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

Introduction

Setting

 

Apache elder Rudolph Kane told the stories recorded on this videotape in his home at Cedar Creek, Arizona, the evening of November 30, 1977. Mr. Kane's audience included four generations of his immediate family (the baby pictured is his great-granddaughter) as well as other children from the village of Cedar Creek. The setting is typical of a Western Apache storytelling session in several respects: the season, stories are told only during the winter months; the time of day, stories should be told only when the sun goes down; and the teller, usually stories are told to children by their maternal grandmother.

Cedar Creek is one of nine small communities on the one and one-half million acre Fort Apache Indian Reservation in south central Arizona. The Apache people who live there are primarily descendants of the White Mountain Band of a larger group anthropologists call the Western Apaches. Western Apaches include such other groups as the Kiowas, the Mescalero and Jicarillo Apaches.

The opening sequence of shots on this videotape offers glimpses of the landscape around Cedar Creek: a shallow, relatively narrow river valley lined with homes and small farm plots and rimmed on the east and west by long timbered ridges and an occasional prominent butte. Western Apaches have probably lived in this valley since before the coming of Europeans to this continent, and many of their narratives betray their long association with this place. The gaan narrative Mr. Kane tells in Part One of this videotape is one such narrative. It is important for us to note that it is set in the real space around the Cedar Creek valley. All the locations mentioned in the narrative are in an area immediate to Rudolph Kane's house. The most important, łetso gohéyo, is located some four miles north of Rudolph Kane's house on a bluff beside Cedar Creek. These places and the names by which they are called serve as ever-present reminders of the narrative to Apache people.

Place Names

 

The place names in the narrative are sometimes descriptive:

łetso gohéyo - "yellow placed called"
tse' ditsos - "rock there yellow"
tse' chinaah - "big rock sticking out"

Others refer to mythic activities associated with them:

tu'taghe'gohe' - "counting the water place"
shash bich'gi'dahtsooz - "bear hands up his blanket"

It is probably hard to over-estimate the wealth of associations -- cultural, familial, and personal—that these places hold for Cedar Creek Apaches. Mr. Kane's commentary on łetso gohéyo at the end of his gaan narrative gives us a powerful glimpse at how a place is made important, even sacred, by an event and the repeated tellings of that event.

Religion

 

Apache religion is cure oriented. It is based on the notion that a series of powers exist in the universe which may be acquired and used by man. One of the most potent of these powers is the power of the gaans. The gaans are supernaturals who live inside mountains and caves throughout Apache country and who manifest themselves as masked dancers during the gaan ceremony. They are often compared to pueblo kachinas who appear in much the same way.

Gaans

 

The five masked dancers who are imaged on videotape after Mr. Kane completes his first narrative are gaan dancers. They are known popularly as "Crown Dancers" because of their dramatic headdresses. They dance to songs sung by Rudolph Kane from the corpus sung at a gaan ceremony. Rudolph Kane sings another gaan song at the opening of the videotape. The opening song translates:

I, the Crown Dancer,
I come down
To the holy place
To the earth

The language of gaan songs is compressed and extremely powerful in that they are seen as belonging to the gaans themselves. A Western Apache man once told an anthropologist Keith Basso: "If you don't sing songs, a power won't know where to find you, and it won't want to work for you."

Versions

 

Each of the Western Apache communities seems to have its own variation of the story of the origin of the gaans and of the curing ceremony in which they appear. These stories are generally told on two occasions: the night before a gaan ceremony and at night during the winter months for the instruction of children. The stories are usually long, complex, and very sacred. The Crown Dance narrative which Mr. Kane relates on this tape is told only in the village of Cedar Creek. It is sometimes called "The Man Who Became a Gaan." The narrative tells how the people of Cedar Creek came to have a close and personal connection with the supernatural. The narrative reminds listeners of the reality of the supernatural and of the necessity of recognizing and respecting its manifestations. Note the ways in which Mr. Kane makes these points to his audience at the end of the narrative.

Tricksters

 

The cycle of stories Mr. Kane tells in Part Two of this tape centers on an Apache trickster character called ba'ts'oosee. "Ba'" means fox, "ts'oosee" indicates something long or narrow and, by extension, sly. Ba'ts'oosee thus is the sly fox. He and his adventures are very like such trickster figures from other native American traditions as coyote, raven, and rabbit. Like them he is alternately benefactor and buffoon, creator and destroyer. It is through Ba'ts'oosee's efforts, these stories tell us, that Apache people have fire, and the deer antlers. Yet the same Ba'ts'oosee later sells his own feces as gold, then creates and hawks a "money tree."

Episodes

 

Ba'ts'oosee is a kind of picaresque hero. His adventures, like those of most other tricksters, are told in episodes. Note how Rudolph Kane organizes his Ba'ts'oosee episodes into a cycle which moves in time from the days before men had fire to the days after the coming of white men. The first three episodes occur in mythic time. In the first, Ba'ts'oosee steals fire for the people. In the second, he goes deer hunting and along the way creates deer antlers, falls off the crane-bridge, and loses his venison. In the third, Ba'ts'oosee lowers his cousin Ba'dotłizhe into an eagle's nest to obtain feathers for arrows. His actions in all three are originative. The final four episodes in Mr. Kane's Ba'ts'oosee cycle are set in historic time, after the coming of white men. In them, Ba'ts'oosee eludes the white man's tar baby trap by duping his cousin Ba'dotłizhe, convinces Ba'dotłizhe that the moon's reflection on water is Apache bread, sells his own feces, and then a bare tree to white men for gold. In these episodes Ba'ts'oosee's actions take a sharp turn toward the satiric.

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

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