The Legend of the Bald Buzzard

On an ordinary evening in Tonaca, in an ordinary and dimly lit room, the rhythmic words of an ordinary  story-teller may be heard - ordinary words weaving themselves together in an extraordinary tale.

Tonacatepeque is known for its tales.  In multi-generation households, the elders still spin their stories into the imaginations of their grandchildren.  Although many families may not be sitting around lit candles and sharing spooky stories well into the evening, the town's cultural center works with the local schools, community radio station and the mayor's office to keep Tonaca's traditions alive.

October begins with the Day of the Child, and in Tonaca, ends with the festival of la Calaviusa*. It seems the perfect month for sharing a few mysterious tales.  Stories passed on through oral tradition often have many versions, because each story teller incorporates not only what they have heard over the years, but also what they themselves have experienced.  

After spending more than 20 years sharing life and stories with friends in Tonaca, I can tell a few of these tales in English, with credit given to Niña Julia, Pastor Jorge, women who have invited me into their circles, and the Casa Cultural in Tonaca.  Dr. José María Melgar Callejas has collected some of the legends of Tonaca and written them down in a small book for the Casa Cultural, which is also helpful in understanding the evolution of some of these tales.  And of course, having spent many adventurous days and candlelit nights in the community, my own experiences of these tales comes into the retelling.

Bald Vultures at Lago Ilopango
Photo credit: Tim Muth

The Legend of the Bald Vulture

During the month of October each year, little boys and big boys anxiously wait for the spring winds of October to blow.  The youth get busy with paper and glue, making their piscuchas or kites.  There is no greater honor for a boy than to fly his kite to the highest height, higher than all of his competitors.  As compensation for his victory, the champion receives a message from the heavens through the vibrations of the string in his hand.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with the most enticing winds, perfect for kite-flying.  However...and there always is a however...

On this perfect afternoon, a boy was doing his routine work to get his kite to fly.  When the kite took flight, the boy pulled on the string, running to help it rise in the sky.  Suddenly the kite felt so heavy, and as the boy pulled to get it up, he worried that the string would break.  And then it did. The boy lost his kite without being able to determine where it fell.  

It is said that the old man knows because he is old.  So the boy was emotional over the loss of his kite in mid-air, and not knowing where it had fallen.

However, when he got to his house, there he found a buzzard with a very serious look about him.  The bird had a bald head and was tufted with wrinkles near its beak.  As the boy studied the bird's feet, he noticed they were entangled in the kite. 

Notably, the buzzard was bald, so it was supposed to be prudent, wise, and careful not to approach strange things in the sky. Well, appearances are deceiving, and baldness cannot be guaranteed to be a sign of wisdom as some believe.

The boy managed to rescue his kite and scare away the bald buzzard so he could attempt again the next day to fly the kite up into the sky.

Since that moment, the bald buzzard has remained as a constant observer, spending the month of October perched in the low branches of the Maquilishuat trees until the springtime passes, and after that, the bald buzzard can have another opportunity to lose itself up in the space of the sky.

*Calaviusa is also spelled calabiusa and refers to a festival which celebrates ayote (like pumpkin) and regional legends, held on October 31 in Tonacatepeque.


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