Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories

With Helen Sekaquaptewa



Do you not have a story,
our grandmother?

Yes, well, a short one I will tell. Tell us a story.

All right.


("Oo," you must say.

Aliksa'i! (You are not answering.
It is known that the storyteller is touchy;
If you do not respond she may pout and not tell a

We are told at Oraibi was life.
Well, as a matter of fact, people lived there then.

Over there,
well, birds,
also, it's said, were many around there; well, they would in their way
usually flock together and fly about like this ....
Well, it's said, they would, when the season moved toward winter,
prepare to store some food
and, that's why, it's said, when all the different kinds of grasses
would mature.
Then they would go about
below the village, and also even higher along there, where the mesa has
a ledge, right along there, where things grew in abundance; and
when the grass seeds
matured, then they would go about
like ....
picking them; that is, small plaques
they had, and into them they would harvest like this ....
when they gathered the bea. . . I mean, the seeds
in large amounts. Then they would
gather together somewhere, then, as you are here (in a circle),
would set themselves down.
Then, with their plaques filled, they would rub the seeds and the
coverings would be crushed.
Then they would all move the plaques
like this .... and, while singing, winnow.
It is a fact that working at something is toilsome, so
to break the routine
they would all settle roundabout and sing.
That song you most likely know:
         pota, pota, pota
         pota, pota, pota
         yowa'ini, yowa'ini
         ph, ph, ph, ph
As they did this . . . . , then the seed-coverings would fly away.
The winnowing done,
then they would place the seeds in something.
When again they would gather more around there,
they would crush them; then they would repeat the process. All day they did that and each time they would sing:
         pota, pota, pota
         pota, pota, pota
         yowa'ini, yowa'ini
         ph, ph, ph, ph
It's said, that was what they were doing when Iisaw
from the southside somewhere climbed up.
And, it's said, that was Oraibi,
big rock. (Are you not familiar with it? Oraibi?
That, in fact, is Oraibi, that big rock, standing as it is.)

... ah, village . . .
Toward the southside
of the village,
from there, it's said, while hidden, he secretly peered at them
while they were winnowing.
Well, as we know,
such creatures always go around hungry, and probably he went to the
trashpile to look for something,
anything, maybe bones which
people are apt to throw away. And that is what he was looking for and
why he climbed up. And when he happened upon them,
doing what they were doing, he contemplated them: "mmm, I wish I could

kill some of these and enjoy a good snack."
This was what he was thinking as he watched them;
well, at first he
decided not
to reveal himself.
But then, unable to restrain himself, he approached them.
When they saw him, at first they
wanted to fly away. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt you," he said to them.
"You are so delightful to watch; that's why I have come to you.
Maybe I can join in with you?"
When he said this to them,
they looked at each other, this way ....
as though seeking approval from one another.
It's said they all appeared to give consent, and so he sat down with them, too.
So too they provided him with a plaque and there he was doing what they
were doing.
Once, again, they filled the plaques, and once more as they sang, well,
as we all might imagine, Iisaw could not yet know the song, and
so he could not quite imitate them.
As they sang again:
         pota, pota, pota
         pota, pota, pota
         yowa'ini, yowa'ini
         ph, ph, ph, ph
they would do this ....
then they placed the plaques here and there, and they would fly high up above somewhere.
For awhile, they would go about like this, then again they would come down, and when they did this, Iisaw, not being a feathered creature, was,
poor thing unable to fly, and would watch them longingly. Now that they were so far away there was no way to catch them. However,
when they came down they did the very same thing, so then …
"Maybe, I... perhaps, couldn't you, when you give me some of your feathers, your down . . .
then maybe, I will be able to fly with you," he said to them. They quickly consented.
Then, since they gave him permission, they, the birds, began plucking feathers from themselves and placing them on Iisaw.
Wherever on their body they plucked a feather, on that spot on Iisaw they stuck it.
It's said, this was how they placed them on him,
on Iisaw.
After they had carefully placed enough to cover him, they started up again. Again, they filled the plaques; then, again, they repeated it:
         pota, pota, pota
         pota, pota, pota
         yowa'ini, yowa'ini
         ph, ph, ph, ph
He took great delight along with them,
for he learned the song quickly.
And so, they set their plaques down round-about, then . . . "TSIII-RO-RO-RO," they would say and up they . . .

And it happened that Iisaw flew aloft with them.
And he didn't just fly up once with them. Then, when they went up
the last time,
no, I mean,
for about the fourth time. . .
when, on coming to the fourth, then
those birds among themselves secretly
"Now! Now!
It's time!" they said.
Once more, for the last time, they took flight, and again they went
away up higher: "TSIII-RO-RO-RO"
As they said this and glided about, Iisaw, it's said, glided about with them.
And then
They came together saying to each other, "O.K., now, let's begin.
It's time!"
Suddenly, they closed in on him!
Each one would pluck from him, his own feather.
Whichever feather he gave, that one would he pluck:
his own tail. . .
his own down . . .
everything they plucked.
Then, poor Iisaw, down he came, this way (gestures), turning over and over,
landing far below somewhere, and, poor thing, died!
When they came back down, it's said,
they laughed at him.
It's said,
"See how it is.
This is the fault of your own heart.
It's because of your own doing.
You came among us thinking to eat us," they said, it's said,
"So we just figured that if we killed you, then you would not be able
to eat us . . ."
That was what they said to him.
From then on, they worked and gathered by themselves.
Very likely, they
gathered a lot of food
around there, on that day.
This is as far as the story goes.

Children, long ago, some of us,
when we were your age, learned, as a matter of course,
to have a repertoire of songs;
and these songs were sung to us.
Some were parts of stories and some were songs by themselves.
So now I'm going to sing one of these songs to you,
so you can learn to sing it.
Long ago, at one time, coyotes would come close to the villages
looking for food around the trashpiles and even within the village,
scavenging right outside houses for whatever might be there.
And so they would come there. And it seems
one of these was doing just that, when a coyote from Payutmovi
came upon him and said to him,
"Don't you go scavenging around here anymore.
Let's go to Payutmovi to my home,
and then you will no longer be wasting your time around here."
It's said,
he said to him,
"You are not just any coyote, you are a Water-Coyote,"
it's said he told him.
"Over there at Payutmovi we eat rabbits, antelopes, deer, and jackrabbits.
Deer is what we eat over there."
So now, I'm going to sing the song to you.
When I sing to you,
you might not be able to understand the meaning and
that's why I first told you this story.
                  Coyote, coyote longingly watching
                  Coyote, coyote longingly watching.
                  You aren't coyote, but you are Water-Coyote-Little-Boy.
                  We will go together south to my home in Payutmovi.
                  You will no longer be wasting things around here.
                  We eat rabbits, antelopes, jackrabbits, deer.
                  We eat, eat.
                  Ali ali wa' wa',
                  Ali ali wa' wa'.

When he had finished telling him this,
then he barked and then repeated saying "ali ali wa' wa'."
Since they ate rabbits, jackrabbits over there,
and these are good to eat,
that's why he said "ali ali wa' wa'" and then barked.

Return to the contents page for
Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories

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