The Native American tale of â€œCoyote and Bearâ€, originally translated from oral tradition in nineteen six by G. A. Dorsey in the book The Pawnee, Mythology, Part I, tells us the story of Coyote who accidentally meets Bear, and in order to protect himself from being killed by Bear, starts to make up self praising stories to impress Bear. Eventually, Coyote convinces Bear, but after a few hesitant moves, Bear realizes that Coyote was lying. The tale then, ends up with the murder of Coyote by Bear. The most relevant literary figure used in the tale is the trickster, which is, in the study of folklore, a god, a spirit, or simply a human hero who breaks godÒ‘s or natureÒ‘s rules, sometimes with bad intention, but usually with final positive effects. Most of the times, these broken rules take the form of tricks. Tricksters can be cunning, or foolish, or both. They are often very funny even though sometimes considered sacred. The present tale is part of the Native American oral tradition of the trickster, which is esthetically simple but considered sacred at the times, in which Coyote represents the figure of survival, who would invent any story to get away from death. Bear represents the nature, and its normal evolution of the species through the predation process. However, being myself aware of the likelihood
of the former Native American trickster theory, it is my intention to take the risk and formulate the following new theory of the â€œCoyote and Bearâ€ tale. The argument of the tale uses the personification of Coyote as the white european colonizers who came, at the beginning, in small numbers fearing the Native Americans, characterized as Bear, and used their white tricky political ways to cheat the original owners of the land and continue their settlements all over the American soil. However, and in correspondence with the outcome of the tale, the natives eventually realized about the fake intentions and killed the europeans.
The traditional point of view, and most likely the correct one, of my research paper is the formal approach to the trickster. The Trickster is a very well known literary figure in many myths all over the world, but it is best known in two continents, Africa and North America. In North America it is typically shown as being from the Native American mythological times when animals were characterized as human beings. They are human in mentality and way of thinking, but they look like animals in shape. The trickster is very important in North American mythology. And, in many tribal myth oral traditions, most narratives are around the trickster. At the same time it is often a serious figure and a world transformer, or even a culture hero. Long time ago, according to beliefs of the Native Americans, animals were the people of this land. They talked to each another, interrelated, hunted, and shared their lives and spaces. The animals in tribal tales lived in the exact same way as the Native Americans themselves, but at the end of these mythical times the world changed. Human beings were created and animals became what they really are now.
Coyote played a very important role in the stories of the Native Americans. He helped and taught the Native Americans skills they needed to survive, but he was also a trickster. The stories about Coyote were normally humorous and provided a sort of comedy to the tradition of oral tales. In the present tale, Coyote acts as a survivor, as in real animal life. Coyotes are able to live close to human habitats and get the most of these places. In the tale, Coyote acts as a human being who uses all his chances to get rid of a difficult situation, particularly more when is about survival. Coyote here acts as a wanderer, cheat, and survivor, which help him initially to avoid death by impressing Bear. But the result of his stories does not sustain very long. Bear represents the forces of nature. He is a part of the predator chain looking for food to survive. When he meets Coyote he is about to continue with this natural process, but Coyoteâ€™s reaction impresses him and stops the foreseen predation process. Nature has been cheated by the outstanding abilities of Coyote. However, the situation does not end like that. The forces of nature triumph once again in order to show a taleâ€™s moral. Bear acts in a more natural way. He finally concludes the cycle that his character was intended for, but not before showing an initial naÐ¿ve personality. This situation creates a first impression on the reader/listener, implying that good convincing skills can defeat what is naturally expected to happen. However, and with full intention of developing a tale moral, these convincing skills only take effect on a temporary basis. The message this tale wants to issue is that nature might be unaware for some time, but at the end, it always defeats any intention of shortcutting the life cycle. This moral is among the most usual used in Native American coyote stories, which were normally told to audiences of young and old people alike. They were sometimes told to teach about cosmology, as instructional stories for the young, to explain history, and sometimes just for the sake of telling and listening to a funny story. In all these different cases, Coyote stories are a reflection for our own lives, pointing out the smallest miseries and the biggest strengths of humans. Unfortunately for him, in the present tale, Coyote serves as the example of a negative attitude, which finally always leads to a tragic end.
A different approach to the trickster tradition in Native American oral literature and particularly to â€œCoyote and Bearâ€ tale is the object of the following analysis. Although it is in my full knowledge that this perspective is risky, literary speaking, I merely intend to study a new approach.
As mentioned at the end of the introduction, Coyote might represent the early white European who arrived to America and struggled to survive. After some time, he realized that the land in front of him was disproportionate and started to walk inland to colonize. But one day he met the Native Americans, represented in the tale as Bear. They were the natural owners of the land for centuries, and used it as a means of living and survival. Coyote then, thought he could take this land and use it in its own benefit, although he realized that Bear was bigger and stronger than him. But if Bear would realize about his intention, would probably kill him. Coyote then used verbal tricks to show superiority to Bear. At this point, the tricks used by Coyote could have easily been the different moments in which Native Americans were deceived by white Europeans. There are several very significant examples about this fact. For instance, in 1682 William Penn made an agreement with the Native Americans for land that included parts of todayÒ‘s Pennsylvania. It was reported that in 1686 another treaty was agreed to, which provided that Penn or his descendants could have as much land, going north, as a man could walk in â€œone and one-half daysâ€. This treaty was never found, although a supposed copy appeared in 1735 when Thomas Penn, son of William, decided he needed more land to sell. Some of the language used in the treaty was different in concept for the two parts involved. The Native Americans had a different understanding of the meaning of the phrase walk in â€œone and one-half daysâ€ than the white European owners seeking land. For the Native Americans, â€œwalkâ€ meant walk, stop for a smoke, hunt, walk some more, and any other similar action. To the Europeans, â€œwalkâ€ meant cover the most distance possible in one and one-half days, which was what they did. They hired a professional walker who managed to run sixty five miles in during one and half days.
Another important example would be the introduction of alcohol by the Europeans. It was introduced during early contacts between Native people and white Europeans who, for whatever reasons, were willing to share their intoxicating drink. Alcohol then altered the Native American culture, existence, and way of life for many years.
This examples are represented in the tale as the speeches given by Coyote referring to be able to still the rivers, overturn the timber, and produce the changes mentioned in nature. White Europeans did exactly the same with Native Americans. But, eventually, they realized like Bear did, and ended up with the lives of those who pretended. Of course, the tale would refer to the times that Native Americans still outnumbered white Europeans.