Native American Legends
Why the Owl has big eyes
An Iroquois Legend
Raweno, the Everything-Maker, was busy creating various animals.
He was working on Rabbit, and Rabbit was saying: "I want nice
long legs and long ears like a deer, and sharp fangs and claws like
"I do them up the way they want to be; I give them what they
ask for," said Raweno. He was working Rabbit's hind legs, making
them long, the way Rabbit ordered.
Owl, still unformed, was sitting on a tree nearby and waiting his
turn. He was saying: "Whoo, whoo, I want a nice long neck like
Swan's, and beautiful red feathers like Cardinal's, and a nice long
beak like Egret's, and a nice crown of plumes like Heron's. I want
you to make me into the most beautiful, the fastest, the most wonderful
of all the birds."
Raweno said: "Be quiet. Turn around and look in another direction.
Even better, close your eyes. Don't you know that no one is allowed
to watch me work?" Raweno was just then making Rabbit's ears
very long, the way Rabbit wanted them.
Owl refused to do what Raweno said. "Whoo, whoo," he
replied, "nobody can forbid me to watch. Nobody can order me
to close my eyes. I like watching you, and watch you I will!"
Then Raweno became angry. He grabbed Owl, pulling him down from
his branch, stuffing his head deep into his body, shaking him until
his eyes grew big with fright, pulling at his ears until they were
sticking up at both sides of his head.
"There," said Raweno, "that'll teach you. Now you
won't be able to crane your neck to watch things you shouldn't watch.
Now you have big ears to listen when someone tells you what not
to do. Now you have big eyes, but not so big that you can watch
me, because you'll be awake only at night, and I work by day. And
your feathers won't be red like cardinal's, but gray like this";
and Raweno rubbed Owl all over with mud ,"as punishment for
So Owl flew off, pouting: "Whoo, whoo, whoo."
Then Raweno turned back to finish Rabbit, but Rabbit had been so
terrified by Raweno's anger, even though it was not directed at
him, that he ran off half done. As a consequence, only Rabbit's
hind legs are long, and he has to hop about instead of walking and
running. Also, because he took fright then, Rabbit has remained
afraid of most everything, and he never got the claws and fangs
he asked for in order to defend himself. Had he not run away then,
Rabbit would have been an altogether different animal.
As for Owl, he remained as Raweno had shaped him in anger, with
big eyes, a short neck, and ears sticking up on the sides of his
head. On top of everything, he has to sleep during the day and come
out only at night.
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