Manataka American Indian Council
Legends of the Hopi Indians
The Children and the Hummingbird
By G. M. Mullett
WHEN THE GODS withhold rain for one year it is bad, but when a drought lasts for four or five years hope grows weak and tired like corn plants without rain. That is how it was at Oraibi one time long ago.
The first year the ears of the corn had just begun to ripen when the frost came and killed them. The next year the drought delayed the growth so that the ears were just beginning to form when the frost destroyed the plants. By frost the next year the ears had not even formed, and the fourth year the drought had lasted so long that the plants were spindling and weak from the first. It was a terrible time! All the corn stored in previous bountiful years had at last been eaten, and there was nothing left. Thoroughly disheartened, many left the village to seek new homes, feeling that they could not be much worse off even though they did not better themselves much. The ones who remained planted their corn the fifth year, praying to Muiyinwuh to remember their need and cause the corn to thrive. But alas! the drought was worse if anything, and the corn grew tired and withered almost before it was out of the ground.
There was nothing to do now but leave their houses and see if they might not find food among some more fortunate people, and famine sped them on in desperation. In that terrible time of hunger and fear, two little children-a brother and sister-were left behind in that gaunt, deserted village. They knew not what to do-they knew no place to go, for encircling this poor place where they had always lived lay the vast Unknown. There was nothing to do, after their first mad panic of running as far into the wilderness as they dared, but to stay where they were and hope that they would be missed and someone would return for them. They thought surely that Masauwuh had snatched their parents and was driving the others so closely that the children had been forgotten.
The lad set himself bravely to the task of caring for his little sister, here and there gleaning some root or berry that kept them from absolute starvation and trying to cheer and comfort her. One day he thought he might make her forget how lonely and hungry she was, so he fashioned a little bird from the pith of a dry sunflower stalk.
"The great Spider Woman made all the birds of clay and made them come alive, so thus have I made one for you, and when you toss it into the air the breeze will make it look as if it too were alive," he said handing her the plaything. "Would that the tender Earth Mother might see us, or that we had her gift for making a tiny morsel of food increase."
The child was delighted with her plaything, and seeing that she was playing joyously he left to see if he could not find some root or forgotten seeds that would serve to stay their hunger. After playing with the bird in various ways, the girl began to pretend that it was a real, live one and tossed it high in the air to watch it flutter about before dropping back to her hand or falling to the earth. Imagine her surprise then when at last she threw it and it stayed in the air, skimming hither and thither, a real hummingbird, until at last it flew from her sight.
When the boy returned he found his little sister, whom he had left playing so gaily with her sunflower pith bird, now sitting quiet and sad. "Hao, little sister, where is the pretty bird I made you?"
"Yes, the bad little thing flew away and left me all alone," she complained.
At first he thought that she meant she had lost it in her play, and he could not believe her when she kept insisting that the bird had come to life and really flown away. It looked as if everything had determined to desert them, even the poor toy that had brought his sister a moment's happiness. In addition, he was very sad because he had been unable to find a scrap of anything they could eat, and he knew no new place to search.
The next morning, as the two sat together while the lad tried to comfort and amuse his sister the best he could, the tiny bird returned and darted into one of the crannies in the stone walls of their house.
"My birdie has come back," screamed out the girl excitedly. "See, my bird has flown in there."
"Where?" asked the boy, who had seen nothing.
"Why it flew past us and went in that hole there in the wall. Get it for me brother. It was such a good little playmate. I love it."
Very doubtingly, the lad thrust his hand into the opening and was surprised to find that it was quite large enough, but though he felt in every corner the bird was not there. There was something else there though, and he drew it into the light with eagerness, for it felt under his fingers like an ear of corn-maybe a forgotten ear of dry corn. He could hardly believe his eyes when he drew it forth to find it was corn and not a dry ear but green and fresh.
"Thanks, thanks," they shouted gratefully, while their great eyes burned at the sight of real food. Then they roasted it, and when it was divided ate of it ravenously to the smallest kernel and then sucked the cob. Hardly had they finished when, from the opening the boy had so carefully searched, there was a flash of color and the bird skimmed past them. Even the boy saw it this time.
"It is Totca, the hummingbird," gasped the boy.
"It is my friend, my friend," called the little girl.
The next day as they sat on the doorstep the little bird flew past them and again disappeared within the same hole. When the boy thrust in his hand he drew forth another ear, and it was a larger one. They were so happy about it that they could talk of nothing else but the wonder of it and every little while would run to see if the bird had returned. The next day and the next the bird returned, each time leaving an ear larger than the one before, so that the children became quite well fed. But on the fifth day, though it came back, when the lad put his hand in the hole, there was no corn there, and he brought out only the tiny bird figure he had made from the sunflower pith.
He was very sad about this, for the little bird seemed to be all that stood between them and starvation. Quite desperately he took the small thing in his hands and said, "You are something living. You go and hunt for our parents. They have left us but perhaps you can find them. Please bring us something more to eat. Go south and look for our father and mother. My sister is small and grieves for my mother's arms."
But to his imploring eyes there appeared no sign of life in the inert pith figure, and so he turned to his sister and asked her in what way she had made the bird fly. Confidently, she took the small figure by the wings and, lifting a smiling, trustful face to him, said, "This is the way I did it." And when she had tossed it in the air the hummingbird again came alive and flew away.
After the bird had left the children staring at it in open-mouthed wonder, it flew until it came to a great rock upon which it lit to rest and look about it. Turning to the south, it spied afar a cactus plant on which flamed a single brilliant red blossom. At once it flew thither and hunted about until it found an opening beneath the plant into which it flew. Beyond this opening it found a roomy kiva where grass and some herbs were growing. At the north end of the kiva was another opening through which it passed to find itself in another kiva. Here it found some corn with pollen on it and ate of it. Passing through an opening in this kiva, it found itself in a third, where there was an abundance of grass, herbs and corn of all kinds. Here lived Muiyinwuh, the god of all growing things. All kinds of birds flew about in this kiva, but it was the sharp eyes of the hummingbirds that saw the newcomer first.
"Somebody strange has come in," they chirruped to Muiyinwuh.
"Who has come in?" asked the god. "Let him come before me."
Fearlessly the little bird flew over and lit on the great arm of Muiyinwuh-there it waited.
"Why have you come here?" the god inquired.
"Yes," said the bird boldly, "what are you doing down here? Why have you allowed bad people to influence you to stay here in your klva and not think of how the people up there on earth are doing? Why have you listened to them? Your fields up there are dry and barren. The corn all grew tired and died. It has not rained there and nothing grows. There at Oraibi the people all left, and there are only two small children there alone. Even they would have starved had not Spider Woman made me live so that I might bring food to them. You had better come up there and look after things."
At the bold words of the tiny creature there was absolute silence, but it could be seen that Muiyinwuh was thinking long thoughts. "All right," he said at last, "I am thinking about the matter."
"I wish you would give me something for those children who must be very hungry for they have had nothing at all today."
"Certainly, you must take all you want for yourself and the children," consented the god.
So the bird broke off the nicest, juiciest roasting ear he could find, and it became small so he could carry it. Flying back, he put it in the same hole where it became large again. When the children saw the bird return they were filled with hope, but the lad was almost afraid to put in his hand, for they were very hungry again and he dreaded the disappointment if there were nothing there. But the girl was sure her little friend had brought them something and insisted that he get it. They were wild with joy when the boy drew forth the finest, juiciest ear they had ever seen.
"Oh, thank you, Totca, that you have pitied us. Thank you that you have brought us something to eat. It is because of you that we are alive. Through you our hunger is satisfied. We are very happy about it, but we pray you not to leave us for you are all we have."
"Yes, I have pitied you," said the bird kindly. "For that reason I have come again. I shall live here close by you until all is well with you again."
"And will you please try to find our father and mother?" asked the lad.
"I will look for them," answered the bird and flew away.
Instead of going to the south as the boy had suggested, the bird flew over the fields to the west of Oraibi and then went north. Its sharp eyes searched every part of the mesa land until finally, at a place called Toho, it found the parents. They were pitiably thin and weak because they were living on nothing but cactus.
They did not see the hummingbird, but when it flew past them the father said, "Something is passing here." The bird flew past them again and when they saw it the man asked, "Who are you flying about here where there have been no living things but my wife and me?" The bird did not answer but poised in the air with its wings moving and listened to what the man had to say.
"In your flying here and there have you seen any food, little bird? If you know of any, have pity on us and show us where it is." For there were no living creatures about that part of the country, and the man thought the bird must have some place to get food. They were, therefore, disappointed when the hummingbird, after listening to them, flew away without making any answer.
Hummingbird flew right back to the children, and the boy ran to meet it with the question, "Did you find our parents?"
"Yes, I found them," answered the bird.
"Both of them?" asked the children anxiously.
"Yes, both, but alas they have very little to eat. They are hungry and they are very thin."
"Oh, little bird, do be quick and take them that which you were going to give us," implored the children.
In the meantime Muiyinwuh, after thinking over what Hummingbird had told him, decided to go to the earth and see how things were going there and whether the things the bird had told him were true. He ascended to the next kiva to stay there four days, and during that time it rained at Oraibi. Then he went to the next kiva, and during his four days' stay there it rained at Oraibi again. When he ascended to the next kiva it rained considerably in the deserted village, so that when he came out on the earth he found grasses and herbs growing nicely. The little bird and its friends had been busily sowing corn in the fields so that it, too, began to put forth lusty green blades.
From a distance the two parents at Toho could see the clouds that looked to be hovering over Oraibi, and they decided to return there and see. They did not know their children were there and had been there all the time. In fact they did not know how they had been separated from them in that mad flight to escape the famine, for all had been too crazed with hunger to think clearly. When they stumbled into the village, weak and weary, they could hardly believe their eyes when their two children leapt upon them and gave them from their ear of corn and some water.
Others who had fled the village also saw the precious rain clouds over their deserted Oraibi and returned to their homes. Soon the village came to life-full of people. The corn the birds had planted thrived and bore abundantly and Muiyinwuh blessed them. When the little boy and girl grew up they and their descendants became the village chiefs and owners of Oraibi and they never forgot the little Totca who had saved them in their great need.
Copyright © 1968. The Arizona Board of Regents.
EMAIL HOME INDEX TRADING POST