Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Tales

Once upon a time, on the shores of the great lake, Gitchee-Gumee, there lived a hunter who had ten beau­tiful young daughters. Many young men who had heard of their beauty came to see them and brought presents to them and to their father.

One by one, the daughters married. Nine of them had already chosen husbands. One by one, new wigwams were built, and soon there was a little village near the lake. The country was rich in game and fish, and the young husbands did not want to leave such a good place.

Only one of the daughters did not marry. Her name was Oweenee, and she was the youngest and the most beauti­ful of them all. She was very kind and gentle, and at the same time, very shy and modest. Her elder sisters liked to spend their time together and could talk without end. But Oweenee loved to walk alone in the woods. And though she was very modest, she had thoughts and dreams of her own. Nobody knew her thoughts, but many young men who were sure that they could marry her, had to leave her alone because Oweenee only laughed at them.

The truth is, it was very difficult to please Oweenee. One young man after another came to Oweenee and asked her to be his wife. They were handsome young men, the handsomest and bravest in the country. Yet Oweenee refu­sed all of them. One was too tall, another too short; one too thin, another too fat. That was what she said to her father and sisters. But nobody knew what she thought. Her sisters saw that she had refused young men who were better than their own husbands, and decided that she was a very silly girl.

Her father, who loved her with all his heart and wished her to be happy, was puzzled.

“Tell me, my daughter,” he said to her one day, “why don’t you want to marry? The handsomest young men in the land have asked you to be their wife, and you have sent them all away. Why is it so?”

Oweenee looked at him with her large, dark eyes.

“Father,” she said at last, “do not think that I am silly. I do not know how it can be, but I have the power to look into the hearts of men. A handsome face is nothing. But a beautiful heart is everything. And I have not yet found even one man who has a really beautiful heart.”

Soon after this, a strange thing happened. An old Indian named Osseo came to the little village. He was poor and ugly, and he did not bring any presents. Yet Oweenee mar­ried him.

Her nine proud sisters at once gathered together in one of the wigwams and began to talk. Maybe their silly little sister had lost her mind? they said. They always knew that she would come to a bad end.

Of course they could not know that Osseo had a heart of gold and that Oweenee saw this at once. Though Osseo’s face was ugly, he had beauty of another kind — the beauty of a noble mind and of a poetic soul. That is why Owee nee loved him. And she knew that he needed her care, and loved him all the more.

But there was one thing which Oweenee did not know. Her husband really was a beautiful youth. He was a son of the Evening Star, and had lived in the Sky-land before evil manitoes cast a spell on him and changed him into an ugly old man. After that he had to leave the Sky-land and live among the Indians. Sometimes in the evening the people of the village saw that he looked at the Evening Star, stretched out his hands to it and said something, but what he said they could not understand.

One day a great feast was prepared in another village, and Oweenee and all her sisters together with their hus­bands were invited to the feast. The nine proud sisters and their husbands walked ahead. They were greatly pleased with themselves and their new dresses and talked all the time. But Oweenee and Osseo walked behind in silence.

The sun had set. Low in the sky hung the Evening Star. Osseo stopped, stretched out his hands to it and said something. But when the others saw this they began to laugh at him.

“Instead of looking up in the sky,” said one of the sisters, “look on the ground. Else you may stumble and break your neck!” She went a little further and cried out, “Be careful! Here’s a big log. Do you think that you can climb over it?”

Osseo made no aspwer. But when he came to the log he stopped again. It was the trunk of a great oak-tree which was hollow inside. It had fallen after a storm and was lying now across the path. The trunk was so large that a man could walk inside it from one end to the other without stooping.

But Osseo did not stop because he could not climb over it. He looked at it as if he had seen it before in a dream, and tried to remember something.

“What is the matter, Osseo?” asked Oweenee, touching his arm. “Do you see something that I cannot see?”

But again Osseo made no answer. He shouted so that the echo of his shout was heard on the other side of the lake, and jumped inside the log. Oweenee was alarmed, but she stood and waited. Soon a man came out from the other end. But was this Osseo? Yes, it was he — but how chan­ged he was! Now he was a beautiful youth, strong and tall.

But the evil spell was still very- strong. It had left Osseo, that is true, but instead of him it fell upon his young wife, Oweenee. When Osseo came up to her, he saw that great changes were taking place in her. Her black hair was growing white and deep wrinkles had appeared in her face. In a few minutes she became an old woman.

“O, my beloved wife!” he cried. “The Evening Star has deceived me. I did not want to become young at such a price.”“As long as you love me, I am quite happy. If I could make my choice, and only one of us could be young and beautiful, I would leave everything as It is now.”

Then Osseo took her in his arms and kissed her and said that he loved her more than ever for her kindness; And together they walked hand in hand as two young people who love each other;

When the proud sisters saw what had happened they could not believe their eyes Osseo was now handsomer than any of their husbands. In his eyes was the light of the Evening Star, and when he spoke all men turned to listen.

But the sisters had no pity for poor Oweenee. Indeed, it even pleased them that now she was not more beautiful than they.

At the feast all made merry but Osseo. He sat in si­lence and did not eat or drink anything. From time to time he pressed Oweenee’s hand and looked into her eyes. But for the most part he sat there looking through the door of the wigwam at the stars in the sky.

Suddenly everybody in the wigwam stopped talking and singing, they heard the sound of music. It was magical music, and nobody had heard such music before. But what to them was only music, was to Osseo a voice that he understood, the voice of the Evening Star. This is what he heard:

“Suffer no more, my son, for the time has come when you will leave the earth and live with me in the Sky-land.

Before you is a dish on which my light has fallen. Eat, Osseo, and all will be well.”

So Osseo took some food from the dish, and then a very strange thing happened. The whole wigwam began to tremble and rose slowly into the air. It rose high above the trees — up, up towards the stars. And at the same time everything in the wigwam was changed. The wooden cups and dishes became cups and dishes of silver, while the nine proud sisters and their husbands were all changed into birds. The sisters who had talked most and made more noise than the others, now appeared in the feathers of the magpie.


Osseo sat looking at Oweenee. What was going to hap­pen to her? Osseo was so much afraid to lose her that he closed his eyes. But when he opened them again, he saw that she had again become a beautiful young woman. But her dress was changed and now it sparkled with all the colours of the rainbow.

Again the wigwam trembled: it had come to the Sky- land. Osseo and Oweenee caught all the birds, and put them in a great silver cage. Soon Osseo’s father, the manito of the Evening Star, came to greet them.

“Welcome, my dear children,” he said. “Welcome to the Sky-land. You have passed through bitter trials, but you remained brave and noble, and now you will be rewarded. Here you will live happily; yet I must give you a warn­ing.”

He pointed to a little star in the distance. From time to time it was hidden by clouds.

“On that star,” he continued, “lives an evil manito named Wabeno. He shoots his rays, like arrows, at those on whom he wants to cast a spell. He has always been my enemy, It was he who changed Osseo into an old man and made him leave the Sky-land. Be careful that his light does not fall upon you. Luckily, his evil powers are much weaker now, and his arrows cannot pass through these clouds, which have come to help me.”

Osseo and Oweenee thanked the Evening Star and kiss­ed his hands in gratitude.

“But these birds,” said Osseo, pointing to the cage. “Is this also the work of Wabeno?”

“No,” answered the Evening Star. “By my own power, the power of love, I made your wigwam rise and come here. It was also by my power that the envious sisters and their husbands were changed into birds. I have done this because they hated you, because they were cruel to the weak and the old. They deserve a greater punishment. Here, in the silver cage, they will be happy enough. Look at them: even now they are proud of their bright feathers! Hang the cage there, at the door of my dwelling. They will have everything they need.”

Thus Osseo and Oweenee began to live in the Sky-land; years passed by, and the little star where Wabeno lived grew smaller and paler, and the rays of Wabeno lost all their evil power.

Meanwhile, a little son was born to Osseo and Oweenee. Now they were quite happy. Their child was a handsome boy with the dark eyes of his mother and the strength and courage of Osseo.

The Sky-land was a wonderful place for a little boy. He could play all day with such toys as nobody has on the earth, and he could see the moon and many of the stars quite near.

But sometimes he was lonely. He wanted to know more about the Earth where his father and mother had lived.

Sometimes he looked down at the Earth and even stretched out his hands to it. His father made him a bow with little arrows and taught him how to shoot. But still the boy was lonely because he want­ed to play with other boys and girls. His mother often told him that there were very many peop­le on the Earth and among them many little boys and girls.

The birds in the great silver cage were also from the Earth, as his fhother told him. Sometimes he sat near the cage, trying to understand the language of the birds. One day a strange idea came into his head. He can open the door of the cage and let them out. Then they will fly back to the Earth and take him with them. His father and mother will certainly follow him to the Earth and then…

He ran up to the cage, opened the door and let out all the birds. They flew round and round making a great noise. Now he was afraid that the birds would fly away without him. What will his grandfather say?

“Come back, come back!” he called.

But the birds only flew around him in circles and paid no attention to him.

“Come back, I tell you!” he cried. “Come back, or I’ll shoot you!”


But the birds did not listen to him. So he took an arrow and shot at one of them. He did not kill the bird, but it fell down, and a few drops of blood fell on the ground where it lay.

No one is ever allowed to shed blood in the Sky-land. So when the few drops fell on the ground, everything was changed. The boy suddenly felt that he was falling slowly down towards the Earth. Soon he could see its green hills and blue rivers, and at last he was lying on an island in the middle of a great lake. He looked up at the sky and saw that the wigwam of his parents was also coming down. Osseo and Oweenee were returning to the Earth, to live again among men and women and teach them how to live.


Osseo and Oweenee came out of the wigwam hand in hand, and at the same time all the birds from the silver cage came down to the is­land, and when each of them touched the Earth, it was no longer a bird, but a man or woman again. But now they had become pygmies or the Little People: Puk-Wudjies, as the Indians called them.

They lived on the shores of Gitchee-Gumee, played and danced in the moonlight and when they could, played tricks on the Indians who lived near the lake. They remained en­vious, and could not forget that there was a time when they were not pygmies.

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