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A short story by Dean S. Fansler

How The Crow Became Black

Title:     How The Crow Became Black
Author: Dean S. Fansler [More Titles by Fansler]

Version (a) How the Crow became Black

Narrated by Vicente L. Neri, a Visayan from Cagayan, Misamis.
He was told the story by his grandmother.

A long time ago, when Bathala, the god of the land, was peacefully ruling his dominions, he had many pets. Among these, his two favorites were the dove and the crow. The crow was noted for its bright, pretty plumage.

One day Bathala had a quarrel with Dumagat, the god of the sea. Bathala's subjects had been stealing fish, which were the subjects of Dumagat. When Dumagat learned of this, and could get no satisfaction from Bathala, he retaliated. He opened the big pipe through which the water of the world passes, and flooded the dominions of Bathala, until nearly all the people were drowned. When the water had abated somewhat, Bathala sent the crow, his favorite messenger, to find out whether all his subjects had been killed. The crow flew out from the palace where the god lived, and soon saw the corpses of many persons floating about. He descended, alighted on one, and began to eat the decaying cadaver. When Bathala saw that it was late and that the crow had not returned, he sent the dove on the same errand, telling the bird also to find out what had become of the first messenger. The dove flew away, looking for any signs of life. At last he saw the crow eating some of the decaying bodies. Immediately he told the crow that the king had sent for him, and together they flew back to Bathala's palace.

When the two birds arrived at the king's court, the dove told Bathala that the crow had been eating some dead bodies, and consequently had not done what he had been sent to do. Bathala was very angry at this disobedience. Without saying a word, he seized his big inkstand filled with black ink and threw it at the crow, which was immediately covered. Bathala then turned to the dove, and said, "You, my dove, because of your faithfulness, shall be my favorite pet, and no longer shall you be a messenger." Then he turned to the crow, and said, "You, foul bird, shall forever remain black; you shall forever be a scavenger, and every one shall hate you."

So that is why to-day the dove is loved by the people, and the crow hated. The crows to-day are all black, because they are descendants of the bird punished by Bathala.


Version (b) Why the Crow is Black

Narrated by Ricardo Ortega, an Ilocano living in Tarlac. The story, however, is Pampangan.

The first crow that lived on the earth was a beautiful bird with a sweet voice. The universe was ruled over by the god Sinukuan, and all his subjects were either plants or animals. No human beings were yet in existence. Sinukuan lived in a beautiful palace surrounded with gardens of gold. In these gardens lived two crows who sang sweet songs, and did nothing but fly about among the flowers and trees. Their golden plumage was beautiful to see, and Sinukuan took great delight in them.

Once a terrible pestilence visited the earth, and a great many of Sinukuan's animals began to die. In his distress and sorrow, Sinukuan at once set out and made a tour of his kingdom to give what relief he could to his suffering subjects. After being away three days, he returned to his palace, his mind weighted down by all the death and sickness he had seen. When he reached his garden, he called to his two birds to come sing for him and relieve his mental anguish; but neither of the birds came. Sinukuan went through his gardens, but he called in rain. "O birds! where are you?" he cried. Thinking that perhaps they had flown away and had been attacked by the pestilence, he determined to make another trip through his kingdom and look for them.

He had not walked a mile, when, approaching a number of dead animals, he saw the pair feasting on the decaying flesh. When they saw their master, they bowed their heads in shame. Had not Sinukuan restrained himself, he might have killed them that very moment; but he thought of a better way to punish them. "Now," he said, as he cursed them, "from this time on, you shall be very ugly black birds; you shall lose your beautiful voice, and shall be able to make only a harsh cry."

From that time on, those birds were black, and their offspring are the crows of to-day.


Version (c) The Dove and the Crow

Narrated by Restituto D. Carpio, a Zambal from Cabangan, Zambales.

A few days after the inundation of the world, God sent a crow down to earth to see how deep the water was on the land. When the crow flew down to earth, he was surprised to see so many dead animals everywhere. It came to his mind that perhaps they would taste good, so he alighted on one of them and began to eat. He was so very much pleased with the abundance of food about him, that he forgot all about the command God had given him, and he remained on the earth.

On the third day, since the crow had not returned, God sent a dove down to earth to find out the depth of the water, and to make other observations of the things that had taken place on the earth. As the dove was a faithful creature, she did not forget what God told her. When she reached the earth, she did not alight on any dead animal, but alighted directly in the water. Now, the water was red from the blood of so many creatures that had been slain. When the dove stood in the bloody water, she found that it was only an inch deep. She at once flew back to heaven, where, in the presence of God, she related what she had seen on earth, while the crimson color on her feet was evidence of the depth of the water.

After a short time the crow returned. He came before God, who spoke to him thus: "What made you so long? Why did you not return sooner from the earth?" As the crow had no good reason to give for his delay, he said nothing: he simply bent his head.

God punished the crow by putting a chain on his legs. So that to-day the crow cannot walk: all he can do is to hop from place to place. The dove, which was faithful to God, is now the favorite pet bird the world over. The red color on her feet may be seen to-day as evidence that she performed her duty.


None of our stories presents the exact sequence of events found in other folk-tales of the sending-out of the raven and the dove after the Deluge to measure the depth of the water; but there can be no doubt that the Zambal story (c) derives immediately from one of these. The Visayan account mentions a flood, but not the Deluge. In the fact that the cause of the great inundation is a quarrel between two chief Pagan deities, there seems to be preserved an old native tradition. In the Pampangan story not only is the curse of the crow attributed to a Pagan deity, Sinukuan, but the occasion of the bird's downfall is a pestilence. There is no mention whatever of a flood, nor is the dove alluded to.

Dähnhardt (1 : 283-287) has discussed a number of folk-tales and traditions of the punishment of the raven and the rewarding of the dove. These are for the most part associated with popular accounts of events immediately after the Deluge. Two that seem to be nearly related to our versions may be reproduced here in English:--

(Polish story of the dove.) When Noah had despatched a dove from the Ark, the bird alighted on an oak, but soiled its feet in the water of the Flood, which was all red from the blood of the multitudes that had been drowned. Since then, doves have all had red feet. (This detail appears in part word for word in our Zambal story.)

(Arabian tradition recorded by the ninth-century historian Tabarî.) Noah said to the raven, "Go and set foot on the earth and see how deep the water is now." The raven flew forth. But on the way it found a corpse; it began to eat of it, and did not return to Noah. Noah, troubled, cursed the raven: "May God make you despised of mankind, and may your food always be corpses!" Then Noah sent the dove forth. The dove flew away, and without alighting dipped its feet in the water. But the water of the Flood was salty and stinging; it burned the dove's feet so that the feathers did not grow in again, and the skin dropped off. Those doves that have red feet without feathers are the descendants of the dove that Noah sent forth. Then Noah said, "May God make you welcome among mankind!" For this reason the dove is even to-day beloved of mankind. (This version is of especial interest in connection with the Visayan story, which comes from Mindanao, the home of Mohammedanism in the Philippines. Note the close correspondences.)

While it appears to me more than likely that our Filipino stories derive ultimately from Arabian sources through the Moros of the southern islands rather than through the Spaniards, nevertheless to settle the question absolutely more variants are needed for comparison.

Attention might be called to incidents peculiar to the Philippine accounts and not found in any of the versions cited by Dähnhardt:--

(1) A deity, not Noah, sends out the birds.

(2) The crows of Sinukuan (b), in addition to becoming black, are condemned forever afterward to have raucous, unpleasant voices.

(3) In the Visayan story Bathala makes the crow black by hurling an inkstand at it. This undignified detail may have been taken over from one of the popular metrical romances ("Baldovinos" or "Doce Pares") in which Charlemagne loses his temper and throws an inkwell at Roland (see JAFL 29 : 208, 214, 215). Or it is just barely possible that this popular bit of machinery became attached to our story of the crow on the analogy of an Annamite tale (Landes, Contes annamites, p. 210 f., cited by Dähnhardt, 3 : 65):--

The raven and the coq de pagode were once men in the service of the saint (Confucius), who transformed them into birds as a punishment for disobedience. In order to undo the punishment and to make the saint laugh, the raven smeared itself all over with ink. The coq de pagode wished to do the same to itself, but had only enough black ink for half its body; for the rest it was obliged to use red. Therefore the raven is black, and the coq de pagode is half red, half black.

(4) In the Zambal story the crow is punished, not by being made black, but by having a chain put on its legs; so that the crows to-day cannot walk, but must hop from place to place.

In conclusion I will cite merely for completeness an American Indian version not found in Dähnhardt. It is referred to by Sir J. G. Frazer (Folk-Lore in the Old Testament [1918], 1 : 297), who writes as follows:--

"The same missionary [i.e., Mgr. Faraud, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxxvi (1864), 388 et seq.] reports a deluge legend current among the Crees, another tribe of the Algonquin stock in Canada; but this Cree story bears clear traces of Christian influence, for in it the man is said to have sent forth from the canoe, first a raven, and second a wood-pigeon. The raven did not return, and as a punishment for his disobedience the bird was changed from white to black; the pigeon returned with his claws full of mud, from which the man inferred that the earth was dried up; so he landed."

For other folk explanations of the black color of the crow or raven, see Dähnhardt, 3 : 59, 65-66, 71, 369. An entirely different account of how the crow's feathers, which were originally as white as starch, became black, is given in out No. 71 (b).

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Dean S. Fansler's short story: How The Crow Became Black