The South Corner of Time hopi navajo papago yaqui tribal literature

Acknowledgements Introduction
Hopi Literature
Navajo Literature
Papago Literature
Yaqui Literature
Native American Literature: Other Sources


How Maasaw and the
People of Oraibi
Got Scared to
Death Once

Herschel Talashoma

Tutuwutsi is the Hopi term for stories about make believe things. According to Hopi tradition they should only be told during Kyaamuya, the winter month around the solstice. To tell one in the summer is to risk being bitten by a rattlesnake. The following Tutuwutsi was recorded by Ekkehart Malotki in his collection of Hopi stories Hopitutuwutsi: Hopi Tales (Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press, 1978). Illustrations are by Anne-Marie Malotki.

Aliksa'i, People were living in Oraibi. Not far from the village, at Mastupatsa, was Maasaw's home, where he lived with his grandmother. Every night when the villagers went to bed, he inspected the area around Oraibi. In this way he guarded the Oraibians.

One day when he was returning from his inspection tour around the village, he heard something just as he reached his house. It sounded as if someone was having a good time, and the shouting and laughing seemed to be coming from Oraibi. So he went a little distance toward Oraibi and listened once more. Evidently some people were making a great deal of noise in Oraibi. As soon as he had realized this, he returned to his house. He entered and blurted out to his grandmother, "Some people in Oraibi really seem to be very happy."

"That's for sure, and I'm aware of it. Boys, girls, men, and women play sosotukwpi there in the kiva every night. It's getting so bad that they go to bed late. At first they used to go to bed right away, but now it's usually very late. So I'm well aware of what is going on."

Thereupon Maasaw replied, "I'd very much like to be there together with the others one of these days. I have no idea how to play sosotukwpi."

"That's out of the question," his grandmother replied. "You can't do that. They are afraid of you, so don't count on doing anything like that!" Her words made it clear that she would not give him permission to go under any circumstances.

From that day on Maasaw kept mulling this over as he made his nightly rounds at Oraibi. One day when he returned home, he said to his grandmother, "It's always on my mind to visit Oraibi when I'm inspecting the area there. So tomorrow, after I make the rounds, I will go there."

"Well, if you will recall, I forbade you to do that. On the other hand, I have a hunch that you don't intend to obey me. So why don't you go. But if you do go, be sure to cover yourself tightly with your blanket and don't let it slip off, for the people are very much afraid of you. For once, listen to me and don't reveal your face!"

Now at last he had her consent. Maasaw started looking forward to the following evening. And once more he made his inspection rounds. But as soon as he got home, he grabbed his blanket and headed towards Oraibi. Once again his grandmother had warned him, "You must not show your face under any circumstances! Take just a quick look at them and then come back."

He arrived in Oraibi and, sure enough, in one kiva they were playing sosotukwpi. Since there were a lot of boys and girls on the kiva roof, he did not climb up on the roof but stood at the corner of a house and watched. The people were in a happy mood. There was shouting and laughter in the kiva.

After he had stood there for a long time, the people watching from the roof one by one got tired and departed. Eventually only one person remained on the top of the kiva. Thereupon Maasaw thought, "I'll go up there and peek in. Then I can see for myself what the game is like. I have no idea why they are carrying on so happily. "

Saying this, he climbed up to the kiva. He lay flat on top of the roof right alongside the one remaining person. He kept his head tightly covered and let only his eyes show a little bit. Then he started watching the players below. They were enjoying themselves tremendously.

After a while his neighbor took a look at him. Now, Maasaw had been having such a good time watching the players that he stopped paying much attention to his blanket. He had uncovered his head and when the person lying next to him saw his face, the poor soul passed out right away. Maasaw was by now just as excited as the others down in the kiva. He was completely unaware that he had dropped his blanket. In the end he got so worked up that he did not even notice that he had entered the kiva.

But someone had apparently heard him come in and announced to the others, "A stranger has come in!" However, the players paid no attention to him. Again and again the man tried to point it out to them. Finally they heard him. Their game stopped immediately and then all of them started running towards the northern wall base in the kiva.

Maasaw too ran there with them. He had hardly reached them when they started running back to the southern base. And again he ran with them. Thus they kept running back and forth. They headed for the northern part, but he ran there too. They tried to run away from him, but he kept running along beside them.

As he said later, it was awfully spooky. Because he, too, had become scared, he kept fleeing back and forth with the others. After a while all the players had fainted and he stood there all by himself. Next to him, people lay scattered on the floor.

He rushed out, snatched up his blanket and ran all the way home. He entered the house so fast that he more or less tumbled in. Excited and nearly out of his mind, he gasped, "How horrible, how dreadful!"

"What is it?" his grandmother asked.

"Well, I was in Oraibi, and I entered the kiva where they were playing and competing with each other. All of a sudden something happened and all the players started dashing back and forth in the kiva. It was dreadful for me! Let me tell you, I will never go back there. Something white hovered over the men's heads. It frightened me out of my wits. I really was scared stiff of that white thing, whatever it was. It was awful!"

Thereupon his grandmother spoke. "So you entered the kiva?"

"Yes, the people were having such a good time that I went in. And then, when I had been there only a few minutes, they all went crazy and started running back and forth. That's when I saw that white thing and started running from it, wherever it was."

"It was quite the contrary," his grandmother interjected. "They were afraid of you and so they took to their heels when you scared them. That's why you must never go there again. What you said scared you were only the white eagle feathers they wear in their hair. They can't do you any harm." With these explanations his grandmother chided him.

In the kiva, meanwhile, as soon as somebody gained consciousness, he just got up and ran away home. Thus those boys and girls, and men and women who tempted Maasaw to Oraibi got frightened to death. Never again did they gamble in the kiva at night.

From that day on Maasaw guarded Oraibi again. I suppose he is still making his inspection tour there somewhere. And here the story ends.

Herschel Talashoma. "How Maasaw and the People of Oraibi Got Scared to Death Once" from Hopitutuwusi: Hopi Tales (Museum of Northern Arizona, 1978) by Ekkehart Malotki. Copyright ©1978 by Ekkehart Malotki. Reprinted by permission of the author and Museum of Northern Arizona Press.

As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 29.
Go to the South Corner of Time homepage