Long, long, long ago, Hummingbird was the Queen (or King) of Birds…
The Hummingbird Story
Long, long, long ago, and even before that. Hummingbird was the Queen, the Empress. The Empress of all the birds. And Queen Hummingbird used to live in the richest part of the forest, where there was soft green grass and full fruit trees, fragrant flowers and honey bees, sweet yellow pollen drifted on the soft breeze, and warm sunlight danced over the sparkling streams, and crystal pools, pure like morning dew. Too-oo, too-oo, too-oooo.
But that was long, long ago, before everything changed. Before Queen Hummingbird’s reign was ended and before every bird in the forest sang a different song.
Some birds say the end came because Hummingbird didn’t have bright feathers like Scarlet Ibis or Peacock. Some say it was because she wasn’t big like Vulture, or loud like Parrot. But the truth is, they let Hawk lead them astray.
In those days, Hunter used to cross over the river and go deep into the forest, shooting and trapping birds to sell and eat. Every bird spoke one language in those days. And as Hummingbird was small and could fly easily between the branches and trees it was Hummingbird who used to warn the other birds, in a high beautiful voice.
Fowl of the air, far and near
He’s here! He’s there!
No need to cry. No need to fear.
Fly away, fly away. Hunter is here
And Every bird would hide or fly away and keep safe. But Hummingbird wasn’t just brave, she was clever too. Eventually she saw a way to stop Hunter from coming into the forest, once and for all.
She called a meeting at the Bay-leaf tree and when all the birds were settled, she told Every bird, that every day, until the full moon for rain, they must scatter seeds of every plant and every vine over the track that led Hunter into the forest.
So every day until full moon, Every bird dropped every seed and when the rain came it watered the seeds. And when the rain stopped, the seeds grew into bushes and trees and vines. And Hunter had no way into the forest anymore. Hunter was beaten, once and for all.
From then on Hummingbird was truly the Queen, the Empress of the birds.
Long live the queen
And sing and sing
Tip a drink for the queen
And sing and sing
Touch your beaks with nectar
Touch your beaks with dew
Long live the Queen, our days are new
And so it was, that for many moons, every bird hailed Queen Hummingbird and all her wise advice, glad to have her in her palace by the stream. And for many moons every bird was happy and content. Except for Hawk.
No, Hawk wasn’t happy. No, Hawk was never happy. As the strongest and biggest bird in the forest he felt he should be king and emperor. So after some time passed, after every bird started to get fat and forgetful, Hawk started spreading certain songs among certain birds.
‘We don’t need no queen.
Our land is clean.
Why have a Queen?
We don’t need no queen…’
And as the song caught on, it add on.
Why have a Queen
We don’t need no Queen
With her royal green tree
Queen? What Queen?
Every bird lived in peace. Every bird had more than enough to eat, and a safe place to sleep. But the more the song spread, the more every bird started to feel vexed and greedy. And they started to grumble, grumble, grumble amongst themselves. Until ultimately they talked themselves into getting rid of the Queen, once and for all.
The birds of the forest gathered at the Bay-leaf tree again. This time, no Hummingbird. It was Peacock who called the meeting. It was Woodpecker tap-tap-tapping. And Parrot started the talking.
‘We will, grab her. Nab her. Trap her in the sap,’ said Bluebird.
‘Woodpecker will crack the bark open and let out the sticky pap,’ said Hawk.
‘And I,’ prattled Parrot. ‘I will call her to the Hog-plum tree. I will make her believe we’re inviting her round for tea.’
And every bird agreed, ‘Kee, Kee, Kee, Kee, Kee, Kee.’
And that was when Hawk made the bad things worse. He boldly announced, that on whatever day, he could maybe show Hunter to the tree.
Of course, it was all, ‘twitter, tweet, twitter tweet,’ to even imagine Hunter at the tree. But Hawk opened out his big, wide wings and said.
‘Don’t be afraid, comrades. It’s time to end pointless sovereignty. And, I, Hawk, can guarantee for every bird equality. Kaw, kaw, kee!’
So, the plan was set. Hummingbird they’d get. And Hunter would take his prey. But time would know best, who the winner was yet. And what price they would have to pay.
The next day Parrot did her part and flew to the Queen’s palace. And as she flew, Woodpecker was busy in the Hog-plum tree.
Tap-tap-tap. Rap-atap-tap. Rap-atap-tap. Tap-tap
Knock-knock-Knock. Knock. ‘Aaha-ha.’ Knock. ‘Aaha-ha. Ha-ha!’ Woodpecker laughed as the sticky juice of the tree spilled out over the branch.
And from far, far away, Hawk was calling Hunter.
‘Hunter! Hunter oi! Hunter!’
Soon Hunter appeared, sling-shot in hand, machete on his hip. He took a large crocus bag and chased Hawk over the river and into the forest.
Meanwhile, Parrot and Peacock and every greedy bird was waiting by the Hog-plum tree. And when Queen Hummingbird arrived, flying fast and glowing emerald green, it was Woodpecker that invited her to take a seat.
Every bird held their breath, frightened even to twitch their neck. The Queen turned this way, and the Queen flittered that, but still it was down she sat. She was a Queen and she sat like a Queen; neck straight, beak high. But then… closer and louder – swipe-swipe! Louder and nearer – swipe-swipe! Near and harsher – swipe-swipe!
It was Hunter, rushing through the bush, his machete slashing down the vines. Every bird screamed, and scrambled to escape; wings and feathers, beaks and tails. But Queen Humming bird never moved.
Parrot and Peacock slid under a log, and Woodpecker darted away to hide. But Queen Hummingbird never moved. She stayed sitting, and held her head up high.
Then, out of the bush Hawk came pelting. Hunter was right behind him. Hawk flew past the Queen, fast, up into the tree. And Hunter raised his machete, ready to chop… but stopped.
He saw the bird queen sitting in the tree. He saw the jewelled chest and the long slender beak. He had never seen a bird so small, or a bird so beautiful with her shimmering blue, green and purple feathers. He put down his cutlass and carefully lifted Hummingbird free. And nestled in his rough hands she began to sing.
‘Oh my friends
They have done this to me
Yes my friends, they betrayed me
My love was not enough for them
They wanted someone, somebird else
Yes my friends
They were my family
Oh, my friends, they deserted me
Scorn my name, plot my shame
Poor chicks they were playing a game
Scorn my name, plot my shame
Poor chicks they were playing a game’
Well, that song brought tears to Hunter’s eyes. He opened his big hands and tossed the bird queen into the air and she flew away. Then Hunter turned back to the Hog-plum tree. He lifted his slingshot and sent a stone flying through the branches. It hit Hawk, sitting there tired – whapp- in his chest. Frightened, Peacock screamed from under the log and when Hunter saw Peacock’s fine pretty feathers, he grabbed him by his long tail and shoved him into a sack. While Parrot raced back to the meeting place calling.
‘He cut it! He chopped it! He laid it waste! Hunter is back! Hunter is back! Hide eggs and nests and your chicks to be safe. Hunter is back! Back! Back!’
But when Parrot reached the bay-leaf tree there was only noise and noise and noise. And none of the other birds could understand him.
Sqwark, cluck, prattle, quack
Chirp, cheep, squabble, blab
But not a thing to understand.
Babble, cackle, mumble, creak,
Croak, cry, gurgle, shriek.
But not a one with the same speech.
Howl, hoot, titter, bawl
Coo, gobble, twitter, caw.
All their words had different laws.
Ah yes, sad tale to tell, every bird was speaking a different language, and each one was shouting to be understood. Until, from high up in a Bay-leaf tree, one voice was heard. It was Hummingbird. In words each one could understand, she gave a last speech to them.
She said. ‘Fowl of the air, see the error of your ways. See where idleness lead you. You do what you feel to. Now you’re all one alone. Nowhere to turn. And Hunter is back, laying down new traps. You must now search for way. Each and every day. Be brave. Be strong. You will learn the new songs. But until then, so long.’
And with those few words, the Queen of the birds flew away, never to speak to them again. And that is why all the birds have different calls. But if you want to know what they say, you just have to know how to listen.