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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.

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