Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems

with Harold Littlebird



( Taos Turtle Dance Song)

if you can hear my hooves in crisp autumn leaves,
see my blue-gray body of winter,
then you will know the songs in my heart
songs of my lion heart
pulsing steadily with my eyes
awaiting the deer dancing with my spirit
pray there is that strength in me to bring him home

Paguate used to be a big farming community. People had orchards, people had fields of melons, they had great big gardens, fields of grain. Out there where the mine is now there used to be nothing but grain fields my mom said. I think my mom's dad had a piece of property over there and that he worked for something, an orchard or some fields.

That's all gone, that's all torn up now. Mainly when you look towards Paguate all you can see is the mines, mines and all the confusion that is over there. It seemed like a long time ago I could look over and I knew exactly where the mines were, one little spot. Now it seems like you look over there, and that's all you see is a mine, and you don't see any of the land that used to be there. It used to stick out like a long finger. Now it's just all the way back, it's just like somebody just cut the finger off.

This is my mother's house. This is where her mom and dad grew up, here in Paguate. My dad's house is in Santo Domingo, but they've both come to live here now. I feel that my writing and things come from this place, this house, even though I really never knew it like my brothers did, or my mother and her mom and dad. My mom has talked around the table. When we sit down to eat, she talks about this place and about the places all around here. This is where the language comes from that I try to use when I'm writing.

I think the language is a very vital part of the people themselves. And I think by the loss of the language you begin to lose that sense or oral tradition. And it becomes apparent, it really does. 1 think it's a very vital part of our tradition. For the most part when you want somebody to hear something in a non-Indian situation, if somebody wants to make something important, they really blast it out as if to say "This is what you're going to hear." You really blast it out at you. But in an Indian sense, it's just the opposite. Things that are important are said very calmly, very quietly, because they are that important. You should have that respect, not just a blurting out, but very deep kinds of things. And so, when I read, I try to keep myself in that kind of tone. It's hard to explain just exactly what I mean, but the way the language is being used and the way it always has been when you were going to talk. It's not that often that young people in the village get a chance to talk. It's usually the older people. When you listen to them, you listen to them, and they have that unhurriedness, because they've already measured things out or felt what they are going to say. It's not a thing that they're just saying it, but something that they feel.

And I guess that's what I'm trying to say when I'm reading: I really feel this. Things are really there, they're not just words anymore. The word is sacred and I'm using it that way.

(Song Prelude)

there is singing
song in motion
in simple melody
high through the heavens and in the space between
sky and earth are you
growing and vibrant and unique
and in your growing there is your brother, Elk Rider
your sisters, Hay-a-shee, Dya-taz-ah
all from the mountains and sky
and from this you stem
you whose name I can't remember but know your beginning
in your cradle of oak swaying
and outward to the brown-grey land and alfalfa fields
to the river swollen in spring, flowing and rolling swiftly
and beyond
in that current of life all around
from the smallest flower your existence began
a seedling alive and growing
in its rightful place
blessed by spirits of wind and water
taking hold to its mother
sucking from the womb of the earth
whispering unseen
giving thanks for its being
from this you came happily
one crisp morning in the dark of the new moon
bonding and adding strength to your mother and father
both of which I know and love us you
it is from this and more that you are now a year and growing
it is from legends and stories und songs listened to and lived by
that messengers in the night will tell you in your dreaming
you will carry, learn und share
and it is this more that you are growing
more than I can say with words
it is in the likeness of breaths on corn pollen
and silent prayer to holy things on the fourth morning
and all of this I know you singing, eyes shining
and simply caring in your mountain home!

You go out, you go hunting. Usually there's a time when you stop. Sometime, somewhere. Usually, when you first start to go out. The first thing you do in the morning, when you're alone and by yourself, you usually pray and ask that you get lucky. Because I don't speak Indian that well, I just use a few words. But it's usually how I feel, that there is something out there and that maybe this time I'm going to be lucky. I'm asking for that. If I should get lucky, then help me to be strong, so that I can bring it home, in a good way, for the people, for my family, for whatever you're out there for. That's what that's about. It doesn't really make any difference if, when you're praying, you're sincere about it. It doesn't make any difference if you're talking in English or whatever—it's the way you pray.

(Laguna Deer Song)

Ever hear that one? There's another one too that has a lot of words in it, talking about how that butterfly shows the hunters where the deer are, how the hunter thanks the butterfly when he finally gets a deer.

(Butterfly Song)

Larry taught me that one. You don't understand the language that much either, do you? Larry was trying to tell me what that song was about. He said it was something like: the hunter was going hunting. He was praying, and a butterfly came along and told him where the deer were. So he went that way, the way the butterfly told him to go. He found the deer, and he got a deer over there where the butterfly showed him. So he's singing to the butterfly and thanking him for showing him where the deer were. That's what that song's about. That's an old one though. I think somebody recorded it. In Laguna they call it "Fly, Butterfly, Fly." I didn't learn it the same way that guy knows it.

That's the way older people pray when they go hunting. They sing songs, and they pray in the morning. They talk about things like that. I'm trying to say the same things as those songs when I'm hunting. It's like my kind of prayer when I go hunting.

if you can hear my hooves in crisp autumn leaves,
see my blue-gray body of winter,
then you will know the songs in my heart
songs of my lion-heart
pulsing steadily with my eyes
awaiting the deer dancing with my spirit
pray there is that strength in me to bring him home

That gives you an idea of the way when you go out hunting you always pray sometimes, somewhere along the way asking that you get lucky. And it's always that way, you're always asking, not saying, "Why not shoot something?" I was hoping and praying that I would get lucky. That's what that's saying. Then if you should happen to get lucky, then you just say "Help me be strong, so I can carry this animal home, whatever it is." I think about it that way.

(Stick Race)

(One-Eyed Ford)

I don't know where this particular one came from. It might have started as a Navajo song. I don't know. It goes—just the English part of the song goes—something like . . .

When the dance is over, 
sweetheart I'll take you home 
In my one-eyed Ford.

But there's all kinds of other songs. Like there's songs about the army. There's songs about lovers . . .

But singing, and song, and whistling, and anything that has to do with me musically has always been with me. It's just within the past few years that I've really tried to listen to traditional Indian music and incorporate my type of lyrics with traditional Indian music, such as pow wow music, 49 music, round dance songs. But I've always been singing and trying to write.

Usually, after a pow wow there is a 49 and this particular one that I wrote, this song about "Talking 49" was from conversations of people that I met at the 49's. Usually, because the pow wows are at night, it usually takes place at night, and it lasts all night or until the singers get hoarse or just give up and pass out or something. I wrote this for a friend of mine in Santa Fe. We were getting ready to go to the 49, and he stopped, and he asked me, "What's a 49? What are you going to do? What's going to happen there?" So I wrote this song called "Talking 49," and it goes something like this:

A friend who sells hot dogs asked me once,
"What's a 49 anyway?" 
"It's many things," I said.
"It's voices, it's singing,
It's laughing, it's being together and happy,
It's dancing, it's praying, it's power.
It's drums or boxes beaten on.
It's sharing stories from a long ways.
It's seeing people growing old.
It's fighting back the boundaries of cities.
It's mountains and plains and open country.
It is the peak of what once was.
It is the struggling in our eyes seen today.
It is all these and more,
More than words or thoughts earthbound.
It is all skies, all people.
It is oldness and being young.
It is Indians, lots of Indians.
It is timeless and unforgettable.
It is language that makes stars dance.
It is voices thundering that lift mountains.
You see, my curious friend,
A 49 is much to some,
And all to another.
It is these that I have spoken of.
And it is a power that is always there."
And last night in Black Canyon it was there.


"Hey, you don't want to go out there.
They ain't got no drum.
It's just a box.
They're just beatin' on a box.
Stay here with the drum.
Hey, where you from?"
"Santo Domingo, but I live in town."
"Yeah? I was there once.
Sure liked them dances.
Lots of dancers.
You want a beer?
Hey, you ever been North?
Come visit me this summer.
Come to Crow fair—ask for me, Levi Pepion.
Everybody knows me.
You got a place to stay."


Maybe seven,
Sending ash messages high into the starry night.
Clear, and cold, and around each fire,
Lots of Indians singing, sleeping, talking, drinking.
Everybody having a good time.
No school. No buildings.
Just lots of trees and mountain air.
And girls and beer.


I can't sing with them Poncas, too damned high.
Now you take them singers from Montana,
Just right.
Not too high, not too low.
Just right.


"Take my blanket."
"Naw, I'll be OK."
"Come on, take it, I gotta go to the trees.
Be back in a minute."


Stop by one fire.
Recognize singers from Taos.
My old roommate used to sing that song.
Voices calmer, not as loud or as high as the Kiowa drum.


Two silhouettes in the road whispering.
"Yeah, and you remember her sister?"
"Best snag up there.
Her old man caught us once.
Yeah, but I was too fast and he was too fat.
Went out the window.
I'm never going back there though.
Oklahoma's my home."


Walking to and from many fires, 
Passing many couples robed and swaying. Listening to the songs,
Some I know, others new.
Saw someone I knew
Jimmy, I think.
Yeah, Jimmy from Anadarko.
Used to dance fancy war dance before he got fat.
He's a singer now.
Hang in there, Jimmy.


Fires, not so many.
Cars, not so many.
Bottles and cans,
More and more all the time.
I'd hate to be the one to clean it up
And the stars blinking out little by little.
The air getting cooler as the sky lightens.
A few hoarse voices and one last drum.
These people all huddled together
Circling the drum and singing,
Or trying to ...


Ears ringing, driving home,
Sleepy and bleary eyed,
Going home sore-throated.
Going home tired and happy.
Going home to drink coffee and bed.
Sure was good to see old Carl again.
Wish he'd come over some time, that guy.

For the Girls 'Cause They Know

goodnight, my two little cloud ladies
Elima, Tzina-dhy-duoay, fat dark rain bearer 
you are the echos of summer 
flooding of rivers 
shaping of arroyos 
the tears in my eyes
Chamisa, Hena-dhay, gentle misty lady rain 
you bring a joy to the fields 
the answer of prayers for the corn, 
the melons, the chili and me 
my two dark children 
carrying a sorrow and strength 
bring to us the lasting peace 
we all once knew

Transcript Notes

— "If you can hear my hooves" was first published in Kenneth Rosen, ed., Voices of the Rainbow: Contemporary Poetry by American Indians (NY: Viking, 1975), p. 207.

— "There is singing" appears in Geary Hobson, ed., The Remembered Earth; An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature. (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1979), pp. 252-3).

—Harold Littlebird appears with his cousin Rodney Encino in the scenes along the stream.

— The lead singer in the "49" song session is Nelson Begay. Other singers are Joe Begay, George Issacs, Tim Clashin, and Victor Masayesva, Jr.

— "Talking 49" has not been published.

— "For the Girls 'Cause They Know" was published in Voices of the Rainbow, p. 212.

For Comment and Discussion



Paguate is one of eight villages on the 418,000 acre Laguna Pueblo Reservation. It lies at the mouth of Paguate Canyon on the northern slope of Mount Taylor, the sacred mountain of the Lagunas. Just above the village, along Paguate Creek, there are rich pastures and farm lands. There, the Lagunas have maintained small orchards and planted plots of corn, beans, and chiles. In the marsh land along Paguate Creek some Lagunas believe their ancestors emerged from the under¬world into this world.

Just below Paguate is one of the most extensive uranium deposits in this country. The Anaconda Corporation operates the Jack Pile mine there. As Harold Littlebird observes on the tape, the mine is steadily working its way up Paguate Canyon, eating up Laguna fields and threatening the village itself. The effects of the Jack Pile Mine on the village are complex. Presently the mine provides funds for a variety of Laguna tribal projects as well as good paying jobs for virtually all Lagunas who want them. At the same time it is destroying the fields which sustain the Lagunas' traditional way of life. Danger of contamination is ever present. Consider the dilemma the mine creates for Laguna people. It may be helpful to look at the way another Laguna author, Leslie Marmon Silko, uses the uraniam mine in her novel Ceremony(Signet, 1977). See especially pages 255-59.

A word has power in and of itself 
It comes from nothing into sound 
and meaning; it gives origin to all 
things. By means of words can a man 
deal with the world on equal terms. 
And the word is sacred 

Words This passage from N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain is perhaps the clearest statement of an idea that runs throughout writing by contemporary Native Americans. Harold Littlebird's comments on the way Pueblo people approach language is in some ways an elaboration of it. Littlebird emphasizes that while words themselves are important, the manner in which words are spoken is equally important. Discuss Littlebird's ideas on Indian and non-Indian ways of speaking. Tosamah's sermon on St. John's gospel in Momaday's novel House Made of Dawn (Harper & Row, 1968; pp. 91-98) and Simon Ortiz's superb essay "Song/Poetry and Language" (Sun Tracks, 3 (1977), pp. 9-12) provide provocative points for additional discussions of this idea.
Hunting Most American Indian religions recognize the interrelatedness and kinship of all living things. Before going out to hunt, it is often customary for a hunter to sing or pray to the living thing he wishes to kill. Harold Littlebird sings two such song/prayers on this tape, and reads a poem/prayer which he uses for the same purpose when he goes deer hunting. Consider Littlebird's comments about the songs and his poem. Another of his hunting poems may provide a useful perspective:

alone is the hunter 
who seeks only to kill and not reach into what he has taken 
and accept fully 
all that was given
   (from Voices of the Rainbow, p. 206)

The plot of Frank Water's novel The Man Who Killed the Deer (NY: Pocket Books, 1971) centers on Pueblo deer hunting traditions, and Leslie Silko's novel Ceremony(NY: N.A.L., 1978) portrays a poignant deer hunting sequence on pages 51-54. You may wish to contrast Littlebird's comments with these fictional treatments.

Man of Words Harold Littlebird is a potter, a teacher, and a filmmaker. He is also a man of words, a singer and a poet. Like many other Indian people, he lives and sings in many worlds. As a pueblo man he sings traditional pueblo songs such as the Turtle and Deer Dance songs on this tape. As an urban Indian, he sings of the urban Indian experience in the "49" songs on this tape. As a contemporary poet he writes and sings lyrics of his own life. Harold Littlebird's experience and his repertory show us that the songs of even one American Indian singer come in many forms and are used in many contexts. Some conform to our expectations; some do not. Talk about the variety of ways Harold Littlebird uses song.
"49's" "49" songs are very popular with many Indian people today. As Harold Littlebird explains they are songs which are usually sung late at night after the dances are over. Littlebird's song/poem "Talking 49" is intended to introduce us to the world of the "49." We might notice the kind of community created by the "49" and the way Littlebird describes it early in his song. Finally, "Talking 49" might also give us an opportunity to talk about an issue which is raised by all of Littlebird's work--continuity and change in American Indian oral traditions. Oral traditions are not static. They change as the people who carry them change. At the same time, they manage somehow to remain the same. Consider ways in which Harold Littlebird's songs and poems might be considered traditional, and ways in which they are not.
Recording Material for this tape was recorded at Paguate, New Mexico October 10-16, 1977 and in the Tucson Mountains, Tucson, Arizona December 13-14, 1977. All original tape is archived in the Southwest Folklore Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Related Readings Harold Littlebird's poems have appeared in numerous little magazines and in two anthologies: Kenneth Rosen, ed., Voices from the Rainbow (NY: Viking Press, 1975), and Geary Hobson, ed., The Remembered Earth (Albuquerque, NM: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1981) pp. 250-53.

An interview titled "A Conversation with Harold Littlebird" appeared in Sun Tracks, 5 (1979), pp. 15-20. 

Edward P. Dozier's The Pueblo Indians of North America (NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) offers a reasonably complete and readable overview of Pueblo Indian life. Elsie Clews Parsons' Pueblo Animals and Myths (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964) are helpful discussions of Pueblo religion and myth. Schat-chen: History and Traditions and Narratives of the Queres Indians of Laguna and Acoma (Albuquerque: Albright and Anderson, 1917) by John Gunn contains very valuable material on Laguna storytelling.
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