple sash. Her ebony hair was coiled in braids interlaced with lavender orchids. She looked up and smiled at Piki. He thought there must be sunbeams in her eyes, they sparkled so.

“Who is she, mother? She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Who is she?” Piki asked.

“Why she is Tukira, the chieftain’s daughter. We better hurry with our chores before evening. I must grind the corn, and you need to lay out meat on the racks to dry,” the mother responded.

“Why haven’t I ever seen her?” asked Piki.

“She has just returned from her mother’s sister’s village where she has been since her mother died. She has come home now to get married,” the mother explained.

A few days later, Piki was in the forest gathering berries and he came upon Tukira gathering flowers.

“What are you doing here? Who are you?” shouted Tukira, surprised by Piki.

“Oh, sorry, I’m Piki. I didn’t mean to startle you. I was picking berries, here have some,” he said as he offered Tukira some berries.

Tukira laughed and took some fruit. Days passed and they both seemed to be looking for flowers and berries a little too often. The whole tribe was excited that the two of them were in love, and looked forward to a great celebration where they could feast and dance. But the chieftain, Tukira’s father had other ideas. He wanted to get the bravest warrior in the land for Tukira’s husband. He put out a call and handsome princes and other warriors came to compete. Piki was so in love with Tukira, he didn’t care if he wasn’t a prince or a famous warrior. He competed and won many events.

But on the last day of the competition, the chieftain had an announcement.

“There will be no more racing, swimming or hunting,” he announced to the crowd. “I want to see what you can give my daughter as a gift. Whoever brings her the most beautiful, most imaginative, most original, most creative present will have her for your wife. I will give you two moons to find such a gift.”

At their daily meeting in the woods, Piki was distraught, “Tukira, I am not rich. What will I do? We are lost. You will have to go off with one of the arrogant princes; they think they are so great.”

For some reason Tukira wasn’t worried, she had faith in Piki. She said, “Don’t worry; it is going to work out. Pray to our god Tupa for help. He helps good people, not vain people.”

Piki prayed but he didn’t hear an answer. Time passed and the princes and warriors began bringing wonderful presents. They brought skins of strange animals, large plumes of feathers, gold and silver with jewels, and stunning birds with green, turquoise, red and blue feathers. Piki had gone to the village square to see what was happening. He was so depressed that he went home to tell his mother he was leaving the village and going into the forest to become a hermit.

“I have failed, I can never win Tukira. I am going to the stream to say goodbye to the spider. Goodbye, my mother,” Piki said. His mother started crying and wailing and grabbed at his feet as he turned to go.

Piki went down to the spring, and looked for his white spider. He heard a soft voice.

“Piki, I am here in the bush. I can help you. I can help you win your princess,” a soft voice said.

Piki jumped at the surprise of a voice seeming to come out of nowhere. He looked all around and couldn’t see a soul.

“Piki,” the little voice said again, “It’s me I am your little white spider and Tupa has asked me to help you. Look for me in my yerba mate bush. Here I am.”

Piki looked down and saw the spider moving up and down. Maybe there would be help, this seemed like a miracle.

“Go home now to your mother. She is very sad and you must cheer her up,” the spider told him as he looked at her.

Piki leaped for joy, screaming, “Hooray! Hooray!”

He ran home to his mother and told her the good news.

The next day at dawn, just before the sun was rising, Piki crept back to the spring. The monkeys and parrots were screaming in the forest and the night’s dew was transforming to morning mist.

Piki came to the yerba mate bush and looked carefully, but he couldn’t find his white spider. Instead he saw a huge web that she had woven. It was the size of a shawl and had guava flowers, birds, orchids and begonias woven into the pattern. Piki picked it up and realized he now had a spectacular gift for Tukira. He rushed to the village square, followed by his mother and waited until the mid- afternoon sun, when the chieftain would arrive to receive the gifts.

The chieftain came into the square and was followed by his daughter. She was looking very sad since she had lost hope that she would be with Piki. Piki rushed out and held the lace shawl carefully above Tukira’s head. The whole town gasped at the etheric beauty of the shimmering lace.

The chieftain said, “Piki has won. His gift is the most beautiful.”

They were married and were happy, and to this day women in Paraguay weave the lace called nanduti or spider’s web lace.

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