By Ben Boomer, CSEE Board President
Coyote plays a big part in Navajo culture, and was very much a part of my childhood. Those coyotes are an hilarious and tricky bunch with their howling cackling cacophony waiting just out of sight for any opportunity for shenanigans. Opportunities abound for the trickster as they wait for the time to have a bit of fun, waiting for us to be arrogant, or impatient, or just sleepy enough for them to slip in. Coyote stories are more than entertainment, and serve to warn and teach us about the unknown, and sometimes chaotic elements of nature and existence. I look around the world now, and wonder how Coyote is working his magic and I am reminded of a very old story about Coyote and The Giant. It goes something like this:
Coyote was feeling terrific as he strutted down the road, and decided to admire his new tuft of yellow hair in a nearby stream and have a sweat bath. As he came over a hill he happened across a mighty giant who was known to terrorize all the land, creatures, and people.
“Heya cousin!” Coyote said “ You are looking so giant and fierce, like the biggest giant. The best giant. You are not as great as you were the last time I saw you. You seem slow and sickly. Sad. How about a sweat bath to rid yourself of the bad and terrible things?”
“Do I need a sweat bath? What kind of bad and terrible things?” The Giant said as he pondered his fat belly and greasy hands.
“Just wait and see, follow me, or I’ll just make myself fabulous without you!” Coyote yelled as he trotted off.
Coyote stayed well out of range of the Giant’s club while he scouted an ideal spot for a sweat bath next to a stream.
“You build the sweat lodge while I gather wood and herbs for the fire and bitter tea” Coyote said.
“Ok” The Giant said in his slow dumb way. “ WIll this help me chase down those delicious humans? I love to eat the little precious ones and I don’t like bitter tea!”
“You are getting slow, and smelly. Very sad. If you sweat like me and drink the bitter tea you will be fast, so fast. I am the fastest creature around, ask anyone, I out run all the other animals, so fast, so agile, the best, believe me, you will be great, so great!” Coyote chortled.
Once the two were in the sweat house, Coyote secured the door blocking the light and sound of the outside. In the darkness of the sweat house it began to get very hot, and The Giant began to complain asking to go outside.
“We will go outside in a while, first you have to drink this bitter tea. It is very bitter let me warn you, the most bitter tea” Coyote said as he drank.
Coyote lept out as the Giant drank and complained. He fashioned some bowls from some tree bark.
“I feel sick to my stomach, and dizzy from this bitter tea” whined The Giant.
“It is time for you to purge all the bad and terrible things, close your eyes and use this bowl I made for you so you can see all the sickness you got rid of!” Coyote said as he laid out the bowls.
With eyes closed they both purged loudly. Coyote kept his eyes open and saw that the contents of the Giant’s stomach were clean. He quickly switched it with his own parasite infested, toxic, vile bowl of puke.
“Such a mess! Look cousin at all the bad and horrible things infesting you! No wonder you are so slow, let’s go back in for more cleansing!” Coyote said as he snickered quietly to himself.
As The Giant finished heaving, Coyote took the opportunity to sneak a deer leg into the dark sweat lodge. “Now you are ready for me to perform my true magic! Come feel how muscular and healthy my leg is!” Coyote said as he offered the deer leg in the darkness. The Giant felt it. Coyote then took a rock and bashed the deer leg until it gave a loud snap. Coyote howled in pretend pain and had The Giant feel the broken leg. Coyote began to spit on his leg and chant. “Be strong leg, be the strongest, stronger than the rest, be the best leg!” he spit and chanted, spit and chanted!
He then offered The Giant his own perfectly healthy leg and The Giant said, ”That is amazing, what powerful magic! Is this really your secret?”
Coyote replied “Of course, believe me, ask anyone, I am powerful, so magic and filled with power! Let me show you, but it will hurt a little at first!”
Coyote then took the Giant’s legs and began smashing them with the club. He smashed, and bashed, and battered until he heard several loud snaps followed by the agonizing scream of The Giant.
“You have broken them! My legs!” The Giant howled.
“Start spitting, and don’t stop spitting on them until they are healed, spit and spit some more, you can’t spit too much believe me!” The Coyote sang out as he fled the sweat lodge into the night.
Coyote sat on the hillside listening to The Giant scream and spit knowing that The Giant would be lucky to walk again, and would never be able to outrun even the smallest human.
The power and mystery of the trickster is that you never know when his foolish antics are causing more trouble, or when that trouble does some good. Best to be a little wary and have a lot of respect. Trickster is there to show all the flaws, push the boundaries, and create opportunities that never existed before. This happens in a foolish funny way, but also in an unpredictable terrifying way. If you are quiet and listen hard all those Coyote brothers are cackling away in the night, just out of sight, waiting.