Changing Bear Maiden

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There is a little hill called tqnts'i'se ko just across the Mancos Canyon, which used to be a house. It was the home of 12 brothers. The brothers were great hunters and hunted all over the mesas. They had one sister. The girl grew to be a beautiful maiden, and the holy men came from far and wide to ask her to marry them. The maiden's name was Ataed' diy ini. When her brothers were away hunting she stayed at home alone. Now the Coyote came to the brothers and called out "Brother-in-law." He wanted this maiden to become his wife. Ataed' diy ini told him "No," for only the one who killed the giant would become her husband. The Coyote sat there with his head down for a moment, then he said "Very well." He left her and went to the home of the giant. - Coyote tricks the giant into a sweathouse where he tricks him into sawing off his leg in order to gain swiftness and strength. - He tried to make them grow together. But the Coyote grabbed the giant's severed leg and ran away with it, saying "I never heard of a bone growing together in a day." The Coyote took the giants's leg to the maiden and told her that he had killed the giant. But the maiden said that before she would marry him she would have to kill him; and if he could return to life, then he could be her husband.



The Coyote hung his head and covered his eyes with his hand for a moment. "Very well," he said, and he went away. - Coyote hides his vitals in mountains and wind, thereafter the maiden kills him four times altogether. - but after a little while the Coyote came in and said "Now are you my wife?" The maiden asked him how he could do these things. He told her that after she became his wife he would show her his magic. He became her husband and she became his wife. Then he took her to the east and showed her the mountain and the tunnel that he had made. And he took her to the south, and west, and north. She learned to do what the Coyote had done. He taught her his ways. - After this her brothers return and notice that she "is not the same," whereupon they deal with their new brother-in-law by moving out.

They go out hunting and Coyote joins them despite the rejection of his new in-laws. He invites himself into trouble which causes him his death at the hands of the Swallow people. The maiden upon the brothers return without her husband, accuses them of killing him, despite their denials. She tracks him and finds his remains. - After the woman left her brothers to go look for the Coyote the eldest brother said "Listen now to my words our sister is about to do something still more evil." When the woman returned to the house she told her brothers that the people in the canyon had killed her husband. She would not sit down in the home. She prepared herself to go against the cliff people. First, she took her sewing awls and sharpened them; then she hid her heart and lungs as the Coyote had taught her, and turned herself into a great bear with sharp teeth and claws, and she went forth against the people of the canyon. - Her war with the Swallow of cliff people cost them many lives but did not harm her. - Always when she returned to her brothers she was in her woman form. But her name was now Esdza' shash nadle, the Woman who Became a Bear. - Her violence turned from hatred to a bloody rage as she now killed during the daytime, whereas she had only killed at night. Her brothers fearing reprisals too, hid the youngest brother in their dwelling.

After returning home the Bear Woman divined their location, and catching up with her brothers killed them all save the last. She saw the youngest was missing so she divined again to locate him beneath the ashes of her brother's dwelling. She tries to kill him while grooming him but the wind warns him in to be wary and helps thwart her deception. - Now the boy watched her shadow, and each time that he caught her changing into the bear form he turned and looked at her and she became a woman. After the fourth time he had his muscles set, and jumped away from her. Sure enough she grabbed his belt; but the tie was loosened and he escaped. She was near him when he reached the cactus. He jumped over it; she ran around it. The second time she was near him he jumped over the yucca; the third time he jumped over the fallen log; and the fourth time, over the great boulder. Then her heart became nervous, and the chipmunk who was guarding it screamed. The heart and the lungs were beating up and down just ahead of the boy. They were covered with oak leaves. The Bear Woman cried out "Oh, brother, brother, stop! There are my heart and lungs. There is my life." Now when the boy saw the leaves beating up and down in fright he jumped over them, and he shot his arrow into them. The Bear Woman fell, and the blood gushed out of her mouth and nostrils. The boy returned near her, and the little breeze told him to stop the blood. It must not flow, for if it met the blood from her heart she would become whole again. So the boy pulled the Bear Woman's carcass away.

He was angry. He spread her legs and cut out her sex organs. He said "You have the sex organs of a woman, and great trouble has come of it." He tossed it to the top a tree and said "The people of the earth shall use you henceforth." It became pitch that is found on cedar and pinion trees. Then he cut off her breasts and said "You have a woman's breasts and still you have caused great trouble." He tossed them to the top of a tree and said "The people of the earth shall use you." And they became pinion nuts. After these things happened many people planned to leave the mesas. They were afraid of the Woman who become a bear. They buried the Calendar Stone; they wrapped their dead; and leaving their belongings, they went away. But before they left they drew pictures on the rocks of all the things that trouble came from.

The Dine' Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians; 1956, Aileen O'Bryan.

Changing-bear-maiden (tcike' cac nadle'he) (U) is the female apotheosis of evil as Changing Woman is of good or as Big Monster is of destruction. She contrasts with her brothers, who are all that is worthy; she forms a pair with Coyote standing solidly on the side of evil. One reference, in a reviling speech of Coyote and, therefore, to be questioned, says she is the daughter of Sun. If so, she might be classed with the Unpersuadable Deities. However, since the Endurance Chant is dedicated to persuading her and she appears in some assemblies of gods, whereas the other monsters do not, she is classed as difficult to persuade.

Her story begins by depicting her as a great beauty, highly desirable, greatly respected and talented, a girl who despises men, one who makes conditions of matrimony so difficult that no man can fulfill them; she is what I have termed a 'decoy maiden.'

She exemplified the Navajo model housekeeper and a member of an ideal family, for she did all the work for many brothers, apparently without effort. She kept their home in excellent order-cleanliness is particularly stressed-and saw to it that they had plenty to eat. The Brothers controlled rare game and were good providers; all seemed satisfied and happy with the arrangement.

Into this situation, idyllic though in Navajo terms abnormal, came Coyote, overcome with lust for the girl and with jealousy of The Brothers. He showed himself in his best light and made marriage seem attractive. The girl had been warned against danger in the abstract and had been taught a great deal of lore with which to protect herself, but no one had instructed her about 'the one man.' The description of the seduction of Changing-bear-maiden is a narrative gem. For days the girl met all Coyote's arguments and resisted his blandishments. She practiced all the theory she had been taught, requiring him to kill Big Monster and to undergo death four times at her own hands. Finally, she reached the end of her tests. Soft words and pity made her yield to him and she found out how 'nice it was to have a husband.'

From the moment Coyote was allowed to crawl under the fringe of her robe she was in his power. During their sexual orgies he got control of her own and her brothers' secrets and she also learned something of Coyote's. The tale from here on recounts a conflict between the powers of the two, her recoil from the idealism of her virginal life, and the final conquest of both her own and Coyote's powers by the forces of good, represented primarily by The Youngest Brother. Into a clean, harmonious household entered impurity, filth, and disorder, all characteristic of Coyote; then the horrible potentialities of the beautiful girl began to come out. Her passion for Coyote, opposed by The Brothers, brought about her transformation. She had a long snout, which could break a person's neck. Her canine teeth were long, made of bone awls she had collected from the children of the enemies who had slain her mate. Long, coarse hair grew on her hands, spread to her arms and legs, and finally covered her whole body except her breasts. Her ears grew long and her nails turned into claws. When The Brothers found her thus, they attributed the change to Coyote.

The hero of the Mountain Chant was taken to the home of the Changing-bear-maidens. Two stories high, with four rooms on each story, it has four trees for doors-black spruce at the east, blue spruce at the south, yellow at the west, and white (shining) at the north. In it were four bear creatures, their faces white, their legs and forearms covered with shaggy hair, their hands human, their teeth long and pointed.


Although Navajo ceremonial practice encourages the presence of numerous forces at a chant, particularly on the last night, there are times when certain deities are not welcome. Offerings are grudgingly made to them; they may sometimes be allowed to stay, but at other times they are driven out.


At the ceremony performed over Rainboy, various gods brought in ceremonially prepared food. However, several deities brought in food that was rejected. Among them was Changing-bear-maiden, who brought pinion nuts. Members of the assembly shouted, "No! Take them out!" She decreed as she left, "When there are many pinion nuts, there will be lots of snow and many people will freeze to death." She had contributed pinion nuts because when she, as the Bear Monster, had been overcome by her youngest brother, he had cut off her breasts and thrown them into a pinion tree, where they became pinion nuts.

Conquest of this monster gave the following gifts to man

-items that must be expected to differ as references come from different accounts. Her vagina became porcupine (yucca fruit); her breasts, pinion cones and nuts; her right arm, the Male Shooting Chant; her right leg, the Female Shooting Chant; her left leg, the Male Wind Chant; her left arm, the Mountain Chant; her tongue, cactus; her entrails, snakes.


Driving out guests in cases like those mentioned seems to conflict with the theory which demands harmony of spirit during rituals, but it may also be interpreted as direct expulsion of evil, resembling brushing, ashes blowing, and similar ritualistic practices.

In my material there is no evidence of a relation between Changing-bear-maiden and Tracking Bear, but the informant of Flint Chant, version B, thinks they are the same and it is to be expected that they would be associated (Matthews 1887, p.407; 1897, pp. 91-102; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; 1944d, p.81; Haile 1943a, pp.15, 124).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

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