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Denys Branham Storytelling, SLIS 5400 December 5, 2002 - page 5 / 7





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things. He shows human nature at its best and its worst and occasionally touched by the divine.

Cultural Analysis: Coyote stories have special meanings to the tribes that tell them. Even the way in which the stories are told has become a part of their culture. In the Karuk story, Fire Race, the Coyote helps to bring fire to people. Since then, the people have sat around the evening fire on cold winter nights and told his stories. They call these stories Pikva. Fire Race also emphasizes the importance of each creature; even the willow tree plays an important role. According to Jonathan London, stories about the other creatures referred to in these stories are told in the other seasons. Barre Toelken’s experience is that Coyote stories are best told in the setting of the story. For example, a story about hunting is told on a hunt. The content of Coyote stories can be quite graphic. For that reason some tribes do not include the youngest children when telling these stories while other tribes tell an abbreviated version when children are present.

The Zuni people associated the Coyote with the color blue, representing the west. After he is brought down by his own foolish behavior in Gerald McDermott’s Coyote, his color changes to a dusty gray with a black tipped tale. According to the Hopi elders, the black tip of Coyote’s tail represents the pitch darkness we will fall into when we reach the end of the world.

The introduction to Mourning Dove’s Coyote Stories points out that among the Columbia River tribes the only way you know that a story is over is when Coyote dies. The next story then begins with Fox restoring Coyote’s life. This phenomenon is explained in Morning Dove’s The Spirit Chief Names the Animal People. The Spirit Chief makes Coyote a minor deity in order to protect the New People from evildoers. To aide Coyote the Spirit Chief gives him the power to transform himself into other creatures. He also gives Fox the power or medicine (shoo’-mesh) to restore Coyote’s life. The special power given to Coyote is not spoken of as shoo’-mesh. Similarly, the Hopi medicine men never take Coyote as their spiritual father. In his collection of Hopi Coyote Stories, Ekkehart Malotki points out that they believe that Coyote’s medicine is harmful because he never takes the time to get it right. In fact, they even associate witchcraft with the Coyote. Malotki also points out that when the coyote comes to a village and howls, it is believed some disaster will occur within four days. In his story Coyote and the Bird Woman, Coyote goes from village to village howling. The meaning is that there will be a flood within four days.

The use of Coyote stories to instruct and explain, and the careful manner in which the stories are told are a part of the culture of the people to whom these stories belong.

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