Words And Places native literature from the american southwest
 

The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative
and
Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle

With Rudolph Kane

crown dance

For Comment and Discussion

Genre

 

Rudolph Kane tells two kinds of Apache narratives on this videotape. The Gaan narrative in Part I is a na'godi'ee -- a true story about the distant past, what might be called a "myth" in European tradition. The series of stories about Ba'ts'oosee which Rudolph Kane tells in Part II are called łe'gocho, fictional stories analagous to what we call "folktales." Rudolph Kane's performances of these two genres contrast not only in terms of their content but also in terms of his style of narrating each. Note the more animated and playful style which characterizes the telling of łe'gocho.

Style

 

Other aspects of Rudolph Kane's storytelling style deserve mention. Note that the Ba'ts'oosee stories are enclosed by a formulaic opening and closing. The closing, which we have translated "That's how my yucca bananas hang," compares the way the Ba'ts'oosee stories come together to the way the fruit of the yucca grows in a cluster on a single stern, like bananas contemporary Apache people say. Note, too, that the favorite numbers of Apache people—four, twelve, and thirty-two -- are used throughout all the narratives, as are the colors Apaches traditionally associate with the four directions -- black, blue, yellow, and white. Note how Rudolph Kane makes effective use
of quotation throughout his narratives, and how the very distinctive exclamation "heee," which has no literal translation in Apache, is used to introduce many of Ba'ts'oosee's comments. Finally note how Rudolph Kane uses things in his home -- a pipe on the wall, a picture, his own hat—to enhance his telling.

Continuity

 

All the stories Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape have been recorded in other versions from Apache people earlier in this century. Two very compressed versions of the "Origin of the Gaans" have been recorded: one by Pliny E. Goddard, Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1919), pp. 124-26; the other by Grenville Goodwin, Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Folklore Society, 1939), pp. 100-06. Another version of "The Man Who Became a Gaan," told by Alsus at Cedar Creek in 1930, may be found in Goodwin, pp. 119-21. Versions of all the Ba'ts'oosee stories which Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape can be found in the same sources. Contrasting these early published versions with those told by Rudolph Kane in 1977 is instructive. It indicates that over nearly a century of intensive pressure from the larger society Apache people continue to maintain their oral traditions in very stable forms. The variation in these versions is also provocative, indicating perhaps the freedom permitted story- tellers in episodes in various ways.

Contrasting these early published versions with those told by Rudolph Kane in 1977 is instructive. It indicates that over nearly a century of intensive pressure from the larger society Apache people continue to maintain their oral traditions in very stable forms. The variation in these versions is also provocative, indicating perhaps the freedom permitted storytellers in episodes in various ways.

Distribution

 

Many of the stories which Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape have been recorded far from Cedar Creek, Arizona. Folklorist Stith Thompson reports that "The Theft of Fire" episode alone was told by at least sixty-five different tribes over virtually the whole of what we now know as the United States. The Tarbaby episode, which many of us know from the Uncle Remus of Joel Chandler Harris and Walt Disney, has an extremely wide international distribution. Despite years of intense study, folklorists are unable to agree as to how to account for the wide distribution of stories of this sort. Some argue that the story must have originated in one place and diffused out from there; others speculate that the same story can spring up of its own accord in a number of widely separated cultures.

Social Protest

 

While these are interesting questions, it is also important to wonder why these stories are told among Apache people. One reason very obviously is that the stories are entertaining; another that they instruct Apache young people in various ways. Consider Ba'ts'oosee, the trickster figure, as a vehicle for social protest in this regard. Leslie Marmon Silko's poem "Toe'osh: a Laguna Coyote Story" is another good example of how the Trickster figure is used by Indian people in this way. Silko reads the poem on "Running on the Edge of the Rainbow" one of the videotapes in this series. It is printed in her book Storyteller (NY: Grove, 1981), p. 236.

The Recording

 

All original material recorded November 29 -- December 1, 1977 is archived in the Southwest Folklore Center, University of Arizona, Tucson. Copies of this program without English subtitles are available to Apache speakers through the Division of Media and Instructional Programs, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Related Readings

 

Keith Basso's The Cibeque Apaches (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) provides an overview of much of Western Apache life. Professor Basso's Portraits of "The White Man": Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache (Cambridge: Cambridge Universal Press, 1979) is a superb consideration of the Apache verbal art of joking. Two collections of Western Apache stories have been published. Pliny E. Goddard's Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1919), and Grenville Goodwin's Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache (New York: J. J. Augustin, 1939).

Dennis Tedlock's discussion of Zuni Indian narrative genres in "Pueblo Literature: Style and Verisimilitude," in Alfonso Ortiz, ed., New Perspectives on the Pueblos (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1972), pp. 219-42, is an extremely helpful discussion of the question of genre in American Indian literature. Paul Radin's The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken, 1972) provides useful perspectives, as does Barbara Babcock's article "A Tolerated Margin of Mess: Trickster and His Tales Reconsidered," Journal of the Folklore Institute, 6 (1975), pp. 345-80. For other versions of "The Theft of Fire" from American Indian communities see Stith Thompson's Tales of the North American Indians (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1968), note 63, page 289. For Tarbaby, see Thompson's The Folktale (New York: Dryden Press, 1946), pp. 225-26 and 445; and A. M. Espinosa's "Notes on the Origin and History of the Tarbaby Story," Journal of American Folklore, 43 (1930), pp. 129-209.

Return to the contents page for
The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee:
An Apache Trickster Cycle

By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World Yaqui Deer Songs | The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle | Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories & Hopi Songs | Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement | Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems | Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems | A Conversation with Vine Deloria, Jr. | Home