Native American Legends
How the Twins of War and Chance, Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma, fared with the Unborn-Made Men of the Underworld
A Zuni Legend
Now, the Twain Little-ones, Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma,
were ever seeking scenes of contention; for what was deathly and
dreadful to others was lively and delightful to them; so that cries
of distress were ever their calls of invitation, as to a feast or
dance is the call of a priest to us.
On a day when the world was quiet, they were sitting by the side
of a deep pool. They heard curious sounds coming up through the
waters, as though the bubbles were made by moans of the waters affrighted.
"Uh!" cried the elder. "What is that?"
The younger brother turned his ear to the ground and listened.
"There is trouble down there, dire trouble, for the people
of the Underworld are shrieking war-cries like daft warriors and
wailing like murder-mourners. What can be the matter? Let us descend
"Just so!" said Áhaiyúta.
Then they covered their heads with their cord-shields--turned upside
down--and shut their eyes and stepped into the deep pool.
"Now we are in the dark," said they, "like the dark
down there. Well, then, by means of the dark let us go down"--for
they had wondrous power, had those Twain; the magic of in-knowing-how
thought had they. Down, like light through dark places, they went;
dry through the waters; straight toward that village in the Underworld.
"Whew! the poor wretches are already dead," cried they,
"and rotting"--for their noses were sooner accustomed
to the dark than their eyes, which they now opened.
"We might as well have spared ourselves the coming, and stayed
above," said Áhaiyúta.
"Nay, not so," said Mátsailéma. "Let
us go on and see how they lived, even if they are dead."
"Very well," said the elder; and as they fared toward
the village they could see quite plainly now, for they had made
it dark (to themselves) by shutting their eyes in the daylight above,
so now they made it light (to themselves) by opening their eyes
in the darkness below and simply looking,--it was their way, you
"Well, well!" said Mátsailéma, as they
came nearer and the stench doubled. "Look at the village; it
is full of people; the more they smell of carrion the more they
"Yes, by the chut of an arrow!" exclaimed Áhaiyúta.
"But look here! It is food we smell--cooked food, all thrown
away, as we throw away bones and corn-cobs because they are too
hard to eat and profitless withal. What, now, can be the meaning
"What, indeed! Who can know save by knowing," replied
the younger brother. "Come, let us lie low and watch."
So they went very quietly close to the village, crouched down,
and peered in. Some people inside were about to eat. They took fine
food steaming hot from the cooking-pots and placed it low down in
wide trenchers; then they gathered around and sipped in the steam
and savor with every appearance of satisfaction; but they were as
chary of touching the food or of letting the food touch them as
though it were the vilest of refuse.
"Did you see that?" queried the younger brother. "By
the delight of death, but--"
"Hist!" cried the elder. "If they are people of
that sort, feeding upon the savor of food, then they will hear the
suggestions of sounds better than the sounds themselves, and the
very demon fathers would not know how to fare with such people,
or to fight them, either!"
"Hah! But already the people had heard! They set up a clamor
of War, swarming out to seek the enemy, as well they might, for
who would think favorably of a sneaking stranger under the shade
of a house-wall watching the food of another? Why, dogs growl even
at their own offspring for the like of that!
"Where? Who? What is it?" cried the people, rushing hither
and thither like ants in a shower. "Hah! There they are! There!
Quick!" cried they, pointing to the Twain, who were cutting
away to the nearest hillock. And immediately they fell to singing
sang they as they ran headlong toward the Two, and then they began
"Tread them both into the ground! Smite them both! Fan them
out! Ho-o! Ha-a! Há-wi-mo-o ó-ma-ta."
But the Twain laughed and quickly drew their arrows and loosed
them amongst the crowd. P'it! tsok! sang the arrows through and
through the people, but never a one fell.
"Why, how now is this?" cried the elder brother.
"We'll club them, then!" said Mátsailéma,
and he whiffed out his war-club and sprang to meet the foremost
whom he pummelled well and sorely over the head and shoulders. Yet
the man was only confused (he was too soft and unstable to be hurt);
but another, rushing in at one side, was hit by one of the shield-feathers
and fell to the ground like smoke driven down under a hawk's wing.
"Hold, brother, I have it! Hold cried Áhaiyúta.
Then he snatched up a bunch of dry plume-grass and leaped forward.
Swish! Two ways he swept the faces and breasts of the pursuers.
Lo! right and left they fell like bees in a rainstorm, and quickly
sued for mercy, screeching and running at the mere sight of the
"You fools!" cried the brothers. "Why, then, did
ye set upon us? We came for to help you and were merely looking
ahead as becomes strangers in strange places, when, lo! you come
running out like a mess of mad flies with your 'Ha-a sús-ki
ó-ma-la!' Call us coyote-sneaks, do you? But there! Rest
fearless! We hunger; give us to eat."
So they led the Twain into the court within the town and quickly
brought steaming food for them.
They sat down and began to blow the food to cool it, whereupon
the people cried out in dismay: "Hold! Hold, ye heedless strangers;
do not waste precious food like that! For shame!"
"Waste food? Ha! This is the way we eat! said they, and clutching
up huge morsels they crammed their mouths full and bolted them almost
The people were so horrified and sickened at sight of this, that
some of them sweated furiously,--which was their way of spewing--whilst
others, stouter of thought, cried: "Hold! hold! Ye will die;
ye will surely sicken and die if the stuff do but touch ye!"
"Ho! ho!" cried the Twain, eating more lustily than ever.
"Eat thus and harden yourselves, you poor, soft things, you!"
Just then there was a great commotion. Everyone rushed to the shelter
of the walls and houses, shouting to them to leave off and follow
"What is it?" asked they, looking up and all around.
"Woe, woe! The gods are angry with us this day, and blowing
arrows at us. They will kill you both! Hurry!" A big puff of
wind was blowing over, scattering slivers and straws before it;
that was all!
"Brother," said the elder, "this will not do. These
people must be hardened and be taught to eat. But let us take a
little sleep first, then we will look to this."
They propped themselves up against a wall, set their shields in
front of them, and fell asleep. Not long after they awakened suddenly.
Those strange people were trying to drag them out to bury them,
but were afraid to touch them now, for they thought them dead stuff,
more dead than alive.
The younger brother punched the elder with his elbow, and both
pretended to gasp, then kept very still. The people succeeded at
last in rolling them out of the court like spoiling bodies, and
were about to mingle them with the refuse when they suddenly let
go and set up a great wail, shouting "War! Murder!"
"How now?" cried the Twain, jumping up. Whereupon the
people stared and chattered in greater fright than ever at seeing
the dead seemingly come to life!
"What's the matter, you fool people?"
"Akaa kaa," cried a flock of jays.
"Hear that!" said the villagers. "Hear that, and
ask what's the matter! The jays are coming; whoever they light on
dies-run you two! Aii! Murder!" And they left off their standing
as though chased by demons. On one or two of the hindmost some jays
alighted. They fell dead as though struck by lightning!
"Why, see that!" cried the elder brother--"these
people die if only birds alight on them!"
"Hold on, there!" said the younger brother. "Look
here, you fearsome things!" So they pulled hairs from some
scalp-locks they had, and made snares of them, and whenever the
jays flew at them they caught them with the nooses until they had
caught every one. Then they pinched them dead and took them into
the town and roasted them. "This is the way," said they,
as they ate the jays by morsels.
And the people crowded around and shouted: "Look! look! why,
they eat the very enemy say nothing of refuse!" And although
they dreaded the couple, they became very conciliatory and gave
them a fit place to bide in.
The very next day there was another alarm. The Two ran out to learn
what was the matter. For a long time they could see nothing, but
at last they met some people fleeing into the town. Chasing after
them was a cooking-pot with earrings of onions. It was boiling furiously
belching forth hot wind and steam and spluttering mush in every
direction. If ever so little of the mush hit the people they fell
over and died.
"He!" cried the Twain;
--As if food-stuff were made to make people afraid!" Whereupon
they twitched the ear-rings off the pot and ate them up with all
the mush that was in the pot, which they forthwith kicked to pieces
Then the people crowded still closer around them, wondering to
one another that they could vanquish all enemies by eating them
with such impunity, and they begged the Twain to teach them how
to do it. So they gathered a great council of the villagers, and
when they found that these poor people were only half finished,
. . they cut vents in them (such as were not afraid to let them)
. . and made them eat solid food, by means of which they were hardened
and became men of meat then and there, instead of having to get
killed after the manner of the fearful, and others of their kind
before time, in order to ascend to the daylight and take their places
in men born of men.
And for this reason, behold! a new-born child may eat only of wind-stuff
until his cord of viewless sustenance has been severed, and then
only by sucking milk or soft food first and with much distress.
Behold! And we may now see why, like newborn children are the very
aged; childish withal--á-ya-vwi; not only toothless, too,
but also sure to die of diarrhea if they eat ever so little save
the soft parts and broths of cooked food. For are not the babes
new-come from the Shi-u-na world; and are not the aged about to
enter the Shi-po-lo-a world, where cooked food unconsumed is never
heeded by the fully dead?
Thus shortens my story.
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