An old Kansa tale, compiled here by David Hann
The man who first put this story in written form was George Pearson Moorehouse. As a boy, Moorehouse grew up near the Kansa or Kaw Indian Reservation in south central Kansas in the early 1900s. He often played with the Kansa children and grew up liking and being liked by his playmates and their families. The Kansa liked him so well that they adopted him into the tribe and named him Little White Buffalo.
Moorehouse never forgot the fun and the kindness he had experienced with the Kansa. As a young man he developed the first written language of the Kansa. The tribe made him their historian and, as such, Moorehouse spoke with many of the tribal elders. One such elder was named Speckled Eye, and it was he who related to young Moorehouse the tale that follows.
Life and beauty
When the world had not yet fully recovered from the flood, Wau-con-dah, the Great Spirit, came to give touches of life and beauty to the many places entirely destroyed by Loo-ho-tah, the Thunder God. He passed over these desert places and in his pathway sprang up all forms of verdure – the stately trees, the richest grass and the most beautiful flowers.
The trees proudly wore their green dresses through the spring and summer months and the leaves were so joyful in the bright sunlight that they filled the days with sweet songs set to the music of the passing breeze.
One cold, cloudy day, a warning wind came to tell them that they would soon have to fall to the ground and die. Of course, this made the leaves very sad, but they tried to hide their sorrow and still be happy in order that their tree mothers would not share their grief.
Finally, when the autumn winds blew for several days, all the leaves surrendered their firm grasp and slowly fluttered to the damp ground of the forest; but they didn’t complain. They waited in hope. There they remained very quiet for a long time. Then the rude wind scattered them around or piled them into great heaps in the hollows. Still they did not complain. They waited in hope.
Just before the storms and snows of winter the Great Spirit came on another visit. When he saw how quiet and patient and beautiful they were under all these discouragements he said, “These good leaves, so frail and patient, ought not to be wasted and die in this manner. Besides, since the flood there has been a great scarcity of song birds in the forest and on the plains. Let these leaves live again in beauty and gladden the hearts of my children whenever they are sad.”
Leaves upon the ground
Then, the leaves lived and moved upon the ground, but they could not reach the tree branches above. Seeing this, Wau-con-dah gave to each one a tiny pair of wings and thus they became the singing birds of the land.
He taught them to fly and sing sweet songs and called them jin-gah-was-sa-me-tah, my beautiful birds. Some flew away to winter homes in the land of the soft south wind. Others remained to see the ice and snow in the land of their birth.
The robins came from the red and brown leaves of the sturdy oak. The orioles came from the yellow leaves of the willow. The red birds, wah-gin-gah-shu-jay, came from the brightly coloured maple leaves. And the brown and dark leaves were changed into the wah-gin-gah-sah-ba, or the black and brown birds of the earth.
In the bright springtime, they all returned to their birth places, their mother trees. They found that these trees had put forth as many leaves as before. Here the birds built their nests and lived during the hot summer time. They enjoyed the protection of the trees and the grateful shade of the fresh grown leaves.
Is it any wonder that the many birds return every spring to their mother trees and love them and fly to them for shade, food and comfort?
Lead image: Bardia Hashemirad, Unsplash.
Share this post