Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

Once Nanabozo asked Nokomis why it was always so dark in their country. He had seen daylight and the bright and warm sunshine in the land of the Old Man in the East and he wanted it to be the same way here, where his kinsmen, the Indians, lived.

“It is always gloomy here,” said Nokomis, “because Totoba, the Owl, does not like daylight, and you know that Totoba is a powerful manito and the wisest bird in the woods.”

Nanabozo thought a little and decided what to do. He went to the bank of the river where Totoba was sitting on the branch of a tree and said to him:

“Totoba, it is bad for the Indians to live in the dark. If you send away the dark clouds that cover the sky, day­light will come to our country and life will be happier.” “What do I care for the happiness of your people,” said Totoba. “I like it better this way. Ask other birds and beasts, and they will tell you the same.”

Then Nanabozo called all the birds and beasts that lived in the forest and asked them what they liked better — day­light or night. Some said that they liked night better, but the greater part said that they liked daylight better.

“No,” said Totoba, “it is better this way. I am the wi­sest bird in the woods and I tell you that it is better this way. It is not too dark for those who like daylight and it is not too light for those who like night. Let it be as it is.”

“You are a wise bird, Totoba,” said Nanabozo, “but you are not right. No one hunts all the time and no one sleeps all the time. There must be time for everything. Those who hunt in the daytime, may rest at night, and those who hunt at night, may sleep in the daytime. If you do not agree to divide this darkness into night and day, I shall use my magic powers and shall do it myself.”

“If you are powerful enough, do so. Let us try our powers, and who wins, may decide as he likes.”


Then Nanabozo and Totoba asked all the birds and the beasts to watch the contest. It was agreed that Nanabozo and Totoba had to sit one opposite the other and repeat two different words without stopping for a minute. Nana­bozo decided to repeat the word “light” and Totoba — the word “night.” The one who made a mistake and re­peated his opponent’s word, would lose the contest.

So Nanabozo and Totoba sat on the ground one oppo­site the other and began to contest. Nanabozo kept on say­ing “light, light, light, light,” while Totoba kept on say­ing “night, night, night, night.” The birds and the beasts sat around them in a circle and listened. Some of them wanted Totoba to win, others were on Nanabozo’s side, but all of them sat quietly and waited. At last the wise owl Totoba, who was not used to speaking much got tir-ed and made a mistake. He started repeating after Nanabozo the word “light” and thus lost the contest.

Then Nanabozo stood up and, using his magic powers, divided the darkness of the forest into night and day and after that everybody could enjoy the light and warmth of the sunshine.

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