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Coyote


The coyote is a mythical character whose tales are told throughout much of North America but predominately in the Plateau and Basin regions. He can be both a trickster and a creator. Often he is characterized as the younger brother of the more responsible Wolf.

In some legendary versions the Coyote figure is the teller of his own tales during his journey eastward from the Columbia River to its mouth. His main task as given by the Creator was to prepare the land for the coming of the people. Although he heroically eliminated the land of evils and monsters, he inadvertently made many amusing and tragic mistakes. He arranged the world in ways that were not always logical or just. In the Coyote tales, simultaneously comic and solemn, the character dies many times, but is always brought to life by the Fox to continue his adventurous duties.

The Coyote adventures can be traced to particular spots along the river, but their timing is irrelevant. Several stories involve the Coyote and women, some of them his wife. In the Flathead and Nez Perce version his wife is a Mole while in the Northern Paiute one she is a Weasel; and in another version Coyote steals the wife of Thunder. In the mythologies of the Kalispel, Flathead, and Coeur d'Alene tribes Coyote labors to overcome the malevolency of Anteep, the wicked chief of the Lower World.

The Coyote fitted both roles of the cultural hero and a comic figure. People accepted him as the creator of the world in which the found themselves. But at times because of his avarice, stupidity, curiosity, or lack of forethought, people blamed the Coyote for their troubles such as poor hunting, childbirth, winter, and death.

In the Paopago Indian legend Montezuma and Coyote in Canoes it is Coyote who tells his friend Montezuma that he needs to build a big dug-out canoe. Montezuma on a high mountain peak did not know why he would need a canoe. Coyote tells him to build it anyway and he builds himself a small canoe out of a hollow log. When a big flood engulfed the land later Montezuma quickly discovered why he needed the big canoe as he and Coyote floated upon the water's surface while everyone and everything else perished. When they eventually found dry land the Great Mystery had already started making people; and animals again; and again he puts Montezuma in charge telling him to teach the people everything they needed to survive. This happened in the time before evil came and things went wrong. A.G.H.


Sources:

Taylor, Colin F. Native American Myths and Legends. New York. Smithmark. 1994. pp. 60-61
Leeming, David, Jake Page. The Mythology of Native North America. Norman. University of Oklahoma Press. 1998. pp. 110-111



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