The Return of the Clouds
A Tale from the Folklore of the Zuni Indians of western New Mexico

The Four Feathers
    Ahaiyuta (ah-high-YOU-tah), a boy of the Zuni Indian tribe, had reached the age where he wanted to prove that he was no longer a child but a man.  One day, Ahaiyuta's grandmother sat him down and said,
    "To prove your manhood, you must do something that no one else has ever been able to do.  You must find Cloud Eater and kill him so that we may have rain."  Cloud Eater was a monster as tall as a mountain who had a never-ending appetite for clouds.  Somtimes he was able to devour every cloud in the sky, creating a terrible drought.  Many brave men had traveled in search of Cloud Eater, hoping to destroy him, but none could even find the monster's home.

Cloud Eater

    To help him on his way, Ahaiyuta's grandmother gave him four feathers: one red, one blue, one yellow and one black.  The red feather was to guide him in the right direction, the blue feather gave him the ability to talk to animals, the yellow feather allowed him to shrink in size and the black feather had a mysterious power of its own.  Ahaiyuta's grandmother told him that the black feather was most powerful of all and that he would know when its powers were needed.

The Red Feather
    To begin his journey, Ahaiyuta stuck the red feather in his hair and spun around his place.  When he came to a stop, he began walking in the direction the feather was pointing.  After walking all day, the air was getting hotter and hotter and there were no signs of life anywhere.  Ahaiyuta was very surprised when a mole popped up from a hole in the ground.

The red feather tells Ahaiyuta where to go

The Blue Feather
    Ahaiyuta quickly put the blue feather in his hair and asked the mole if he knew where Cloud Eater lived.  The mole replied that he was heading in the right direction, but that he was four days' journey from the home of the monster.  He invited Ahaiyuta into his tunnel so that they might escape the heat.

The Yellow Feather
    Ahaiyuta put the yellow feather in his hair and soon began to shrink until finally he was the same size as the mole.  The two of them climbed into the underground tunnel and began to talk.

Ahaiyuta has shrunk so he can fit in the mole's hole.

The mole told Ahaiyuta that Cloud Eater had been eating not just clouds, but everything in sight.  The mole had been the only animal to escape because of his underground tunnel.  Ahaiyuta was so angry that he became more determined than ever to destroy the monster.
    The mole led Ahaiyuta through the tunnel for four days, until finally he stopped and whispered to Ahaiyuta that they were directly under Cloud Eater's house.  They were so close that Ahaiyuta could hear Cloud Eater's heart beating through the top of the tunnel.

Ahaiyuta follows the mole through his tunnel until he was directly under Cloud Eater.

The Black Feather
    At first, Ahaiyuta wasn't sure what to do, but the he remembered the black feather.  Hoping it was the right time, Ahaiyuta put the black feather in his hair and took out his slingshot.  He put a pebble in the sling and pulled it back hard.  As soon as he released the rock, there was a loud rumble and the ground began to shake.  Ahaiyuta was knocked flat as the tunnel collapsed, and the next thing he knew he was sitting on the ground staring at the dead body of Cloud Eater.

Ahaiyuta, perched on a rock, uses his slingshot to kill Cloud Eater.

    He didn't understand what had happened until the mole explained that his aim had been so perfect that the rock had hit Cloud Eater in the heart, killing him.  When Cloud Eater fell, he had collapsed the roof of the tunnel, and the mole had dragged Ahaiyuta to saftey.
    Ahaiyuta thanked the mole for saving his life and for helping him kill Cloud Eater.  They stood and looked up at the sky, where clouds had begun to form, and they shouted with delight as it began to rain.
    And that is the story of Ahaiyuta and how he saved his people and brought back the clouds on his way to becoming a man.

The End

pictures by Andres Marin.  1999.