As you may have noticed, I'm very into researching the Navajo people and the heart of their homeland, Canyon de Chelly. Along the way I've also read some of their folklore. Today I'll share one of their teaching stories, the tale of Coyote and the Lizards.
Coyote the trickster is very important in Diné – Navajo – beliefs. In the Diné Bahane’, the Navajo creation story, there are three worlds before the world we live in, which is called the Glittering World. Coyote has existed from the beginning.
His ceremonial name is Áłtsé hashké which means first scolder. He is in many stories used to teach Navajo children. In animal form he is a coyote; in human form he is a man with a mustache.
Coyote can be funny, but he is also greedy, foolish and cunning. Because of this, he often gets into trouble, as he did when he came across a group of lizards who were playing a game. He had never seen this game before and was curious, so he trotted over to watch.
The lizards were on top of a big, flat rock with one sloping side. Taking turns, they slid down the steep slope on a small flat rock, then carried it up the hill on their backs for the next one. They pretended not to see Coyote as they played.
Coyote didn't like being ignored, so he spoke to the lizards. ‘Your game looks like fun. What do you call it?’ he asked. ‘We call it sliding,’ one said. Trying to be friendly, Coyote asked to join them. ‘You are not a lizard,’ another said scornfully. ‘You don’t know how to play our game.’
‘I can learn,’ Coyote said. ‘It looks easy. I'll stand on the rock like you did and slide down. Let me try, just once.’ ‘This game is very dangerous,’ an old lizard told him. ‘You might be okay on the small rock, but the big rock would squash you.’
Coyote didn't believe him. None of the lizards had been squashed. He kept begging to try it. Tired of his pestering, the oldest lizard said, ‘Very well, just once, Cousin. You can ride the small flat rock, but not the big one.’
Coyote really wanted to ride the big one, but he didn't argue. He’d ride the little one, proving he could do it. Then he’d convince them to let him try the big one. Frowning, the lizards positioned the small flat rock for him. ‘I don't know why you want to play our games,’ one of them said. ‘I’ve seen you play your own games, chasing cottontails and kangaroo rats and other animals. You are very fast. Running races is more your style.’
Not saying anything, Coyote stepped onto the small flat rock. It tilled downward and he went flying down the steep slide. Just before he reached the bottom, he jumped off. Picking up the rock, he carried it back up the hill. ‘You see,’ he cried, feeling proud of himself. ‘I can do it. Let me ride the big rock now. Just once.’
The lizards looked at him like he was crazy. The oldest one said, ‘You have been warned not to try the big rock, but if you want to risk your life, it’s your own fault if you get squashed flat.’ He told the young lizards to set up the big rock for Coyote. They placed the big rock on the edge of the slide and got out of the way.
Coyote was sure of himself. He stepped onto the big rock, it tipped and again he went flying down the slide. But the rock caught on a smaller one halfway down. It flipped into the air, taking Coyote with it. Coyote was scared to death. His ears flopped around, and he clawed the air. He hit the ground and saw the big rock coming down on top of him. ‘I should have listened,’ he thought. ‘I'm going to be squashed flat, just like the old lizard said.’ Then the big rock fell and squashed Coyote.
The lizards stood staring at him. ‘Poor foolish Coyote,’ the oldest one said. ‘He's not my friend, but I am sad to see him squashed.’ ‘And right in the middle of our slide,’ a young lizard complained. ‘It’s not right to leave him there,’ said another, ‘but how can we move him? He’s very heavy.’ A third lizard said, ‘Maybe we should bring him back to life. Then we wouldn’t need to move him. He could leave on his own.’
‘That’s a very good idea,’ said the oldest lizard. ‘Let’s do it.’ Sliding down to Coyote, they surrounded him and worked their secret magic. They brought him back to life.
‘Now go on your way, Coyote,’ the oldest lizard told him. ‘And don't try to play any more lizard games. We don't want this to happen to you again.’ Coyote didn’t have to be told twice. Glad to be alive, he got up and ran for home with his tail between his legs.
So, what's the lesson here? Simply that children should listen to their elders and not be so proud of themselves that think they can do anything they please.
NOTE: This story plays a part in A Mighty Chieftain, the conclusion of my Romancing the Guardians series. Coming in autumn 2018.
Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a pair of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.
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