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.

Hummingbirdandcoyote

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!”


  • This fragment is primarily based on David Kaufman’s translation of a version in the Rumsen language, as found in the notes of the linguist and ethnologist John P. Harrington. The story was told by Isabelle Meadows, the last native speaker of Rumsen. Alfred Kroeber also shares a version of this story (perhaps also Isabelle’s version), in Indian Myths of South Central California.
  • Fun fact: one of the few published references on any Ohlone language is the Grammar of Mutsen, Marc Okrand‘s 1977 PhD. dissertation. Dr. Okrand went on to invent the Klingon (and Vulcan) languages. Are some of the sounds and phonemes in Klingon based on Mutsen Ohlone? It’s a cool thought.

    From Okrand’s Wikipedia entry:

    The tlh sound that he incorporated into Klingon, unusual to speakers of North American English, is common in other English dialects, and North and Central American indigenous languages, in which it is usually transcribed as tl, tł or ƛ (a voiceless alveolar affricate with lateral release); this is the sound at the end of the word “Nahuatl” [Aztec].

  • Just for fun: a video I discovered of a coyote at a hummingbird feeder. Coyote’s Revenge for Hummingbird mocking him, I guess.

References

Kaufman, David. “Rumsen Ohlone Folklore: Two Tales,” Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Sep. – Dec., 2008), pp. 383-391

Kroeber. Alfred L. Indian Myths of South Central California, 1907. Kroeber refers to the Ohlone as Costanoan (“coast dwellers”), the name the Spanish used to refer to them.

Images

Anna’s hummingbird: Photo by Medium69. Source: Wikimedia

Coyote: Photo by Matt Knoth, Source: Wikimedia

4 thoughts on “Coyote and Hummingbird: An Ohlone Folktale

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