Navajo Myths: Coyote and Skunk
Coyote and Skunk, story as told by Julia Westley, Tuba City, Arizona
One summer day it was so-o-ooo hot that Coyote was sweating. He started to dig in the sand for relief. He dug until he got to the wet part of the sand, where he could cool himself off a bit.
Doo la’ do’!
Coyote was sweating so much he wished for a cloud. Pretty soon a cloud appeared. Next, Coyote wished for it to rain. Before long it started sprinkling, and then it started raining on him in earnest.
Doo la’ do’!
Coyote started walking. He walked into a creek bed. Now he wished there was enough water so that it would go between his toes. Pretty soon the water was high enough that it went between his toes.
Coyote wished the water would reach his stomach. Pretty soon the water reached his stomach. Then Coyote wished the water would cover his back. Pretty soon the water covered his back.
Now Coyote wished the water would come to the top of his back as he was crawling along the creek bed. Soon it did.
Finally, Coyote wished that the water would first reach his ear, and then the white spot on his ear, so that he would be able to float down the river. Pretty soon the water reached the white spot on Coyote’s ear and he started to float down the river. He came upon the twigs and weeds gathered by the water. He got stuck there.
There were seeds along the sides of the plants. Coyote gathered the seeds and put them in his eyes and lips, under his arms, and in the other soft spots of his body. A Skunk came by with a bucket. He dipped the bucket in the water and filled it with water. He didn’t see Coyote.
Coyote tried to get Skunk’s attention. He called, “Tsst!” Skunk looked around, but did not see Coyote.
Coyote called again and again, “Tsst!” Finally on the fourth call, Skunk saw him. At this point, Coyote was lying on top of the water with seeds in his eyes and all over his body.
Coyote said to Skunk, “Let’s get all of the rabbits and prairie dogs together so we can kill and eat them. I have a plan. Tell everyone I have died.” Coyote wanted Skunk to tell animals this because he knew they didn’t like him and were afraid of him.
Skunk went back and told everyone that Coyote had died. He told them there were maggots coming out of his eyes and all over his body as proof of his death. No one believed Skunk. The gathered together and discusses what to do about Skunk’s news. They decided to have the fastest member run to see if Coyote was indeed dead. They sent the Deer to check on Coyote.
Deer ran to where Coyote was lying and saw what he thought were maggots. He returned and told everyone, “It’s true. Coyote is dead.”
To be sure the members also sent Rabbit to look at Coyote. Rabbit was kind of afraid of Coyote and he stayed back a bit. He did see those maggots, however.
Rabbit confirmed, “Yes, Coyote is dead.”
Everyone decided to celebrate this good news. They went over to where Coyote was lying. They made little sticks three feet in length. They decided to hit Coyote with the sticks. They declared, “Don’t hit him too hard. If he’s been dead for a long time, he might fall apart.”
Everyone danced in a circle around Coyote, singing and hitting him with sticks. Every time they hit Coyote they exhaled. To this, someone would ask, “Is he dead?” Another would then reply, “No, no. He’s not dead.” Soon someone else would say, “Yes, he’s dead.” Then another would disagree, “No, he is not dead.” The crowd kept dancing and singing around him, hitting him with a stick.
Meanwhile, Skunk had a song to sing about spraying. Whenever Skunk said the word “spray,” he sprayed into the eyes of the rabbits.
Coyote had previously agreed to get up when all of the rabbits had their eyes covered with Skunk spray. He and Skunk had planned to use their sticks to kill all of the rabbits, prairie dogs, and the other little animals. Coyote had place four sticks under himself.
When Skunk had sprayed everyone’s eyes, Coyote jumped up and hit some of the animals with the sticks and killed them. He was very hungry and wanted to eat right away.
Coyote built a fire with cedar bark surrounded by rocks. He rubbed two rocks together until sparks flew. The fire heated the ground. When the ground was hot enough to cook the animals, Coyote took out the ashes and put the prairie dogs and rabbits in there.
Coyote then said to Skunk, “Let’s race around the mountain while our food is cooking. Whoever wins the race will get the fat ones. You’re smaller than me. You can start running first. I’ll catch up with you.”
Skunk agreed to the race and started running. He ran over the hill. He was a hole, went inside and placed brush over the top of the hole. Meanwhile, Coyote got some cedar bark. He tied it together and attached it to the back of his tail. He lit the bark and started running. He wanted everyone to see him running.
Skunk saw Coyote run by with his tail on fire. He came out of the hole and ran back to the fire. He took all of the big animals out and carried them up a tree while Coyote was still out running.
Skunk put the tails back in the ashes. When Coyote returned to the fire, he was so tired he fell under a shade tree. He started laughing because he thought that Skunk had not made it back.
Coyote grabbed a tail, but found no meat. He thought the meat was overcooked and fell off the tail. Coyote dug in the ashes and took out a larger tail, sure that it would not be overcooked. Still nothing to eat. Coyote grabbed more tails, throwing them off to the East, South, West, and North.
Coyote determined that there was no food in the fire. He asked himself, “What happened? Did the animals all run off?” Coyote started looking around. He saw Skunk’s footprints. He followed them to some rocks. Skunk was looking down at him from the tree branch. Skunk ate a prairie dog and threw sown a bone.
Finally, Coyote saw Skunk and the bone. He begged for some food, but Skunk just threw the bones down to him. Skunk thought he won the race, and he didn’t want to share any of his food.
At last Skunk threw rabbit intestines down to Coyote. He told him, “Shil naa’aash, this is really a delicacy, too. Eat this.” When Coyote tried eating the bones they made a crunchy noise (kliizh). It sounded like she was chewing ice chips!
Sam Thompson, Little Water, NM explains:
“I was taught that you should tell the Coyote Stories together, as an adventure. I learned these stories at a ceremony from my maternal grandmother and grandfather. I started learning once I became aware of the things as a young child. I grew up with the stories and the teachings. I automatically picked them up as part of life. I didn’t learn from just one person.
When you hear these stories, they become your stories. They are your wealth and means of personal growth. You need to talk about them. Then they become your prayers and your strength. This will make you a better person.
The Coyote and Skunk story starts off at Emergence. Coyote was walking along some place when all of a sudden he stopped and thought, “I’m getting really hot!”
Coyote got some sand and put it on himself to cool down. It was like putting baby powder on a baby to dry it down. Coyote wondered, “What shall I do?” It was still really hot and Coyote was uncomfortable and brought on the rain and the water for cooling the earth and himself.
The hitting of the Coyote is the Enemyway Ceremony, where some people sing and dance and others just snoop around in the dark.
The stories are not meant as cartoons or jokes. They relate to specific ceremonies. Each of the stories is interwoven with many teachings: children learn not to lie, not to cheat, not to be noisy. They learn to be respectful, careful, and proud. They learn not to be nosy, not to exaggerate, and not to get into other people’s business.
When Coyote does these things, he ends up in a lot of trouble. His persistence and words of persuasion got him through, but he still ended up poorly. His character traits of impatience, intolerance, and impetuousness also cause him to git into difficult situations. Lying and tricking only add to his problems. As children figure these things out they develop analytical skills.”