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Denys Branham Storytelling, SLIS 5400 December 5, 2002 - page 6 / 7





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Morphology: The name coyote comes from the Nahuatl word, coyotl. Nahuatl is the language of the ancient Aztecs. Among the Stone Age hunters, coyote was admired for his cleverness. Later, however, the Native Americans who became shepherds and planters saw his cleverness as conniving and his endurance as a nuisance. These tribes portray him as a wily trickster at best who often falls victim to his own acts of selfishness. The Native American tribes who lived off of the land took a more positive view of Coyote despite his obvious character flaws. The Lord of the Animals is a myth from the Miwok tribe of California. The Miwoks were hunters and fishermen and said to eat every species of creature. In this creation story in which Coyote creates a human, Coyote is crafty but wise as well. Other tribes along the west coast also portray Coyote positively. In Fire Race, a Karuk story from northwest California, Coyote helps the animal people to get fire. The Pomo tribe of California recounts how the Coyote saved them and became a friend to the Pomos in the story Coyote and the Grasshoppers. Coyote again displays his creative powers in the Wasco legend, Coyote Places the Stars. Coyote is so pleased when the animals tell him he is the most clever and crafty, that he tells them “I will always be your friend and the friend of your children’s children.” One can almost imagine this story being told underneath the night sky in the mountains of Colorado with the constellations shimmering overhead. Mourning Dove Humishuma describes the Coyote of the Salishan tribes of the Columbia River area who lived primarily off of seafood. Her version of The Spirit Chief Names the Animal People portrays Coyote as very flawed semi-deity. Coyote is not given a name he desires, but is called Sin-ka-lip’ which means Imitator. However, he is placated with an important mission. The Great Spirit sums up the attitude of this tribe towards the Coyote with the words, “For doing that, for all the good things you do, you will be honored and praised by the people that are here now and that come afterward. But, for the foolish and mean things you do, you will be laughed at and despised. That you cannot help. It is your way.”

The attitude that developed among the tribes who turned to planting and herding is in direct contrast to that of the fishers and hunters. Ekkehart Malotki, author of The Gullible Coyote says, “The overall esteem that the Hopi have for coyote the ‘range creature’ is low. The predominant view holds that the animal is a rather ordinary critter with no positive attributes whatsoever.” His version of Coyote and the Bird Woman portrays an animal whose greed and gluttony result in his own downfall. Gerald McDermott’s Coyote also tells of a coyote with a “nose for trouble.” The crows in this story tolerate his attempts to imitate them until his rudeness becomes unbearable. The Borreguita and the Coyote takes Coyote back to the land of his origins in western Mexico. Now however the shepherds’ low opinion of him is in evidence. Time and time again the sheep outfox the Coyote in this tale. The Rabbit and the Coyote can be interpreted as a post- conquest story. The story is very much the same as Borreguita and the Coyote; however, the rabbit stories in this region portray the rabbit as the mayor, a puppet of the Spanish overlords. The coyote is cast as a bandit who is tricked by

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