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Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter
Coyote Builds North America
By Barry Lopez
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Barry Holstun Lopez
All rights reserved.
Coyote Keeps His Name
One time great spirit called all the Animal People together. They came from all over the earth to one camp and set up their lodges. Spirit Chief said there was going to be a change. There was going to be a new kind of people coming along.
He told all the Animal People they would now have to have names.
"Some of you have names now, some have no names. Tomorrow everyone will have a name. This name will be your name forever, for all your descendants. In the morning you must come to my lodge and choose your name. The first one to come may choose any name he wants. The next person will take any other name. That is the way it will go. And to each person I will give some work to do."
All the Animal People wanted to have powerful names and be well known. They wanted to be the first to Old Man's lodge in the morning. Coyote walked around saying he would be the first. He did not like his name. He was called Trickster and Imitator. Everybody said those names fitted him, but he wanted a new name.
"I will take one of the three powerful names," said Coyote. "The Mountain Person, Grizzly Bear, who rules all the four-leggeds, or Eagle, who rules the birds, or Good Swimmer, the Salmon, the chief of the Fish People. These are the best names. I will take one of these names."
Fox, who was Coyote's brother, said, "Maybe you will have to keep the name you have, which is Sinkalip. People don't like that name. No one wants it."
"I am tired of that name, Sinkalip!" said Coyote. "Let some old person who cannot do anything take it. I am a warrior! Tomorrow when I am called Grizzly Bear or Eagle or Salmon you will not talk like this. You will beg to have my new name, brother."
"You had better go home and get some sleep, Sinkalip," said Fox, "or you will not wake up in time to get any name."
But Coyote didn't go home. He went around asking the Animal People questions. When he heard the answers he would say, "Oh, I knew that before. I did not have to ask." This is the way he was. He lost his shirt in a game of hoop and stick, then he went home and talked with his wife. She would be called Mole, the Mound Digger, after the naming day.
"Bring in plenty of wood now. I must stay awake all night. Tomorrow I must get my new name. I will be Grizzly Bear. I will be a great warrior and a chief."
Coyote sat watching the fire. Mole went to bed with the children. Half the night passed. Coyote got sleepy. His eyes grew heavy and started to close, so he took two small sticks and wedged them between his eyelids to hold his eyes open. "Now I can stay awake," he thought, but before long he was asleep with his eyes wide open.
The sun was high in the sky when Coyote woke up. Mole made a noise that woke Coyote. She did not wake him up before this because she was afraid if he got a great name he would go away and leave her. So she didn't say anything.
Coyote went right over to the lodge of Old Man. He saw no one around and thought he was the first. He went right in and said, "I am going to be Grizzly Bear. That shall be my name." He was talking very loudly.
"The name Grizzly Bear was taken at dawn" said the Great Spirit.
"Then my name shall be Eagle."
"Eagle flew away at sunrise."
"Well, I shall be called Salmon then," said Coyote in a quiet voice.
"The name Salmon has also been taken," said the Great Spirit. "All the names have been taken except yours. No one wanted to steal your name."
Coyote looked very sad. He sat down by the fire and was very quiet. The Great Spirit was touched.
"Imitator," he said, "you must keep your name. It is a good name for you. I wanted you to have that name and so I made you sleep late. I wanted you to be the last one here. I have important work for you to do. The New People are coming, you will be their chief.
"There are many bad creatures on the earth. You will have to kill them. Otherwise they will eat the New People. When you do this, the New People will honor you. They will say you are a great chief. Even the ones who come after them will remember what you have done, and they will honor you for killing the People-devouring monsters and for teaching the New People all the ways of living.
"The New People will not know anything when they come, not how to dress, how to sing, how to shoot an arrow. You will show them how to do all these things. And put the buffalo out for them and show them how to catch salmon.
"But you will do foolish things too, and for this the New People will laugh at you. You cannot help it. This will be your way.
"To make your work easier, I will give you a special power. You will be able to change yourself into anything. You will be able to talk to anything and hear anything talk except the water.
"If you die, you will come back to life. This will be your way. Changing Person, do your work well!"
Coyote was glad. He went right out and began his work. This is the way it was with him. He went out to make things right.CHAPTER 2
Coyote Creates the Earth
Long ago there was no earth, only water. Coyote was floating around on a small raft when he met the ducks. They were the only other creatures. "My brothers," he said, "there is no one else around. It is no good to be alone like this. You must get me some earth so I can make things right."
He turned to the red-headed mallard. "Dive beneath this water and try to bring up some earth. We'll use it as a means of living."
The red-headed mallard dived. He remained down for a long time but came up without bringing any earth.
Coyote turned to the pinto duck. "I sent the older one, but he was not able to get any earth. Now I will let you try." The pinto duck came up after a long time and said, "My brother, I was not able to get any."
"How is that? I thought surely you would bring some."
Then Coyote asked a smaller, blue-feathered duck to dive. "If you do not bring up any, we will have no land to live on." He dived down, but he came up with no earth.
Coyote did not know what to do.
Then the grebe spoke up. "My older brother, you should have asked me to go before you asked these others. They are my superiors, but they are helpless." He took his turn diving and stayed down a long time. When he came up Coyote said, "What sort of luck did you have?"
"I have brought some." He had a little dirt between his webbed feet.
Coyote said, "To every undertaking there are always four trials. You have achieved it." Then he took the mud and said, "I will make this into the earth. You will live in the ponds and streams and multiply there where you can build your nests. Now, I am going to make this earth."
Coyote took the mud in his hand and he started in the east. "I will make it large so we have plenty of room." As he traveled along he spread the mud around and made the earth. He traveled like this for a long time, going toward the west. When he had finished he said, "Now that we have this earth, there are some things that want to be here."
They heard a wolf howling.
"Already there is one howling," said Coyote.
He pointed toward the Sun, which was going down, and said, "Listen, there is another one out there now." It was a coyote. "That coyote has attained life by his own powers," said Coyote. "He is great."
Then they all went for a walk. Out on the plains they saw some shining objects. When they got up close they saw that these were medicine stones.
"This is part of the earth," said Coyote, picking up one of the stones which looked like a buffalo, "the oldest part. There shall be stones like this everywhere. They are separate beings."
When they had gone on some ways they saw a person standing near a hill.
"Look," said Coyote, "there is a human being. He is one of the Stars, but now he is down here standing on the ground. Let's go look at him."
When they got up close, the star-person changed himself into a plant. It was the tobacco plant. There were no other plants around at that time. It was the first. Coyote said, "From now on all people will have this plant, take it in the spring and raise it. It is the Stars up above that have come down like this. They will take care of the people. Take care of this plant. It will be the means of your living. Use it in dancing. When you plant it in the spring, sing this song:
Female comrade, the earth, where shall I plant it?"
After that, Coyote found there was no grass. "This is no good." He made it. "Let us make some mountains, hills and trees." He made them all.
He saw there were no fish in the creeks, so he put some there.
This is the way he started the whole thing.CHAPTER 3
Coyote Makes the Human Beings
One day, long before there were any people on the earth, a monster came down from the north. He was a huge monster and he ate everything in sight. He ate all the little animals, the chipmunks and the raccoons and the mice, and all the big animals. He ate the deer and the elk and even the mountain lion.
Coyote couldn't find any of his friends any more and this made him very mad. He decided the time had come to stop the monster.
Coyote went across the Snake River and tied himself to the highest peak in the Wallowa Mountains. Then he called out to the monster on the other side of the river. He challenged the monster to try and eat him.
The monster charged across the river and up into the mountains. He tried as hard as he could to suck Coyote off the mountain with his breath but it was no use. Coyote's rope was too strong.
This frightened the monster. He decided to make friends with Coyote and he invited Coyote to come and stay with him for awhile.
One day Coyote told the monster he would like to see all of the animals in the monster's belly. The monster agreed and let Coyote go in.
When he went inside. Coyote saw that all the animals were safe. He told them to get ready to escape and set about his work. With his fire starter he built a huge fire in the monster's stomach. Then he took his knife and cut the monster's heart down. The monster died a great death and all the animals escaped. Coyote was the last one out.
Coyote said that in honor of the event he was going to create a new animal, a human being. Coyote cut the monster up in pieces and flung the pieces to the four winds. Where each piece landed, some in the north, some to the south, others to the east and west, in valleys and canyons and along the rivers, a tribe was born. It was in this way that all the tribes came to be.
When he was finished, Coyote's friend, Fox, said that no tribe had been created on the spot where they stood. Coyote was sorry he had no more parts, but then he had an idea. He washed the blood from his hands with water and sprinkled the drops on the ground.
Coyote said, "Here on this ground I make the Nez Perce. They will be few in number, but they will be strong and pure."
And this is how the human beings came to be.CHAPTER 4
The Creation of the Shoshone
Coyote was out hunting rabbits one day when he saw a very tall woman off in the distance without any clothes on. "Well, I have never seen one like this," he said. "I should go over there and see her."
Coyote went over and began following the woman but he couldn't catch up with her. They walked on for a long time, over many mountains. Finally they came to White Mountain. Coyote was very thirsty by now. He saw that the woman was carrying a small water basket and he asked her for a drink. She gave him the basket jug. He drank for a long time but there was still water in the small jug when he was finished.
They walked on.
Finally they came to a large lake. "My home is over there," said the woman and she began to cross the lake. "I can't do that," said Coyote. "I will have to go around." But the woman turned around and gave Coyote new legs. She gave him the water bug's legs and he followed her over, running on top of the water.
The woman lived with Ocean Old Woman, her mother. Ocean Old Woman had never seen a man before.
The next morning Ocean Old Woman got up very early and began to weave a water jug, a large one.
Coyote stayed with them for some time. At first he had some trouble sleeping with them because they didn't know about that. When he explained it to them they didn't think it was any good, but when he showed them, they liked it. So he slept with both of them.
One day while Coyote was out hunting the two women gave birth to many very small children. They put them all in the water jug the old woman had made.
When Coyote returned they said, "Maybe your brother Wolf is missing you. You should go back home." Coyote said he would go. While he was getting his things Ocean Old Woman spoke to the children in the jug. "You must go with Coyote," she said. "This place isn't your home."
They put the basket of children up on Coyote's back. It was very heavy but Coyote said he didn't mind. He'd carried deer down from the mountains many times.
Ocean Old Woman said, "Now, when you come to Saline Valley pull the stopper out of the bottle, but just a little way. When you come to Death Valley open it again, a little more this time. When you get to Tin Mountain open it again, about half way. When you are in Moapa, open it up all the way."
Coyote said he would do this. At Saline Valley he opened the stopper a little way. Tall, dark people, very good looking, got out and ran away. They were the best looking people in the jug. This frightened Coyote, but he went on. In Death Valley he opened it again. More good-looking people came out and ran away. The women all had long, dark hair, very beautiful. When he came to Ash Meadows, where we are, he opened it up again and the Shoshone people and the Paiute came out. These people were very good-looking too. At Tin Mountain Coyote let some others out but they were not too good-looking. Then at Moapa he opened the jug up all the way and short ugly people came out, very poor. The girls had short hair and lice. They all had sore eyes. The people over there are still like that today.
That's how Ocean Old Woman and Young Woman had the first children. Coyote was the father of everyone.
Excerpted from Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter by Barry Lopez. Copyright © 1977 Barry Holstun Lopez. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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