Tzunuum, the hummingbird, was created by the Great Spirit as a tiny, delicate bird with extraordinary flying ability. She was the only bird in the
kingdom who could fly backwards and who could hover in one spot for several seconds. The hummingbird was very plain. Her feathers had no
bright colors, yet she didn't mind. Tzunuum took pride in her flying skill and was happy with her life despite her looks.
When it came time to be married, Tzunuum found that she had neither a wedding gown nor a necklace. She was so disappointed and sad that some of
her best friends decided to create a wedding dress and jewelry as a surprise.
Ya, the vermilion-crowned flycatcher wore a gay crimson ring of feathers around his throat in those days. He decided to use it as his gift. So he
tucked a few red plumes in his crown and gave the rest to the hummingbird for her necklace. Uchilchil, the bluebird, generously donated several blue
feathers for her gown. The vain motmot, not to be outdone, offered more turquoise blue and emerald green. The cardinal, likewise, gave some red
Then, Yuyum, the oriole, who was an excellent tailor as well as an engineer, sewed up all the plumage into an exquisite wedding gown for the little
hummingbird. Ah-leum, the spider, crept up with a fragile web woven of shiny gossamer threads for her veil. She helped Mrs. Yuyum weave intricate
designs into the dress. Canac, the honeybee, heard about the wedding and told all his friends who knew and liked the hummingbird. They brought
much honey and nectar for the reception and hundreds of blossoms that were Tzunuum's favorites.
Then the Azar tree dropped a carpet of petals over the ground where the ceremony would take place. She offered to let Tzunuum and her groom spend
their honeymoon in her branches. Pakal, the orange tree, put out sweet-smelling blossoms, as did Nicte, the plumeria vine. Haaz (the banana bush),
Op, (the custard apple tree) and Pichi and Put (the guava and papaya bushes) made certain that their fruits were ripe so the wedding guests would
find delicious refreshments. And, finally, a large band of butterflies in all colors arrived to dance and flutter gaily around the hummingbird's
When the wedding day arrived, Tzunuum was so surprised, happy and grateful that she could barely twitter her vows. The Great Spirit so admired
her humble, honest soul that he sent word down with his messenger, Cozumel, the swallow, that the hummingbird could wear her wedding gown for
the rest of her life. And, to this day, she has. How did the humility of one long-ago hummingbird cause its descendants to sport brilliant colors?
|Gift to the Hummingbird
A Mayan Legend
Music: Eyes of the Jaguar by Diane Arkenstone
|How the King of Birds Was Chosen
A Mayan Legend
Long ago, in Maya Land flowers, birds, trees, butterflies, and mammals appeared in other colors and shapes than those of today. Halach-Uinic, the
Great Spirit guarded over all the Maya World.
His will was law. One day he grew tired of the constant chatter and fighting among the birds. At a meeting in the center of the forest, he announced
that the birds must choose a king to keep peace.
Of course, each bird thought it possessed the best qualifications. Col-pol-che, the cardinal sang, "Look at me. No one else is bright red and so
beautiful. All the birds admire me. I should be king." And he strutted in front of the impressed bird audience, fluttering his wings and raising his
X-col-col-chek, the tropical mockingbird, trilled out, "I'm the only bird with such a lovely voice. Everyone listens to me." Enlarging his throat, X-col
gave a short performance of enchanting and complicated melodies. This was a tremendous sensation among the birds and went far in convincing
them that the mockingbird should be king.
Then the wild turkey, Cutz, strode into the circle and gobbled, "There's no doubt that I should be king because I'm the biggest and strongest bird. With
my size and strength, I can stop fights and also defend any bird. You need a powerful king. I'm the one!"
And so, throughout the day various birds displayed their qualities. The only one that kept quiet was Kukul, the quetzal. This bird was very ambitious
and proud. He had elegant manners and a graceful body, but his plumage was shabby. Kukul thought it would be impossible to be chosen king while
he was dressed so poorly.
After thinking carefully he flew over to his friend, Xtuntun-kinil, the roadrunner. "I want to make you a proposition, my dear friend," he said. "Your
feathers are so handsome as any bird's here, but you are too busy with your work as messenger of the roads to become king. Also, I don't think you
posses quite the flair and sophistication that is necessary for this job. I'm afraid I can't loan these qualities to you, but you could loan me your
feathers just for this occasion. After I'm elected king, I'll share the wealth and honors with you."
It was a tempting offer, yet the roadrunner did not feel too eager to part with his plumage. Kukul kept persuading and assuring Xtuntun of his
integrity and fine intentions. He painted bright visions of the riches to come. At last, he convinced his trusting friend.
One by one, the feathers disappeared from Xtuntsun's body and the clever quetzal adjusted them to his own. Within minutes, they had multiplied and
grown so that the ambitious bird was attired in the most splendid costume imaginable. Kukul's tail hung in a sweeping curve of jade green plumes.
His body shimmered with soft, iridescent hues of blue and green like the Maya sky and jungle. His breast blazed with the colors of a tropical sunset.
And his beak turned yellow as corn.
Swinging his exquisite 4-foot tail in an arc, the bold bird promenaded into the circle where the birds of Maya Land were congregated. His entrance
caused a hush. Then cries of "Bravo," "Hurrah," "Oh," and "Ah" filled the forest.
Halach-Uinic was very pleased with the miraculous change from the quiet, drab bird to this radiant, proud creature before him. Calling the audience
to order, the Great Spirit declared: "I name the quetzal to be king of the birds."
A loud applause followed this announcement and each bird hopped over to the quetzal with congratulations.
Finally, they all flew home and left Kukul to begin his new duties. He found himself extremely busy so he never had time to return the borrowed
feathers. In fact, he forgot all about his promise to the roadrunner.
One day, a group of birds noticed that the roadrunner had not appeared in several days. In fact, no one had seen him since the great election. They
began to suspect Kukul of some trick, so they organized a search. Deep into the forest behind a bush, they found Xtuntun-kinil, naked, trembling with
cold and almost dead of hunger. Quickly, the birds gave him some black (honey drink) to help him recover.
When he was able, the roadrunner told them of the cruel deception played by the quetzal. He kept saying, "Puhuy? Puhuy?" which means "Where is
he? Where is he?" in the Maya language. All the birds felt sorry for the roadrunner and decided each should donate a few feathers to cover him. The
mockingbird even sag a jolly song to raise the courage of the embarrassed bird.
That is why today the roadrunner's feathers are so oddly colored and varied in pattern, and is why he always watches the Maya roads. He is still
searching for the quetzal that took away his plumage and still running anxiously in front of travelers asking, "Puhuy? Puhuy?"
|How the Mockingbird Became the Best Singer
A Mayan Legend
When X-chol-col-chek, the mockingbird, was young, her family was very poor, and she could only dress in dingy feathers. Since she was hatched,
however, X-col had displayed a magnificent voice. She wanted to take singing lessons but could not afford them.
The mockingbird was fortunate to obtain work with a rich and noble family of cardinals. That winter, a famous singing professor, Dr. Xcau, the
melodious blackbird, came to Maya Land. The father cardinal immediately imagined that his daughter, Col-pol-che, could become a fine singer. She
was lazy, vain and hated to study. But by promising her many fine gifts, the father convinced her to try singing lessons.
When Col-pol-che went with Dr. Xcau to a quiet part of the woods to begin her music course, X-col followed and hid in the bushes to listen and learn.
Then she raced back to finish her chores. For weeks, the professor tried to make the girl cardinal sing sweetly, but without success. He soon realized
she had neither the voice not the ambition. He was afraid to tell her wealthy father after such a long time, having accepted a lot of money. So, he
finally flew far away an forgot the whole affair.
Meanwhile, X-col had been practicing. One morning, Col-pol-che happened to hear her and was very surprised at her little maid's ability. That same
day, the father cardinal decided his daughter should give a concert for their friends. The indolent girl was terrified, yet she dared not tell her parents
that she couldn't sing. She thought of the mockingbird's lovely voice and decided to ask for help.
The two birds asked Colote, the woodpecker, to bore a hole into the tree trunk where Col-pol-che would perch. Then the mockingbird would hide
inside. While Col-pol-che pretended to be singing, the real voice would come from X-col within.
On the day of the concert, all the noble singers, artists and musicians among the birds came. Col-pol-che hopped out on a limb of the
purple-flowering tree chosen by her father, bowed to the audience and opened her bill. The most exquisite voice ever heard in the Maya World came
pouring out and echoed through the woods. The birds in the audience flapped their wings and cried for curtain call after curtain call.
The father, however, was not applauding. He had discovered the truth just before the concert began when he saw X-col crawl into the little hole.
When the applause ended and the cardinal finished many bows, her father flew up beside her and asked for silence. He hopped over to the hole and
called the mockingbird to come out.
The small, colorless bird was trembling with fright, but Col-pol-che's father gently led her to a perch in front of the entire audience. Then he explained
that his daughter had tricked everyone, including him.
"It was really this shy little 'nightingale' who sang the whole time," he announced.
The crowd went wild and demanded that X-col sing again. This time outside and free of her fright, the mockingbird sang as never before and won
every bird's heart. From that time on, all her descendants inherited her lovely voice, but the cardinals have never learned how to sing.
"The moral of this legend is about ability, identity and the pursuit of dreams."
|The Coyote and the Hen
A Mayan Legend
Once upon a time a hen was up in the branches of a tree, and a coyote came up to her: "I've brought some good news for you. Do you want to hear
it?" asked the coyote.
"Do you really have some good news?" the hen asked.
The coyote answered: "It's about the two of us. 'Hear this, the coyote and the hen have made peace.' Now we're going to be friends and you can come
down from the tree. We'll hug each other as a sign of good will."
The hen kept asking if it was true what the coyote was saying: "Where was the peace treaty approved, brother coyote?" The coyote answered: "Over
there by the hunting grounds on the other side of the mountain. Hurry up and come down so that we can celebrate this moment of peace."
The hen asked: "Over there on the other side of the mountain?"
"May God witness that I am telling the truth. Come on down from the tree," insisted the coyote.
"Maybe you are telling the truth, brother. I see that the dog is coming to make peace. I see him coming near, I hear him coming. He's coming fast
and he's going to grab me, now that you and he have made peace. Do you hear, brother coyote, do you hear?" asked the hen. She was very happy
and came down from the branches of the tree.
The coyote accepted this explanation and ran away. As the hen said, the dog was coming, that's why he left. The hen didn't want to come down from
the tree. She didn't fall in front of the coyote; if she had, he would have eaten her. She realized he was just telling her lies.
Thus ends the story of the coyote and the hen.
|The Jaguar and the Little Skunk
A Mayan Legend
Once there was a gentleman jaguar and a lady skunk. Mrs Skunk had a son, who was baptized by Mr Jaguar, so Mrs Skunk became his compadre.
And as Mr Jaguar had baptized the little skunk, he was Mrs Skunk's compadre.
Mr Jaguar decided to go looking for food and came to Mrs Skunk's house. "Well, compadre, what are you looking for? What have you come here
for?" the skunk asked the jaguar.
"Compadre, what I have come to do is to look for some food," said Mr Jaguar. "Oh," said Mrs Skunk.
"I want my godson to come with me so that he can learn to hunt," said Mr Jaguar. "I don't think your godson ought to go; he's still very small and
something can happen to him. He better not go, compadre," said Mrs Skunk. But the little skunk protested: "No, mother, I had better go. What my
godfathers says is true. I need to get some practice, if I'm going to learn to hunt," said the little skunk.
"But if you go, you'll be so far away," said Mrs Skunk. "I'm going, I'm going. Come on, let's go." So they set off on a long walk. "We're going to
where there's a river. That's where we're going," Mr Jaguar explained to the little skunk, his godson.
"When are we going to get there?" asked the little skunk. "We're getting close. Follow me so you won't get lost," said Mr Jaguar. "All right,"
answered the little skunk. They finally came to the river. "This is where we're going to eat," said Mr Jaguar to the little skunk. "All right," said the
"Come on over here. I'm going to sharpen my knife," said Mr Jaguar. "All right," said the little skunk, looking at his godfather. Mr Jaguar sharpened
his claws, which he called his "knife."
"I sharpened my knife. Now you're going to be on guard, because I am going to sleep. When you see them come, wake me up," said Mr Jaguar.
"All right," said the little skunk, "all right, godfather." Then Mr Jaguar told him: "Don't shout. Just scratch my belly when they come. Scratch my
belly, so I won't alarm them. But don't wake me up if just any little old animals without antlers come along, only when the one with big antlers gets
here. That's when you'll wake me up."
"All right," said the little skunk. Then the one with the big antlers came, and the skunk awakened Mr Jaguar. He scratched his belly, and pointed out
the deer to Mr Jaguar, who attacked the animal with big antlers. He went after him and seized him.
"All right, my godson, let's eat. We're going to eat meat," said the jaguar. "All right," said the little skunk. And so they ate and ate. "Now we're going
to take whatever leftovers there are to your mother," said the jaguar. "Since we are full, we can take something to your mother. Your mother will
have meat to eat, just as we did. We will take some to your mother," said the jaguar. When they came back to the mother's house, he told the lady:
"Look at the food here. Look, we've brought you some food, the food that we hunted. Eat your fill of the meat, compadre," the jaguar said to Mrs
"All right," said the skunk, and ate the meat. "I'm full," she said. "It's good that you're satisfied. I've seen that you are, so I'll be leaving now," said Mr
Jaguar to Mrs Skunk. And so he left. After the jaguar left, the little skunk stayed with his mother. When they ran out of meat, Mrs Skunk said to her
son: "Dear, our meat is all gone." "Yes, the meat is all gone. I better go and get us some more food," said the little skunk. "How can you, son? So you
think you're big enough? You're very small. Don't you think you'll be killed?" asked Mrs Skunk.
"No, mother, I already know how to hunt, my godfather taught me how," replied the little skunk. "I'm leaving now."
He left, and Mrs Skunk was very worried. Her son came once more to the river, the place to which he had come with his godfather to get the meat.
"This is how my godfather did it. Why shouldn't I be able to do the same thing?" said the little skunk. "This is how you sharpen a knife," said the little
skunk. He sharpened his "knife." "This is the way my godfather did it. I'm not going to hunt the little animals, I'm just going to hunt the one with the
great big antlers. I'm going to hunt one for myself just like the one I ate with my godfather. I have my knife here and I'm going to sleep for a little
while." The little skunk lay down to sleep, but then he awakened. He was waiting for the one with the big antlers, and when he came, he attacked him,
thinking he was as strong as his godfather. But he just hung from the neck of the one with big antlers. His claws had dug into his skin. He was
hanging from his neck and was carried far away and fell on his back. He was left with his mouth wide open.
Since he had not come home to his mother, she wondered: "What could have happened to my son? Why hasn't he come back yet? Something must
have happened to him. I better go and look for him." And so Mrs Skunk went as far as the bank of the river. She was looking everywhere for her son,
but couldn't find him. She began to cry when she found the tracks where the one with the big antlers had come by running. "They must have come by
here," said Mrs Skunk, and began to follow the tracks. She came to the place where her son had been left lying on his back. When the mother caught
sight of him, she noticed that his teeth were showing and shouted at him:
"Son, what are you laughing at? All your teeth are showing," she said to him before she had gotten very close. When she did get close she told him:
"Give me your hand. I've come to get you, but you're just laughing in my face." She put her hand on him, thinking that he was still alive, but when she
noticed that he was already dead, she began to cry.