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The Kawaiisu Culture

Stories and Myths

“Coyote heard Rattlesnake and Hummingbird fighting. Hummingbird was so fast that he could pull out one of Rattlesnake's teeth in a flash. Hummingbird had only four more teeth to pull and Rattlesnake would have been toothless. Coyote was also fast and thought that he would help Hummingbird. But he wasn't fast enough and Rattlesnake got away. That is why Rattlesnake still has four teeth.”

Stories were, and still are, told usually by an elder in the family. Many explained natural phenomena, while others teach children important lessons to be used throughout their lives. The stories teach respect for each other, the land, and plants and animals. The stories also emphasize the relationships between all living things.

As with all Great Basin and California Native Americans, the Kawaiisu beliefs are Animistic. Every facet of the earth and its inhabitants are alive - animated. The rocks, trees and all the earth's creatures play an important part.

Winter was, and is, the time for telling stories because Rattlesnake sleeps in winter. If stories are told at other times of the year, Raven, being the gossip that he is, will repeat the stories to Rattlesnake. This will cause Rattlesnake to visit the Kawaiisu, possibly bringing the hazards of rain and snow, as well as the danger of his bite.

Mountain Lion and Coyote were important figures in the world of the Kawaiisu, as were Bear and Rattlesnake, who protected caves.

Anthropologists refer to the stories and myths of the Kawaiisu as the “Coyote Cycle.” Coyote is an enigmatic character in these stories and the reader can judge whether he is the bungler, trickster, hero or possibly the quintessential human metaphor. In many Native American stories and myths, Coyote is portrayed as the trickster-hero, however throughout the Coyote Cycle he is the most human of all the animals. He seems to be saying “without me, who will do your thinking for you?” Yet his ideas are often ineffective. Mountain Lion, on the other hand, thinks things through and makes the right choices. The Kawaiisu say that Mountain Lion taught them the right way, but they chose to follow Coyote.

Many of the stories of the Kawaiisu were documented by Maurice Zigmond and published as Kawaiisu Mythology - An Oral Tradition of South Central California (Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 18).

Kawaiisu Culture

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