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A Ku-Bird Story - nhpeacenik
A Ku-Bird Story
When she was a graduate student ion Anthropology, working with Ned Spicer at the University of Arizona, my Mom spent a year in a Yaqui village in Sonora, Mexico collecting stories and interviews. She later published some of the stories in a book, which came to be called "Yaqui Myths and Legends". The book is now in public domain and has been republished in electronic form at http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/sw/yml/index.htm .

Yesterday in Quaker Meeting, I remembered (very imperfectly) one of the stories,
The Ku-Bird . I retold the story in my mind as follows. The character of Jesuchristo does appear in some of the stories my mom collected, but not in this one; he is not at all the Christian Jesuchristo, but since I was in some sense in "church" while telling myself this story, I put him into it, as a kind of all-purpose benevolent  creator spirit.
Once, long ago, when Jesuchristo had finished creating the sea creatures and the land creatures, he thought he'd make some creatures of the air, and the first bird he made was the Ku-Bird. The Ku-Bird was the most beautiful creature ever created; he had red feathers and blue feathers and green feathers and yellow feathers and all the colors of the rainbow and all the colors left out of the rainbow, too.

Every day Ku-Bird would fly down to the waterhole to drink and admire his reflection in the water, and every day the other animals... the coyote, the donkey, the fish, the javelina... would compliment him on being the most beautiful animal in the world. The Ku-Bird was starting to get a little conceited, and Jesuchristo worried about it, but he just let things be and started work on the other birds.

One day he came up to the Ku-Bird at the waterhole and asked, " I want to make a bird called the Cardinal. Can I have your red feathers?" and of course the Ku-Bird couldn't say no to Jesuchristo, so the let him take the red feathers.

The next day, Jesuchristo was at the waterhole again. "I'm working on a bird called the Canary. May I have your yellow feathers?" "Of course," replied the Ku-Bird, for although he was sad to lose these bright colors, he still had plenty more, and there was something about giving away some of his beauty that actually made him happy, even happier than all the compliments from the other animals.

On succeeding days, as Jesuchristo made more birds... the Crow, the Bluebird, the Green Parrot ...., Ku-Bird lost more and more colors until finally all that was left him was a nondescript grey.

He would fly down to the waterhole and the other animals wouldn't speak to him because they didn't notice him: he was too unremarkable to their eyes. Finally, one day, Ku-Bird realized that he had become entirely invisible. He became downhearted and almost said something bad about Jesuchristo but thought better of it. He landed and trudged over to the bank of the waterhole for a drink. As he lowered his beak to the water's surface, he saw a flash of brilliant colors. His reflection had all the colors of the rainbow and all the other colors too; he was once again the most beautiful animal in the world! Then, just over his shoulder, he saw the smiling face of Jesuchristo. reflected in the water.

In the original story there is a cynicism about human nature that might even come up to modern standards of snarkiness. The Ku-Bird took feathers as charity from other birds and then disappeared into obscurity in order to avoid having to give them back. It's wonderful what memory can do to stories and songs. My reconstruction of this story as an inspiring one reminds me of the way some tragic Child Ballads from Europe became happy-go-lucky ditties in North America.

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5 comments or Leave a comment
From: sonoran_scrawl Date: March 4th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this! Your version is great. I will have to read the original. That is also really cool your mom did that. Did you ever read "Yaqui Deer Songs" ? I had one of the co-writers for a teacher, Larry Evers and I met Molina too. I have that somewhere...he signed it. I took some great courses in American Indian studies at the University of Arizona actually. I also had N. Scott Momaday for Oral Tradition. That was a great class.
From: sonoran_scrawl Date: March 4th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
oh and the deer dances are coming up soon. I hope I feel well enough to go.
nhpeacenik From: nhpeacenik Date: March 5th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read that book. I'll have to get hold of a copy.
From: sonoran_scrawl Date: March 5th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
hi Jim, it is a really beautiful book. The deer songs are wonderful. Those dances are coming up soon.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 13th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)


Hi, great post!
I'm from Mexico, my name is Emanuel Meraz.
One of the Yaqui Indians your mother interviewed during her stance in Sonora was uncle of my grandfather: Ambrosio A. Castro.
It's amazing that you contribute to perpetuate the work of your mother, a remarkable work of love to the culture and the people who is culture.
I’m trying to locate pictures of Ambrosio, do you know if your mother took some during her visit to Mexico? Please let me know, and again thanks for this.
My e-mail is meraz_85@hotmail.com
5 comments or Leave a comment