Native American Legends
The origin of death by dying
A Zuni Legend
The impetuous fathers of the Bear and Crane did not deliberate
for long. No! Straightway they strode into the stream and feeling
with their feet that it even might be forded - for so red were its
waters that no footing could be seen through them - they led the
way across; yet their fear was great, for, very soon, as they watched
the water moving under their very eyes, strange chills overcame
them, as though they were themselves changing in being to creatures
moving and having being in the waters; even as still may be felt
in the giddiness which besets those who, in the midst of troubled
or passing waters, gaze long into them.
Nonetheless, they won their way steadfastly to the farther shore.
But the poor women who, following closely with the little children
on their backs, were more áyauwe (tender, susceptible), became
witlessly crazed with these dread fear-feelings of the waters, wherefore,
the little ones to whom they clung but the more closely, being k'yaíyuna
and all unripe, were instantly changed by the terror. They turned
cold, then colder; they grew scaly, webbed and sharp clawed of hands
and feet, longer of tail too, as if for swimming and guidance in
unquiet waters. See! They suddenly felt to the mothers that bore
them as the feel of dead things; and, wriggling, scratched their
bare shoulders until, shrieking wildly, these mothers let go all
hold on them and were even wanted to shake them off - fleeing from
them in terror.
Thus, multitudes of them fell into the swift waters, wailing shrilly
and plaintively, as even still it may be said they are heard to
cry at night time in those lonely waters. For no sooner did they
fall below the surges than they floated and swam away, still crying
- changed now even in bodily form; for, according to their several
totems, some became like to the lizard (mík'yaiya'hli), chameleon
(sémaiyak'ya), and newt (téwashi); others like to
the frog (ták'aiyuna), toad (ták'ya), and turtle (étâwa).
But their souls (top'hâ'ina: "other-being" or "in-being"),
what with the sense of falling, still falling, sank down through
the waters, as water itself, being started, sinks down through the
sands into the depths below.
There, under the lagoon of the hollow mountain where it was earlier
cleft in two by the angry maiden-sister Síwiluhsitsa as before
told, lived, in their seasons, the soul-beings of ancient men of
war and violent death. There were the towns for the 'finished' or
dead, Hápanawan or the Abode of Ghosts; there also, the great
pueblo (city) of the Kâ'kâ, Kâ'hluëlawan,
the town of many towns wherein stood forever the great assembly
house of ghosts, Áhapaáwa Kíwitsinan'hlana,
the kiva which contains the six great chambers in the middle of
which sit, at times of gathering in council, the god-priests of
all the Kâ'kâ exercising the newly dead in the Kâ'kokshi
or dance of good, and receiving from them the offerings and messages
of mortal men to the immortal ones.
Now, when the little ones sank, still sank, seeing nothing, the lights of the spirit dancers began to break upon them, and they became, as be the ancients, 'hlímna , and were numbered with them. And so, being received into the midst of the undying ancients, see! these little ones thus made the way of dying and the path of the dead; for where they led, in that ancient time, others, wanting to seek them (in-so-much that they died), followed; and yet others followed these; and so it has continued to be even unto this day.
But the mothers, still crying, did not know this - did not know
that their children had returned unharmed into the world from where
even themselves had come and to where they must eventually go, constrained
there by the yearnings of their own hearts which were ill with mourning.
Loudly, still, they wailed, on the farther shore of the river.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends