An Ocean of Stories : Tale From Argentina
The Bird Who Laughed
Drawings by SEED student: Jakrapun Jompakaw, Thailand
Retelling of story © Copyright 2006 Laura Simms
Long ago, when people were birds, there was a time of hunger. The people decided to travel to the underworld to ask the fire beings for food. They cooked by the heat of their own bodies. Ovenbird, a man who was a giggler, insisted upon going with the other birds.. No one wanted Ovenbird on the journey. The smallest event could make him laugh and they were afraid because the spirits of fire were particularly sensitive and might be insulted. But there was nothing to do about it but to keep Ovenbird from laughing.
The master of fire himself took out a great pot and filled it with beans and water in order to feed the people. Then he made fire come from his body to heat the water. Everyone grew nervous, because Ovenbird began to titter. The birds threw cloths over his head to keep him quiet. One person wrapped their arms around Ovenbird to quell his giggles. It seemed to work for a short while.
Until, the master of fire blew flames from his anus and Ovenbird began to squeal. The one holding him could hardly stand, still. Ovenbird’s body shook fitfully. Ten people sat on him. The food was cooked quickly and everyone ate as fast as they could, while sitting on Ovenbird. They talked loudly so the fire beings wouldn’t hear the laughter. But, when they finished eating they said to one another, "We had best get out of here as swiftly as we can." There was a moment of silence.
In that moment, the master of fire heard Ovenbird guffaw loudly and grew enraged. He turned himself into a firestorm and began to burn up everything. Ovenbird exploded in peals and ripples of uncontrollable hysteria. Almost everyone and everything, including Ovenbird, was consumed in flames. The only bird to escape was a four-legged bird, who ran as quickly as a horse. As for everything else on earth, only moon survived by climbing a tall tree into the sky.
When the fires at last subsided, all that could be seen was the tall tree that rose into the darkened heavens. The four-legged bird climbed to safety. Looking around, he saw the moon in the sky and a small sparrow on a branch. The four-legged bird sent the sparrow to Moon to ask her to send rain.
Rain fell and the few living branches on the tree began to sprout. Sparrow and the bird climbed to the scorched earth. They found a mound where some people had buried themselves to survive the fire. They dug them out. Then sparrow took a piece of charcoal and leapt on top of it stamping and singing, as if it was a drum. He danced and sang all day until a small shoot appeared and began to grow. Moon sent more rain and that is how the world began again.
(This tale is from the Chorote people of Argentina. Adapted from notes taken by John Bierhorst in "The Mythology of South America." W. Morrow, New York, 1988)
Can you invent a tale about a bird that could not stop crying?