Sapana and the Birds of Prey ~ Folktales Stories for Kids
Listen while you read along! Thanks to Elderberry Tales
LONG AGO in a Native American village in North America, there once lived a girl named Sapana. Sapana was different from her friends in one particular way - she loved and admired birds of prey. She found the circling of the hawk fascinating, the wide wingspan of the eagle majestic, even the swooping of the buzzard magnificent. These noble birds, she felt, couldn't be faulted for enjoying the taste of meat - after all, weren't her own people hunters, too? In the fields, Sapana would leave scraps of meat on the ground for her feathered friends. And they came to look forward to her treats.
One day, Sapana found an injured hawk lying on the ground. The hawk's wing was speared by a porcupine quill. Sapana wondered if the poor creature would even allow her to approach it. But the hawk didn't seem anxious by her presence, so she carefully stepped forward.
Holding the hawk with one hand, she eased out the quill with the other. The bird squawked and flapped its wings. Then it flew upward. Just then, Sapana heard the sound of another bird in distress. A magnificent eagle also lay on the ground, his wing was injured by a porcupine quill, too. She also removed the quill from the birds wing. And then, at the foot of a cottonwood tree, she saw the culprit - a very large porcupine.
"How dare you!" Sapana cried to the porcupine. Then she had an idea. Turning to her friends, she called out, "Nita! Cocheta! Tapi! Let's catch this porcupine - we'll get enough quills to bend and twist to embroider our moccasins for three winters." She ran toward the porcupine but it scampered up the large cottonwood tree. "I'll get you, you rodent," she yelled, climbing up the wide tree trunk. Sapana was a fast climber, but the porcupine was even faster.
"Sapana, come down! You're too high! We can't see you anymore!" her friends called out. But if Sapana heard them, she did not care. She would climb to the very top of that tree if she had to, and then the porcupine would have nowhere else to go. But the tree seemed to somehow extend itself even higher as she climbed. Just when she thought she had nearly reached the treetop, there was yet more trunk to climb. So up she climbed, through the clouds and then beyond the clouds.
Ahead of her was something flat and gray. Had she reached the very edge of the sky? She touched the surface. That moment, she tipped over and fell, but not out of the tree. She fell onto a ground. Looking around at the brown bushes and gray skies, she said, "I must be in the Sky World now. What a dreary place it is, not at all pleasant like Earth."
"Get used to it," sneered an old man.
"Who are you?" said Sapana.
"Who do you think?" he hissed. Then the old man was an old man no more, but had transformed himself back into a giant porcupine, the very one she had been chasing. "I knew I could get you to come here," sneered the porcupine. "It was so easy! I've been watching you and knew you would make a fine wife for me."
"What? I won't stay here! You can't make me!" Sapana cried.
"Really? And exactly how do you propose to leave?" He turned and aimed his giant quills at her.
Sapana had no choice but to stay with the porcupine-man. When he brought home buffalo hides, she had to scrape and stretch them, and sew them into robes. If there were no hides to work on, she was told to pull up wild turnips for dinner.
One day, she was tugging at a turnip that she knew was too large for her to get out of the Sky-ground. Yet she tugged at it anyway. Maybe because she was so frustrated by her unhappy state, maybe because she was so angry at the porcupine-man, but she would not give up on that turnip. She worked it and tugged it from all angles until it finally started to give way. She moved it back and forth, using her digging stick for leverage. Until finally with one mighty pull, it popped up out of the ground.
Gasping from the effort, she noticed a patch of light shining up from the hole where the turnip had sat. She peered down the hole - it was the sky! Far down she could even make out patches of green that must be the earth. The top of the cottonwood tree was nowhere to be seen - that had completely disappeared. She rolled the turnip back over the hole, her heart racing. Now she knew how to get out of the Sky World! She just had to think of a way to safely lower herself back to Earth.
In the days that followed, Sapana saved all the leftover strips of muscular tendons from the buffalo skins. When the porcupine-man was away, she twisted and braided them into tight strands of rope and hid them under her bed. Over time she finished a long rope that she hoped would be her ticket to freedom.
One day after the porcupine-man left to go hunting, Sapana took her rope and digging stick to the turnip. She pulled out the turnip, tied her rope around her digging stick, placed the digging stick over the hole, and tied the other end of the rope securely around her waist. Then she slipped through the hole, letting the rope fall, and grasped the portion of the rope closest to the digging stick. Hand by hand, she lowered herself down.
Down Sapana dropped through the clouds. Soon she could see larger patches of green below that must be treetops. But would the rope be long enough? When she had let out all the rope, she was still far above the treetops. Swaying back and forth in the air, she cried and cried abiyt her fate. What would she do now?
"You'll never escape!" she heard an distant yet awful voice above. It was the porcupine-man peering down the turnip hole. "Come up at once or I'll cut the rope. You'll drop to your death!"
"I'll never come up!" cried Sapana, knowing that she just sealed her own fate.
"Then you're done for!" he shrieked. He grabbed the rope from the top, moving it side to side and she swung wildly, back and forth. As he started to cut the rope, Sapana felt the rope give way. Then the final strand was severed. Sapana started to tumble to earth.
But wait - something broke her fall! It was the back of a buzzard. "Let me help you to earth, Sapana," said the buzzard, "though I may not be able to take you all the way." Indeed in less than a minute he was too tired since she was a far heavier weight than what he normally carried. Then an eagle swooped up to take his place.
"I'll take you now," said the eagle. Sapana rode on his feathered back for several minutes, sometimes coasting the air currents, but Sapana's body was a load too heavy even for the mighty eagle, and before long he got tired, too. Then a hawk took her place.
And so Sapana zigzagged down to earth, from one bird of prey to another. Finally she jumped from the last hawk onto a treetop, where she stepped onto a firm thick branch. Dizzy from riding the backs of so many lurching, dipping birds, she petted the last of her mighty fliers, then scampered down the tree back down to earth and to her beloved home.
Her friends rushed up. "Sapana! We thought you were long gone!" They embraced, and Sapana rushed home to see her mother, who was overjoyed beyond words to see her lost daughter.
Sapana told the people of her village of her adventures. No longer did they think her strange to befriend the birds of prey. From then on, after a hunt they always left an extra buffalo on the field for the noble birds of the sky.
Question 1: Why are many people leery (wary of) of birds of prey such as hawks and buzzards? Why did Sapana feel differently?
Question 2: Did you ever make friends with anyone who was mostly disliked? What happened?
The above story is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
The Arapaho Native Americans from eastern Colorado and Wyoming fit the image popularly described as "Plains Indians"- roaming the plains as big-game hunters, living in teepees and following the buffalo for sustenance. At the time of the 1990 census there were close to 7,000 Arapaho in the United States.
One source traces the origin of this story to "Arapaho Caddo." However this author believes the story is more accurately sourced to the Arapaho than to the Caddo. The Caddo is a tribe that eventually lived near the Arapaho in Oklahoma and Texas (the Arapho originating from the midwest plains and the Caddo from the southeast). While the two tribes may have influenced one another or intermarried, the Caddo were historically farmers, not hunters. This story is told from the point of view of a Native American hunting culture, and so it more likely originated with the Arapaho..
Cottonwood trees are one of the largest trees in North America, growing up to 100 feet tall with massive trunks over 5 feet in diameter. Its shaking, shimmering leaves are reminiscent of poplars and aspens, tree species that share the same botanical family. The cottonwood is well adapted to life on the prairie and was historically valued for its shade, wood, and welcomed from afar by travelers for its known proximity to water. Its fluffy white seeds, produced by the female cottonwood, give the tree its name.