The Evening Star and the Black Bird
Long, long ago the Karasha Indians of South America were still nomads who spent all their time roaming through the forests, hunting game, fishing in the great river Beracan, and gathering roots and berries. At that time they did not know how to grow crops.
Once upon a time there were two Karasha sisters, Imakro and Denake. The elder, Imakro, was a proud, haughty girl with high ambitions. The younger, Denake, was a kind hearted, modest and good-tempered, quite the opposite of her hard sister.
In the evenings Imakro used to sit outside their hut and look at the Evening Star, Tajnakan, the Karashas called it. It shone out in the night sky with a golden light, so bright and beautiful that the girl could hardly take her eyes off it. In the end she fell quite in love with it, partly because it was so beautiful and partly, perhaps, because it was so far away.
Was it really out of reach? One evening Imakro sat down in front of the hut and sighed deeply.
“What’s wrong, Imakro?” asked her father. “Why are you sighing?”
“Oh father,” replied the girl sadly, “every night I look up and see the beautiful Tajnakan shining in the night. If only I could go up into the sky to join it.”
“It’s a little too far away, Imakro,” answered her father, smiling. “No one has ever been able to reach up there.”
“But father,” said Imakro, “I’m so sad, and I haven’t been able to sleep since I saw how beautiful Tanjakan was.”
“You still can’t reach it, my child. So you’ll just have to put it out of your mind.”
Yet Imakro shook her head. “How can you expect me to forget something so lovely?”
So her father tried to comfort her. “Perhaps if you pray hard enough,” he said, “the star will come down to you.”
Imakro stood up and held her arms out to the star.
“Lord Tajnakan, the great and good,” she cried. “Come to me, I beg you. I am waiting for you.” Then she went into the hut and lay down with the rest of her family. Soon she was fast asleep, dreaming of the Evening Star and its beautiful golden light.
All at once she woke up. A hand touched her on the shoulder, and she saw someone leaning over her.
“Who are you?” Imakro asked the stranger. “I am Tajnakan,” replied a deep voice.
Imakro was afraid. “You? she stammered. “Is it really you, the Evening Star I’ve so longed to see?”
“Yes, Imakro, replied the strangers voice. “You called me, and I heard you. I’ve come to ask you to marry me.”
Imakro felt a wave of joy rushing over her. She jumped up.
“Wake up, everyone! she cried, her voice trembling. “Tajnakan has come to me, and he wants to marry me. I’m the happiest woman in the whole wide world.”
She ran to the fire and threw on some longs. Up leapt the flames, and the glow lit up Tajnakan’s face.
But Imakro could scarcely believe her eyes. Her beautiful Evening Star was an old, old man bowed down by the years. His hair and beard were white, and his face deeply wrinkled. Horror stricken, Imakro covered her face to shut out the sight of him.
“Go away!” she shrieked. “It was the lovely Evening Star I called, not you. You’re just an ugly old man. I want to marry a fine young man, someone tall and strong, not a miserable old skeleton like you!”
Tajnakan bit his lip, and his face grew dark and bitter. Without a word he turned away and went to leave the hut. But Denake, Imakro’s younger sister, took pity on the poor old man. She was ashamed of her sister’s biting rudeness, and her kind heart could not bear to see the stranger treated so cruelly.
“Please stay, sir,” she said to Tajnakan. “Don’t let us part so unhappily.” And turning to her father, she went on: “If you will let me, father, I will marry Tajnakan instead.”
Tajnakan smiled, and he took Denake’s hand. A few days later the marriage took place, with much feasting and joy. Only Imakro mocked her sister for marrying such and old man.
Tajnakan built a hut, and he and Denake settled down together happily. One day Tajnake decided to go out.
“You see the house, Denake,” he said. “I’m going out to work.”
“What are you going to do?” Denake asked.
“You’ll soon see,” her husband replied smiling. “I’m going to sow plants you’ve never seen before. No one here has ever seen them. You’re going to be glad you married me.”
Denake looked puzzled.
“What does ‘sow’ mean?” she asked.
“Sowing is doing what the wind does,” answered Tajnakan. “I take the seeds and put them in the earth. Then the plants grow and bear fruit, and afterwards you can gather the fruit and eat it.”
Denake’s question was not as silly as it sounds. As we know, the Indians of the forest had not yet learned to grow crops.
Tajnakan left Denake in the house, and went away to where the wide river Beracan flowed over rapids. There he stepped into the water and whispered a magic spell:
“Tajnakan, Evening Star, shining on high,
to the great Beracan river does cry;
Carry me roots now, and plants too, and seeds,
that I may fill the poor Karasha’a needs.”
All at once, swirling down the river, came grains of maize and wheat, sugar-cane plants, tapioca roots and pineapple plants. Tajnakan caught them as they floated down, and born them off to the bank.
Then he made a clearing in the forest, turned over the patch of earth, sowed the seeds and planted the roots and plants. He had made a field.
It was a big task, and took quite some time. Denake, waiting at home for her husband, began to worry.
“Perhaps he’s ill,” she said to herself. “My Tajnakan is old, and not very strong. I hope nothing has happened to him.”
In the end Denake could wait no longer, and she ran into the forest to find him. After a long and anxious search, she found the new field, and then she caught sight of her husband. She gasped in astonishment.
Tajnakan was no longer a frail old man, but a fine, handsome youth, with arms so strong that he was uprooting trees from the ground. He was wearing the jewelled ornaments of a tribal chief, and wondrous symbols were painted on his body. Denake could not believe anyone could change so much, but her husband smiled at her. “Yes, I’m really Tajnakan,” he said.
“Does that mean that you’re not old after all?” asked Denake, amazed.
“I’m as old as when you first saw me,” replied Tajnakan. “But at the same time I’m as young as you see me now.”
Denake ran into his arms. Then she took him back to show him to her family. As they entered the village they met Imakro, who stared in astonishment.
“Who’s that with you?” she said to her sister.
“It’s Tajnakan, my husband,” replied Denake proudly. “Isn’t he handsome?”
And so he was. Imakro was speechless with envy. Why, oh why had she refused him? Eaten up with longing and jealousy, she pushed Denake aside and whispered in Tajnakan’s ear.
“Denake’s simple and stupid. What’s she to you? Wasn’t it I who called you, I for who you came down from the sky?”
“That’s true,” said Tajnakan.
“And wasn’t it I you came to marry?”
“That’s true too,” said Tajnakan.
“Then you belong to me. You’re my husband.: And she took Tajnakan’s arem and tried to drag him away.
Denake stood to one side, watching silently while this was going on. She saw Imakro’s eyes gleam in triumph. But Tajnakan pulled his arm from Imakro’s grasp.
“When I was an old man, you refused me,” he said sternly. “You, Imakro, will never understand how age carries youth within it, just as youth already carries the seeds of age. You cannot see through to the heart of things. You see only the outside, but Denake saw my heart. Go away!”
Imakro let out a piercing shriek. She lifted her arms to the sky and tore her hair. Then she fell to the ground, foaming at the mouth and shaking through and through. The villager came running up.
“What’s happened? they cried. “Has an evil spirit got into her?”
Denake tried to go to her sister, but Tajnakan held her back.
“Don’t touch her,” he said. “She’s lost. It’s too late to help her now.”
When Imakro’s parents ran to help their daughter, she had gone. No one had seen it happen, but where she had lain a black bird was standing, flapping its wings and wailing. The sound was as sad as sad could be, and at the same time it had an evil ring to it:
“Kree-ah, kreee-ah! Are you there? Are you there?”
Imakro had turned into the black bird. Ever since then the bird has wandered through the night, crying to Tajnakan, because Imakro cannot forgive him. When people hear it wailing, their blood runs cold. Sometimes, when lovers walk in the forest at night, the bird flies down and pecks a the girl’s head again and again, trying to drive Denake away and win back Tajnakan — Tajnakan the great, who taught the Karashas to grow crops, because Denake’s love was stronger than Imakro’s selfishness.
“Listen,” people will say when they hear the bird wailing at night. “It’s Imakro, still longing for Tajnakan.”
And far away, high in the night sky, the Evening Star goes behind a cloud.