Coyote and the Hummingbird Brothers: A Nez Percé Tale

The third entry in my hummingbird folklore series. Previously, we’ve read how Hummingbird got the best of Coyote in a pair of Ohlone folktales from the California coast. For this story, we go to the Pacific Northwest for a story from the Nez Percé (Nimíipuu) people. This time, Coyote turns the tables.

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Coyote and Hummingbird – Nez Percé

As Coyote traveled along the valley, upstream, he heard a raspy, angry sound, like the sawing of wood. A voice called down to him:

“You there, coming up the valley — we challenge you to a fight!”

Looking around, Coyote saw Hummingbird and his brother atop a mountain peak. He shouted back at them, “A fight is just what I’ve been looking for!”

He ran up towards them and they rushed down to meet him, coming at him from both sides. They fought, and the Hummingbird brothers beat Coyote easily, killing him. Looking down at him, they said, “Oh, it’s Coyote. No wonder he was so arrogant, thinking he could beat us.”

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Coyote and Hummingbird: An Ohlone Folktale

The second folktale for my hummingbird folklore series, again from the Ohline people of California. This is also more a Coyote tale than a Hummingbird tale, but to me it exemplifies the feistiness of the Anna’s hummingbirds that are the most frequent visitors to our feeder.

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Maccan ‘inn ‘Ummmun — Coyote and Hummingbird (Rumsen Ohlone)

Coyote thought he was wise, but (as we saw) Hummingbird was smarter. Coyote was jealous, and wanted to kill him. So Coyote snuck up on Hummingbird, caught him, and tore him to pieces. But after Coyote left, Hummingbird came back to life, crying out in a mocking voice, “I’m dying, I’m dying!”

Then Coyote grabbed Hummingbird again, and threw him in a fire. Then he left, thinking Hummingbird would burn to death. But Hummingbird flew out of the flames, crying out “I’m dying, I’m dying!”

“How am I going to kill him?” Coyote asked. They told him, “The only way to kill him is to eat him.” So Coyote snuck up on Hummingbird, and swallowed him. But Hummingbird scratched and pecked at Coyote’s stomach from the inside; the pain was too much for Coyote to bear.

“What will I do? It hurts so much! I’m going to die!” cried Coyote, in pain. The others told him that the only way to get rid of Hummingbird was to defecate him out. So Coyote did.

And once again, up flew Hummingbird, calling out in a mocking voice, “I’m dying, I’m dying!”


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Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote: An Ohlone Creation Myth

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My husband and I have been a bit obsessed with hummingbirds the past couple of years; we’re up to three feeders in the backyard, and we can sit in the afternoon and watch hummingbird skirmishes (Anna’s hummingbirds are notoriously territorial) with as much enthusiasm as other people bring to sports championships. What better then, than a series on hummingbird folklore?

Hummingbirds exist only in the Americas; a uniquely American bird, and so their folklore is also uniquely American. Hummingbird stories exist among many peoples of North, Central, and South America, and so it gives me a change to learn a little something about groups whose legends I know nothing about.

I’ll start this series with a couple of legends from the Ohlone people of the California Coast. The Ohlone lived in the regions around the San Francisco and Monterey bays, down to the Salinas Valley: regions where my husband and I, and my husband’s family grew up. I can’t claim to know a lot about the Ohlone, but the knowledge of their existence has been somewhere in my consciousness since childhood. So even though these first stories are really more Coyote stories than they are Hummingbird stories, they’ve given me a chance to delve a bit into the stories of the people who once lived where I live and where I grew up.

Let’s start with a creation myth, from the Rumsen Ohlone. Rumsen speakers lived in the area of Monterey and Carmel, into the Carmel Valley. Rumsen was the principle indigenous language spoken at Mission Carmel. Continue reading

The Italian’s Story

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I’ve been reading Catherine Crowe’s Ghosts and Family Legends (1859) over lunch break the last several days. Those of you who have read Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted, the chronicles of the ghost-hunting, turn-of-the-twentieth-century journalist Vera van Slyke, know that Ms. Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature was Vera’s trustiest reference tome. I believe she actually wore out her copy at some point in the book. Like The Night Side of Nature, Ghosts and Family Legends is a collection of “true” ghostly anecdotes, in this case told over the course of several evenings at a Christmas gathering.

Though it may surprise some of my readers, I’m not actually that interested in true ghost story anecdotes, at least not as reading material. Most true ghost anecdotes — most true anecdotes, period — lack narrative structure, and almost always have no closure. They may be great recreation when told to you by your grandmother, or by your friends on a dark winter’s night while drinking hot toddies, but fiction generally makes better reading. Most of the stories in the first half of Ghosts and Family Legends are no exception. Still, I’m always on the lookout for novel stories to share with you during the winter tales season, and a few of the anecdotes are well-structured enough (and fun enough) that I may feature them come December.

The second half of the collection is called “Legends of the Earthbound,” and (so far) these seem to be fully structured stories. It’s not clear if these are still stories told to Ms. Crowe by others, or whether they are fiction written by her (I assume the second). Either way, they are enjoyable reading, and I thought I’d share one with you today.

Our family claims to be of great antiquity, but we were not very wealthy till about the latter half of the 16th century, when Count Jacopo Ferraldi made very considerable additions to the property; not only by getting, but also by saving—he was in fact a miser. Before that period the Ferraldis had been warriors, and we could boast of many distinguished deeds of arms recorded in our annals; but Jacopo, although by the death of his brother, he ultimately inherited the title and the estates, had begun life as a younger son, and being dissatisfied with his portion, had resolved to increase it by commerce.

So begins the story of Count Francesco Ferraldi, about his ancestor Jacopo Ferraldi, a truly detestable man. This one is kind of two ghost stories (and two haunted houses) in one, but it isn’t the ghosts that are scary. It’s the man.

You can read “The Italian’s Story” here (a pdf download), or you can download the entire Ghosts and Family Legends from Project Gutenberg.

Enjoy.


Image: The Letter of Introduction, David Wilkie (1813). Source: WikiArt. It may seem an odd choice of image, but it’s relevant to the story.

The Marriage of Heer and Ranjha: A Punjabi Love Story

Being an “unofficial” version of the famous love story.

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In the village of Takht Hazara there once lived a young man named Dheedo, of the clan of Ranjha. He was the youngest son of a wealthy landowner, and as the youngest, he was a trifle spoiled. Rather than working or managing the family property, he spent his days lazing in the sun and playing his flute.

Unfortunately, his father eventually died, and the sons divided the land amongst themselves. The older brothers never thought much of the youngest, so when they divided the land they gave Ranjha the worst, most infertile part of the property. Ranjha tried to work his land for a while, to no avail. Disgusted, he took his flute and left Takht Hazara.

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A Budget of Book Reviews

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I’ve been a bit behind on the blogging, it’s true; but I’ve still been reading. Here’s some notes on a few of the books I’ve been reading these past few months. I received a free review copy of The Mark of the Shadow Grove; the other three books I bought and read on my own.

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Buildings and Dreams

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I was flipping through my notebooks not too long ago, in search of material for a blog post, when I stumbled upon a couple of old fiction pieces that I had been wrestling with, then put aside. They were partially influenced by a motif one finds frequently in ghost stories written when “scientific” explanations of apparitions were de rigueur: ghosts as the “psychic recordings” of violent events or emotions. The idea, I believe, still circulates in ghost-hunting circles. Listen to the discussion/definition at about 2:55 or so of this YouTube video about the “10 Types of Ghosts”:

To me a ghost is an apparition… sort of a replay of an event that happened a long time ago because of an imprint or place memory…

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The Baby in the Boot

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In the region near the Cleveland Hills of Yorkshire, around the twelfth century or so, there was a man named Richard Rowntree. He got it into his head to walk the the Camino de Santiago, to the tomb of St. James of Compostela, in Spain, some 900 miles away as the crow flies — and Richard Rowntree was no crow. Why he wanted to make this pilgrimage I don’t know, but off he went, leaving behind his pregnant wife.

The Way of St. James was a popular one with pilgrims — so popular that some said the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by pilgrims’ feet. But it was also a dangerous road, beset by robbers who preyed on the pious. So Richard wisely kept company with a group of fellow pilgrims, and when they stopped for the night, they would take turns keeping watch as the others slept. And so they traveled, following the Camino Real, which led them through a deep forest.

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The Test

A new installment in my occasional and hopefully ongoing series of active heroines: lesser-known fairy tales featuring women who do more than wait around to get rescued. This one is from Lafcadio Hearn, and was told to him by his gardener Kinjuro. I give it here, verbatim. The story features the “marriage test” motif, where a hero must pass a test in order to win the fair maiden. In most cases, the fair maiden’s father imposes the test. In some cases — like this one — the fair maiden herself sets the conditions.

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A long time ago, in the days when Fox-women and goblins haunted this land, there came to the capital with her parents a samurai girl, so beautiful that all men who saw her fell enamoured of her. And hundreds of young samurai desired and hoped to marry her, and made their desire known to her parents. For it has ever been the custom in Japan that marriages should be arranged by parents. But there are exceptions to all customs, and the case of this maiden was such an exception. Her parents declared that they intended to allow their daughter to choose her own husband, and that all who wished to win her would be free to woo her.

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