Myth & Lore

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How Coyote Got His Cunning

Kareya was the god who in the very beginning created the world. First he made the fishes in the ocean; then he made the animals on land; and last of all he made man. He had, however, given all the animals the same amount of rank and power. So he went to the man he had created and said, "Make as many bows and arrows as there are animals. I am going to call all the animals together, and you are to give the longest bow and arrow to the one that should have the most power, and the shortest to the one that should have the least."

So the man set to work making bows and arrows, and at the end of nine days he had turned out enough for all the animals created by Kareya. Then Kareya called them all together and told them the man would come to them the next day with the bows, and the one to whom he gave the longest would have the most power.

Each animal wanted to be the one to get the longest bow. Coyote schemed to outwit the others by staying awake all night. He thought that if he was the first to meet the man in the morning, he could get the longest bow for himself. So when the animals went to sleep, Coyote lay down and only pretended to sleep. About midnight, however, he began to feel genuinely sleepy. He got up and walked around, scratching his eyes to keep them open. As time passed, he grew sleepier. He resorted to skipping and jumping to keep awake, but he noise waked some of the other animals, so he had to stop. About the time the morning star came up, Coyote was so sleepy that he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. So he took two little sticks and sharpened them at the ends, and with these he propped his eyelids open. Then he felt it was safe to sleep, since his eyes could watch the morning star rising. He planned to get up before the star was completely up, for by then all the other animals would be stirring. In a few minutes, however, Coyote was fast asleep. The sharp sticks pierced right through his eyelids, and instead of keeping them open, they pinned them shut. When the rest of the animals got up, Coyote lay in a deep sleep. The animals went to meet the man and receive their bows. Cougar was given the longest, Bear the next-longest, and so on until the next-to-last bow was given to Frog. The shortest bow was still left, however. "What animal have I missed?" the man cried. The animals began to look about, and they soon spied Coyote lying fast asleep.

They all laughed heartily and danced around him. They led him to the man, for Coyote's eyes were pinned together by the sticks and he could not see. The man pulled the sticks out of Coyote's eyes and gave him the shortest bow. The animals laughed so hard that the man began to pity Coyote, who would be the weakest of them all. So he prayed to Kareya about Coyote, and Kareya responded by giving Coyote more cunning than any other animal. And that's how Coyote got his cunning.

...A tale reported by E.W. Gifford in 1930

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