The Papago Origin story The Boy Who Gets Revenge

Frank Lopez 
and the 
Origin Story

FRANK LOPEZ is a Papago Indian makai or "medicine man" who lives in the village of Sil Nakya ("Saddle Hanging") on the Papago Indian Reservation in southern Arizona. In the early part of summer, 1972, he was invited by administrators of Tucson's Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, as he had been once before, to supervise the creation of a drypainting traditionally used in the Papago windway curing ceremony. This drypainting, whose function is similar to that of drypaintings among Navajo Indians, continues to be displayed inside the replica of a brush house on the museum grounds.

It was my privilege to be present at the time Mr. Lopez and his three Papago co-workers fashioned the drypainting on the floor of the house. When they concluded, I asked him to tell the legend of the drypainting and, by extension, of the windway ceremony of which it is an integral part. He willingly did so, but in very cursory fashion. He explained that to tell the whole story would require a full night. After a short discussion, we agreed I would visit him at Sil Nakya with a tape recorder and that he would tell the entire legend.

I arrived at Sil Nakya a week or two later to discover Mr. Lopez had changed his mind about recording the story. He said it would be too dangerous for me and for everyone else. He wanted to know, however, if he could orate a substitute legend. I suggested the Papago origin story - which requires four nights for its complete telling - and he consented at once. That night, and for two other nights and one day over the next few weeks, mine was the finger on the tape recorder button while Mr. Lopez, with Papago Indian Lorentine Noceo present as interpreter and intermediary, rendered a lengthy version of the Papago equivalent of the Book of Genesis. It is an oral tradition whose beginnings are lost behind the veils of prehistory.

Being present during the telling of the origin story is among the most unforgettable experiences of my life. The speeches and the few songs were very highly ritualized, and when Mr. Lopez began to speak he did so without hesitation. There were no ellipses, stutters, stammers, or unnecessary repetitions. Although he had neither heard nor recited the origin story for perhaps as many as forty years, his performance on this occasion was that of a virtuoso. He gazed into the space of his adobe house where we were sitting and recited as if he were reading from an unseen teleprompter. He spoke in an even, steady voice, and he gestured with his head and hands when the "script" called for such gestures. Although my Papago is poor and rarely could I understand what he was saying, I was never once bored during the several hours of the whole experience.

The finished taped product appears to be an excellent sample of formal Papago ritual oratory. The entire text has been transcribed in Papago by Papago linguist Albert Alvarez; it is being translated into English by another Papago linguist, Ofelia Zepeda. It is hoped eventually to publish the oration in both Papago and English and to illustrate it with photographs of clay figurines modeled for the purpose by Papago potter Laura Kermen.

The excerpt of Ms. Zepeda's translation published here is one selected by her for use in Sun Tracks, and represents a very small part of the total work. It concerns vengeance warfare and some of the rituals and beliefs connected with warfare. Rich in Papago prose-poetry and in ethnographic information, it is a self-contained unit that typifies the quality of the complete text.

My own role in this has been very minor. I was merely the expediter and technician with a tape recorder. I was, too, the awestruck listener, even as I am now the admiring reader,

Bernard L. Fontana 
Field Representative 
The University of Arizona


Lorentine Noceo, interpreter, and Frank Lopez, makai Sil Nakya,  August 12, 1970
Lorentine Noceo, interpreter,
and Frank Lopez, makai Sil Nakya, 
August 12, 1970


The Boy Who Gets Revenge

Frank Lopez 

Ofelia Zepeda 

Ñe: after some time that child was born, the one who was the child of the one who was killed by the Apaches, over there where the Papagos used to live;

Ñe: the child was born a boy, and, as he grew up, when he was about ten years old, it was the way that the people - as I already said - that they would go out and walk around and look for something, kill it, and with that they would eat; the older men would go out, the ones who lived there at 'Angam, and that is where the woman lived, the one whose husband was killed;

Ñe: the boy would go along with them [the hunters], and they would shake the dirt, and from both sides something would come out; sometimes, when they were lucky, they would take out a jackrabbit, a cottontail, whatever it was that came out, and sometimes it was something big like a deer;

Ñe: they would kill it, and they would do that thing that is called "gagelida" where they would give out the meat to however many people were there; and that boy would be with them, and they would give him some of whatever they caught; sometimes a cottontail rabbit was killed, and they would give it to him, or a jackrabbit, and they would kill it and give it to him; and then they would say to him, "Go home, and when you get there give this to your mother, and we will see you there in the evening;"

Ñe: and that is what these people always said to him;

Ñe: and as time went on, and the boy got older, someone again said it; someone killed something and gave it to the boy and said to him, "Give this to your mother, and I'll see her in the evening;"

Ñe: the boy thought of it this time; and when he arrived home he said: "Why do they say that? These people, when they kill something and they give it to me, they tell me, 'When you arrive at home give it to your

Ñe: mother, and I'll see her in the evening.' See, that is what they always say;

Ñe: and why do they always say that?" that is what the boy said; and so his mother told him why these people always said that to him: "They know why you are the 'only child,' but there is no reason for them to be saying these things; perhaps they feel sorry for you, and that is why they give you the things that they have killed; they feel sorry for us, and yet it is a feeling of reverence,"

Ñe: that is what she said; and then he seriously asked his mother what really happened to her a long time ago; and so the mother finally told him what happened: "Over there, where we used to live before you were a person yet, your father was killed, and from then on you have had no father; the 'Enemy Indian' killed your father, and from then on it is the way that your relatives should feel sorry for you; they are your relatives, and it should not be the way that they should be saying these things."

Ñe: after the mother had told the boy what happened to his father,

Ñe: his heart felt very bad, from thinking of it, after he heard how his father was killed;

Ñe: that is what happened; when it was morning they tried to feed him, but he would not eat, and then he went outside and just sort of walked around, the way one does when one does not feel right, perhaps when one hears of a relative dying, and one feels like walking somewhere and lying down; this is what happened to the boy, and that is why he did not think of eating anything, of drinking any water; in the morning he went out and walked toward the north where the cactus was standing; then when the sun was a bit this way and made a shade, he walked over and lay in the shade; he lay down; he lay face down; and it happened that his mother was missing him, so she followed him; she found him and saw the way he was and was also that way; she understood what he was seeing and why he was that way;

Ñe: after she saw him, she went back;

Ñe: after he was like that for a while, it became noon, and the shade moved the way it does in the afternoon - the shade will be this way; and so he went around and lay down again and that is the way he was;

Ñe: the sun went this way, and the shade was on this side toward the dawn; and so he went that way and lay down again;

Ñe: the sun went down, and he got up and walked home; there he was given food again to eat, but he didn't eat it again; they drew him water, and he did not drink it again; and that was the way he was behaving; they watched after him and tried to make him slow down, thinking that perhaps the hunger would do something to him, or perhaps the thirst would; and yet he knew what was going to happen because he saw something;

Ñe: he went to sleep and when it was morning he went out again, and again he walked to the place where he lay down;

Ñe: and in the same way he followed the shade all day; and he did it in the same way until the sun went down; and then he walked and arrived at his house;

Ñe: in the same way he did it again; again he did not eat, and again he did not drink the water; and the one who was his grandmother prayed that he would show her some mercy and eat something or drink some water, but he did not say anything, and he remained the same way; these people [his grandmother and his mother] were thinking of something else; they were thinking of something not in the right way; and yet he knew what was going to happen to him; and that was why he did not feel this hunger or the need to drink water;

Ñe: and that is the way it was happening; and for three days he was there under the cactus;

Ñe: and as he thought about it, it was so; when something important was going on, it should be followed for four days;

Ñe: and there he ended on the fourth day;

Ñe: and then he went again until he arrived at his home; and his grandmother, who seemed to be a certain kind of old lady, which was why she seemed to already understand what was going to happen in a while, this grandmother understood; and she told her daughter to just leave things as they were and not to think anything of it;

Ñe: the boy came again in the evening; and he told his mother, Look for something for me. Something, if there is any cloth, if there is any lying around, some white cloth."

Ñe: and yet it was the way that there were not so many things as there are today, when there are many things; and yet this lady understood that this was going to happen;

Ñe: that is why she had already made the cloth, and also that thing that we have over there where our house is standing; there, that thing that is in the ashes; and she had already made them, and she told him that it was there, and also that the cloth was there; I don't know how it was, perhaps she made the cloth herself because she understood what was happening to the boy; and that feather which he also asked for, perhaps there was one around, and they told him that there was one there;

Ñe: and he told them [his grandmother and his mother] to darken him, here, across his eyes, and to tie him with the cloth, here, on his head, where they used to call it "gewspadag" when they tied the head, there;

Ñe: that is the way he said it, and so they did it for him and finished it;

Ñe: and then he told them to put the feather there at the back of his head; and so they did it for him,

Ñe: and he also told them to make an "uacid," a staff,

Ñe: and so the old lady, as she could, gave him a "wa:pk'," a reed; and it only ended up to about here - it was sort of short; and from her knowledge the old lady made this "uacid"; and yet, it was the way which I told you before, about that "cewagi ki: wherever it, the "cewagi ki:," is standing, there the people always gathered in the evening to talk; they would sit there in the nights and discuss things; I don't know how it was back then, if there was no tobacco or maybe there was, but they were sitting there not smoking;

Ñe: as the night got later the boy went and arrived there; and the house was like our house here, it was a grass house standing there; the boy went inside then; they were sitting over there, and there was some room left there by the door, so he sat down there; the people looked at him, the way he was with his black marks here;

Ñe: and here the people laughed at him as they looked at him; and all around they were speaking and saying, "What is this person up to?"; and yet this one knew, the one that is the ":Je:n Cekcjim," the "Smoke Keeper"; he knew how the people did things when something came about;

Ñe: and so he said: "Why don't you leave him alone and stop saying those things that you are saying, because you don't know this boy; there must be something on his mind, his thinking; and that is why he is like this; he wouldn't be doing this just to be doing it; then we'll find out what he thinks,"

Ñe: and that is what he said to them; and then everyone was quiet except for one person whom they called "Ban," Coyote, who was sitting over there and was laughing quietly; he would look at the boy and quietly laugh some more, until he [the Smoke Keeper] jerked him and said to him: I told you to be quiet! I told all of you that we will find out what he wants to say, or what he is thinking about, and about what he will say-."

Ñe: and that is what he [the Smoke Keeper] said; and everyone was quiet, not saying anything; and then he [the Smoke Keeper] said to the boy, called to him by a kinship term, whatever he was to the boy; he said to him, "Go ahead and tell us how it is that you thought to be like this the way you are-."

Ñe: that is what he said to him, but the boy did not say anything and just sat there;

Ñe: and after a while he moved this way, and then he pulled out that thing that was given to him, that wa:pt', the reed that was his staff; then he scooted down and pushed the ashes toward himself, and he stood the hollow reed there; and it started to burn, and then he moved it this way, and he smoked it; and then he slid it along the ground, which is the way whenever this smoking happens - they pass it along low and will not just hand it to someone; he pushed it along to the one who was sitting next to him and gave it to him;

Ñe: and he did smoke from it, and he moved it along again;

Ñe: and this is the way it went as each moved it along and called him [the boy] by his kinship term, and in this way he knew how he was related to them;

Ñe: it happened in the way he said, the way I have already mentioned; he [THE FIRE KEEPER] took it and lifted it up and called him by his kinship term; and he said that the boy was "'ali ge'elij," and then he smoked - and he really sucked on it - and then he passed it on; and it went on this way, and it reached over there; and then it just stood there;

Ñe: over there that person [Coyote] was talking, and he said, I thought he was going to send it this way?" "Just sit still and be quiet," says the man who was the "Smoke Keeper,"

Ñe: and that was what he said; and he started the oration,

Ñe: and he spoke, and he ended it there where it was appropriate; and it came out that from where the boy slept he saw things, and that these things were made clear to him, and he understood.

Ñe: and it was ended; and then he [the Smoke Keeper] called him [the boy] by his kinship term, and from there it started again with the calling of kinship terms; and it went, and it reached over there, and again the kinship term was called, again they said, "'el-'al ge'el," this is the kind of kinship term used when someone is our "'alge'elk," one whose father is our brother; we would be "ge'ecuk," "the older ones," and he would be the son of our brother, and when he is a child we would say "n-'al ge'el,"

Ñe: and that is what he [Smoke Keeper] was saying; and yet he was not his [the boy's father's] real brother,

Ñe: and again he took it and lit it again; and again they started passing it around, and yet it was only this short, and yet there were many people there for this reed to reach; it went around again, and it reached everyone;

Ñe: again he started the oration; and again he said it, but he said it differently;

Ñe: and in a while he ended it again; and again they called him by his kinship term; they called him by the same term again;

Ñe: and this is the way it went; and after a while he said it again; and again he started the oration; and again he ended it; and when he reached four times that was all of it;

Ñe: and again he said it, but this time he did not give it to him, and he only gave this thing they were smoking to them twice;

Ñe: and from there he reached four orations;

Ñe: he [the boy] then told them how he was feeling that these people were gathered here: "I will tell you what I think of things," then

Ñe: he started telling them how it was that he came to feel this way: "My father and how he died, how he was killed by them, it is toward them that my thoughts are directed; that is why I should be wearing this; and so I felt that you should help me get revenge for my father's death; right now, it will be the way right now that I shall give you ten days in which you will get your things ready, in which you will get ready; you will strengthen things; you will fix, tighten up your shoes, your bow, your club, whatever is there;

Ñe: this is the way he told them; he spoke very knowledgeably; and yet he was just a child;

Ñe: and then the one who was the leader, "the one who kept the smoke," spoke like this: "Right now you listen to the young boy and the way he spoke; he spoke very properly; he spoke of things as if he were an adult; sometimes I have felt or thought that, as you are all the adult people, that perhaps one of you would like to be like the boy, that you should know what the boy was talking about; there is nothing to it, so you all get ready and help him, because it is so that you know how it was, that thing that happened to his father, which is what he is thinking about now; and it is from that that he has let out this want; there is nothing to it, and it is all right;

Ñe: then, over there, the "'i:mig" went around again, because long ago it was that way, that when one spoke, when one finished, someone would call him by his kinship term; and they remember the "'i:mig" when they call each other by their kinship terms every evening; when they gather to talk about things, they would call each other by the kinship term, and in that way they would all know each other;

Ñe: and they did what they were supposed to do, and already the grandmother of the boy knew what their young boy was going to do;

Ñe: after it was all over, the boy walked home; then he washed up and fixed himself up;

Ñe: and from then on he started keeping track of those days; the number that he gave them; the ten days, he kept track of them; he did not try to get ready or prepare; he should have been preparing his gun, his club, his bow, but he just sat there; when the sun went down he would walk over and arrive there and sit there and talk about things which would strengthen the adult people; and yet it seemed that it should have been the other way around, that someone should have been talking to him;

Ñe: and that is how things were going and that was all; and the ten days were almost over;

Ñe: there arrived that which we called "kom'ol," "thousand legged worm," the one that usually walks around when it rains; and he said: I walked over and arrived here to tell you all that I am not able to prepare; I tried to get my gun, my arrows ready, but it is my shoes that I could not get ready; I was working on it, and I only have half of them finished, but there is still more left to do because of all the legs I have;

Ñe: so I came to tell you that I won't be able to go with you, but I want to say that I will be with your children and also with the grownups; whenever one's mouth gets disfigured or ruined, you should look for my corpse; wherever one is lying, you should take it and grind it up and apply it; and the mouth of your child will get well very quickly."

Ñe: this is what he said; after the boy had acknowledged it, and said that it was all right, then they boy said: "When the sun goes and is over there in the afternoon, I will start walking, and you will follow me."

Ñe: then he saw that his gun was standing there and that his quiver was lying there also, and it was really full of arrows which his grandmother had made;

Ñe: after he knew all of this, he got ready and left; after walking for a while, he turned, and there he waited for the people, and then it happened that everyone told each other that the people were to gather, and the ones that were able prepared and joined the rest; then they arrived over there where the boy was, and still there was this one who was a "nawju," the ceremonial clown that we call "nawju"; "Why didn't we tell him?" I guess we forgot."

Ñe: the sun was going down over there and he [nawju] finally found out that everyone had left; the "kidayho," that is what it is called when people leave; a "kidayho" is when they go to the enemy; he [nawjiu] took off and started running, and he fell into a wash, and then he ran, and somewhere along the way he picked up something's root; you have seen what kind of gun a clown has; it was a cactus rib that he did something with; and from there he really started to chase the people, and he also had a bell tied to his hip; and as he was running, somewhere, the people were still meeting and discussing things; when they heard the bell clanging, the leader said: I forgot that we didn't tell him; I guess he finally found out about us."

Ñe: he [nawju] ran and sat down, and he sat down the way a clown sits down; he sat in a sprawled way and talked; and he talked the way a clown talks; when he talks, he was saying that he really ran: "Truly, I did really run.

Ñe: the people went on with the meeting; I suppose that was done there because it is usually done when there is a 'gidayho, when they go on the warpath; whenever the people sit, or when they turn in their path, there is this thing that they call "kajiwa," this is what they call it when they dance or keihin for their guns; it is to strengthen their clubs, or the lances, or whatever they may have; way over there someone will be sitting, and he will sing; he will be singing, and whatever he sings about, they will dance it out.

Ñe: the clown tried to sit down, then he pulled out his gun; and there was someone laughing at him very quietly over there; it was that person I already mentioned before; and again they told him: "Sit still and don't be laughing!"

Ñe: then he believed them and so was just sitting there;

Ñe: and that is the way it went on and on; and yet there was a person there from a different area, from a different way of life; there was something that he was very good at, this person who we call "wisag mamkam 'o'odham," the person who is the Chicken Hawk Meeter; he said: I felt, after I heard the thing that was talked about, what he said about his father, from that I felt that I should help."

Ñe: and he [the boy] had named himself; whenever it is that they name themselves, he named himself "s-'o'i wonamim," spotted hat;

Ñe: and that is the way things went; they had the medicine men standing there, because there were many medicine men back then;

Ñe: most of the night had gone by when they reached the area where the enemy was; they were sure that the enemy was near by;

Ñe: they appointed four boys and told them to go over and see if they were really there and what they were up to;

Ñe: they walked throughout the night and walked around there and saw that they were really there;

Ñe: and again they said the hahampdog, the oration; this was the last oration, the one that says we will do away with this thing that is bothering us;

Ñe: and he [the boy] told them to get ready, and we will go so that we can turn back right away;

Ñe: and they did go, and then this man Wisag Namkam, he said that he really felt that he should help him [the boy];

Ñe: and they did it and walked over and arrived over there and ambushed them; and there were many of them; then they gathered themselves up and started walking in a line, and 'O'oi Wonamim had them walk a short way;

Ñe: then Wisag Namkam made himself into a Chicken Hawk and came over; and he went, and in this way he hit them and hit them over again; then he would turn over there, and four times he turned over there, and he finished them all off, however many there were;

Ñe: from there they turned around and came home; and his grandmother already knew; she already knew what happened over there;

Ñe: and so she was singing over here; she was already singing, but no one had told them what had happened; and over here the people were getting mad at her; and they were saying: "Why are you singing when you don't know yet what happened to those people that went? Be quiet until they have told us what has happened, then you can sing."

Ñe: that is what they said to her, but yet she knew; and she was running around doing all kinds of things; and she did not even tell her daughter, the one who was the mother of the boy; she just watched her mother and thought: "Why is she doing this when my child is in danger?'

Ñe: as they were walking back, somewhere along the way they appointed a person who ran and told all the people what had happened and what they had done;

Ñe: the people rejoiced then, the people were doing all kinds of things, and there was this thing "koddogi," a victory yell, that was let out, because they now knew what had happened; whatever one wanted to sing, he could then sing it;

Ñe: then they arrived, and the boy was not with them after they all gathered; I guess whoever was bringing the ones who had killed the enemy had put them [the boy and Wisag Namkam] someplace else;

Ñe: for four days they did that thing that is the "wulda," the victory celebration;

Ñe: after the wulda was over, from then on, the people were happy for four nights, but their celebration did not last until morning, because they would allow a certain amount of time to do the "limho," victory dance; that could only go into part of the night, and then they would stop and go to sleep; and when the evening came again, they would dance again until they reached four days;

Frank Lopez, makai Sil Nakya,  August 12, 1970
Frank Lopez, makai Sil Nakya, 
August 12, 1970

Frank Lopez. "The Boy Who Gets Revenge" printed by permission of Bernard L. Fontana. Copyright ©1980 by Frank Lopez.

As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 129.