Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

The Owl's Big Eyes

A Seneca Indian Tale


OH-o-wah was a big snowy owl, and a curious bird was he.

Oh-o-wah wanted to be like the swan and have a long neck. He wanted to be like the white heron and have a long beak. He wanted long legs. He wanted everything other birds had.

It was a good time to want things. In those days Ra-wen-io was making the animals and the birds as they wanted to be. He walked through the forest and asked each fur-coat and feather-coat how he wanted to be. Ra-wen-io was very patient.

One day he came to the bush lands where he saw Hippity Boy, the rabbit. Rabbit was sitting on a stump beside the trail waiting for Ra-wen-io to come along.

Rabbit was singing a song, “How I’d like nice long ears and long legs like the deer! How I’d like nice long hair and sharp claws like the lynx!”

Ra-wen-io, the Masterful One, heard the plaintive song of Rabbit and came like a cloud to him and took him in his hands.

“All the feather folk, all the scale folk, all the fur folk, hear!” said the Masterful One. “Turn your heads, close your eyes, for none shall see the miracle I perform.”

From his perch in the tree, Oh-o-wah looked down. “I want nice long legs, I want a nice long neck, I want a nice long beak, I want the best feathers, I want everything better than anyone else,” hooted Owl.

“Be still and close your eyes,’ said Ra-wen-io, while he pulled at Rabbit’s ears to make them long. Then he grasped Rabbit by the waist and began to pull his legs to make them long.

Just as he was fixing Rabbit as he wished to be, Owl rolled his eyes and began to blink. He turned his head and began to look.

“Oh—o-wah, oh-o-wah,” hooted Owl.

Ra-wen-io looked up and saw Owl looking. This was the forbidden thing to do. He plucked Owl from the tree and shoved his head right down into his shoulders. He looked into Owl’s eyes until they grew large with fright, and then he smoothed Owl all over.

“Henceforth, now and forever,” said Ra-wen-io, “all owls shall have short necks. They shall have big eyes that cannot roll, and all owls shall live in the dark where they cannot see what is done on earth when the sun shines.” Then he put Owl into a hollow tree.

Ra-wen-io went back to the stump where he had left Rabbit, but Rabbit had run away the best he could, for his legs were only half finished.

To this day, Rabbit hops and is called Hippity Boy. And to this day, owls live in the dark and hate all rabbits, hunting them whenever one strays into the dark of the wood.

So that is why owls have big eyes and short necks, and why rabbits hop.

This is a short story, my nephew, but it’s all the old folk know about it, so I am done. Na ho.


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