Myth Monday: The Hummingbird and the Red Flower (Puerto Rican Myth)
Myth Monday: The Hummingbird and the Red Flower (Puerto Rican Myth)
There are a great many different Native American myths about the hummingbird (eeee! So cute!!), but since this is February and Valentine’s Day is coming up, I thought I’d go with one of my favorite romantic myths.
Hundreds of years ago, the place we know now as Puerto Rico was home to several tribes. Two of these tribes were mortal enemies and warred frequently, until one tribe was overcome and chased into the forest. The chieftain of the victorious tribe had a beautiful daughter named Alida, whom he loved very much.
One hot day Alida took a walk into the forest to visit her favorite spot, a mountainside waterfall that tumbled down into a pristine pool. As she bent to splash water on her face, Alida heard a rustling in the underbrush near her, and she froze. Remaining crouched beside the water, Alida tracked the noise with her eyes, wondering if she should flee or hide. Before she could make a decision, a handsome warrior pushed his way through the trees, carefully balancing an armload of fruit.
Coming to the edge of the pool, the young man warily glanced up to check his surroundings, searching for enemies. His eyes fell on Alida. He blinked, realized what he was looking at and yelped, jolting back, sending the fruit flying everywhere.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” he gasped. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to be here.”
Her stomach knotting, Alida slowly rose to her feet. “You … I don’t know you. You’re not from my tribe.”
Hearing the fear in her voice, the man held up both his hands. “Hey, hey, easy. You don’t have to be scared of me. Look—no weapons.”
“But you’re one of our enemies!”
“Er, well …” He smiled. It looked a little sheepish. “Yeah, I guess I am—but I don’t want to be. Not with you.” He gestured to himself. “My name’s Taroo.”
He sounded so friendly, but Alida looked at him dubiously. “What do you want?”
“Just to get a drink and to pick some fruit.” Arching an eyebrow at her, Taroo slowly knelt down beside the pool. “Is it okay if I get a drink? You’re not going to pounce on me or anything?”
Biting her lip, Alida glanced rapidly at the forest around them. “Who else is with you?”
A look of sadness flitted over Taroo’s face. He stared down at his own reflection in the water for a long moment, not speaking. He drew in a slow breath. “No one. My tribe left me behind when they fled from your warriors. I don’t know where they are now.”
Guilt stabbed at Alida. “Oh … I’m-I’m sorry, I—”
“Did you send those warriors after us?”
Alida straightened, startled. “Of course not.”
“Then you don’t have anything to apologize for.” Taroo swiftly scooped some water into his cupped hand and raised it to his mouth. “I’ll be all right.”
Alida winced; no, she hadn’t sent the warriors, but her father had, and Alida couldn’t help but feel some complicity in the act. Wanting nothing more than to make up for what happened, Alida whirled around and darted towards the nearest bush. “Here, let me help you pick some berries.”
Wiping his mouth off, Taroo waved her offer away and quickly began to scoop up the fruit he had dropped. “Ah, don’t trouble yourself.”
“No, I want to help.” Collecting a large handful of berries, Alida hurried back along the shore towards Taroo. Seeing the trouble he had holding the fruit, she shook her head. “If you come back here this time tomorrow, I’ll bring you a basket.”
Stunned, Taroo stared at her. “Why?”
She shrugged. “To make it easier to carry food.”
Taroo looked so bewildered by her kindness that it was almost comical. Giggling, Alida reached for his hand, carefully pouring the berries from her palm into his. “My name’s Alida,” she said.
At a loss, Taroo looked down at the berries in his hand, then up at Alida’s face, then back to the berries. A slow smile spread over his face as he looked up at her again. “Thank you, Alida.”
The next day Alida returned to the pool and found Taroo waiting for her. Every day she returned to visit Taroo, changing the time that they met, so that no one from her village would wonder where she would disappear to. Though their meetings were brief, the time they spent together was precious, and soon Alida and Taro discovered that they had fallen deeply in love with each other. They were so in love that one could not live without the other.
One day Alida returned home to her village after her secret visit with Taroo. She had not gone far when she heard her father’s voice shouting her name. Ordinarily, Alida would have been happy to see her father, but she heard something different in his tone—something she had never heard before. Fear shuddered through her as she turned to look, her eyes widening in panic as she watched her father and his warriors stalking towards her. Her fathers face was so twisted in fury that Alida could barely recognize him.
“Is it true?” the chief exploded as he came near. “What I was told—are you seeing the son of my enemies in secret?”
Horrified, Alida drew back, her voice dying in her throat. She shook her head wildly as her father towered over her, and his soldiers surrounded her. “F-Father …”
“Tell me the truth! Are you seeing one of my enemies behind my back?”
“W-why would you—?”
“You were seen with him at the pool!”
All the strength seemed to evaporate from Alida’s body and her legs quaked as she fought to stay standing. She stared at her father in shock. There was no lying to him now—he knew. “Who told you this?”
“It doesn’t matter. You were seen with a man who is not from our village. You were seen holding him. This ends now, Alida!” The chief pointed to one of his soldiers. “Tomorrow, you will marry my head warrior, and that will put an end to your dalliance.”
Sick dread shot through Alida. “No!” she screamed. “I love Taroo!”
“You will do as you are told!” Ignoring her refusals and pleas, the chief grabbed Alida by the wrist and jerked her forward, dragging her back to their house in the center of the village. Alida dug in her heels and strained against her father’s hold, begging for him to reconsider, to understand that she loved only Taroo and no one else.
Seeing that the chief would not relent, Alida threw her head back and screamed to the gods, “Do not let me marry this man that I do not love!”
Her voice, so filled with grief, carried into the sky and shook the gods to their cores. Pitying the poor girl, one god reached down and instantly transformed her into a beautiful red flower, scooping her up and hiding her away where her father and his warrior could never find her.
Because he lived alone by the pool, Taroo had no idea what had happened to Alida. He waited for days for her to return, growing more worried, then panicked, then despairing, fearing that she had abandoned him forever. One night as he sat weeping on the shoreline, the moon gazed down on him, took pity and said, “Taroo, don’t wait for Alida—someone spied on you and told her father. He tried to marry her to a man of his choosing to separate you, but she cried to the gods for help, and they changed her into a red flower. She’s been hidden away to protect her from her father.”
Distraught, Taroo looked pleadingly up to the sky. “Help me find her!” he cried to the gods.
Saddened by his grief, the gods granted his wish and turned him into a tiny, multi-colored bird with rapidly beating wings and told him, “Go, Colibri, find your love among the flowers.”
Elated, Taroo, the world’s first hummingbird, zoomed off at top speed. He visits every flower he finds, paying special attention to the red ones, kissing each one to see if Alida is hidden inside.