How the Red Bird Got His Color

retold by Barbara Shining Woman Warren

Cherokee Words:

  • wolf wa-ya
  • raccoon gv-li
  • bird tsi-s-qua
  • brown u-wo-di-ge
  • red gi-ga-ge
  • red bird to-tsu-wa

Gv-li loved to tease wa-ya. One day gv-li teased wa-ya so much that wa-ya became very angry. Wa-ya began to chase gv-li through the woods. Gv-li, being the clever animal that he is, kept ahead of wa-ya.

Gv-li came to a river. Instead of jumping in the river, he quickly climbed a tall tree and peered over a branch to see what wa-ya would do next.

When wa-ya came to the river, he saw the reflection of gv-li in the water. Thinking that it was gv-li, wa-ya jumped in and tried to catch him. Wa-ya continued to search for gv-li for such a long time that he became so tired he nearly drowned. Finally, tired and exhausted, wa-ya climbed up the river bank and fell fast asleep. After a while, gv-li quietly climbed down the tree and slipped over to the sleeping wa-ya. While wa-ya slept, gv-li began to plaster the eyes of wa-ya with mud. Then when he had finished, gv-li ran off through the woods laughing to himself thinking of the clever trick he had played.

Later, wa-ya woke up. He began to whine, "Oh, someone please help me. I can't see. I can't open my eyes." But no one came to help him.

At long last, u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua heard the cries of wa-ya. He flew over to wa-ya and landed on his shoulder. He said, "What's the matter Brother Wolf? Can I help you?" wa-ya cried, "I can't open my eyes. Oh, please help me to see again." U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua said, "I'm just a little brown bird but I will help you if I can." Wa-ya said, " u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua, if you can help me to see again, I will take you to a magic rock that oozes red paint. We will paint your feathers gi-ga-ge."

U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua began pecking away at the dried mud on the eyes of wa-ya. Soon wa-ya could open his eyes again. True to his promise wa-ya said, "Thank you, my brother; now jump up onto my shoulder." Away they ran through the woods to the rock that oozed red paint.

When they came to the rock, wa-ya reached up and plucked a twig from a tree branch. He chewed the end of the twig until it was soft and pliable like the end of a paint brush. Then he dipped the end of the twig into the red paint and began to paint the feathers of u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua.

When all of his feathers were gi-ga-ge, tsi-s-qua flew off to show his family and friends how beautiful he was. That is why, from that day to this, you can see to-tsu-wa flying around the woods in Cherokee country.


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