In the plains we find the Pawnee who lived along the Missouri river in central Nebraska and Northern Kansas. Native life there was characterised by an annual round that began in the spring, when they resided in permanent villages of dome-shaped earth lodges. During this season, horticulture of corn, squash and beans was usual. Men would also prepare for ritual. After they harvested, travelled to the high plains, where they lived in Tipis and hunted buffalo. In August, people returned to their earth-lodge villages, where they harvested the mature crops and again took on rituals. In November, again went to the plains and hunted buffalo. Pawnees lived on villages and were organised in independent bands. There were four different bands and spoke different dialects. In this book we find three stories from the Pawnees.
The first one is a riddle, unusual among plain tribes, and in North America, and the story tells of two men, one who speak in riddles and one who is noted for his ability to understand everything and respond quickly to what is said to him. When they both meet, speaks-in-riddles tells to the wise spirit men about things he saw on his journey to wise spirit’s village and asks to interpret the symbology of all objects. The second story is the story of Comanche chief, and it is a historical tale about war. It tells how people obtained their names through acts of bravery, or through some other deed. In this tale we read about a peyote ceremony and Pawnees meeting with Comanche for this purpose. The third story is a fable, or a Coyote story. On this type of stories we find the trickster Coyote or the Witch woman. We read about animals being doctors, and it implies Pawnees’ believe that healing skills were passed on from animals to humans.
Another community inhabiting the plains were the Lakota. Their first culture priority has always been the preservation of its spiritual identity in the physical world. The culture hero keeps tradition and leads people to a circle of day-to-day social existence. The hero’s experience may include customs such as periodic infusions of mysteriously sacred thoughts and deeds. In the stories found on this book, supernatural beings assist two young men in offering food, social order, confidence, and joy to everyone in their camp circle. In each young man, spiritual receptiveness combines with skill in war, hunting and social supervision, incarnating the male virtues of a whole adult generation in one person.
The culture hero often begins as an outsider. In the first story, we find the boy who lives with his grandmother and has the identity of many protagonists before he earns a name and enters adult reality. The hero is an orphan, living outside the camp, and has an unpromising future as far as learning the arts of war, hunting, and vision questing from attentive male relatives. Looking at the symbology of this story, we find that the boy may represent the general anxieties of adolescence, even for boys with many human guides and protectors. All Lakota boys are outsiders until they demonstrate courage and generosity and marriage is seen as a rite of passage to adulthood and a social validation of manhood.
If we analyse the characteristics of these communities, we see that in a hunting society, everything depends on what the hunters bring home. Lakota boys were raised to anticipate hardship and uncertainty in their lifelong occupation of killing animals for food, shelter, clothing and tools. Returning hunters brought home confidence in the people’s ability to live and live well. At that time, horse stealing was a form of hunting, and it happened between tribes. Expeditions to rescue captives were still more dangerous and inspiring, and they too derived technique and direction from the hunt.
Other cultural characteristics were spiritual seeking or vision questing, which required fasting from one to four days outside the camp, thereby incurring potential danger from both human enemies and spirits. If the seeker offered the Thunder beings, he would be struck by lightning. Other spirits might require dangerous or self-destructive deeds if the seeker was insincere, unworthy, or careless in his prayers. But if the seeker was as disciplined in his ritual preparations as a hunter tempering arrows, he would find the spirits compassionate and generous. Individuals receiving powers from few spirits might require team work, human and superhuman, for implementing it.
On a Lakota story from this book, the hero acquires the lightning power to defend his people, so perhaps he was a war chief. There was spiritual specialisation for battles or in social responsibilities, and a council was selected, with four or two chiefs, four men for war and police duty, and four overseen domestic matters. The hero appears to be one of those chiefs. Within Lakota culture we find also that leaders and other responsible adults sustained social confidence by guarding physical objects that had manifested spiritual presence in the past. An example would be using sinew, feathers or animal hairs as individual war medicines used by warriors.
Another characteristic was that a boy’s strength was based on the respectful love they felt for women. In one of the stories, the hero gains confidence and discipline from an adopted older sister. The hero shows lots of respect for her and the story shows what warriors cared for. In fact, young warriors conceived of their bravest deeds as honouring sisters rather than wives or mothers.
Throughout the world, foundational myths and epics commemorate relationships between humans and wolves. The Lakota creation story of a wolf leading people from a lower world to this world, is one of them. Other examples are Virgil’s Aeneid, the She wolf mothering the founders of Rome, or the Poetic Edda, in which wolves participate in the final undoing of our world. The wolf, with its notable intelligence and social nature, has an eminent place in imagined mediations between the world of wilderness and that of human society, to which he refuses to accede even while seeming to gaze upon it from a fascinated distance. We see the relationship wolf to humans, and society to nature. In Lakota’s stories, the wolf evokes hope and fear, with no simple separation of these emotions. The wolf compels a mediator between nature and society, balancing power in our entire ecosystem.
That is the case in the Lakota of the North American Great Plains. For them, the wolf implies a fiercely protective stance towards family. Wolf also discerns vigilance and foresight that only the wolf teaches. The story about a woman rescued by wolves is part of a living tradition throughout the great plains. In one of these stories, a woman who has spent time with the wolves is gifted with prophetic powers. In the story, the wolf acts as a mediator and as a protector, guiding, but not being a companion. In another story, a man gets lost in the forest, losing his route, leading to a terror situation and the wolf leads the man to the other side of his projected fears. He again is confronted with his fears by a woman who happens to be a ghost, and again the man needs to overcome those fears, for them to disappear. It is at this point when the wolf comes to confront the man back to human community. We therefore read about a wolf linking nature to culture, bringing back humans to society.
Another interesting story about the Lakota is “Wakinyan and Wakinyan Wicaktepi”, meaning thunder or those killed by thunder. The stories deal with the Heyoka and the Thunder beings. The Heyoka were those that dreamt of thunder. They had roles in Lakota society which compared to clowns, because of their need to do everything in a backward fashion and because of their clowning actions. They had a definitive role in Lakota society. The Heyoka were the sacred scoffers who, because were not bound by societal constraints, could freely critique established custom. They were feared because of their power, which could incorporate the positive and the negative aspects of the sacred. Doing everything in an anti-natural manner, they freely violated cultural taboos. Heyoka’s power was to deflect the destructive thunder and lightning storms that so often struck the plains. They were healers, but could reverse healing. They were the dark and light sides of the ultimate mystery. But they were also playing this clown role, amusing the community. They had a kind of social critics role, by drawing attention to deviancy by burlesquing actions and deeds not acceptable to the society.
By making people laugh, their antics provided a necessary release from the Lakota code of conformity to social customs, which the Lakota were free to ridicule. Besides, creating amusement in times of stress, the Lakota were also capable of acting out as an admonition, when society felt too complacent; they would point out the potential danger by burlesquing the possible consequences of ignoring a potentially hazardous situation.
The story itself tells about the Heyoka initiation ceremony of a man who had dreamt of a Thunder. It tells that the Thunder beings live to the west, and are the warriors of the ultimate mystery. They live by the west mountains and kill whoever disobeys. The thunder beings live like ordinary men and bring rain, bringing live on earth. They esteem the sky, earth and water, mostly horses, gulls, night hawks, other birds, frogs and lizards. When a person dreams of the thunder beings and makes commitment to perform a certain ceremony, failure to fulfil the obligation results in his death by lightning.
It was believed among the Lakota that if someone did not do as instructed by the thunder beings, the lightning would kill them, kind of travelling down his body and curling his limbs. So people use to paint themselves in this fashion. The ones that were struck by the thunder, it was believed that lived to reveal the truth to his people about the lightning.
The Heyokas were also praying to the lightning about wants and needs. The ones dreaming about the thunder beings, erect the tepee in the middle of the camp circle and two poles for the smoke flaps. Then they invite all Heyokas, and perform a ceremony for the new chosen one as Heyoka’s nascent power. The nascent Heyoka was dressed for the occasion and the other Heyokas dressed also in ritual fashion and sang. The Heyokas were very particular, as they had their own customs, and rituals, singing their own way, speaking their own way.
The next type of stories are the Nanabush, which aimed at keeping the tribe alive. They were educational and moral teachings for the tribe and their individual members. They believed that by going backwards, they moved forward. These stories were told starting around October and finishing in late spring. They belonged to the Ojibwe indians, a language group and native group from Southern and Western Ontario, Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. These native group were hunters and gatherers society. Amongst the oral stories they explained, there were myths, sacred stories about the Mamitok, which were powerful other-than-human beings, and about deceased humans. Within the code of Mamitok stories was Nanabush, a hero and trickster. He is presented on stories from his birth through his creation of the present world. Nanabush is a complex character and Ojibwe’s identification with him is absolute. Nanabush confirmed them as hunters. He instituted vital cultural elements, he created the present world, and formed natives’ identity. He interceded between humans and Mamitok; he served as an ideal; he invented important aspects of material culture, taught subsistence skills, discovered wild rice.
As trickster, Nanabush was a fool, a witch, a manipulator, and an example of bad behaviour, providing a negative form of education for all ages. His actions might have served as a reminder of appropriate behaviour and of the consequences of disobedience. So for example, in one of the stories, it tells how important is to follow rules and to respect nature to become a great hunter. The story told what rewards to get through responsible action.
Within the world of other native indians, the Iroquoian of North Carolina, we find a cosmology and universe divided in two parts, a light-sky land and a darkness-primal sea. One of the stories results in the great chief’s casting of his wife out of sky land. She falls towards the sea and is caught on the back of a giant turtle, which becomes the earth. She is pregnant during this process, and gives birth on top of the turtle to two sons: Tuscarora good mind and Tuscarora bad mind. Good mind creates the sun, the moon, the stars, the river and streams, plants, animals and humans. Bad mind, trying to copy his brother, forms high mountains, steep cliffs, waterfalls, snakes and other beings harmful to humans. Bad mind also creates with clay two giant beings. Both fight for the control of the earth, and bad mind is driven to the primal sea, where he rules. From now on, bad mind will visit the earth to cause trouble when he is inattentive. Perhaps we find influence from Europe in this story, with a good and evil kind of pattern, or perhaps they did have this dualistic approach also in Native America.
We read in this book stories of all over EEUU. On the tales of the Delaware Trickster, we learn about communities inhabiting New York and Philadelphia. The author or translator of these stories, translated more than 220 stories and among them we read the story of creation about the earth forming out of the shell of a turtle, and how life began with a woman falling from the sky. In the story Snow Boy, a strange boy bites other kids’ fingers turning them black, as if freezing them. Then goes down the river, and has some magical powers, cohering the snow. He instructs people on offering annual corn, and he promises to return each winter to guide hunters towards wounded game on his body of snow.
The Delaware trickster cycle is an exception to those epic stories. It tells of a misfit hero, who worked miracles despite his shortcomings. The name was Wehixamukes, a legendary hero who performed miracles, disappearing afterwards and promising to return. His mother might have seen a virginal young woman when he is reborn in the future. Folkloristically, Wehixamukes is related to the proverbial man who misunderstands, the eccentric who misapplies ambiguous instructions and bungles every time. In one of the stories, Wehixamukes, or Jack, nurses the babies but makes a terrible mistake killing the baby using an ax when trying to kill the flies around the baby. Then he disguises himself as a goose not to be spotted by the baby’s family, but his buttock is left to be seen.
In many different stories, such as the tales from the indians Passamaquoddy from Eastern Maine, we read how an apparent failure to exert a just retribution reflects the purpose of many tales, which is to teach moderation rather than condemn evil or extol virtue. In Passamaquoddy worldview, neither absolute evil nor saintly virtue is possible in human nature; rather, persons seek to maintain an appropriate balance between using knowledge and power for their own benefit and using them for the good of all.
In the Southwest and Southeast of North America, we find many different communities and tribes. Amongst them we find the Yaqui Indian people, or Yoemen. This community still celebrates the Deer dance, a ritual celebrating a cycle of life, death and spiritual continuance. The deer dancer, Saila Maso, or little brother, when coming to dance, he has a voice, a voice that comes through songs to which the deer dancer moves. The singing is an enchanted voice. The deer songs involve three men and ancient verbal art. In those songs we find two parallel worlds: a mythical, primeval place, Sea Ania or Flower world, home to Saila Maso and to Yevuku Yoleme, the deer hunter; and a world that has its parallel above for the deer dancer. The songs link the dusty world of the dance with the ethereal flower world. Flowers are anything from the Flower world that is good and beautiful. Anything that is influenced, touched or informed by the Sea Ania, the Flower World.
The Rama, location where Deer Dance happened, is said to become the Flower world during the ceremony. These rituals were performed at the time of Pakho, ceremonial occasions when religious rituals and celebration occurred. During these ceremonies ritual clowns, called Pakholam (old men of the Pakho), served as hosts and speech makers at these events. They performed dances alongside the Deer dancer but to different musicians.
In one of the stories, Naso Nehhawa, “Running Deer”, we read about one of these games describing the drama of a hunt from a hunter and a hunted perspective. We read about the Deer hunter or Saila Maso, four ritual clowns, or Pahkolam, and Yevuku Yoleme the hunter. We read also about a religious song set from the Zuni Indians, a Pueblo group located in Western New Mexico. Zuni ritual poetry and sacred narratives are generally organised into major divisions on the basis of temporal components, such as the yearly and daily travels of the sun, the recurrent phases of the moon, the necessary number of days that have passed on the ritual calendar, and so on. Sections of the song set are determined by phrases that refer to temporal events or directional elements. Temporal and cosmological markers are organising principles of much of Zuni visual art, operating in secular and sacred contexts. The songs treated here are the songs pouring in the water of the great fire society, one of the Zuni medicine societies, and just non-sacred songs were collected.
According to Zuni mythology, six beats-gods guard the world: the yellow mountain lion at the north, the blue bear at the west, the red badger at the south, the white wolf at the east, the speckled or all-coloured eagle at the zenith and the black mole or Nadir. These characters appear not just in their visual art, but also in its literature and in their ritual.
The song set is performed by the great fire society in the full moon in November. The initial part describes the ritual actions undertaken by the society members. The medicine-society chief appeals to the beast-gods of the six directions, alluding to the fact that at the winter solstice the shamans of the medicine societies become these beast-gods, as the sick are cured. It was believed that drinking the healing water brought long life, and that that would bring drinkers to Dawn lake upon their death. The meaning of medicine-society members offering sacred cornmeal to the six directions was that it made their sacred roads go forth, meaning the sacred roads to the supernaturals. These sacred roads were also brought by invoking the presence of the supernatural beings during rituals. Those lucky ones to make the rituals looked at the sacred directions. The story tells of those coming from all directions, north, west, east and south, of children being healed with water, then their sacred roads reaching to Dawn lake. The Zuni connect not just colours to coordinates, but also animals: lion-north, bear-west, badger-south or wolf-east.
Another interesting story is a Navajo story, “Coyote, Skunk and the prairie dogs”, also called “Coyote makes rain”. Coyote stories were dramatic stories of moral issues which would provide models for a save and balanced life as well as clever and humorous entertainment in the richness of the Navajo language. These stories were told in winter. They were told by adults to one another and their children around the central fireplace of a one-room circular or octagonal Hogan. Navajos believed the reality we live in was created by speaking, by articulating it. They also believed on the educational tool they had with myth stories. Children learnt to listen and to develop their memory, and later they developed their storytelling skills.
In these type of stories, Coyote usually does or tells things that go against Navajo culture, assumptions or values. Anger, betrayal, selfishness, pushiness or intense competitiveness, immoderate or inconsiderate behaviour, misuse of ritual, mistreatment of the dead, are some of the behaviours found in Coyote. The stories dramatise values associated with proper behaviour while embodying actions the Navajo believe have an effect on health. Mai’i or Coyote is not a trickster, but a creator and a secular glutton, with a dash of flash, bravado, klutz and ego thrown. The audience would laugh with Coyote when he is ridiculed or taken by a blood, for his behaviour. In one of the stories, Coyote brings thunderstorms against the prairie dogs out of anger, then flood himself and other animals with his misbehaviour. Coyote is a semi-holy being who serves as messenger between the holy people, or spiritual beings, and the Dine, Navajo people. He sets precedence of behaviour, good and bad behaviour. The medicine men would tell things about him that happened at the beginning of the world, the fifth world, or in one of the previous four worlds. In one of the stories, Coyote keeps stealing sheep from the herds, therefore men needs to keep alert about their herds. In another story we read how a Coyote almost dies of thirst walking in the desert for too long, how then almost drowns by a flood created by himself, and how he ends up being tricked by a skunk, who eats most of the nice food, leaving just the scraps for Coyote.
We also read on the book about Navajo poetry. An example is “To the Foot of the Rainbow”, experienced by a nine day ceremony to heal a Navajo colleague while he walked 2500 miles in the desert of Arizona. These type of ceremonies are dramatic reenactments of quests or exiles wherein a character nearly dies or is destroyed altogether, perhaps male or female, or two brothers / sisters go through misfortune, or suffer wrongdoing, and is / are rescued by the gods, and cured by them. They use medicine and repair bones, or even reverse death. Every ritual is accomplished by music, wherein power to cure him. The stories themselves can be extracted from the ceremony and recited at gatherings large and small. When properly told, it retain ceremonial power because it preserves knowledge about the mythical past, about the Haashch’eeh Dine, the holy people. Navajo storytelling has deep roots in a sacred mythical past. Their holy people demand balance in the world and throughout the cosmos, beauty and harmony. In the story, the restoration of balance is required, as it has been lost, and it requires the careful use of language, the source of all necessary power.
Navajo tradition is linked to the magic of creation and revival. It perpetuates the power of human speech to heal and to restore through careful assembly of story and song. Between the two extremes of repetitive song and subtly balance spoken discourse resides the language of spoken narrative, with its combination of repetition and reiterated phrasing that underscores how the entire cosmos exists in a harmonic array of dimension and colour, darkness and light, and sunshine and rain-all carefully matched in strictly balanced counterpoise.
The Navajo also performed the Blessing way ceremony, a Navajo song with extensive metaphor, which ensured blessing, good luck, prosperity and the increase of livestock. Blessing ceremonies were used when someone dedicated a new house, when going off on a journey, for expecting a child, or when someone was in need of psychic and spiritual renewal. In the song about the origin of horses, white shell women, who is the principal Navajo creator deity and enemy slayer of one of her twin sons hears strange and beautiful voices calling. Follows the sound up a rainbow into the sky, and finds that it comes from horses in the house of his father, the sun. Enemy slayer takes the journey to find those horses.
We also read stories about the Apache. The Apache ranged over an enormous territory, lived in highly mobile groups, moved across the land to the complex rhythms of their own subsistence economy, a mix of maize agriculture, wild-plant gathering, hunting, and mounting raids against other tribes. The story “The birth of the triumphs over evils” recounts the conception and birth of the man-god. He triumphs over evils to an extraordinary Apache woman. The writer of this story was a person of power, and learned the ancient accounts of how the world and its inhabitants came into being. The story itself might be an epic of renewal and restoration, a moving depiction of how human life, or Apache life, was rescued from extinction and set on a course that enabled it to flourish. But it is also an account of the sacred origins of Apache social customs. In the story, changing women are asked to follow instructions to give birth, if they want to give birth to a perfect child.
Another Indian native tribe found in North Americas were the Hopis from Northern Arizona. Storytelling for them was generally restricted to the moon period of Kyaamuya, corresponding approximately to our December. During this winter month of imposed taboos, with many outdoors activities discouraged or banned, long evenings were best passed in the comfort of a warm indoors, and in the company of Tuwutsmoki (story bag-storyteller).
An important ingredient to the Hopi storytelling is the quest. In one of these stories, the hero, having grown up without his father, is determined to learn his father’s identity. He embarks on a perilous journey to Taawa, the sun, after his mother reveals to him that she was magically impregnated by the rays of the solar deity. The protagonists encountered a series of tests, a plot device common to many Hopi tales. The boy overcomes all the tests with the support of an old spider woman, a beneficent earth goddess. The boy proves to be a worthy offspring of the powerful sun.
Sun is a sky god who figures prominently in the Hopi belief system and mythology. While some origin myth have him to exist a priori and to portray him as participating in the creation of land and life, in emergence myths sun is generally created by the people after their exit from the underworld. They are usually assisted in this endeavour either by Maasaw, owner of the upper-world, or by old spider woman. Unlike some believed, the sun seems inferior in status to Maasaw, the supreme personage in the Hopi pantheon, but it is appearing to the Hopi, as Maasaw is dreaded on account of his association with death.
The sun is perceived as a fecundator whose generative powers of warmth and light essentially sustain life. The sun is also attributed sexual power through the motif of conception by sunlight. He is venerated and worshipped on a daily basis. An example is that he is venerated during the early morning rite of Kuyavato, when a Hopi prays with a pinch of sacred cornmeal for good health and abundant crops. Also every newborn child is presented to it when paternal aunts during the naming feast bestow their names on the child. This is another ceremony of eight days in winter solstice, aimed at magically bringing back the sun its return to a summer course. The sun functioned as a chronometer not only during the day, but throughout the year.
The story tells how this woman of the Walpi village became pregnant without being in contact with men. She went to her family who could not believe her. She then realised that the rays of sun made her pregnant. The aunts gave birth to a baby boy who was given the name by a ceremony specially fitted for him, Taawa, or sun. The boy slowly grows and becomes more and more curious about his father, so he decides to go and find him. He goes on his quest, and as he head east, sun heat becomes stronger. He finds some tree shade and felt to poo. He went to poo but a voice coming from a hole told him to do it somewhere else, and to return. Then the boy does as told, and returns to enter into the hole, where he finds the old spider. She packs him with a medicinal plant and other objects, so to support his quest through tests. The first test was a huge black snake, the second one a wolf, the third a bear… The old spider woman supported him with different objects in all challenges. After several tests, a snake tells the way to his father, who is a handsome man who seats with Taawa. They talk together, father and son. Then the sun father takes the boy on his journey east to west. His father tells him secrets but forbade him from telling them. His father asks not to tell anything to anyone at the village, not even to the boy’s grandfather, who is the chief of the village. After that, the boy returns to the human world, again through a hole, defecating, and with the help of old spider. Once in the village, the chief explains to the boy that the sun is father of everyone at the village, and that this is why they all pray to him and offer food to the god sun.
The Hopis also have song poems’ summer themes when nature blossoms. It is this happy period, these symbols of happiness, fulfilment, and long life, which are the basic texture of each piece. Kachima dances and Butterfly dances, in which both men and women participate, are masked with these song poems. In the Kachima dances, long hair, bangs and beards characters appear. The hair and beard represent the shoals of walking rain typical of the monsoon season in the American West. Two characters are part of the Kachina dance, and each character symbolises different aspects of agriculture.
In the farewell song, we read about the Havasupais, a small tribe in Arizona living by the Grand Canyon in a lush oasis of spectacular colour and beauty. In here, old women and old men’s songs are composed to express a deeply felt emotion. They are love songs of anger and pride in a family member. The Havasupais did sing songs about their emotions. Their tales were always in third person, and the emotions of the characters were expressed as emotions felt by one character towards another one. The farewell song expresses the understanding that youth believe themselves immortal. It also displays the deep disappointment of old age’s realisation that this youthful believe is false. The tale tells about the local belief that land is a living being and has a close and loving relationship with humans. Locals travelling to a land they have never been, would talk to the land about who they are, why are they there and where are they going.
In California we find a good number of native communities. The Yana were one of these communities who existed but have unfortunately disappeared. Among the stories they explained there was the “Story of the wildcat, rolling skull”, which is a widespread and favourite native American horror story. An unfortunate wildcat is so disturbed by a bad dream in real life, dismembering himself limb by limb until he’s nothing but a skull. As person’s skull he devours his newborn son and then sets off on a terrible superhuman rampage, frightening or killing everybody for miles around. Then he meets Coyote. Coyote disguises himself as an old woman and somehow tricks the skull into letting himself be roasted alive in a pit. The story ends with the world restored to order, which is one of Coyote’s more serious functions, after all, with people coming out of hiding and Coyote bragging up a storm.
Another interesting story is Silver-gray Fox creates another world. The Fox possesses the awesome power to create and Coyote has the power only to change. Coyote was born smart, but not wise, hence why he always has the need to change things. He was conniving but not thinking, quick to suspect but unable to solve a situation that requires fidelity. Coyote always wants to be the chief and is constantly killed by the fox, although always returns, not any wiser but returns.
In the story we read that Coyote’s greed is never satisfied, even when he possesses more than enough. His ability to shrug off danger and to proceed through life is always honed to precision. His irresponsibility seems to fortify his ability to defy death. Death just misses him by a hair of his tail, and he non chalantly dogtrots crookedly away. The human disposition to do that which is usually silly and often damaging is displayed in the errors of Coyote.
Silver-gray Fox is a creator who makes things that age good. He is a teacher who forgives the errors of Coyote and continues creating, knowing all the while that Coyote is coming behind him, changing the creation, and changing it for worse. Again and again Fox gives lessons to Coyote, and again and again Coyote does not learn.
In this story, Fox tires of killing Coyote, so plans to make another world without Coyote. Fox sings bringing water, then earth and then a sweat house, accomplishing to make a world without Coyote. The human desire to do what is proper is displayed in the spirit of the Fox.
Stories were told sometimes in lodges, such as the ones created by Maidu, a community at the Northern end of the Sierra Nevada. These people were organised in clusters of villages, typically around the margins of one of the meadows. In these places, winter houses were large, communal, semi-subterranean structures, sod covered, snug and cozy, with open-hearth fires and smoke holes in the roofs. In one of the stories explained by the Maidu, we read that Coyote the spoiler is part of a creation myth, in which in the beginning the creator, earth maker, and Coyote, were floating on an endless sea, searching for a bit of land from which to make the world. They find the nest of meadow lark which, at earth’s maker’s behest, Coyote stretches it out by lying on his belly and pushing with all four feet, thus bringing the world into being. Earth maker creates all different sorts of creatures, assigning to earth a name and a place to live. In an uncannily intuitive account, the storyteller represents these various photo creatures as plantlike entities that become their animal selves only after a sort of prenatal period of growing and sprouting in the ground.
In the second part of the creation myth, earth maker and Coyote have a falling-out over whether there will be death in the world. Coyote is in favour for it, Earth maker is against it. Coyote leaves and Earth maker sets for hunting him. These attempts are made and all fail. In the third part, both continue arguing about death and about procreation. They argue about a world with or without death, and Coyote invents sexual love. Coyote ends up triumphant. At the end though land itself is made from meadow lark’s nest, the creatures that inhabit it are made by earth maker and the human condition, the circumstances of love and death, are the work of Coyote.
Based on book Coming to Light: Contemporary translations of native literatures of North America by Brian Swann
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