Hummingbird and Fly: A Keresan Folktale

Next in the hummingbird folklore series, as a followup to our previous story from the Hopi of Arizona: a story from the Laguna (Kawaik), one of the Keresan speaking Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. As in the Hopi story, Hummingbird, this time with Fly, must save the settlement from starvation.

800px DSC 5961 w

Long ago, the people lived at White-House, a settlement so vast that they had seven different kinds of shaman to perform ceremonies to bring food for the people, and to cure disease. After many years of success, the shamans became so proud of their abilities that they thought they were more powerful even than Mother Nautsiti, who brought life. In their hubris, they mocked her. She heard, and she got angry. In her anger she hid the rain, and so the crops died. For five years (some say seven), the people starved. Some say the people got so desperate that they even killed and ate their children…

As the situation got more dire, the shamans and the chiefs called a meeting to discuss how to find the Mother, and ask her to bring back the rain and the food. As they met, they remembered Hummingbird, who slept in an opening in the middle of the south wall. In the midst of all this famine, Hummingbird remained healthy and well-fed.

So the shamans and the chiefs went to Hummingbird. “Where do you get your food?” they asked him. “You always have enough to eat.”

“Do you want food, too?” asked Hummingbird.

“Yes!” said the shamans and the chiefs, and all the people.

“You must ask Our Mother,” Hummingbird said. “She lives in the Fourth World, beneath our world.”

“How do we reach her?” the people asked. Hummingbird answered:

“Find a chief’s daughter, and get some skin from her knee. Then put it in a jar, and cover it with new buckskin.”

The people did as Hummingbird directed, and after some time Fly [blue-bottle fly] came to life and emerged from the jar.

“Why am I here?” Fly asked.

“You and Hummingbird must go to Our Mother, and intercede for us,” the people said.

And the people brought beads, and prayer sticks, and pollen, and blew on them. Then they gave the offerings to Hummingbird and Fly, and the two of them set off for the Fourth World.

800px Black Chinned Hummingbird Browns Park NWR 12824564364

Soon they arrived. Even though it was beneath our world, there was light, like daylight. As they traveled east, they saw that the land was beautiful, lush with corn and wheat and watermelons. Fly buzzed around in wonder; he wanted to stop and sip some honey. But Hummingbird stopped him.

“First, let’s find Our Mother,” he said. So the two of them went on.

Finally, they reached Mother Nautsiti. They laid down the pollen and beads and prayer sticks before her, and asked her to come back to the world, and to bring back the rain and the food.

“Go back to White-House,” the Mother told them. “On the east wall you will find Old Turkey Buzzard. He will purify to the south, and then to the east, then to the north, and to the west. Then the rain will come back.”

So Hummingbird and Fly returned to White-House and told the chiefs and shamans what the Mother had said. So the people brought more pollen and beads and prayer sticks and sent Hummingbird and Fly to the east wall, to find Turkey Buzzard. The two of them went to the east wall. When they found Turkey Buzzard, the laid down their gifts and asked him to purify the town.

“Your offering is not complete,” Turkey Buzzard said. “I need tobacco.”

So Hummingbird and Fly went back and told the chiefs and shamans that Turkey Buzzard needed tobacco. They had no tobacco, and not knowing what else to do, they sent Hummingbird and Fly back to the Mother. Off they went.

“Back again?” said the Mother. “Didn’t you find Old Turkey Buzzard?”

“Yes, we did,” said Hummingbird and Fly. “But our offering wasn’t complete. He needs tobacco. We don’t know where to find it.”

“Go back up to your world, and to the southwest,” said Mother Nautsiti. “You will find a hill, and in the middle of the hill is a doorway. Caterpillar lives there. Ask him for tobacco.”

So back up to the world went Hummingbird and Fly. They flew west, and found the hill, where the Mother said it would be, and the doorway in the hill, too. Flying down to the doorway, they called out, asking for permission to enter.

“Come down,” said Caterpillar. “What do you need?”

“Tobacco, please,” said Hummingbird and Fly.

Then Caterpillar spread corn husks down on the ground and wiped his hands on them. Where he wiped his hands, tobacco appeared. Then Caterpillar gave the tobacco to Hummingbird and Fly. They returned to White-House, and entered the kiva, where the chiefs and the shamans had convened. There, they divided the tobacco and took half to Old Turkey Buzzard.

“We found tobacco,” they said, and laid it before him.

Turkey Buzzard took the tobacco and smoked to the north, to the west, to the south, and to the east, and he smoked to his mothers, and to the chiefs. Then he went to the people and said, “Now I shall purify the town.”

And then Turkey Buzzard purified to the south, and to the east, and to the north, and to the west. Then everything was clear. Soon the storm clouds came back, and with the rain the crops grew. There was happiness all around, and everyone had food.

Then our mother said, “Do not from now on in the future make trouble. Thus our mother gave instructions in olden times long ago.

Lossy page1 781px A general view of the Laguna Pueblo New Mexico 1879 NARA 542443 tif

This retelling is based on a version given in Franz Boas’s Keresan Texts (1928). Boas heard it from an informant named Pedro Martin in 1919. It has many similarities to our previous Hopi story of Hummingbird saving the children at Oraibi. Other Keresan tribes have similar stories as well; sometimes only the Fly goes down to the Fourth World.

Tradition says that White-House was the first place the ancestors of the Keresan people settled after they emerged onto the world from the Shipapu (sound familiar?). According to this site, the term “White House” may refer to the large multi-storied complexes of Chaco Canyon, which were probably constructed in the mid-800s and inhabited until around the mid twelfth century. The inhabitants of the Chaco Canyon settlements are considered the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples, including the Keresan tribes and the Hopi.

Since I gave a short summary of the Hopi emergence myth in the previous post, I’ll give a bit of Boas’s synopsis of Laguna cosmology here, for comparison. I’ve quoted him directly, but I’ve removed the diacritical marks from his spellings of names. Where appropriate, I matched the spellings to those used in Matthew Stirling’s 1942 recording of the Acoma (another Keresan people) origin myth, since those seem to be the spellings more commonly used on the web.

There are four worlds under ours, a white, red, blue, yellow one from below upward. Thought-Woman (the Spider?) [in Sterling: Tsichtinako], Nautsiti, the mother of the Indians; Itctsitsi, the father of the whites [and Nautsiti’s brother], Cotcuminako the mistress of game, who gives names to everything; Waaminiako, who belongs to the kurana, live there. Nautsiti is identified with Iatiku, the sacred ear of corn. The way out of the lower worlds is through the shipapu, the Place of Emergence, along a prayer-stick, notched on both sides. In our world are six mountains, at the four points of the compass, above and below….

After the emergence the people lived in a number of towns. They settled first in White-House, to the south of the Place of Emergence, at a place where Nautsiti’s elbow rested when she placed her bent arm on the ground….

In the Acoma origin myth (and according to Stirling, in other Keresan origin myths as well), Nautsiti and Iatiku are sisters, who were not created but simply “were born” at Shipapu. Boas’s Laguna informants consistently reported a brother and sister, as above. The brother’s name, Itctsitsi, looks a lot like Stirling’s “Uchtsiti” to me. In the Acoma creation myth as given by Stirling, Uchtsiti is the father of Nautsiti and Iatiku and the creator of the world. He gives the two sisters baskets (via Tsichtinako) filled with seeds and images of animals, which the sisters use to bring plant and animal life to the world.


Boas, Franz. Keresan Texts, The American Ethnological Society, New York, 1928.

  • “The Hummingbird,” Told by Pedro Martin. Main story page 11, additional details page 226.
  • “The World”, page 276

Ojibwa, “Keresan Pueblo Migrations,” Native American Netroots, July 7, 2011.

Stirling, Matthew W. “Origin Myth,” from Origin Myth of Acoma and Other Records, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 135, 1942.

U.S. National Park Service, “Chaco Culture National Historical Park: History & Culture”, Accessed November 22, 2016.


  • Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito, largest of the Chaco Canyon structures. Photo by John Wiley, Source: Wikipedia
  • Black-Chinned Hummingbird. Photo by Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Source: Wikimedia
  • View of Laguna Pueblo, 1879. Photo from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Source: Wikimedia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s