Variations: Tse’nahale, Tse’na’hale, Tsanahale
The Tsenahale were two of the Anaye, or “Alien Gods”, who plagued the land of the Navajo. They were born after men and women were separated, and the women resorted to unnatural practices as an outlet. In the case of the Tsenahale, the “father” was a pile of feathers; their mother must have been particularly desperate.
When the first Tsenahale was born, it was a misshapen creature with feathers on its back and shoulders. Its mother abandoned it in horror, but it survived and grew into a monstrous, bird-like creature likened to a huge eagle or a harpy. By the time Nayenezgani, the “Slayer of Alien Gods”, set out to rid the land of the Tsenahale, the Tsenahale were two in number, male and female. The male preyed solely on men, while the female hunted women. Raven was their spy.
Nayenezgani found the nest of the Tsenahale on Tse’bit’ai, the “Winged Rock”, or Shiprock as it is also known. As he approached, the male Tsenahale dive-bombed him, his huge wings whipping up a whirlwind as he swooped at him from four different directions. He seized him in his talons on the fourth attempt. The bird flew off with him and dropped him into the nest from a great height, but Nayenezgani was protected by his life-feather, and was unharmed. He cut open a bag of Teelget’s blood and let it spill, convincing the Tsenahale that he was safely dead.
As the two Tsenahale chicks approached him, Nayenezgani tried to silence them. “It’s not dead! It said ‘Sh!’ to us!” they screeched. “That’s air leaving the body. Just eat it”, snapped the father, before winging off.
Of course, Nayenezgani miraculously came back to life as soon as the Tsenahale was gone, and confronted the chicks. They were blue as a heron, with big eyes and sharp eagle beaks. “When will your father return?” asked Nayenezgani. “When we have a thunderstorm, he will be on that rock”, answered the chicks. “And your mother?” “When we have a rain shower, she will be on that crag”.
Soon a great storm formed, with thunder and lightning, and the male Tsenahale flew out of the clouds and perched on the rock as expected. Nayenezgani slew him with a single lightning arrow. Then the mother arrived in pouring rain, carrying with her a dead Pueblo woman in beautiful turquoise finery. Nayenezgani shot her in turn.
“What about us?” cried the chicks. “Are you going to kill us?” But Nayenezgani spared them. “You are not grown, and would grow into killers; but I will make something useful of you”. He picked the older chick up and told it “You will provide feathers for rites, and bones for whistles”. He swung it around four times and threw it into the air, turning it into a majestic eagle. Then he picked up the younger chick, telling it “Your voice will tell the future; sometimes you will lie, sometimes you will tell the truth”. He swung it as well, and it turned into an owl, which he threw into a crevice in the cliff.
As for the feathers of the Tsenahale, Nayenezgani took the largest from each wing as trophies. The others were plucked, and were metamorphosed into sparrows, warblers, chickadees, wrens, and all the little birds of the world.
Alexander, H. B. (1916) The Mythology of All Races v. X: North American. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.
Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.
Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.
O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.