Teach a morality tale about conservation from a tribal legend.
This is a tale Mr. Fox learned that was told long, long ago by the Yaudanchi tribal people of California’s Native American Yokut Indians.
Ho! Listen to the truth about The Woman Who Was Greedy.
* * *
Long, long ago, when the animals could talk and the only
people were the Yokuts, a man and his wife set out on a journey, not too far from here. They packed all that they had in a very large burden basket and carried it between them. The woman would not leave anything behind, so their journey was slow and as night fell they had not reached their destination. They decided to spend the night in a cave, just over there.
The husband built a fire at the mouth of the cave and as the sun set they realized they had not packed anything to eat. The woman knew her husband was a good hunter, so she said Û÷Go to that dead tree near the mouth of the cave and call the animals, for we must have something to eat.’
The husband went to the tree, and in the dark he called out
“Hu tu lu, Hu tu lu” several times, for he was a good hunter and could mimic the voices of the animals.
Now Hu tu lu, the Owl, hearing his name called, flew
silently down out of the night and landed on a branch of the dead tree. The hunter had drawn an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to his bowstring. Now he drew back the arrow and let it fly straight through the heart of Owl. The owl fell from the tree and the man took it to his wife who began to strip away the feathers to prepare the owl for roasting over the fire.
The man sat down but his wife said, “You have brought me only one owl and there are two of us. If you are to eat we must have another owl.” So the hunter returned to the tree and again called out “Hu tu lu, Hu tu lu,” and soon Owl’s brother glided silently out of the night to land in the tree. The hunter shot this owl and brought the body to his wife beside the fire. But the wife said, “You have brought us enough meat for tonight, but we still have a journey ahead of us tomorrow and maybe the day after that too. You must go get more owls for us to eat on the days of our journey.”
So the man went to the tree and called out, and when Owl’s sister came near she too was killed. Still the man called out, and more owls began to glide out of the night to land in the tree. Then from alongside the fire, out from the severed head of Owl, flew his spirit, up to the top of the tree. There the spirit called out, “Ite-et, Hu-tu-lu, I am the soul of Owl, avenge me!” When they saw the arrows fly and they realized their brothers and sisters were dead, the owls began to call out “Hu tu lu, Hu tu lu” and many more owls began to glide out of the darkness to land on the tree.
So many flew down that soon the branches of the tree began to creak and crack and crash to the ground. There the owls began to hop toward the man who was standing at the mouth of the cave.
The man shot arrows until he had no more, but still the owls hopped toward the cave. So he cried out in fear to his wife that the owls were coming into the cave. The frightened woman ran to the back of the cave and dumped everything out of the burden basket. Then she turned the basket over and crawled underneath to hide.
Her husband began to swing his bow at the owls. The owls reached out with their sharp claws and beaks and held onto the bow until it was so heavy the hunter cried out that he could no longer lift the bow. His wife peeked out from under the basket and saw her husband rush to the fire where he grabbed a flaming stick and swung it at the owls who were now hopping into the cave. In fear the woman pulled the basket tightly down over head.
The woman hiding under the basket heard her husband scream that the owls were not afraid of the fire and they all were hopping into the cave.
He screamed that the owls had snatched the flaming stick from his hand.
He screamed that the owls were attacking him. Then there was silence.
The woman listened from beneath the basket. Still it was silent, as silent as when an owl glides down from the darkness.
The woman waited and listened. There was nothing but silence.
Soon the woman decided to peek from under the edge of the
basket, but she couldn’t lift it. It was as if the basket had grown heavy. So she tried hard to lift the basket, but it would not move.
The woman tried once more, straining hard to lift the basket. It was then, next to her ear, that she heard Û÷Hu tu luuuuu’ and claws and beaks ripped into the basket.
The woman died, screaming in the darkness.
Ho! Listen to truth. Go, live as you should; take only what you need, do not live life like the greedy woman and die screaming in the dark.
* * *
People who have camped near San Luis Reservoir in California (where the Yaudanchi once roamed) know that at night when you have built a fire and sit there quietly, Hu tu lu, the owl, and several of his brothers and sisters will glide by silently through the firelight.
Tell campers this tale from the Yaudanchi and they won’t sleep well!