7: The Song the Owl God Sang: ‘Konkuwa’

Konkuwa
“Long ago, when I spoke
It was like the sound of a strong bow
Bound with cherry bark
Plucked just in the very center;
But now I have weakened and grown old.
If only there were someone with eloquence
Someone having the confidence to be my messenger
I could give them the task
Of taking the Five-and-a-Half Petitions to Heaven.”

Thus I spoke,
While tapping the head of my drum.
Somone appeared at the door, saying
“Well, nobody’s more eloquent
Or more confident a messenger than me, right?”
And I saw it was a young crow.
I asked him in, and then,
While tapping the head of my drum,
To make the young crow my messenger
I recited the Petitions to him for three days.
As I was reciting the Petitions of the third day, I looked
And the young crow was taking a nap by the hearth.
Seeing this, I was convulsed with righteous rage
And I beat that sack of feathers until he died.

And once more
While tapping the head of my drum
I chanted
“Whoever has the confidence to be my messenger,
I wish to charge him with the task
Of taking the Five-and-a-Half Petitions to Heaven.”

Someone appeared at the door, saying,
“Other than me, could anyone be found
Eloquent enough to handle the job? I think not.”
And I saw it was a mountain jay.
I invited him in and once again
While tapping the head of my drum
I recited to him the Five-and-a-Half Petitions.
Four days went by, and as I enumerated the fourth day’s tasks,
The mountain jay took a nap by the fire.
Furious, I beat that sack of feathers until he died.

And once more
While tapping the head of my drum
I chanted
“If anyone is eloquent and confident
Enough to be my messenger,
I wish him to carry the Five-and-a-Half Petitions to Heaven.”

With excellent manners and self-control
Someone came in, and I saw it was a dipper;
With flawless etiquette he seated himself
In the left-hand seat. Once again
While tapping the head of my drum
I expounded the Five-and-a-half Petitions,
Speaking by night and by day without pause.
When I looked, the young dipper
Showed no signs of tiredness.
He listened both night and day
Until the sixth day, when I finished speaking,
And at once he flew out by the skylight
And headed toward Heaven.
The chief import of the Petitions was this:
That in the world of men, the people were even now
About to die of starvation. And the reason was
That the god in charge of deer, and the god in charge of fish
Had agreed together that they would send
No deer and no fish. And the humans,
Whatever the gods told them to do,
Would just look blank; and so
When they went hunting in the hills, there were no deer
When they went fishing in the rivers, there were no fish.
It was because this situation angered me
That I had sent a messenger to the gods of deer and fish.

Many days passed, and from the sky
I heard a faint sound as if someone was coming.
I saw the young dipper, who now with a more beautiful bearing,
A more refined dignity even than before,
Recited Heaven’s reply.
The gods of deer and fish
Had been refusing to send deer or send fish
For this reason: When humans caught a deer,
They would club it to death, flay its skin
And throw the head away to lie in the woods,
And when they caught a fish
They would club it to death with rotten wood.
And so the deer returned to their god naked and crying
And the fish returned to their god carrying rotten wood.
The gods of deer and fish, angry, had consulted together
And decided for these reasons to send no deer or fish.
But they also declared clearly
That if the humans would treat the fish and deer courteously,
Then deer could be sent again, fish could be sent again.

Hearing this, I heaped praise on the dipper,
And quickly checking I found that indeed
The treatment of deer and fish taken by humans
Was rough and displeasing.
Therefore, so that this behavior would cease,
While they slept I appeared to the humans in dreams
And taught them, until even they
Understood the problem. And from then on
Tools for catching fish were made as beautiful as an inau,
And when deer were caught, the heads were decorated and revered,
And thus the fish, carrying beautiful inau,
Would return happily to the god of fish,
And the deer, heads elegantly trimmed,
Would return happily to the god of deer.
And the happy deer god and fish god gladly sent
Multitudes of fish, multitudes of deer.

And the humans now lived their lives
Without danger, without hunger,
And seeing this I was content.
For I am already old, already weak,
And I am already thinking of going to heaven
And though I could not leave while the world I protect,
The world of humans, is menaced by famine
While the people are dying of hunger,
Yet now my worries have abated,
And leaving the strongest, the young heroes
To look after the world of humans,
Now at last I am about to go to Heaven.

So said the Owl God, the protector of the land
As he ascended to Heaven.