Welcome to the second chapter of
Secrets of Skyward Sword. This series digs deep into the game, uncovering mysteries of Zelda lore throughout Hylian history. Last time we explored the possible true identity of the Goddess of Time. This time around, we’re going to be focusing on one of the beloved and mysterious races in Hyrule: the Sheikah tribe.
The Sheikah have been mentioned in multiple games, but we still know very little about them, and in most games they are treated as a dead race or a legend. Still, from the ancient tales, and from a combination of Sheikah artifacts and locales, we can get a pretty good idea of their history.
The Sheikah tribe is first introduced by name in
Ocarina of Time, where they are referred to as the guardians of the Royal Family of Hyrule. Impa is the only living Sheikah seen in Ocarina of Time and serves as Zelda’s caretaker. The Sheikah tribe is said to have sworn allegiance to the Royal Family, but over time they disappeared (following a long period of peace) and Impa is believed to be the last. They are ninja-like in appearance and function, described as “The Shadow Folk” and “The Shadows of the Hylians.”
Despite their absence, the presence and relevance of the Sheikah tribe can be felt throughout
Ocarina of Time by the keen observer. All around Hyrule we see Sheikah artifacts known as Gossip Stones, each one containing a piece of information. Their name derives from the fact that their purpose is to listen to the gossip of those passing by and store it. As a gameplay mechanic they are used for discovering helpful hints, but from an in-world perspective, they are devices used by the Sheikah to spy on the inhabitants of Hyrule. Much like modern day monitoring methods like a wire tap, the Gossip Stones gathered and stored information on all the citizens of Hyrule.
On top of that, the Gossip Stones can only be accessed using the Mask of Truth, another Sheikah artifact. According to the Happy Mask Salesman, the Mask of Truth is capable of reading people’s minds. While the Mask of Truth gave the Sheikah access to things hidden away in the minds and hearts of people, the Lens of Truth gave them access to things hidden away physically. Also bearing the symbol of the Sheikah, the Lens of Truth can see through walls, uncovering secrets. With these two artifacts, investigations and interrogations based on information gathered by the Gossip Stones would be a very simple process. Nothing could be hidden from the Sheikah.
Things take a bit of a darker turn when we look at the locations left behind by the Sheikah tribe. Two buildings in
Ocarina of Time can be clearly tied to the Sheikah. The first is the mini dungeon inside the bottom of Kakariko Well, in which the Lens of Truth is hidden. It is said that a man once lived in a house where the well now stands, and that he had the ability to perceive the truth, possibly tying him to the Mask of Truth as well. Kakariko was founded as a village exclusively for Sheikah tribe members, and was only recently (in relation to the time period of the game) opened up to outsiders, so we can safely assume this man was a Sheikah. Inside this little fun house we find blood stained jail cells, coffins, and a host of undead creatures. Secrets hidden behind false walls and invisible trap doors make the Lens of Truth a necessity to navigate it.
The second Sheikah building we see is quite similar to the first. The Shadow Temple, also referred to as the House of the Dead, has all that the Bottom of the Well had to offer, as well as a host of other dark secrets. Guillotines, invisible spinning blades, and a boat said to transport people to “the other world” fill the Shadow Temple. An inscription can be found on multiple walls reading, “Here is gathered Hyrule’s bloody history of greed and hatred.” This is particularly telling, as it gives us insight into the dark actions of the Sheikah tribe. What could drive this “good” race to such invasive practices like eavesdropping, spying, and mind reading? Even worse, what could justify the evidence of torture, brutal imprisonment, and execution? To understand this, we need to look to Hyrule’s past.
That yearning for the Triforce soon turned to lust for power, which in turn led to the spilling of blood. Soon the only motive left among those searching for the Triforce was pure greed.
— A Link to the Past manual
Ocarina of Time is set after a long period of peace, and we see that the various races of Hyrule (such as the Zoras, Gorons, and even the Gerudo) are in an alliance with the Royal Family during the game. This peace is recent, coming at the end of a brutal war. From both Ocarina of Time and mentions of the same time period in A Link to the Past, we know that the various races of Hyrule waged a “fierce war” against each other over the Sacred Realm and the Triforce. In Ocarina of Time, we see the result of that war. An alliance has been formed, and the four keys to the Sacred Realm (the three spiritual stones and the Ocarina of Time itself) have been split up among the races to ensure that no single race controlled the fate of the Sacred Realm. Only the Gerudo are left without a key, as they had only recently joined the alliance when the game begins.
It is likely that the Sheikah tribe was instrumental in this process of ending the war and maintaining “peace” in the land. With all of the races of Hyrule battling against each other in a bloodlust for power, the Royal Family of Hyrule turned to the Sheikah to collect information by any means necessary in order to maintain control over the Triforce and put an end to the long war. This is further supported by the fact that the Sheikah tribe has far more knowledge of the Sacred Realm and the Triforce than any other race. Throughout the game more information is steadily given to the player regarding the Triforce and the Sacred Realm in the form of ancient Sheikah legends.
So why did the Sheikah tribe choose to align itself with the Royal Family of Hyrule, and what drove them to such a deep commitment that they were willing to use such dark tactics? The fact that they used a sacred temple of Hyrule as a place of torture, imprisonment, and execution suggests that their actions could be religiously motivated.
Twilight Princess also supports this, as the Oocca (who are said to be “the closest race to the gods”) chose to leave the Ancient Sky Book containing their language in the care of the Sheikah tribe, suggesting a divine connection. Of course, the full extent of their divine calling can be ascertained by digging into Skyward Sword.
In Skyward Sword we learn that the battle for the Triforce is nearly as old as the world itself. Demise, a being of pure evil, sought to use the Triforce to conquer the world, and the Goddess Hylia (the star of our first Secrets of Skyward Sword article) sacrificed her immortality to stop him and save the lives of Hyrule’s inhabitants.
The original Impa (a family name passed down, not unlike Zelda) was right there for the first ever battle for the Triforce — the first ever battle of good and evil. Impa is described in the game as “the servant of the goddess,” and she dedicated her whole life to following Hylia and and serving her in the war against Demise. That war would extend for ages, as Hylia would be reincarnated in the form of Zelda, and Impa (at Hylia’s request) would continue her role of servitude under Zelda.
Impa’s undivided attention and sense of duty towards the greater good is unquestioned throughout
Skyward Sword. Several times during the game her actions, such as harshly criticizing Link and forbidding Zelda to waste time in seeing Link, seem to border on cruel, but her motives remain true throughout. As the servant of the goddess nothing is more important than fulfilling Hylia’s order: protecting the Triforce. Even with Demise defeated and the Triforce presumably safe, Impa chooses to stand guard over the Master Sword for a thousand years to ensure its safekeeping. Simply put, nothing could come in between Impa and her divine calling.
As the ages went by and the face of Hyrule changed, the duty of the Sheikah tribe remained the same, but their methods evolved. Serving Zelda and protecting the Triforce during the time of
Skyward Sword meant preparing Zelda and Link for their prophesied roles as the goddess and hero incarnate. We even see the Gossip Stones being used as visual hints for Link instead of spying devices in Skyward Sword, but during the fierce war that preceded Ocarina of Time, their methods took a much darker turn. To the Sheikah, there was nothing evil or foul about their actions in the fierce war. The Sheikah tribe does not answer to the morals of mankind, but to a higher calling bestowed upon them at the very beginning of the eternal struggle between good and evil.
- Secrets of Skyward Sword: The Goddess of Time
- Secrets of Skyward Sword: The Silent Realm’s True Nature
- Majora’s Mask Theory: Skull Kid, the Rejected Prophet