Navajo Coyote Woman


A long ago there lived a Coyote Lady who was the sister of twelve divine brothers. She had many handsome suitors but none could win her
One day Ma-i, the Coyote, thought he would see if the stories of her beauty were true. So he trotted across hills and valleys to her hogan. When he saw her his eyes grew large and he said without thinking. "What must I do to win your paw?"
"It would be of no use for you to know; you couldn't satisfy me."
Coyote believed there was nothing in the world he couldn't do. "Tell me," he said, "what?"
"All the others have failed. How could you succeed?"
Coyote would not give up. A third time he asked. "TeIl me what I must do to win your paw?"
She repeated. "You cannot win my paw. You are not big enough, strong enough, or sexy enough"
"TeIl me." said Coyote desperately, "I'll do anything."
Now the fourth time he asked. Coyote Lady answered, "The person who marries me must first kill a giant."
So Coyote went away and devised a plan. The next day he started out to find a giant. After a short time he met Grey Giant, who was half as big as Big Pine, with an evil eye and long yellow tusks for teeth.
"Grey Giant," Coyote shouted, "do you know why you can't catch your enemies? You can't run fast enough. I can jump over four bushes in one bound," Coyote jumped over four sage bushes to show off.
"Cousin Coyote," said Grey Giant. "How is it that you run so good?"
"I'll tell you the secret. But first you build a sweat-house so we can purify ourselves,"
"All right. Cousin. I'll build the sweat-house," And Grey Giant set to work carrying logs and putting them up tent-fashion and plastering the chinks with mud.
Coyote went off and hunted until he found the thigh bone of an antelope that Mai-t'so. the wolf, had killed and eaten. He hid it under his fur coat. When he returned, the sweat house was finished, so he and Grey Giant built a fire and heated rocks and made a leaf carpet for the floor. Coyote hung the four blankets of the sky over the doorway-one white, one blue, one yellow and one black. It made the sweat house dark inside. They took off their clothes and hung them with their weapons on Big Pine; then they entered the sweat house and sat down.
`Now" said Coyote, "do as I say and you will become a fast runner. Cut the flesh of your thigh to the bone, and then break the bone. I will cut mine first to show you how."
"Don't it cause pain?" asked Grey Giant, stupidly
"That part is soon over," said Coyote. "And afterward you'll be a fast runner." Then Coyote reached for a great stone knife and pretended to whack off his thigh.
He howled and he yowled, so that the sweat-house shook with the vibrations. "Agh! What pain!" he hollered. And he prayed and sang and pretended to slash his leg some more.
It was dark in the sweat house and Grey Giant couldn't see a thing. Coyote put the old bone on top of his thigh and thrust it toward Grey Giant.
"There, you can feel my bone laid bare. Feel it with your hand."
Grey Giant put his hand on Coyote's leg and felt the antelope bone that Coyote had smuggled into the lodge.
"True. You cut to the bone."
"I do it often to make myself a fleet runner," said Coyote. "Now comes the worst part. I have to bust my bone." He held the stone knife above his head and brought it down with all his strength. Crack! The bone splintered into pieces. Coyote howled and prayed.
"Feel it. Grey Giant, feel it!"
Grey Giant felt the broken ends which had scattered on the floor. "What you say is true, Cousin, but don't it hurt bad?"
"Yes," gagged Coyote. "But it's why I'm the fastest runner in the world." Coyote spit on his thigh and sang, "Tohe! Tohe! Tohe! Heal together! Grow together! Tohe! Tohe! Tohe! In a short time he said, "Grey Giant, feel my leg. It is well. I can run faster than ever now."
Grey Giant felt the leg all over. "I will do as you have done I too want to be a fast runner."
"Here's the knife," said Coyote, and Grey Giant took the stone knife and began to cut away the skin on his thigh. He howled like thunder. "Never mind if it hurts," said Coyote. "Just keep right on cutting."
Grey Giant roared and howled but he kept on cutting until -scratch- ! He reached bone "Cousin, I am now to the bone."
"Break the bone," said Coyote. Grey Giant gave his leg a mighty whack with the stone knife. The bone cracked, shattered into pieces.
"It is done," roared Grey Giant, and he commenced to pray and sing as Coyote had done. He held the two parts of the leg together. "Tohe! Tohe! Tohe! Heal together! Grow together! Tohe! Tohe! Tohe! Help me. Coyote, Help me. Cousin. The bone won't heal."
Coyote saw that it was time for him to leave. He ran out of the sweat house and fetched his bow and arrows. He took away the sky blankets from the door and shot four arrows into Grey Giant, who fell to the floor and died.
Coyote cut off his scalp with the stone knife and hung it on the end of a cedar stick. Giants are the only people in Navajo country with yellow hair and Coyote knew that Coyote Lady would recognize Giant's scalp. But to make sure, he took Giant's great quiver and arrows for further proof of his cunning act.
When he reached the hogan of Coyote Lady he threw the trophies at her feet: the yellow-haired scalp, the great quiver, the arrows. "I have killed Grey Giant. Now for my reward. Marry me!" said Coyote
"Not yet. You have not done all that I require."
"What more?" Coyote whined.
"The man who marries me must die four times and come to life."
"You speak the truth? You mean if I die four times and come to life you will marry me?"
"Yes," replied Coyote Lady absently.
"You promise not to think up new tasks for me to do?"
"That is all I ask."
Four times Coyote asked the same question and when she gave the same answer the fourth time he said, "Now you can kill me."
She led him outside her hogan and told him to lie down. Then she took a heavy club and hit him over the head. She beat him on the back and on the legs and all over his body until he was thoroughly crushed. Only the tip of his nose and the tip of his tail were untouched.
"Coyote is dead." she laughed, throwing down her club. And she returned to the hogan for she had much work to do. Later that day while she was weaving. She saw someone come to the doorway of her hogan. She looked up, and there she saw the figure of Coyote.
"I've won the first time," he said. "Three more times I die, and then I claim you for my wife."
Coyote Lady did not say anything, but again she went outside the hogan and picked up a big club. She bade him lie down and again she beat Coyote to a pulp. This time she picked up the pieces of his body threw them in all directions, and went inside to resume her weaving. Once more he was standing in the doorway as if he had never been beaten to a pulp and thrown in all directions.
"Now I've won two games. If I win twice more, you're my wife."
Coyote Lady took no chances the third time. She beat Coyote until he was nothing but flayed fur and the wind had blown him in the four earthly directions. Luckily for Coyote, she had neglected to crush the tip of his tail and the tip of his nose It was some time before he could get himself together again, but he was by no means dead, and by evening he came round a third time and grinned in Coyote Lady's face.
Now she was truly afraid, because no living thing could withstand her beatings, and Coyote always came back good as new. The fourth time she mashed him with a cornmeal masher, ground him into meal, and, satisfied that he was finally done for and she was free to marry someone with more sex appeal, she went inside to finish her weaving.
It took Coyote the longest time of his life to pull himself together this last time, but he succeeded as before, because his nose-tip and the tip of his tail were intact and unharmed.
When Coyote Lady looked up to see the moon, she thought she saw Coyote standing in it, his head and shoulders all silvery and smooth. "Coyote, is that you?" she asked fearfully not believing what she saw.
Coyote stepped down from the ridge wearing a mantle of moonlight on his fur and he said two words. "I win." (pp. 53-8)

 

 

Meditations with the Navajo; Gerald Hausman, 1987