Music: Taos Thunder by R. Carlos Nakai
One day the Creator was resting, sitting, watching some children at play in a village. The children laughed and sang, yet as he watched them, the
Creator's heart was sad. He was thinking: "These children will grow old. Their skin will become wrinkled. Their hair will turn gray. Their teeth
will fall out. The young hunter's arm will fail. These lovely young girls will grow ugly and fat. The playful puppies will become blind, mangy dogs.
And those wonderful flowers-yellow and blue, red and purple-will fade. The leaves from the trees will fall and dry up. Already they are turning
yellow." Thus the Creator grew sadder and sadder. It was in the fall, and the thought of the coming winter, with its cold and lack of game and green
things, made his heart heavy.
Yet it was still warm, and the sun was shining. The Creator watched the play of sunlight and shadow on the ground, the yellow leaves being carried
here and there by the wind. He saw the blueness of the sky, the whiteness of some cornmeal ground by the women. Suddenly he smiled. "All those
colors, they ought to be preserved. I'll make something to gladden my heart, something for these children to look at and enjoy."
The Creator took out his bag and started gathering things: a spot of sunlight, a handful of blue from the sky, the whiteness of the cornmeal, the
shadow of playing children, the blackness of a beautiful girl's hair, the yellow of the falling leaves, the green of the pine needles, the red, purple, and
orange of the flowers around him. All these he put into his bag. As an afterthought, he put the songs of the birds in, too.
Then he walked over to the grassy spot where the children were playing. "Children, little children, this is for you," and he gave them his bag. "Open
it; there's something nice inside," he told them. The children opened the bag, and at once hundreds and hundreds of colored butterflies flew out,
dancing around the children's heads, settling on their hair, fluttering up again to sip from this or that flower. And the children, enchanted, said that
they had never seen anything so beautiful.
The butterflies began to sing, and the children listened smiling. But then a songbird came flying, settling on the Creator's shoulder, scolding him,
saying: "It's not right to give our songs to these new, pretty things. You told us when you made us that every bird would have his own song. And
now you've passed them all around. Isn't it enough that you gave your new playthings the colors of the rainbow?" "You're right," said the Creator.
"I made one song for each bird, and I shouldn't have taken what belongs to you."
so the Creator took the songs away from the butterflies, and that's why they are silent. "They're beautiful even so!" he said.
A Papago Legend
All Rights Reserved
|How The Butterflies Came To Be
A Papago Legend
Now, one day after Earth-Maker shaped the world, Iioi, Out elder Brother was sitting and watching the children play. He saw the joy and the
youthfulness they displayed. He saw the beauty of their surroundings, and the fresh fragrance of the trees and the flowers. He heard the happy
songs of the birds, and saw the blue of the sky. He saw the women as they ground cornmeal. He saw their beauty, and the sunlight as it shone from
their hair. These were wonderful things.
But then elder Brother realized that all of these things would change. He knew that these children would all grow old and weaken and die. The
beautiful women would someday grow fat and ugly, and their beautiful black hair would turn gray. The leaves would turn brown and fall from the
trees, and the beautiful flowers that smelled so fresh would fade. The days would grow short and the nights would be cold. Elder Brother's heart
grew sad and troubled.
As Elder Brother watched the women grind cornmeal, the wind made some fallen yellow leaves dance in the sunlight. He decided to do something
which would capture some of these wonderful things which He saw. He decided that He must make something that everyone could enjoy, that would
lift their hearts and spirits. So, He took out His bag of Creation and began to gather some things together.
He took some blue from the sky, and some whiteness from the cornmeal. He gathered some spots of sunlight, and the blackness of a beautiful
woman's hair. He took the yellow of the falling leaves, and the green of the pine needles. He gathered the red, the purple, and the orange from the
flowers. As He gathered these things, He put them into His bag. And, last, he put the songs of the song birds in the bag.
When He had finished gathering these things together, He called the children together. He told them to open the bag and there would be a surprise
for them. So they opened the bag, and out flew hundreds of beautiful Butterflies! They were red and gold and black and yellow, blue and green and
white. They looked liked flowers, dancing in the wind. They flew all around the gleeful children, and lit on their heads. The hearts of the children
and the adults soared. Never before had they seen such wonderful, happy things. They began to sing their songs as they flew.
But then song bird lit on Iitoi's shoulder and asked Him. He said, "It is not right to give our songs to these pretty things! You told us when you made
us that each bird would have his own song. These pretty things have all the colors of the rainbow already. Must they take our songs, too?"
Elder Brother said, "You are right. I made one song for each bird, and I must not give them away to any other." So butterflies were made silent, and
they are still silent to this day. But their beauty brightens the day of all People, and brings out songs from their hearts.
And that is how Elder Brother meant it to be.
|The Creation Story
A Papago Legend
Long ago, they say, when the Earth was not yet finished, darkness lay upon the water and they rubbed each other. The sound they made was like the
sound at the edge of a pond.
There, on the water, in the darkness, in the noise, and in a very strong wind, a child was born. One day he got up and found something stuck to him.
It was algae. So he took some of the algae and from it made the termites. The termites gathered a lot algae and First Born tried to decide how to
make a seat so the wind could not blow it anywhere. This is the song he sang:
"Earth Medicine Man finished the Earth.
"Come near and see it and do something to it.
"He made it round.
"Come near and see and do something to it."
In this way, First Born finished the Earth. Then he made all animal life and plant life.
There was neither sun nor moon then, and it was always dark. The living things didn't like the darkness, so they got together and told First Born to
make something so that the Earth would have light. Then the people would be ables to see each other and live contentedly with each other.
So First Born said, "All right. You name what will come up in the Sky to give you light."
They discussed it thoroughly and finally agreed that it would be named "sun".
Next First Born made the moon and stars, and the paths that they always follow. He said, "There will be plenty of prickly pears and the people will
always be happy."
That's the way First Born prepared the Earth for us. Then he went away.
Then the Sky came down and met the Earth, and the first one to come forth was I'itoi, our Elder Brother.
The Sky met the Earth again, and Coyote came forth.
The Sky met the Earth again, and Buzzard came forth.
Elder Brother, Earth Magician, and Coyote began their work of creation, each creating three different things from the other. Elder Brother created
people out of clay and gave them the "crimson evening." which is regarded by the Tohono O'odham as one of the most beautiful sights in the region.
The sunset is reflected on the mountains with a peculiar radiance.
Elder Brother told the Tohono O'odham to remain where they were in that land which is the center of all things.
And there the desert people have always lived. They are living there this very day. And from his home among the towering cliffs and crags of
Baboquivari, the lonely, clouded-veiled peak, their Elder Brother, I'itoi, spirit of goodness, who must dwell in the center all things, watches over
|A Coyote's Tales
A Papago Legend
Late in August, just as the days were approaching their shortest length, the last group of visitors moved past the coyote exhibit at the Arizona Sonora
Desert Museum. "The Museum closes in five minutes," a docent (trained volunteer) told the visitors. "look at what the sign says," a tall, thin-legged
man told his friends. "Darn coyotes are scavengers. Says they eat rabbits, mice, even cactus. Cows, too, my brother tells me."
Juanita the Coyote was pacing her area, head drooping and tongue hanging out at the fading late afternoon sun. "That coyote sure is scrawny. His
coat looks like it could use a trip to the dry cleaners," a female visitor said. "It is a female coyote, ma'am," the docent corrected. "Hey, you scruffy,
mangy, overgrown dog!" the thin-legged man yelled.
Juanita stopped her pacing and sat on the ground facing the visitors. She held her head high and let out long, menacing howl. The three straggling
visitors jumped back. Juanita ended howl, turned abruptly, and strode off to her den. "That's the five o'clock whistle folks," the patient docent said.
"Please, let's move toward the exit so our animals can have their evening meal in peace."
A full moon was rising into the night sky as Juanita lay in a corner of her den catering to her brood of pups. Walter, her husband, dosed in the far
corner, resting up for his own concert of howls that he would give once the moon had risen to its highest point. Several of the pups finished their
meal and licked each other's noses and mouths.
Stephanie Coyote, the runt of the litter but the most outspoken, said in the loudest voice she could manage, "Mother, please tell us one of your tales
about running free in the wild." "I will, Stephanie, but only if you lower your voice. Your father is sleeping." "Sorry, mother." Stephanie said in a
whisper. "I want a story, too," Guillermo said. "If Stephanie gets one, I want one, too, he sulked. "Children, please bide your time. I usually recite
only one bedtime story each night. In honor of the full moon which coyotes love so much, I will tell a Stephanie tale and a Guillermo tale this
evening." All six pups quickly gathered around their mother in a semi-circle.
|The tale about how Juanita came to the desert museum
A Papago Legend
Benjamin, the shyest of the six coyote children, at last spoke up. "I know it is Guillermo's turn for a second tale, but I'd like to hear once more the
story about how you came to the Museum, mother. However, only if Guillermo agrees?" Benjamin said, lowering his head and afraid to look
Guillermo in the face.
"Okay, okay, Guillermo said, just a little irritated. "Tell the story that will make poor little Benjamin happy. Maybe then he won't sulk and feel sorry
"Each of us has different personalities," Juanita said gently. "The humans think we are all the same because, to them, all coyotes look and act the
same. Little do they know how different we can be, and that's what the second tale is all about." With that prologue, Juanita began her tale.
"Once upon a time, many moons ago, when I was very young and inexperienced I had my only other litter of pups. My husband at that time was a
surly older coyote named Nicholas. Unlike your father, Walter, Nicholas was not a kind parent. He growled at our children constantly and forced
me to do all the hunting while he lounged away in the den and did nothing. One day, because I had not returned with enough food to suit him,
Nicholas bit me on the ear and began picking up my pups and started shaking them. I was fearful that he was actually going to eat them. That very
night when he was sound asleep the children and I left quickly and followed a stream so it would hide our scent."
"What did you do then, mother?" Benjamin asked, quivering with fear even though he was safe and was only listening to a story.
"We traveled for three days and nights without stopping, except to rest briefly and eat a few water beetles," Juanita continued. "Travel by day can be
very dangerous for a mother coyote and her siblings. We have our enemies, as I've told you. Mountain lions, like Victor, or a wandering bear or a
large bobcat would consider small coyotes to be a hearty meal. But, thanks to the Great Coyote God in the sky who lives behind the moon, we all
reached a remote area under the stream's bank. There was a den close by."
"That's when you met Mario, the widowed coyote," Benjamin inserted because he knew the story so well.
"Yes. Mario showed us his den and told us the tale of his dead wife, Sarah. Sarah had been killed by a hunter who used one of those flaming tubes."
"Rifle, mother," Tomas corrected.
"Thank you, Tomas. Yes, a rifle. Anyway, Mario was everything Nicholas was not. He was kind and patient. He hunted with me and later trained
my children to hunt, too. But Mario was an old coyote and, as will happen to all of us, one moonlit night he told me, 'Juanita, dearest, I am very
tired. I am going out into the thicket and lie down and rest.'"
"That's the animal way of saying, 'I am going to die'," Benjamin said.
"That is the usual way, children. All of us eventually get called to the coyote heaven of stars from whence we came," Juanita said gently.
"Skip to the part about how you came here, mother," Guillermo said impatiently.
Juanita did not appreciate this interruption. However, she only sighed and said, "It is getting quite late, and I am beginning to get tired," Juanita
said with a yawn.
"Mother, you're not going to die, are you?" Benjamin howled in alarm.
"No, Benjamin. Life here at the Museum is much easier on a coyote, and I expect to live to see more passing moons."
All six coyote children sighed and snuggled in closer to their mother.
"As I was saying, once my children were raised and out on their own and I had endured the winter of ice and snow, I decided to take what the
humans call 'early retirement.' From the top of a hill just west of here, I saw one moonlit night that there was a coyote exhibit. I spied Walter pacing
back and forth and knew that he was lonely. I thought to myself, 'Juanita, how can you join him? You cannot just trot up to the admissions window
and ask for a ticket.' So, I thought and I thought and I thought. The answer was right before my very eyes, but it took me a long time to see it. The
next moonlit night I crept to the cyclone fence near where the keepers store their work clothes. I sat, pointed my nose toward the sky, and began to
howl. I prayed that the humans would know how to capture me. I prayed and prayed they would not shoot me with one of their rifles."
"That is when you had some great coyote luck," Stephanie said, unable to restrain herself. "The keeper on duty that night was Marin Lopez, the very
keeper of our exhibit."
"Stephanie, do you wish to finish my tale, or shall I?" Juanita asked, waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, mother." Stephanie bowed her head. "Please continue."
"Well, I will continue, but just with the conclusion to the tale. Mr. Lopez is a Tohono O'odham Indian and knows more about coyotes than any
human being I have ever encountered. He let himself outside the gate and approached me slowly and with soothing words. He slipped a leash
around my neck, and I let him lead me inside to an area I later learned was called the animal quarantine. For a month, I was given various shots
and many medical tests. At long last, I was taken to Walter and properly introduced. We courted and fell in love. It took a while, but I finally had
my second litter of pups. When you are grown, you will be taken to other places where you will prosper as I have here."
"We are so glad you are our mother," Benjamin said.
Benjamin and Alfred, Stephanie and Guillermo, Benita and Tomas approached quietly and each, in turn, gave their mother a coyote kiss.
Outside the den, the howling started as Walter began reciting his own coyote tale to the Coyote God behind the moon.
Martin Lopez, newly promoted to foreman of all the keepers, looked down on his coyote clan and smiled. He knew the tales they were sharing even
though he had never heard them from Juanita's or Walter's mouths.
|The Tale Of What Juanita Ate In The Wild
A Papago Legend
"Here at the Museum," Juanita began, "the keepers feed us and we don't have to worry about hunting for rats or beetles or an occasional wounded
Out there in the wild, things are very different. A coyote is only as strong as her next meal, particularly when she has hungry pups to feed."
"What did you eat out there beyond the fences, mother?" Stephanie asked impatiently.
Juanita held the tip of her paw to her mouth, signaling silence. She did not like interruptions when she was telling her tales, except when the
interruption was invited. She waited a full minute until all six of her children were paying attention.
"Out there we chased down the human's cows one night and their sheep the next," she said and showed her flashing coyote teeth.
"Really?" Benita Coyote uttered in amazement.
"No, children, we don't chase cows and sheep.; Coyotes rarely attack the human's animals, though the humans blame us nearly every time one of
their animals is mutilated. Humans rarely blame the wolves or the mountain lions or their neighbors' dogs."
"Like what Victor the mountain lion did to the deer," Alfred said, remembering the story which his mother had told him about the puma's attack back
in the summer.
"Correct, Alfred. My diet was mostly made up of small wild animals which I encountered during my hunts. Field mice in the spring. An unwary
rabbit in early summer. Grasshoppers in late summer were always plentiful. The fall and winter presented the hardest times because cold weather in
the mountains keeps many wild animals and insects underground.
Still, I managed to feed on wild berries. The early fall was the best because the birds would come and gorge on overripe berries, then fall to the
ground and stagger around because the berries made them dizzy. Oh, the birds I have eaten: blue jays and pine jays; tanagers and warblers; purple
martins and finches. My favorite has always been the white-winged dove. They were plump and juicy and delightful to a coyote's taste buds."
"Did you ever kill one of the human's animals, mother?" Benita asked meekly.
"Only once, Benita. During one harsh winter, ice and snow covered the mountain meadows and trees. I had eaten only nuts and bits of dried cactus
which I had stored in my den. I was starving. I headed for lower ground where I knew humans lived in greater numbers. One moonlit night I snuck
into a hen house and stole two chickens. The whole hen house was in an uproar. I knew the humans would come and investigate. So, I ran as fast as
a coyote can with two chickens in its mouth."
"What did the humans do?" Benita asked.
"A man pointed a long rod in my direction. I heard a small clap of thunder and something whizzed by my head."
"That would be a rifle like the keepers sometimes carry," Tomas, the most observant coyote pup, added.
"Yes, I believe it was a rifle, Tomas. In any event, I dropped one of the chickens during my escape, but I carried the other to a safe distance before
Juanita adjusted herself slightly and continued. "I have eaten other human food which they have discarded along roads or hiking paths: potato
chips, hamburger rolls, bits of something called hot dogs, for example. These foods are okay, but I really prefer my food uncooked."
"I tasted a piece of crunchy orange corn which a human tossed in our exhibit last week," Stephanie said. "It tasted yukky. I like the food the keepers
In the far corner of the den, Walter let out a hearty coyote yawn.
"Children, I think your father wants to go out and get ready to howl at the full moon," Juanita said.
"Can we go, too?" the coyote pups said in unison.
"Only grown coyotes can howl at the harvest moon," Walter instructed as he passed his children, bending down and licking each one, in turn, with
the tip of his tongue. "You children can listen to the second tale your mother promised while I serenade in the distance." And, with that, Walter
pranced outside into the light of the harvest moon.
|Papago (Tohono O'odham)