Gearing up for the release of the third book of my Spirit Tirlogy I'd like to tell you about a Nez Perce Tale I read while researching for the trilogy.
Native Americans have long held the belief that animals carry spirits and those spirits were called upon to help with hunts, battles, and the day to day living required when you are living off the land. These spirits were depicted in drawing, ceremonies with elaborate costumes, and in their stories. Many myths/legends have the main characters of Coyote, bear, skunk, and weasel.
These tales were told around campfires at night. The stories had morals like our fairy tales and fables. Only the characters in the stories were rarely human and always they told of lessons. Sometimes lessons for children and sometimes lessons for adults. And always they told of human foibles through the animals.
Here is a Nez Perce tale:Coyote was a wise man, and Fox was slow-witted. Coyote said to Fox, "Now we shall have to get up some scheme to procure food. You are slow-witted, just like your father. My father was not that way: he was wise. I have taken after my father."
They were in their camp; and Coyote said to Fox, "If you keep perfectly still and do not move, we shall get some food." Then Coyote began thus: "I wish that I and my friend could hear the sound of five packs of food falling at the door!" Then they heard five sounds: "tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk!" Coyote jumped up and ran out, and there he saw five packs lying at the door. He took the three largest ones for his share, and left the two smallest ones for Fox. The large packs that Coyote got were all dry meat without any fat, but the two little packs contained fine meat. In three days Coyote had eaten all his poor meat; while Fox had a great deal left, because his was so very rich. On the fourth morning Coyote was hungry, and kept his eye on Fox to see if he had eaten all his share. Now, Fox had eaten only one of his packs, so Coyote jumped over and took the other. Then he said to Fox, "You are a fine fellow never to divide up with your friend!"
Five times they repeated the magic act and got food, but the sixth time Coyote wanted to see who brought them the meat. So he said to Fox, "I am going to see the man who gives us meat." Fox replied, "You had better not try to do that, because this is the only way we can get food." But Coyote was determined to see. He stood at the door, and cut a peep-hole so that he could look out with one eye. Then he repeated the wish; and when the packs fell, he saw a man going up over the ridge who wore long hair in a wig. This man was Deer Tick. Coyote shouted after him, "Oh, you man with the wig, you go over the mountain!"
Think you they got food again from the man Coyote had shamed? [When this rhetorical question is asked, the chorus is "No!"]
Nez Perce Tales, By Herbert J. Spinden, 1907
From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.
Tales of the Nez Perce by Donald M. Hines,
Ye Galleon Press; Fairfield, Washington, 1999