Yaqui Myths and Legends

Ruth Warner Giddings

The Ku Bird

AMONG the Yaquis there was once a bird who, from birth, was very poor. So poor was this little one that he had not one single feather on his whole body. Often he sighed, especially in the winter time, because of his lack of protecting feathers. Many years passed, until one day he spoke to the Owl, saying,

"My brother, do me a favor and I will help you as long as I live. Help me to dress myself by lending me just a few of your feathers, even if they should cover only a part of my body. With the cold weather, I suffer."

And the Owl answered him. "Have no worry about my helping you. I am going to ask all the birds to lend you one feather. In that way, you may clothe your whole body."

"You speak well," said the Ku Bird to the Owl. "When I have many feathers, I shall return a feather to each who lent me one."

"Good," said the Owl, "I shall send messengers to all the birds both large and small, to every single bird, in order that not one shall fail to attend the council. By early tomorrow morning we shall all be gathered to consider the matter of your clothes."

"Many, many thanks," answered the Ku Bird.

"Good-by for a while," said the Owl. And he went away to make arrangements with the other birds.

Immediately they all wanted to see Ku Bird. At their petition, although with great shame, he presented himself.

Everyone was very sorry for him. And each bird presented him with one feather. Everyone contributed until Ku's costume, was complete.

After thanking them all, Ku said, "To brother Owl I shall return all of the loaned feathers. He will return them to each of you in one year."

A few days later the Ku Bird visited a spring filled with crystal-clear water. Here, many birds with beautiful plumes often came to visit. When the Ku Bird arrived all the birds surrounded him and looked at him in admiration and joy. They believed that he was a prince, and all rendered him homage. They did not recognize him beneath his beautiful, unusual plumage. He looked like a garden of flowers. Some called him the bird of a thousand colors, for he was wonderfully colorful with all his many feathers.

But within a year Ku was lost completely. He was never again seen, although all the birds searched for him, even in distant regions. Never again did he appear.

To this day, the Owl is still hunting for him. He searches and he calls. That is why Owl sings: "Ku, Ku, Ku, Ku," nothing more. He is not able to say Ku Bird, but he can sing "Ku Ku Ku."

Many centuries have passed and no one has ever heard anything about Ku. It is said that he is enchanted, that he now dwells in a waterhole which lies west of Potam near the sea. Yaquis say they have been there and heard him singing.

Ku never paid for his shirt, the Ku bird, the bird of a thousand colors. So ends the tale.

The Walking Stone

THERE was a beautiful young woman by the name of Sawali Wiikit, or, "Little Yellow Bird," who had lovely, long hair, and eyes as shining as a star. But there was one thing about her that was bad, She was disobedient, and she liked to walk about with her friends at night without asking permission of either her father or her mother. She would walk about until dawn and then come home to sleep.

One day, very early in the morning, Sawali Wiikit came into the house to sleep. But before she could lie down her mother spoke to her, "Listen to me, Sawali Wiikit, I don't want you to walk about like this either in the nighttime or in the daytime. I want to you to help me with the things of the household. It would be well for you to stop walking about day and night."

Sawali Wiikit did not reply, but she planned in her heart to continue on her midnight walks in the company of men. She slept, and again at night she left the house. She went to the home of another woman who always went with her. This girl's name was Maso Hubi'aria. She didn't walk about at night, but she would serve Sawali Wiikit pitahaya wine there in her house. That night they drank and became intoxicated. By dawn, Sawali Wiikit was quite drunk on pitahaya wine. When she arrived home, her mother and her father spoke to her.

Her father said, "If you are not going to stop all of this vice and begin to respect your parents, then you will do me the favor of going away. Go anywhere you please."

"Yes, my father, I will go."

"Wait a moment," he said, and he went out of the house. The young girl waited, and her father soon returned carrying a long, flexible branch. With him came a maestro from the church of Rahum.

The maestro said to the girl, "So you think it better to leave your mother and father forever?"

"Yes," replied Sawali Wiikit.

Then the maestro said to her father, "Punish your daughter so that she will always remember you." So her father gave her three lashes. And he said, "Now you may go."

The maestro accompanied her out of Rahum to the north. Near a mesquite tree he said, "Here you may beg forgiveness of Dios for your sins and your disobedience. If Dios forgives you, you may return to your home."

"But I don't want to return."

"Well, then ask Dios for some penance."

So she knelt and said, "Dios, I do not want to return. I would rather become a tree or a stone or an animal. I do not want to be a good woman."

She had no more than finished speaking when she was changed into a stone.

The maestro went back to Rahum and told what had happened. All of the young people were frightened and were very good to their parents thereafter.

The stone of Sawali Wiikit walked from there to Rahum, to Guamuchil, to Potam, and toward Torim. Sometimes people would put it on top of a mesquite tree, but the next day they would find it somewhere else. Once they found it near Lencho, and they carried it to Torim and put it in front of the church. But it was not there at dawn. It is said that lately it has been seen in the vicinity of Vicam. This is the story of Sawali Wiikit, the walking stone. It ends here.

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Copyright © 1959. Sixth printing 1993.
University of Arizona Press. All Rights Reserved.

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