Onaiazo the Sky Walker

Long ago, there lived an old couple on the Shores of Lake Huron. They had an only son, named Onaiazo, or “he who catches the clouds.” His parents were very proud of him and expected that he would become a great man. But when he reached the age of adulthood he refused to perform the fast that marked the change from boy to man. When his parents denied him food, he would find birds' eggs along the shores, or broil fish heads that fishermen had tossed aside.

One day, the adult men of the tribe grabbed away his food and threw him coals instead. Angrily, Onaiazo marched out of the lodge and did not return. He slept outside, and during the night, he had a dream.

He dreamed he saw a beautiful woman come down from the clouds and stand by his side. "Onaiazo," she said, "I have come for you. Follow me."

The young man followed in her tracks and felt himself rising as he stepped into the air, above the treetops, through the clouds. Then the woman glided through a doorway in the sky, and following her, Onaiazo found himself standing on a beautiful plain.

A path led to a splendid lodge divided into two parts. At one end were men’s tools: bows and arrows and clubs and spears, all tipped with silver. On the other end were tools used by women, such as a weaving loom, on which lay a magnificent belt of many colors, as broad as a blanket.

"My brother is coming and I must hide you,” she said.

Putting him in one corner, she spread the belt over him. Then the brother came in, richly dressed, and shining as if he had points of silver all over him. He said to his sister: "I know you’re hiding the boy you took from below. When will you stop this kind of nonsense? Don’t you remember that the Greatest of the Spirits forbade you to do it? Send the boy back immediately."

But she would not send him back.

Seeing that he could not persuade her, the brother called to the lad and said, "Come out of your hiding place. You will grow hungry in there. Walk around and see this land. It looks like you’re staying."

Then he presented Onaiazo with a bow and arrows and a pipe of red stone, richly decorated. This was a sign that Onaiazo and the woman were considered husband and wife from then on.

All the land around was fair and beautiful. There were flowers on the plains, and sparkling streams, and green valleys and blooming trees. Songbirds sang and animals scurried, just like on the earth below, except that all was perfectly beautiful all the time. But Onaiazo found no people except his wife and her brother. And every morning the brother left the lodge and remained absent all day; and every evening the sister left, staying away for part of the night.

Onaiazo’s curiosity was stirred to solve this mystery. One day, he asked the brother, “May I join you on your journey?” and the brother said yes.

They travelled over a smooth plain, hour after hour, until Onaiazo felt hunger gnawing at him and asked whether there was any game to catch.

"Patience, my brother," said his host. "We will soon reach the spot where I eat my dinner."

After walking hours more, they came to a place where finely woven mats were spread on the ground, and the two men sat to rest. At that place there was a hole that went down through the sky, and Onaiazo looked down upon the earth. He saw below him the great lakes, and the villages of his people. In one place, he saw a war party stealing into the camp of their enemies. In another, he saw feasting and dancing. On a green plain, young men were playing ball. Along a stream, women were gathering reeds to weave into mats.

The brother asked, "Do you see that group of children playing in the meadow? Notice the tallest boy, the one kicking the ball."

A shining silver dart flew from the brother’s hand, too fast for Onaiazo to trace its path downward. Instantly the child fell, and was carried into the lodge by his playmates.

Onaiazo saw the children and grownups gathering about the lodge. He heard the prayerful song the village’s wise man sang, asking that the child's life might be spared.

The brother answered from above. "Send me up the sacrifice of a buffalo bull,” he commanded.

Immediately a feast was ordered. The men set out and killed the largest buffalo on the prairie, and roasted it over a fire as high as a man’s head, and all the people ate.

The master of the feast then said, "We send this to thee, great Manito” (which means “spirit”), and to Onaiazo’s amazement, the smoke of the roasted animal rose into the sky, through the hole, and became a heap of fragrant meat on the mat in front of him. So he and the brother ate heartily. Afterward, they returned to the lodge, but by a different path than the one they had come on.

Onaiazo lived with his wife and her brother lived for some time, but at last he remembered his people and his village and wanted to go back. He wanted to see his friends again, and he missed his parents’ lodge, with its good plain food and cooking smells. He asked his wife’s permission to return below.

She sneered. "If you like the troubles of the world, the hunger and illness and war, more than the peaceful prairies of the sky, go! But remember, you are still my husband. I hold a silver chain in my hand, and with it I can pull you back whenever I like. Beware, therefore. If you ever dare to take a wife from among earthly people, you will feel the force of my wrath."

Her eyes sparkled, and she rose up on her toes and stretched up with her arms raised full length. At that moment, Onaiazo awoke from his dream. He found himself on the ground, near his father's lodge, at the very spot where he had lain down to sleep. Instead of the shining beings of a higher world, he found himself surrounded by his parents and relatives.

“You’ve been gone for a year,” his mother told him, hugging him tearfully.

Confused and upset at the news, Onaiazo felt his joy leaving him all at once. Over the following days, the people could see him change as he became moody, easily angered, and suspicious of those around him. For another full year he kept away from his loved ones and friends.

But as time passed, he recovered and became his old self. He began to doubt whether he had really visited the higher world. At last, he forgot his wife’s warning and married a beautiful young woman of his own tribe. But within four days, she died, and no one knew how.

Even this warning was lost on him, and he repeated his disobedience by marrying a second time. One night soon afterwards, he went out of the lodge and never returned. People said that his moon-wife had pulled him back to the region of the clouds, where, they say, he still dwells, and walks with the sun-brother on his daily rounds.

Source: Onaiazo the Sky Walker
Adapted from The Myth of Hiawatha and Other Oral Legends, Mythologic and Allecgoric, of the North American Indians, by Henry R. Schoolcraft, Gutenberg.org, Public Domain

Back to top