How The Rattlesnakes Came To Be


- Zuni -

Know you that long, long ago there lived at Yathlpew'nan, as live there now, many Rattlesnakes; but then they were men and women, only of a Rattlesnake kind.

One day the little children of one of the houses there wished to go out to play at sliding down the sand-banks south of the Bitter Pond on the other side of our river. So they cried out to their parents: "Let us go, O mother, grandmother, father and take our little sister to play on the sunny side of the sand-banks."

"My children," said the mother, "go if you wish, but be very careful of your little sister; for she is young. Carry her gently on your shoulders, and place her where she will be safe, for she is very small and helpless."

"Oh, yes!" cried the children. "We love our little sister, don't we, little one?" said they, turning to the baby girl. Then they took her up in their mantles, and carried her on their shoulders out to the sunny side of the sand-banks; and there they began to play at sliding one after another.

The little girl, immensely delighted with their sport, toddled out from the place where they had set her down, just as one of the girls was speeding down the side of the sand-hill. The little creature ran, clapping her hands and laughing, to catch her sister as she came; and the elder one, trying in vain to stop herself, called out to her to beware; but she was a little thing, and knew not the meaning of her sister's warning; and, alas! the elder one slid down upon her, knocked her over and rolled her in the sand, crushing her so that she died, and rolling her out very small.

The children all gathered around their little sister, and cried and cried. Finally they took her up tenderly, and, placing her on their shoulders, sang as they went slowly toward home:

Tchi-tola tsaaana!
Tchi-tola tsaaana!
Tchi-tola tsaaana!

Ama ma hama seta!
Ama ma hama seta!

Rattlesnake little-little!
Rattlesnake little-little!
Rattlesnake little-little!

Alas, we bear her!
Alas, we bear her!

As they approached the village of the Rattlesnakes, the mother of the little one looked out and saw them coming and heard their song.

"O, my children! my children!" she cried. "Ye foolish little ones, did I not tell ye to beware and to be careful, O, my children?" Then she exclaimed--rocking herself to and fro, and wriggling from side to side at the same time, casting her hands into the air, and sobbing wildly--

Ayaa mash toki!
Ayaa mash toki!
Hai! i i i i!"
and fell in a swoon, still wriggling, to the ground.

When the old grandmother saw them coming, she too said:

Ayaa mash toki!
Ayaa mash toki!
Hai! i i i i!"

And as one after another in that village saw the little child, so beloved, brought home thus mutilated and dead, each cried out as the others had cried:

Ayaa mash toki! Ayaa mash toki! Hai! i i i i!" and all swooned away; and the children also who were bringing the little one joined in the cry of woe, and swooned away. And when they all returned to life, behold, they could not arise, but went wriggling along the ground, faintly crying, as Rattlesnakes wriggle and cry to this day.

So you see that once-as was the case with many, if not all, of the animals-the Rattlesnakes were a people, and a splendid people too. Therefore we kill them not needlessly, nor waste the lives even of other animals without cause.

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