This hummingbird tale, submitted by Liz Guidry, comes from the following source:

Finger, C.J. 1924. Tales From Silver Lands. Doubleday, New York, 49-53. (Woodcuts by Paul Honore.)

The book is a collection of folktales from South America. It won a Newberry Medal and may be available at libraries. The term "Colibri" in the story is from the Spanish word for "hummingbird."


"Good morning, pretty flower!"
"Good morning, little humming-bird!"
"May I have some honey, please?"
"Certainly. Here is plenty. Help yourself."
"Thank you. It is very good of you. Is there anything that I can do for you in return?"
"Well, I hear so little, seeing that I do not go abroad, that I love to be told things. I wish that you would tell me how you came to have so beautiful a dress. I have often wondered as I saw you flashing past."
"Have you indeed? Well, let me think. I believe I have heard that it was because of a mouse, that I have it."
"A mouse? How can that be, busy little Colibri? A mouse, you know, is dull and gray."
"Then, Florecilla, if it was not a mouse, it was mud."
"My dear humming-bird, you must be wrong. You know as well as I do that mud is dull and gray. Won't you stop your humming a moment and think?"
"Ah, now I know. It was because of a panther."
"Dear, dear Colibri, that is worse still. A panther, did you say? I must have heard wrong."
"Isn't that right, either? Well, it must have been all three--the mouse, the mud, and the panther. So there now. But how sweet this honey is."
"Indeed, I am glad that you find it so. But please tell me about your pretty dress."
"Oh, yes. I forgot, thinking of the honey. One has so much to think of. I remember now, perfectly well. It was Paloma the dove who told me all about it yesterday, but a day and a night is a very, very long time to remember a long tale."
"Then tell me before you forget."
"Well, once all humming-birds were gray."
"So I have heard."
"Well, a big panther was going through the woods very quietly, and he stepped on a mouse-nest and happened to kill all the baby mice."
"Dear me. I am so sorry to hear that."
"So when the mother mouse came to her home and saw what had happened she was very much annoyed, saying that the panther was too big and too clumsy and did not look where he was going."
"Well, Colibri, she would be annoyed. You know I have often thought how nice it would be if mice and panthers and all creatures did not move about as they do. They run about so and they jump and skip, and it is no wonder that things happen. Suppose trees and flowers and bushes were as restless as animals. Think how it would be with great trees treading on little flowers, and thorn bushes running about and tearing down the gentle flores del aire and scratching the tender skins of the grapes. Now if I were queen, I would make a law so that all those forest creatures that run on four legs should just stand and grow as we do, and . . . "
"Please do not interrupt or I may forget the tale."
"Oh, I beg your pardon. Go on, please."
"Well, of course the panther told the mother mouse how it had happened and said that he was sorry and that he would be more careful, but she scolded him and kept it in her heart to punish him."
"But, little Colibri, if he said that he was sorry, and if it could not be helped, then it seems to me . . . "
"Really, little flower, you must listen. You have no idea how difficult it is to tell a tale. So please do not interrupt. One day when the panther was asleep the mouse crept up with some gum which she had taken from the tree and sealed up the panther's eyes. Then she took mud from the laguna and plastered it over the gum, and then more gum and more mud, so that the panther could not tell day from night."
"Dear me. That was very unkind and very dreadful. I am as sorry for the panther as I am for the mother mouse."
"Well, anyway, that proves that it was a mouse and a panther and mud, just as I said."
"But, dear humming-bird, how about the dress of many colours?"
"I am coming to that, but you interrupt so. The panther roared and roared and roared, until the very softest of his roars shook the esteros, and the alligators were frightened and dived to the bottom of the water. Hearing all that noise, a humming-bird asked the panther what the noise was all about."
"That was very good of the humming-bird. And what did the panther say?"
"He told the humming-bird all about it and asked him to kill the mouse. But that the humming-bird would not do."
"Of course not. I never killed a mouse."
"So then the panther said that if the humming-bird would take away the gum and the mud so that he could see again, be would do anything that he could in return. You see, little flower, the panther is wise because he travels so much and all things that travel know a great deal."
"I am not so sure of that, Colibri. All this summer I have travelled up this tree and so have gone a great distance, but I know very little."
"That is different. No one wants a flower to be wise. To be beautiful is enough."
"But please listen and do not talk so much."
"I am very sorry that I interrupted you, little humming-bird."
"Well, the humming-bird told the panther that she wished to have a beautiful dress, as beautiful as the dress of the sun bird, and asked him to tell her where she could get bright colours. Then before the panther answered, she asked him to tell her how the lianas got the red and yellow and purple for their blossoms."
"This is the most interesting thing I have ever heard and I hope the tale will not be short. Did the panther know?"
"Of course he knew. He told her that the flowers got their colour from the earth and he also told her where there was clay of many colours and where there were gold and silver and rubies. So the humming-bird picked and picked until the panther's eyes were unsealed and the big fellow gave a roar of gladness. All that day panther and humming-bird worked, bringing coloured clay and coloured sands, and silver and gold, and rubies and opals, and the blue and son of sunset and the silver of the moon and the stars, and the tender green of shady forests and the blackness of ebony. Out of all these the humming-bird dressed herself, and for misty-moving wings she took the spun silk of the spider and the soft thread of the sumaha. And that is how the humming-bird got her dress. There now."
"I am glad to know that, dear humming-bird, and I thank you for telling me."
"And I, dear flower, thank you for the honey."
"Good-bye, then, if you must go."
"Good-bye, Florecilla. . . . B-z-z-z-z. H-m-m-m-m-m-mummmmm."

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