Manataka American Indian Council
Got His Clothing
A Seneca Story
When the Creator first made the world, he gave the animals their fur and hair, the fish and snakes their scales, and the insects their shells and wings. But he forgot to give the birds any clothing. The birds had no feathers yet, and could not fly. They were cold. They walked everywhere they went. And all they could eat was dead fish that washed up along the shore. The birds were very unhappy.
The birds met in council and said, 'Surely this is not right. Everyone has clothes but birds.' Eagle was the chief of the birds, and he said, 'Let us wait until the sun is coming up, and we will all pray. Each bird will sing his song to He-who-holds-up-the-sky.'
The next morning, at the crack of dawn, the birds all began to pray. Woodpecker and Indian Hen played the drum. All the birds sang. Crow cawed and Robin chirped. Lark and Bluebird trilled their songs. They all sang their songs except Mockingbird, who sang little pieces of everyone else's song. Even today, birds sing at dawn.
The prayers drifted up to heaven, and the Creator sent down his helper to the eagle with a message. The helper came to the council fire of the birds and said, "The Creator has heard your prayers and will answer them. Select one among you who will serve as the messenger-to-the-gods, and he will be taken up to the heavens. He will not even need to speak his wishes, the Creator already knows them.'
When the Creator's helper had gone back to the sky world, the birds began to discuss who among them should be chosen as the messenger-to-the-gods. Eagle said, "I would go, but the journey may be long, and I have other responsibilities here."
Hummingbird said, "I would go, but I am so small the Creator might not even see me."
Robin was well respected at council, and he said, "Let us send Buzzard. He is both noble and patient." Everyone agreed, and they turned to Buzzard and gave him their blessing. All the birds came up and congratulated Buzzard, who was so proud that he blushed. Robin came up and congratulated Buzzard, and he blushed again, because buzzard was somewhat shy and did not speak to the other birds very often.
Buzzard puffed up his chest and walked proudly out of the council house, and the Creator gave him the power of fight, the first of the birds to have it. As Buzzard flew higher, he saw the earth shrinking below. Finally, Buzzard reached the sky world. He stepped onto a cloud.
By now Buzzard was swelling with pride; he had lost his humility, which had been his best trait until then.
Buzzard was led into the Lodge of the Creator. He stood there for a few minutes, surrounded by clouds, when he heard a voice.
"Buzzard, turn around.' Buzzard turned around, and where there had been nothing before, now there were hundreds of beautiful suits of feathers hanging from pegs on the vast walls of the lodge, each different from the next.
"Here are the suits of feathers I have made for the Bird People. As their messenger, you have the honor of selecting for your own the suit you like the best. Those you do not choose will fall to earth and become the clothing of the other birds.
Take as long as you like to make your selection, but beware: once you have taken a suit of clothing off, you can never put it on again. Choose wisely!'
Then there was silence, and Buzzard began to try on suits of feathers to find one that he liked the best. He tried on the first suit; the wings were brown with little white streaks, and the breastplate was the color of the sunrise-a bold red-orange.
Buzzard said, "This suit of feathers is very beautiful, but as messenger-to-the-gods, I need something more colorful.' He took off that suit and let it fall. The suit passed through the cloud-floor of the lodge and drifted down to earth. Robin caught it and put it on.
Buzzard took another suit of feathers off its wooden peg and pulled it on. It was bright crimson, with a beautiful black dance mask and crimson mess cap. 'This is all one color,' said Buzzard and he took it off and let it fall. Cardinal ran and caught the suit and wore it.
Buzzard tried on a gold and black suit, but he didn't like the colors, and let it fall. Finch wears it today.
One suit was brilliant moss green on the wings and back, with a blood-red gouget at the throat. But the suit was a little bit tight, so he let it fall. Hummingbird is wearing it today.
Suit after suit fell from the lodge of He-who-holds-up-the sky, and birds sang their thanks to the Creator and their praise to Buzzard for sending down such beautiful suits for them to wear.
Finally Buzzard put on a suit that was brown-black and dull; the suit was too small, and his bare neck stuck out. The wings were wide, but drab and not colorful at all. The leggings didn't reach his feet, so his legs were bare, and there was no cap to wear with his suit, so his head was bare. 'I don't like this at all,' he said, and he looked over at the wall of the lodge.
All the pegs were empty.
This was the last suit of feathers! And it was not beautiful at all, in fact it was rather ugly. Buzzard realized how vain he had been, wanting the very best suit for himself. He was so embarrassed at his vanity that he blushed and his head turned red forever.
Buzzard was so ashamed that he flew off alone and ate the carcasses of dead animals rather than go back to the feast at the council house of the birds, where everyone was happy with their feather suits.
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