The Condor, the Hummingbird and the Shepherd Girl

(This story was told to me by Fr. Percy Chipana, an Aymara
Indian with whom I worked during my years in Ilave, Peru.)

When our ancestors first came to live on this high plain, the animals were different. They say the horse was the size of a dog; the fox even smaller--as tiny as a mouse. But some animals were larger than they are now. For example, the hummingbird was big as full-grown rabbit. And the mightiest bird of all was the condor. And those were magic days, because sometimes animals could change shapes and talk with people.

One day a shepherd girl was watching her llamas and gathering berries. As she reached for a red huckleberry, the bush moved suddenly. She saw a young man standing behind it. At least she thought it was a boy. Actually it was the condor who changed his shape and said to her, "What are you doing, pretty sherpherdess?"

She knew she wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, especially young men, but the boy was so handsome she said bashfully, "I'm picking huckleberries. They are small and it takes so long to fill a basket."

"Can I help you?" he asked in a polite voice.

She hesitated, but then said, "Okay." The condor-boy began gathering berries so fast that in no time he filled both her baskets. "You picked them so fast," She said, "Now I don't have anything to do."

"Let's play carga, cargitas" he suggested.

Timid, but curious, she asked, "What's that?"

"Well, first I carry you, then you carry me," he explained.

"I don't know," she said.

"Come on." he said. "It's fun." He turned his back and she climbed on. It was fun. In fact, she wasn't even thinking about her llamas and berries.

Then suddenly he said, "Okay, it's your turn to carry me."

"But you're heavy and I'm just a girl."

"Just try," he said. Before she knew it he was perched on her back. He didn't seem so heavy at all. Then he got lighter and lighter and the girl found herself being lifted off the ground. The boy had changed back to a condor and he was flying with the shepherd girl in his claws.

"Put me down," she begged. "I'm scared of being so high."

He tried to reassure her, "Don't worry. I won't drop you." But he flew higher and higher so her llamas looked like ants. Finally they disappeared from sight. They were heading for a high mountain. Just when she thought they were going to crash into the rock, the condor released her. Plunk. She landed in a huge nest.

"Take me back home," she cried. "My dad will wonder where I am and the llamas will get lost."

"I'll take care of you," the condor said. "And I'll make you princess of this whole mountain." But she didn't feel like a princess because all the condor had for a blanket was some moss and old feathers.

In the morning she said, "Take me home, I'm hungry."

The condor said, "I'll bring you some food." When he left the girl looked out of the nest. It was a sheer drop, hundreds of feet down. She felt dizzy and she quickly put her head back in. When she looked up, she saw a ledge so high she couldn't reach even if she jumped. She thought, " I wish I would have obeyed my dad and not talked to strangers."

Soon the condor returned. He was carrying some field mice in his beak. "I can't eat those," she said.

"They're good," he said. He tore one open for her, then started swallowing several himself.

At that moment the hummingbird flew over. He felt sorry for her because she was crying. He dropped down and landed on the side of the nest. "Mighty Condor," he said, "You are the fiercest of the birds and I am only a clumbsy nectar-gatherer. Still if I may make a suggestion to your great majesty."

"Speak," he said in his deepest condor voice.

"Mighty condor," he said, "The girl needs cooked meat. And I saw over the jagged mountain, down the green valley the humans are roasting an alpaca."

The condor flew off without a word. When he was out of sight, the hummingbird said, "Quick! Follow me." He showed the girl a narrow path leading down the mountain. When she looked down, she froze. The hummingbird stretched back his wing; she grabbed a feather and followed, trying to keep her eyes straight ahead. He led her all the way home to her dad. He ran out to hug her, but he also gave her such an angry look that she said she would never disobey him again.

Meanwhile the condor started back to the mountain. He was angry because there was no alpaca roast in any of the valleys. When he found the nest empty, he became even more furious. He shook his wings and and opened his terrible condor jaws. "The humming bird!" he screeched. "The hummingbird betrayed me."

He began circling and soon spied the hummingbird walking through flowers, dipping out nectar with his long pointed beak. He saw the condor's shadow and tried to escape, but he was no match. "You little traitor," said the condor. He held the hummingbird between his claws, ripped him into fifty pieces and swallowed them.

That night as the condor lay in his nest, he felt bad that he had lost the girl, but he thought "At least I got revenge on that fool humingbird." He slept, but then woke when the full moon was halfway across the sky. He felt a jabbing pain in his stomach like fifty small knives. The pain grew excruciating and to his horror he saw his stomach beginning to open. One tiny hummingbird flew out, then the other forty-nine.

The next day the shepherd girl was again watching her llamas. She saw a beautiful sight. Darting among the flowers, stopping just long enough to pull nectar from each were tiny birds with long sharp beaks. They did not speak, but as they moved from flower to flower, the shepherd girl knew they were the offspring of the hummingbird who had rescued her.

by Fr. Phil Bloom


Marina and the Babies.