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Native American Legends

Eagle Boy

A Zuni Legend

Long ago, a boy was out walking one day when he found a young eagle that had fallen from its nest. He picked that eagle up and brought it home and began to care for it. He made a place for it to stay, and each day he went out and hunted for rabbits and other small game to feed it.

His mother asked him why he no longer came to work in the fields and help his family. "I must hunt for this eagle," the boy said. So it went on for a long time and the eagle grew large and strong as the boy hunted and fed it. Now it was large and strong enough to fly away if it wished to. But the eagle, stayed with the boy who had cared for it so well.

The boy's brothers criticized him for not doing his share of work in the corn and melon fields, but Eagle Boy as they now called him did not hear them. He cared only for his bird. Even the boy's father, who was an important man in the village, began to scold him for not helping. But still the boy did not listen. So it was that the boy's brothers and his older male relatives in his family came together and decided that they must kill the eagle. They decided to do so when they returned from the fields the following day.

When Eagle Boy came to his bird's cage, he saw that the bird sat there with its head hanging down. He placed a rabbit he had caught in the cage, but the eagle did not move or eat it. "What is wrong, my eagle friend?" asked the boy. Then the eagle spoke, he had never spoken to the boy before. He said, "My friend, I cannot eat for I am filled with sadness and sorrow." "But why are you so troubled?" asked the boy. "It is because of you," said the eagle. You have not done your work in the fields. Instead, you have spent all of your time caring for me. Now your brothers and family have decided to kill me so that you again will return to your duties in the village. I have stayed here all of this time because I have learned to love you. But now I must leave. When the sun rises tomorrow, I will fly away and never come back." "My eagle," said the boy, "I do not want to stay here without you. You must take me with you." "My friend, I cannot take you with me," You would not be able to find your way through the sky. You would not be able to eat raw food." said the eagle. "If you are certain, then you may come with me. But you must do as I say. Come to me at dawn, after the people have gone down to their fields. Bring food to eat on our long journey across the sky. Put food in pouches so you can sling them over your shoulders. You must also bring two strings of bells and tie them to my feet."

That night the boy filled the pouches with blue corn wafer bread, dried meats and fruits. He made up two strings of bells, tying them with strong rawhide. The next morning, after the people had gone down to the fields, he went to the eagle's cage and opened it. The eagle spread its wings wide. "Now," he said to Eagle Boy, "tie the bells to my feet and then climb onto my back and hold onto the base of my wings." Eagle Boy climbed on and the eagle began to fly. It rose higher and higher in slow circles above the village and above the fields. The bells on the eagle's feet jingled and the eagle sang and the boy sang with it:

Huli-i-i, hu-li-i-i-
Pa shish lakwa-a-a-a-a.........

So they sang and the people in the fields below heard them singing, and they heard the sound of the bells Eagle Boy had tied to the eagle's feet. They all looked up. "They are leaving," the people called out in the village. "They are leaving." Eagle Boy's parents yelled up to him, but he could not hear them. The eagle and boy went higher and higher in the sky until they were only a tiny speck and they disappeared from the sight of the village people. The eagle and the boy flew higher and higher until they came to an opening in the clouds. They passed through and came out into the Sky Land. They landed there on Turquoise Mountain where the Eagle People lived.

Eagle Boy looked around the sky world. Everything was smooth and white and clean clouds. "Here is my home," the eagle said. He took the boy into the city in the sky, and there were eagles all around them. They looked like people, for they took off their wings and their clothing of feathers when they were in their homes. The Eagle People made a coat of feathers for the boy and taught him to wear it and to fly. It took him a long time to learn, but soon he was able to circle high above the land just like the Eagle People and he was an eagle himself. "You may fly anywhere," the old eagles told him, " anywhere except to the South. Never fly to the South Land."

All went well for Eagle Boy in his new life. One day, though, as he flew alone, he wondered what it was that was so terrible about the South. His curiosity grew, and he flew further and further toward the South. Lower and lower he flew and now he saw a beautiful city below with people dancing around red fires. "There is nothing to fear here," he said to himself, and flew lower still. Closer and closer he came, drawn by the red fires, until he landed. The people greeted him and drew him into the circle. He danced with them all night and then, when he grew tired, they gave him a place to sleep. When he woke the next morning and looked around, he saw the fires were gone. The houses no longer seemed bright and beautiful All around him there was dust, and in the dust there were bones. He looked for his cloak of eagle feathers, wanting to fly away from this city of the dead., but it was nowhere to be found. Then the bones rose up from the dust and came together. There were people made of bones all around him! He stood up and began to ran away from them. The people made of bones chased him. Just as they were about to catch him, he saw a badger.

"Grandson," the badger said, "I will save you." Then the badger carried the boy down into his hole and the bone people could not follow. "You have been foolish," the badger scolded. "You did not listen to the warnings the eagles gave you. Now that you have been in this land in the South, they will not allow you to live with them anymore."

Then the badger took pity on Eagle Boy and showed him the way back to the city of the eagles. It was a long hard journey and when the boy reached the eagle city, he stood outside the high white walls. The eagles would not let him enter. "You have been to the South Land," they said. You can no longer live with us." At last, the eagle the boy had raised below took pity on him. After all this boy had feed and cared for him. He brought the boy an old and ragged feather cloak. "With this cloak you may reach the home of your own people," he said. "But you can never return to our place in the sky." He gratefully accepted the gift of the tattered feather cloak. His flight back down to his people was a hard one, more difficult than any flights in Sky Land. He almost fell through the sky many times. His eagle friend circled and circled in the clouds watching over him. When he finally reached the village of his people on earth, the eagle flew down and carried off the feather cloak they had given him.

From that time on, Eagle Boy lived among his people. Though he lifted his eyes in joy whenever eagles soared overhead, he shared in the work in the fields, and his people were honored and happy to him among them. He could fly away if it wished to, but he the eagle stayed with the people who loved him.

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