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Folklore: Cultural Heroes (Bari)

Updated: May 3, 2022

Raisa Yarovist Novik and the white hawk, a Bari folktale. It was long, long ago at Ranavi, after the summer of the long drought, that a wildfire swept across the Bari lands and turned the grazing country white with death and ash. The preparation for winter was disrupted as all the herds turned north, away from the line of the fires, to seek fresh forage. The Novik clan followed their small herd of sheep into the harsher country, knowing the cold seasons would be difficult on those frigid northern steppes -- but there would be no new growth on the warmer plains until spring. Neither the herd nor the herding band could stay there.

The herd could survive on the thin grass and hardy brush of the north, barely, but the humans found it rather harder in that barren country. As autumn turned to winter, Raisa’s father ordered one sheep slaughtered, and then another, just to ensure the family would survive. The herd could tolerate these losses as long as the family remained strong enough to protect the remaining animals.

And there was much to protect them from: hunting beasts of all kinds. But most fearsome of all was the white hawk: a bird with wings wider than a man’s height, the likes of which the family had never seen. It would strike as if from nowhere, appearing out of the white winter sky to attack a weak or straggling beast like a bolt of lightning. The herd could not survive these losses for long.

Raisa and her brother disagreed about the hawk. Her brother swore to kill it, so that the herd could graze in peace and the family could survive the winter as they always had. But Raisa knew this season was different, and that their time-tested ways were not made for life in the winter north. The hawk knew this country. It knew how to survive here better than they -- and could they begrudge it that?

One morning Raisa awoke to the cry of the white hawk -- but it wasn’t the bloody cry of satisfaction the band had come to fear. Soon her brother appeared, triumphant: He said he had struck the fearsome beast with a sling-stone at last, and wounded it mortally.

Moved by a wave of fear and pity that she couldn’t understand, Raisa struck out at once to find the wounded hawk. Before long she came upon it, hissing and bloodied, and tossed her scarf over its head to darken its fearsome eyes and compel it to be calm. For three days and nights she sheltered the hawk, afraid to return home to admit that she had come to the aid of an enemy of the herd. On the fourth morning, she was weak from cold and hunger, but the hawk was bright-eyed and strong again.

Raisa was too weak to follow along the ground when the hawk took flight, but she could see it circling overhead -- and saw it dive into a hunting stoop. But then it returned to where it had left Raisa huddled alone with two thin rabbits clutched in its talons. One it ate, but the other it left for Raisa to skin and cook.

Raisa knew then that the band and the hawk need not be mortal enemies, but could enrich one another’s lives instead.

She returned to her band on the seventh day with the hawk braced heavily on her arm, and a string of small game over her shoulder. She taught her brothers how to hunt with the hawk, and aided by its keen eyes and swift talons the band was able to handily collect what they needed from the land. Their diminished herd survived the winter, and no human member of the Novik clan perished that year.

When the Bari returned south and new growth made the plains good to graze upon again, Raisa shared the secret of the hawk’s companionship with every band her family encountered. Since that time all Bari have honored a pact of mutual aid with all hunting birds -- and even today, the falcons considered luckiest are those with a patch of bright white among their feathers.

written by Julia DeVito


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