The Rainbow

When the sun comes up and a mist is in the air and the whole sky is brilliant, then from a natural fountain the rainbow is born, stretching forth in an enormous arc.

But it fears the people of earth; their faces are much too lively, and it draws itself back though the sky like a braided rope of many colors.

There were once some little boys who set out to find its feet. But its toes are made of crystal and it always hides them. So the little boys were unable to find what they were looking for and they threw stones at the rainbow.

When the rainbow enters the body of a man or woman, then the person becomes gravely ill. But the sick person will be cured if he unravels a ball of yarn made of seven colors.

~ From Black Rainbow – Legends of the Incas and Myths of Ancient Peru edited/translated by John Bierhorst

I went to the library the other day and got some books. Lots of books actually, one from which the story above is transcribed. That one is called Black Rainbow – Legends of the Incas and Myths of Ancient Peru, edited and translated by John Bierhosrst.

After thumbing through Black Rainbow, and the tales presented therein, I have come away with a foul-taste.

Humanity is amazingly sexist and racist. I had a hard time finding a tale in Black Rainbow that didn’t offend me. Even the one above has a line that had me do a double take.

So the little boys were unable to find what they were looking for and they threw stones at the rainbow.

The kids threw rocks! Because they didn’t get their way, because they were denied the rainbow’s feet.

And you think your kids are spoiled?

Like folklore found throughout the world, our inherent bias shine through our stories. We can not hide our selfishness, bitterness, and outright ignorance.

But there is also truth.

Whether I like it or not, a rainbow is tantalizing. And had I chased a rainbow only to be disappointed time after time, I probably would have thrown rocks, too.

One thing that struck me about The Rainbow is that it has toes made of crystals. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Irish tales, so too had the native Peruvians a notion that rainbows held some sort of treasure.

I suppose, we all want to think there is a hidden cache of wealth somewhere there isn’t.

Are there aspects to this simple tale that appeals to you? Does it remind you of other myths or legends about rainbows?


6 thoughts on “The Rainbow

  1. What interests me here is how the rainbow is afraid of people. People want to take something from the rainbow, without asking, and then throw rocks when the rainbow doesn’t give them what they want. It seems the rainbow is right to keep a safe distance.

    1. I noticed that to. I liked the imagery of the rainbow lifting its skirts so as to avoid the riffraff. I know the original story probably didn’t intend this, but it could be turned into an ecological warning tale: humanity just can’t be trusted.

  2. Another thought on the crystal toes is that the writer may have seen a crystal that acted like a prism, making a tiny rainbow. They may have interpreted that as part of the rainbow and thus the toes idea. Just a thought.

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