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Native American Macaw Mythology

The macaw is one of several animals with a name that comes from a Native American language. It comes from the Brazilian Portuguese word "macau," which the Portuguese speakers corrupted from a longer Tupi word.

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Macaws are not native to North America except for the southern part of Mexico, but they became important to Southwestern Native American culture nonetheless. Native American tribes maintained extensive trade networks with one another, so that abalone shells from the West Coast and macaw feathers from southern Mexico were both found in the regalia of Plains Indian tribes many hundreds of miles from their source. In the case of macaws, however, not only their feathers were brought to distant lands, but living birds as well. Parrots and macaws were popular pets in the ancient Anasazi civilization, and they were one of the earliest and most popular luxury goods brought by Mexican Indian traders. Some Southwest Indian tribes, such as the O'odham, raised macaws in captivity, and pre-Columbian macaw breeding buildings have been found in northern Mexico as well. The Zunis see the macaw as a directional guardian, associated with the south, and some Pueblo tribes consider macaws a symbol of summertime and fertility.

Macaws are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Macaw Clans include the Zuni tribe.

Native American Legends About Macaws

Origin of the Raven and the Macaw:
    Zuni legend explaining why macaws live in the south.

Recommended Books of Macaw Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition:
    A good book on the meaning of birds in world mythology, including North and South America.

Back to our animal tale index
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