Zuni Folktales by Frank Hamilton Cushing
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THE YOUNG SWIFT-RUNNER WHO WAS STRIPPED OF HIS CLOTHING BY THE AGED TARANTULA
A long, long time ago, in K'iákime, there lived a young man, the son of the priest-chief of the town. It was this young man's custom to dress himself as for a dance and run entirely around Thunder Mountain each morning before the sun rose, before making his prayers. He was a handsome young man, and his costume was beautiful to behold.
Now, below the two broad columns of rock which stand at the southeastern end of Thunder Mountain, and which are called Ak'yapaatch-ella, below these, in the base of the mountain, an old, old Tarantula had his den. Of a morning, as the young man in his beautiful dress sped by, the old Tarantula heard the horn-bells which were attached to his belt and saw him as he passed, this young Swift-runner, and he thought to himself: "Ah, ha! Now if I could only get his fine apparel away from him, what luck it would be for me! I will wait for him the next time."
Early the next morning, just as the sun peeped over the lid of the world, sure enough the old Tarantula heard the horn-bells, and, thrusting his head out of his den, waited. As the young man approached, he called out to him: "Hold, my young friend; come here!"
"What for?" replied the youth. "I am in a great hurry."
"Never mind that; come here," said the old Tarantula.
"What is it? Why do you detain me?" rejoined the youth.
"It is for this reason," said the old Tarantula.
"Wouldn't you like to look at yourself today? for if you would, I can show you how."
"How?" asked the young man. "Make haste, for I am in a hurry."
"Well, in this way," was the reply. "Take off your clothing, all of it; then I will take off mine. You place yours in a heap before me; I will place mine in a heap before you. Then I will put on your apparel as you wear it, and then you will see what a handsome fellow you are."
The young man thought about it and concluded that it would be a very good thing to do. So he began drawing off his clothing—his beautiful painted moccasins, red and green; his fine white leggings, knitted with cunning stitches and fringed down the front, like the leggings worn by the Master of the Dances at New Year; his delicately embroidered skirt, and mantle, and coat, all of white cotton and marked with figures in many colors; his heavy anklets of sacred white shell; his blue turquoise earrings, like the sky in blueness, and so long that they swept his shoulders; his plaited headband of many-colored fibers, and his bunch of blue, red, and yellow macaw feathers, which he wore in his hair-knot at the back of his
head,—all these things, one after another, he took off and laid before the ugly old Tarantula.
Then that woolly, hairy, clammy creature hauled off his clothing—gray-blue, ugly, and coarse;—gray-blue leggings, gray-blue skirt and breech-cloth, gray-blue coat and mantle, nothing but gray-blue, woolly and hairy, ugly and dirty. When the old Tarantula had done this, he began to put on the handsome garments that the young man had placed before him, and, after he had dressed himself in these, he perched himself up on his crooked hind-legs, and said: "Look at me, now. How do I look?"
"Well, so far as the clothing is concerned, handsome," said the young man.
"Just wait till I get a little farther off," said the old Tarantula, and he straightened himself up and walked backward toward the door of his den. Presently he stopped and stood still, and said: How do I look now?"
"Handsomer," said the young man.
"Just wait till I get a little farther"; and again he walked backward, which is a way Tarantulas have, and stood up straight, and said: "How do I look now?"
"Handsomer still," said the young man.
"Ah, ha!" just wait till I get a little farther";—and now he backed to the very door of his den, and stood upon the lip of the entrance, and said: "Now, then, how do I look?"
"Perfectly handsome," said the young man.
"Ah, ha!" chuckled the old Tarantula, and he
turned himself around and plunged headforemost into his hole.
"Out upon him!" cried the young man, as he stood there with his head bowed, and thinking. "Out upon the old rascal! That is the trick he serves me, is it? Fearful!" said he. What shall I do now? I can't go home naked, or half naked. Well, but I suppose I will have to," said he to himself. And, bending down, he reached for the hairy gray-blue breech-cloth that had been left there by the old Tarantula, and the skirt, and put them on, and took his way swiftly homeward.
When he reached home the sun was high, which never had happened before, so that the old people had been thinking, "Surely, something must have happened to our young man that he comes not as early as usual." And when he came, they said: "What has happened that has detained you so?"
"Ha!" replied the youth; "the old Tarantula that lives under the Ak'yapaatch-ella has stripped me of my garments, and with them has run away into his hole."
"We thought something of the kind must have happened," said his old father.
"Send for your warrior priest," said the other old ones. "Let us see what he thinks about this, and what shall be done."
So the priest-chief sent for his warrior priest, and when the latter had come, he asked: "Why is it that you have sent for me?"
"True, we have sent for you," said the father,
because Old Tarantula has stripped my son of his handsome apparel, which is sacred and precious, and we therefore hold it a great loss to him and us. How do you think we can recover what has been stolen?"
The warrior priest thought a moment, and said: "I should think we would have to dig him out, for it isn't likely he will show himself far from his den again."
So the warrior priest went out on the tops of the houses, and called to his people:
"I instruct ye this day, oh, my people and children! Listen to my instruction! Our child, in running to and from his prayers this very morning was intercepted by Old Tarantula, who, through his skill and cunning, succeeded in stripping our child of his handsome apparel. Therefore, I instruct ye, make haste! Gather together digging-sticks and hoes; let us all go and dig out the old villain; let the whole town turn out, women as well as men and children. My daughters, ye women of this town, take with ye basket-bowls and baskets and other things wherewith ye gather material for plaster, with which to convey away the sand and earth that is dug up by the men. Thus much I instruct ye! Make haste all Whereupon he descended, and, after eating, led the way toward the den of Old Tarantula.
When the people had also eaten and followed, they began to work swiftly at tunnelling into the hole of the Tarantula; and thus they worked and worked from morning till night, but did not overtake
him, until at last they reached the solid rock foundations of the mountain. They had filled their baskets and basket-bowls with the sand, and cast it behind them, and others had cast it behind them, and so on until a large hillock of earth and sand had been raised, but still they had not overtaken Old Tarantula. Now, when they had reached the solid rock foundations of the mountain, they saw that the hole yawned like a cave before them, and that it was needless to follow farther. They gave up in despair, saying: "What more can we do? Let us go home. Let us give it up, since we must." And they took their ways homeward.
Now, in the evening the old ones of the town were very thoughtful, and they gathered together and talked the matter over, and finally it was suggested by someone in answer to the query, "What can we do to recover our son's lost garments?" "Suppose that we send for the Great Kingfisher? He is wise, crafty, swift of flight; he dashes himself from on high, even into the water, and takes him therefrom whatsoever he will, swift though it be, without fail. Suppose we send for him, our grandfather?"
"Ah, ha! that's it," replied others. "Send for him straightway."
So the master warrior priest called to Young Swift-runner, and sent him to the Hill of the Great Kingfisher.
"What is it?" asked Kingfisher, when he heard someone at the entrance of his house.
"Come quickly! In council the old ones of our town await you," said the young man.
So Great Kingfisher followed, and, arriving at the council, greeted them and asked: "What is it you would have of me?"
Said they: "Old Tarantula has stripped our young man, Swift-runner, of his beautiful garments, and how to recover them we know not. We have dug away the den, even to the foundation of the mountain, but beyond this it extends. What to do we know not. So we have sent for you, knowing your power and ability to quickly snatch even from under the waters whatsoever you will."
"Ah, ha! I will take a step toward this thing," said Great Kingfisher, "but it is a difficult task you place before me. Old Tarantula is exceedingly cunning and very keen of sight, moreover. I will, however, take a step, and if I have good luck will be able to bring back to you something of what he has stolen." He then made his adieu, and went back to his house at the Hill of the Kingfisher.
Very early the next morning he took his swift way to the Ak'yapaatch-ella, and there where the columns of rock fork he lay himself down between them, like a little finger between two other fingers, merely thrusting his beak over the edge, and looking at the opening of Old Tarantula's hole.
The plumes of sunlight were but barely gleaming on the farther edge of the world when Old Tarantula cast his eyes just out of the edge of his hole, and looked all around. Eyes like many eyes
had he, wonderfully sharp and clear. With these he looked all around, as might have been expected. He discovered Great Kingfisher, little-so-ever of him showing, and called out: "Heee! Wóloi weee!" ("Ho, ho! skulker skulking. Ho, ho! skulker skulking!") Instantly Great Kingfisher shook out his wings, and thluooo, descended like a breath of strong wind; and thlu-u-u-kwa, finished his flight like a loosed arrow; but he merely brushed the tips of the plumes in Old Tarantula's head-knot, and the creature doubled himself up and headforemost plunged into his hole. Once in, "Ha, ha!" said he. "Good for him! Good! Good! Let's have a dance, and sing," said he, talking to himself; and thereupon he pranced up, jigged about his dark, deep room, singing this song:
Ohatchik'ya ti Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà!
Ai yaa Tákwà!
Thus singing, he danced,—surely a song that nobody but he could dance to, if it be a song, but he danced to it. And when he had finished jigging about, he looked at his fluttering garments, and said: "Ha, ha! just look at my fine dress! Now am I not handsome? I tell you I am handsome! Now, let's have another dance!" And again he sang at the top of his wheezing voice, and pranced
round on his crooked hind legs, with his fine garments fluttering.
But Great Kingfisher, with wings drooping and beak gaped down at the corners,—as though being hungry he had tried to catch a fish and hadn't caught him,—took his way back to the council; and he said to the people there: "No use! I failed utterly. As I said before, he is a crafty, keen-sighted old fellow. What more have I to say?" He made his adieus, and took his way back to the Hill of the Kingfisher.
Again the people talked with one another and considered; and at last said some: "Inasmuch as he has failed, let us send for our grandfather, Great Eagle. He, of all living creatures with wings, is swiftest and keenest of sight, strong of grasp, hooked of beak, whatever getting holding, and getting whatever he will."
They sent for the Eagle. He came, and when made acquainted with their wishes turned quickly, and said, in bidding them adieu: "I think that possibly I can succeed, though surely, as my brother has said, Old Tarantula is a crafty, keen-sighted creature. I will do my best."
Early the next morning he took his way, before sunrise, to the peak of the Mountain of the Badgers, a long distance away from Ak'yapaatch-ella, but still as no distance to the Eagle. There he stood, with his head raised to the winds, turning first one eye, then the other, on the entrance of Old Tarantula's den, until Old Tarantula again thrust out his woolly nose, as might have been expected. He
discovered the Eagle, and was just shouting "Ho, skulker, skulking!" when the Eagle swept like a singing stone loosed from the sling straight at the head of Old Tarantula. But his wings hissed and buzzed past the hole harmlessly, and his crooked talons reached down into the dark, clutching nothing save one of the plumes in Old Tarantula's head-dress. Even this he failed to bring away.
The Old Tarantula tumbled headlong into his lower room, and exclaimed: "Ha, ha! Goodness save us! What a startling he gave me! But he didn't get me! No, he didn't get me! Let's have a dance! Jig it down! What a fine fellow I am!" And he began to prance about, and jig and sing as he had sung before:
Ohatchik'ya ti Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà!
Ai yaa Tákwà!
As soon as he paused for breath, he glanced askance at his fluttering bright garments and cried out: "Ho! what a handsome fellow I am! How finely dressed I am! Let's have another dance!" And again he danced and sang, all by himself, admiring himself, answering his own questions, and watching his own movements. But Great Eagle, crest-fallen and shame-smitten, took his way to the place of the council, reported his failure, and made his adieu.
Then again the people considered, and the old ones decided to send for Hatchutsanona (the Lesser Falcon), whose plumage is hard and smooth and speckled, gray and brown, like the rocks and sagebrush, and who, being swift as the Kingfisher, and strong as the Eagle, and small, is not only able to fly where other birds fly, but can penetrate the closest thicket when seeking his prey, for trimmed he is like a well-feathered arrow. They sent for him; he came and, being made acquainted with the facts of the case, said he could but try, though he modestly affirmed that when his elder brothers, Great Kingfisher and Great Eagle, had made such efforts, it were well-nigh needless for him to try, and repeated what they had said of the cunning and keenness of sight of Old Tarantula.
But he went early the next morning, and placed himself on the very edge of the high cliff overhanging the columns of rock and looking into the den of Old Tarantula. There, when the sun rose, you could scarcely have seen him, even though near you might have been, for his coat of gray and brown was like the rocks and dry grass around him, and he lay very close to the ground, like an autumn leaf beaten down by the rain. By-and-by Old Tarantula thrust out his rugged face, and turned his eyes in every direction, up and down; then twisted his head from side to side. He saw nothing. He had even poked his head entirely out of his hole, and his shoulders were just visible, when Lesser Falcon bestirred himself, and Old Tarantula, alas! saw him; not in time to wholly save himself,
however, for Lesser Falcon, with a sweep of his wings like the swirl of a snowdrift, shot into the mouth of Old Tarantula's den, grasped at his head, and brought away with him the macaw plumes of the youth's head-dress.
Down into his den tumbled Old Tarantula, and he sat down and bent himself double with fright and chagrin. He wagged his head to and fro, and sighed: "Alas! alas! my beautiful head-dress; the skulking wretch! My beautiful head-dress; he has taken it from me. What is the use of bothering about a miserable bunch of macaw feathers, anyway? They get dirty, they get bent and broken, moths eat them, they change their color; what is the use of troubling myself about a worthless thing like that? Haven't I still the finest costume in the valley?—handsome leggings and embroidered skirt and mantle, sleeves as pretty as flowers in summer, necklaces worth fifty head-plumes, and earrings worth a handful of such necklaces? Ha, ha! let him away with the old head-plumes! Let's have a dance, and dance her down, old fellow!" said he, talking to himself. And again he skipped about, and sang his tuneless song
Ohatchik'ya ti Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ohatchik'ya lii Tákwà,
Ai yaa Tákwà!
Ai yaa Tákwà!
He admired himself as much as before. "Forsooth," said he; "I could not have seen the head-plume for I would have worn it in the back of my head."
The Lesser Falcon, cursing at his half-luck, took his way back to the council, and, casting the head-plume at the feet of the old men, said: "Alas! my fathers; this is the best I could do, for before I had fairly taken my flight, Old Tarantula discovered me and made into his den. But this I got, and I bring it to you. May others succeed better!"
"Thou hast succeeded exceeding well, for most precious are these plumes from Summerland," said the old priest. "Thanks be to you, this day, my grandfather!" And the Lesser Falcon took his way to the thickets and hillsides.
Then the people said to one another What more is there to be done? We must even have recourse to the Gods, it seems." And they called Swift-runner and said to him: "Of the feathered creatures we have chosen the wisest and swiftest and strongest to aid us; yet they have failed mainly. Therefore, we would even send you to the Gods, for your performance of duty to them has been faithful from morning to morning." So they instructed him to climb to the top of Thunder Mountain and visit the home of the two War-gods, Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma, for in those days they still dwelt on the top of Thunder Mountain with their old grandmother, at the Middle Place of Sacrifice.
The priests in the town prepared sacrificial plumes and divided their treasures for the Gods, and again calling the young man, presented them to him as their messenger, bidding him bear to the Gods their greetings.
On the morning following, he climbed the steep path and soon neared the dwelling of the Gods and their grandmother. She was on the roof of the house, while the two bad boys—always out of the way when wanted, and never ceasing to play their pranks, as was their little way, you know—were down in the lower rooms. The old grandmother bade the youth to enter, and called out to her grandchildren, the two Gods: "My children, come up, both of you, quickly. A young man has arrived to see you, bringing greetings." So they cast off their playful behavior, and with great gravity came into the room, and looking up to the tall youth, said: "Thou hast come. May it be happily. Sit down. What is it that thou wouldst have? because for nothing no stranger comes to the house of another."
"It is true, this which you say," said the youth reverently, breathing on his hands. "O ye, my fathers! I bring greetings from the fathers of my town below the mountain, and offerings from them."
"It is well thus, my child," replied the Gods.
"And I bring also my burden of trouble, that I may listen to your counsel, and perchance implore your aid," said the youth.
"What is it?" said the Two; and they listened.
Then the youth related his misfortune, telling how he had been stripped of his clothing by Old Tarantula; how the old ones, gathered in council, had sought the aid, one after another, of the wisest and swiftest of feathered beings, but with little success; how they had at last counselled his coming to them, the fathers of the people in times of difficulty and strife.
"Grandmother!" shouted the younger brother War-god. "Make haste! Make haste, grandmother! Bestir yourself! Grind flour for us. Let it be rock flour!"
The old grandmother gathered some white calcareous sandstone called kéchïpawe. She broke those rocks into fragments and ground them into meal; then reduced them on a finer stone to soft, impalpable powder. She made dough of this with water, and the two Gods, with wonderful skill, molded this dough, as it hardened, into figures of elk-kind,—two deer and two antelope images they made. When they had finished these, they placed them before the youth, and said: "Take these and stand them on the sacrificial rock-shelf or terrace on the southern side of our mountain, with prayer to the gods over them. Return to your home, and tell the old ones what we have directed you to do. Tell them also where we said you should place these beings, for such they will-become upon the rock-shelf; and you should go to greet them in the morning and guide them with you toward the den of Old Tarantula,—Old Tarantula is very fond of hunting; nothing is so
pleasing to him as to kill anything,—that thereby he may be tempted forth from his hiding-place in his den."
The youth did as he was directed, and when he had placed the figures of the deer and the antelope in a row on the shelf, and reached home, he informed the old ones of the word that had been sent to them.
His father, the old priest-chief, called the warrior priest, and said to him: "It may be possible that Old Tarantula will be tempted forth from his den tomorrow. Would it not be well for us to take the war-path against him?"
"It would, indeed, be well," said the warrior priest. And the priest-chief went to the house-top and called to the people, saying:
"O, ye, my people and children, I instruct ye today! Let the young men and the warriors gather and prepare as for war. By means of the sacred images which have been made by the Two Beloved for our son, Swift-runner, it may be that we shall succeed in tempting Old Tarantula forth from his den tomorrow. Let us be prepared to capture him. Make haste! Make ready! Thus much I instruct ye."
In great haste, as if under the influence of joyful tidings indeed, the people prepared for war, gathered together in great numbers, testing the strength of their bows, and with much racket issued forth from the town under Thunder Mountain, spreading over all the foot-hills. And toward daylight the youth alone took his way toward the sacrificial
rock-shelf on the side of the mountain. When he arrived there, behold! the two Antelopes and the two Deer were tamely walking about, cropping the grass and tender leaves, and as he approached, they said: "So, here you are."
"Now, this day, behold, my children!" said he in his prayer. "Even for the reason that we have made ye beings, follow my instructions, oh, do! Most wickedly and shamefully has Old Tarantula, living below Ak'yapaatch-ella, robbed me of my sacred fine apparel. I therefore call ye to aid me. Go ye now toward his home, that he may be tempted forth by the sight of ye."
Obediently the Deer and Antelope took their way down the sloping sides of the foot-hills toward Old Tarantula's den. As they neared the den the youth called out from one of the valleys below, "Hu-u-u-u-u-u! Hasten! There go some deer and antelope! Whoever maybe near them, understand, there go some deer and antelope!"
Old Tarantula was talking to himself, as usual, down in his inner room. He heard the faint sound. "Ha!" cried he, "what is this humming? Somebody calling, no doubt." He skipped out toward the doorway just as the young man called the second time. "Ah, ha!" said he. "He says deer are coming, doesn't he? Let us see." And presently, when the young man called the third time, he exclaimed: "That's it! that is what he is calling out. Now for a hunt! I might as well get them as anyone else."
He caught up his bow, slipped the noose over
the head of it, twanged the string, and started. But just as he was going out of his hole, he said to himself: "Good daylight! this never will do; they will be after me if I go out. Oh, pshaw! Nonsense! they will do nothing of the kind. What does it matter? Haven't I bow and arrows with me?" He leaped out of his hole and started off toward the Deer. As he gained an eminence, he cried: "Ah, ha! sure enough, there they come!" Indeed, he was telling the truth. The Deer still approached, and when the first one came near he drew an arrow strongly and let fly. One of them dropped at once. "Ah, ha!" cried he, "who says I am not a good hunter?" He whipped out another arrow, and fired at the second Deer, which dropped where it had stood. With more exclamations of delight, he shot at the Antelope following, which fell; and then at the last one, which fell as the others had.
"Now," said he, "I suppose I might as well take my meat home. Fine game I have bagged today." He untied the strap which he had brought along and tied together the legs of the first deer he had shot. He stooped down, raised the deer, knelt on the ground and drew the strap over his forehead, and was just about to rise with his burden and make off for his den when, klo-o-o-o-o! he fell down almost crushed under a mass of white rock. "Goodness! what's this? Mercy, but this is startling!" He looked around, but he saw nothing of his game save a shapeless mass of white rock. "Well, I will try this other one," said he to himself. He had no sooner placed the other on his
back than down it bore him, another mass of white rock! "What can be the matter? The devil must be to pay!" said he. Then he tried the next, with no better success. "Well, there is one left, anyway," said he. He tied the feet of the last one together, and was about to place the strap over his forehead, when he heard a mighty and thundering tread and great shouting and a terrible noise altogether, for the people were already gathering about his den. He made for the mouth of it with all possible speed, but the people were there before him; they closed in upon him, they clutched at his stolen garments, they pulled his earrings out of his ears, slitting his ears in doing so, until he put up his hands and cried: "Death and ashes! Mercy! Mercy! You hurt! You hurt! Don't treat me so! I'll be good hereafter. I'll take the clothing off and give it back to you without making the slightest trouble, if you will let me alone." But the people closed in still more angrily, and pulled him about, buffeted him, tore his clothing from him, until he was left nude and bruised and so maimed that he could hardly move.
Then the old priests gathered around, and said one of them: "It will not be well if we let this beast go as he is; he is too large, too powerful, and too crafty. He has but to think of destruction; forsooth, he destroys. He has but to think of over-reaching; it is accomplished. It will not be well that he should go abroad thus. He must be roasted; and thus only can we rid the world of him as he is."
So the people assembled and heaped up great quantities of dry firewood; and they drilled fire from a stick, and lighted the mass. Then they cast the struggling Tarantula amid the flames, and he squeaked and sizzled and hissed, and swelled and swelled and swelled, until, with a terrific noise, he burst, and the fragments of his carcass were cast to the uttermost parts of the earth. These parts again took shape as beings not unlike Old Tarantula himself.
Thus it was in the days of the ancients. And therefore today, though crooked are the legs of the tarantula, and his habit of progress backward, still he is distributed throughout the great world. Only he is very, very much smaller than was the Great Tarantula who lived below the two rocky columns of Thunder Mountain.
Thus shortens my story.
Next: Átahsaia, The Cannibal Demon