There once was a skilled and patient hunter who could track down any animal in the forest. He would position himself against a rock or a tree, and for days, and even weeks, would not stir or blink. Eventually, the animals became so accustomed to the sight of him that many concluded that he must be a peculiar type of moss indigenous to the region. But just when the animals felt free to nuzzle up against him, the hunter would whip out his bow and arrow and strike.
One day, the hunter went into the jungle to hunt for wild birds. Seeing a large tree next to a pond, he walked toward it to appraise its texture. Noting that the tree was not too rough and not too thin, he leaned up against it and prepared himself for a long and quiet vigil.
At midnight, however, the hunter saw the prize he was looking for. Five giant cassowaries flew into the tree’s branches. They then circled the pond in a happy dance, and chased each other to the water’s edge. But just as the hunter was about to aim an arrow at the plumpest bird, all five birds slipped off their feather coats – revealing themselves to be five beautiful sisters.
The hunter – who had never before stirred or blinked during his countless hunting trips – trembled at the sight. The youngest woman, in particular, was so lovely that he could not help but sigh. The hunter knew instantly that he must make this young woman his wife.
The next day, at the stroke of midnight, the cassowaries again flew into the tree branches. The hunter watched as they raced to the pond and slipped off their coat of feathers. The hunter took special note of the youngest sister’s coat. But he did not approach the young woman that night. He was, after all, a skilled and patient hunter who knew better than to make his move too quickly.
On the third night, the hunter was ready. As soon as the youngest sister took off her feathers and swam across the pond, the hunter ran up to the water’s
edge and stole her coat.
In no time at all, the five sisters finished their moonlit swim. As the youngest sister approached the shore, she realized that her coat was not where she had left it. Although her sisters tried to help her find her missing coat, they were sleepy and anxious to retire to their comfortable nest.
“Go home,” the youngest sister urged them. “As soon as I find my coat, I’ll join you.”
When her sisters were out of sight, the hunter walked up to the water’s edge holding the girl’s coat of feathers in his hand.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” the hunter asked the young woman, smiling.
“Yes!” the cassowary woman replied, “May I please have it back?”
But the hunter shook his head, “no,” and started to walk away. The beautiful woman followed him, begging him to please, please, give back her feathers.
The hunter led her out of the forest and back to his house. By the time the young woman reached the hunter’s house, she fell down in exhaustion. She was not accustomed to walking for such a long time. The hunter carried her to bed and covered her in a warm blanket.
When she awoke seven days later, the hunter fed her hot soup and tended to her every need. But the young woman asked only for her coat of feathers.
“It is lost,” the hunter replied. “I cannot find it.”
The cassowary woman continued to be very tired – even though she had slept for so many days. She decided to stay with the hunter until she regained her strength and could find her lost feathers.
But slowly, the cassowary woman’s memories of her life as a bird began to fade.