Coyote in Native Mythology: Thomas King's "The One About Coyote Going West"

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Cherokee, Trickster Pages: 15 (4563 words) Published: February 24, 2006
Thomas King's "The One About Coyote Going West" encompasses a Cherokee variant on Native Creation, the role of Coyote, the effect of white people on Natives, and a moral lesson classic to Native mythology. Also prevalent is the clichéd "don't fix it if it ain't broke" idea wherein matters of concern deteriorate when tampered with.

Cherokee are a Native American tribe who mainly live in the southeastern United States and in Oklahoma. They believe that are two classes of the thunder beings, those who live close to the Earth, and those who live in the land of the west beyond the Mississippi and visit the people to bring rains and blessings from the South. They believe that the thunder beings who live close to the Earth's surface can and do harm people at times. The thunder beings are viewed as the most powerful of the servants of the Apportioner (Creator Spirit), and are revered in the first dance of the Green Corn Ceremony held each year, as they are believed to bring rains for a successful corn crop. (wikipedia) Coyote going west in this story alludes to her creating people, putting her in an elevated place equivalent to a god.

The Cherokee assign a femine personality to spiritual evil, and name her "wi-na-go" in their ancient language They believe that mosquitos were created when she was destroyed in ancient legends. It is also believed that all human disease and suffering originated with the killing of animals for improper purposes, and that each animal killed for pleasure or without proper ceremonies allows a new disease to enter the physical world from the spirit world. It is also believed that the plants, in response to witnessing the suffering in the world, make a medicine to cure each sickness that enters the world in order to restore the balance of forces between the two worlds. (wikipedia)

In Native American oral tradition, the offensive but revered Trickster takes on many forms. "This one is about Coyote. She was going west. Visiting her relations. That's what she said. You got to watch that one. Tricky one. Full of bad business. No, no, no, no that one says. I'm just visiting. Going to see Raven. Boy, I says. That's another tricky one" (413 - 414). One point of interest here is that the story is set out like a spoken story. It is all dialogue, and reads like a spoken narrative; similar to the way it would be spoken in Native oral tradition.

Coyote comes to visit wise Grandmother, who is wary of her, and decides to tell her a story in order to dissuade her from going on her journey. It is difficult to discern if it is both Grandmother and Grandfather who tell Coyote the story of Coyote going west and making a mistake, or if it is a single wise entity who tells the story, anthropomorphic in nature.

Native American coyote stories are told to young and old alike, to explain cosmology, as instructional tales for the young, to illustrate history, to illuminate tragedy, or sometimes just for the fun of telling and hearing a funny story. In all these guises, coyote stories are a mirror for Native life, pointing out petty foibles and magnificent strength. (wikipedia) In this particular tale, coyote makes a big mistake, and the lesson learned is that the world does not need to be tampered with as it has been. " Never mind, says Coyote. Maybe you have some Indians around here. I got some toaster ovens says the mistake. We don't need that stuff, says Coyote. You have to stop making all those things. You're going to fill up this world." (419)

In the traditional oral literature of Native Americans, mythological creatures like coyote do not represent animals. Instead, they represent the First People, members of a mythic race who first populated the world and lived before humans existed. The First People had tremendous powers and created all known things in the world, but they were capable of being brave or cowardly, conservative or innovative, wise or stupid (see attached stories).

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