Myths & Legends


Cherokee: The Hunter and the Tla'nuwa

Tlanuwa are giant mythological birds of prey with impenetrable metal feathers, common to the mythology of many Southeastern tribes.

The Tlanuwa and the hunter is a legend from the Cherokee.
— Orly

A hunter out in the woods one day saw a Tlă′nuwă overhead and tried to hide from it, but the great bird had already seen him, and sweeping down struck its claws into his hunting pack and carried him far up into the air. As it flew, the Tlă′nuwă, which was a mother bird, spoke and told the hunter that he need not be afraid, as she would not hurt him, but only wanted him to stay for a while with her young ones to guard them until they were old enough to leave the nest. At last they alighted at the mouth of a cave in the face of a steep cliff. Inside the water was dripping from the roof, and at the farther end was a nest of sticks in which were two young birds. The old Tlă′nuwă set the hunter down and then flew away, returning soon with a fresh-killed deer, which it tore in pieces, giving the first piece to the hunter and then feeding the two young hawks.

The hunter stayed in the cave many days until the young birds were nearly grown, and every day the old mother hawk would fly away from the nest and return in the evening with a deer or a bear, of which she always gave the first piece to the hunter. He grew very anxious to see his home again, but the Tlă′nuwă kept telling him not to be uneasy, but to wait a little while longer. At last he made up his mind to escape from the cave and finally studied out a plan. The next morning, after the old bird had gone, he dragged one of the young birds to the mouth of the cave and tied himself to one of its legs with a strap from his hunting pack. Then with the flat side of his tomahawk he struck it several times in the head until it was dazed and helpless, and pushed the bird and himself together off the shelf of rock into the air.

They fell far, far down toward the earth, but the air from below held up the bird’s wings, so that it was almost as if they were flying. As the Tlă′nuwă revived it tried to fly upward toward the nest, but the hunter struck it again with his hatchet until it was dazed and dropped again. At last they came down in the top of a poplar tree, when the hunter untied the strap from the leg of the young bird and let it fly away, first pulling out a feather from its wing. He climbed down from the tree and went to his home in the settlement, but when he looked in his pack for the feather he found a stone instead.


Source:  J. M. [1]

Culture:  Cherokee

Language Group:  Cherokee (Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. It is the only Southern Iroquoian language and differs significantly from the other Iroquoian languages.


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Cherokee: U'tlun'ta, the Spear-Finger

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