CHAPTER THREE - CALIFORNIA INDIAN STORYTELLING

 

New Terms in this Chapter:

 

Anthropology The study of the behavior of the human species.
Archeology A branch of anthropology that is concerned with the historical reconstruction of cultures.
Fable A story in which the characters are talking animals.
Linear Following an order based on time, chronological.
Paraphrase To repeat something in your own words.
Prescribed To memorize a story, song, or ceremony and repeat it word for word.

 

      The stories were extremely important to Native Americans, not just those of California. Long before writing existed, all histories, morals, traditions, and religions were saved and passed on to each generation through stories or oral traditions.
      Even though languages slowly changed over the generations, the stories did not. Each story was told over and over until the persons learning the stories could tell them exactly in their prescribed manner, usually not even changing one word of the stories. We see this today in the Bird Songs of the Serrano and Cahuilla ethnies. Many of the songs are so old that even the singers do not know exactly what the words mean in their songs, but, even today, not a word or note is changed.
      This can also be demonstrated in the memory of the stories. The stories of many Northern California peoples remember long extinct inland whales.
      Because of this, anthropologists place great importance in these stories, even the ones with fable-like qualities. For example, up until the last 20 years, anthropologists believed that the Navajos arrived in the southwest about the year 1500, just before the Spanish first arrived. This was in spite of the fact that Navajo stories say that some of the Navajos arrived hundreds of years earlier. In more recent times, archeologists have begun to uncover evidence that some Navajos arrived as early as 1100 to 1200 A.D., 300 to 400 years earlier than first thought. The stories were correct.
      Since most people think that animals cannot talk, how can the fable-like stories with talking coyotes, eagles, and crows be considered accurate? There are a number of possible reasons for speaking animals and other seemingly miraculous events being included in the stories:
      The stories must be told in a form that can be understood by and hold the attention of their audience, and children are a very important part of the audience. Just as today’s children enjoy cartoons, children also seem to enjoy Indian traditional fables just as much as adults.
      Having animals play an important part in the stories helps people remember the stories since the real personalities of the animals are part of the stories. The various common actions of the coyote, for instance, like howling and meandering in all directions that do not seem to make sense, are often important in the stories.
      The stories are true because they have always been passed down from the beginning of time as they were prescribed.
      All cultures used to be oral. Once people began to write down the stories, they noticed that they usually had four elements: circularity, polyvocalism, audience participation, and non-linear presentation.
      Circularity may be expressed in several ways:
      One would be for a story to begin and end in the same place. In one story, coyote is just being coyote when he sees the Creator placing the stars in the sky from a bag in a very orderly manner. Coyote asks if he can help, and the Creator lets coyote place stars in the sky reminding him to be sure and put the stars up in an orderly manner.  Coyote does it correctly, and, as is his nature, becomes impatient and throws the whole bag of stars into the sky.
      The Creator scolds him for his carelessness and for the mess he made. Coyote goes back to being a coyote, only after that he howls at night when he sees the mess he made with the stars.
      Circularity may also be expressed in repetition. Like the chorus of a song, passages in oral traditions are often stated over and over as the story unfolds. In the creation story of the Yokuts ethnie of central California (page 32), there is only water at the beginning of time. Eagle and Crow find a stump to land on and try to decide how to create earth. They say, "If we supply fish for Duck, maybe she will bring up more mud than fish." They give duck two fish as a reward to dive, and she does. Several times that part of the story is repeated as they reward the duck with fish and it returns with mud. In the end, earth is created, but the several repetitions represent circularity.
      Circularity may be expressed as a sacred hoop, the Indian concept of ecology. All things are related. The world is a great circle comprised of many smaller circles as expressed in the contemporary poem Many Circles:
Life means death and death means life to every living thing,
And winter comes to prepare the land for the coming spring.
Many circles are around us. Many circles rule this land.
Many circles cannot be broken--this I understand.
Many circles must not be broken--this we all must understand.
      Polyvocalism refers to stories that are told or performed by more than one person. Stories are usually, and in some cultures only, told in the winter during those cold months when families spend long hours awake indoors around a fire. In order to make stories more interesting and to bring them to life, often more than one elder and/or adult will participate in the telling of a story just like more than one person participates in a conversation. A different person may play the role of each character or one person may narrate the story while another acts out the parts. The children and young adults are not just being told the stories; they must learn the stories because one day they will be telling them in the prescribed manner.
     

Audience participation is common in storytelling. This may take many forms and once again is important in ensuring that the stories are learned. Often a story will require an act from the audience before the story proceeds. In the case of the Yokuts creation story, it is usually the audience’s job to repeat at the proper time, "If we supply fish for Duck, maybe she will bring up more mud than fish." So the circularity creates the desired audience participation. Today, when most people listen to music, they first learn the repeated parts and usually only remember the repeated parts. This is natural audience participation. Anyone who attends the play Annie will probably to go home singing, "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’ll love ya tomorrow. " Likewise children first learned the circular part of their oral traditions.

      Non-linear presentation was common in oral traditions. This meant that stories did not necessarily begin at the beginning, but rather at some other point in the story, and stories did not always follow their chronological order. When your parent asks you, "What did you learn in school today?" Do you begin your story with the first thing you learned or with the most interesting thing you learned? Most would answer with the most interesting thing. But, if your parent asked you to write down all you learned in class today, you would most likely think back and begin writing down what you learned starting with the beginning of the day.

      Assignment: Read Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

 

      Even though Island of Blue Dolphins is a story about Indians, as you now know, it is not in the form of Indian storytelling or Indian literatures. There is little circularity; it is told from the point of view of only one person, Karana; there is no opportunity for the audience to participate, but the story is non-linear.
      The story, however, can be told in Native American form. The following is a play that your class can act out:

 

Home Alone on San Nicolas Island

 

Characters:
Narrator
Young Karana: A teenage Nicoleño in Acts 1 and 2
Old Karana: has aged about 40 years in Act 3
Young Kimki: The young Nicoleño chief
Old Kimki: has aged about 40 years in Act 3
Village elder #1: Gabrielino person
Captain #1: Spanish person
Traveler: Spanish person
Village elder #2: Chumash person
Village elder #3: Chumash person
Young person Chumash person
Captain #2: American person
Priest: Spanish person
Joyous Villagers: rest of class singing

 

Act 1
The setting is a seaside Gabrielino village on the mainland. Kimki, the ragged chief of the Nicoleño, approaches the village where several people are sitting and visiting with each other. Among the villagers is a captain of a ship. They stand as Kimki approaches.
Village elder #1: Welcome to our village stranger. You look like you have traveled far.
Kimki: Thank you. I have been on the ocean for days and have long since been out of water.
A member of the village gives Kimki a gourd of water, and Kimki drinks it.
Kimki: You are good hosts. You must wonder what I am doing alone on the ocean.
Village elder #1: We will hear your story if you wish to tell it.
Kimki sits and begins a story.
Kimki: My people live on a island far beyond the islands that you can see from your land. Strangers came to hunt our otters, and they killed most of our people after a disagreement. It is no longer safe for my people on our island, and I hope to find someone who will bring them to your mainland.
Captain #1: I have a ship called the Valiant, and I can go get your people, but I will have to be paid.
Kimki: My people will pay you with Otter pelts. They have many.
Captain #1: Done. We will sail with the morning tide.
Narrator: Two full moons have come and past.
Karana, a young Indian girl, is walking along when she spots a leather ball laying on the ground. She picks it up.
Karana (smiling): My brother’s stick ball. We had so much fun playing stick ball. He was so proud the first time he beat me. (becomes sad) He would have been a man by now. I miss him.
Karana continues walking and finally sits on a rock overlooking the ocean.
Karana: I feel so alone. When the ship picked up my people, and my little brother was still on the beach, I had to swim back to shore to be with him. Then we were left here alone. Within a few days the wild dogs killed my brother, and now I am alone. I pray that the ship will soon return.
The same people of the same Gabrielino village are sitting and talking. Kimki is among them.
Kimki: I worry about the good captain and that ship. The full moon has twice come and passed, and the ship has not returned. I hope the storm that passed by a few days after they sailed did not cause them harm.
A Traveler approaches the village.
Village elder #1: Welcome to our village stranger. You look like you have traveled far.
Traveler: Yes. I have walked down from Santa Barbara. It has been a long trip. I am traveling to the Pueblo of Los Angeles to find work. I just learned that the ship on which I was supposed to work has sunk.
Village elder #1: I hope no one was lost at sea.
Traveler: Alas, I am afraid they were. The good ship Valiant went down with all aboard.
All of the villagers stare sadly at Kimki.
Kimki: Do you know if they made it to the island that was their destination?
Traveler: I know nothing of that. I only know that parts of the ship washed ashore in Ventura that identified the lost ship as the Valiant.
Kimki: (To the villagers) Thank you my friends. I must find another ship to travel to my island and rescue my people. I pray they were not on that ship.
Kimki rises and leaves the village.

 

Act 2

 

Karana is sitting and weaving a basket. She has difficulty and throws it down in disgust.
Karana: Arrgh! Pleasant thoughts! Pleasant thoughts! (She pauses and then her mood improves only slightly) How can I possibly have pleasant thoughts. I’ve been alone on this island for months. And if you have to have pleasant thoughts to weave a basket--I may never get one woven. Maybe if I take a walk down to the beach, I will have some pleasant thoughts.
Karana walks to the beach and sits on a rock looking out over the ocean.
Karana: No pleasant thoughts here. I feel so alone. When the ship picked up my people and my little brother was still on the beach, I had to swim back to shore to be with him. Then we were left here alone. Within a few days the wild dogs killed my brother, and now I am alone. I pray that the ship will soon return.
Kimki approaches a Chumash village in Malibu.
Village elder #2: Welcome to our village stranger. You look like you have traveled far.
Kimki: Thank you. I have been traveling for days and have long since been out of water.
A member of the village gives Kimki a gourd of water, and Kimki drinks it.
Kimki: You are good hosts. You must wonder why I am traveling alone.
Village elder #2: We will hear your story if you wish to tell it.
Kimki sits and begins his story.
Kimki: My people live on a island far beyond the islands that you can see from your land. Strangers came to hunt our Otters, and they killed most of our people after a disagreement. It is no longer safe for my people on our island, and I hope to find someone who will bring them to your mainland.
Village elder #2: We have no boats that can sail that far. Sometimes ships sail into Santa Barbara. You are welcome to stay among us, but, if you must find a ship, you should go to Santa Barbara.
Kimki: Thank you for your kindness.
Kimki rises and leaves the village.

 

Act 3

 

Karana spears a fish in the surf. She holds the fish up and looks at it.
Karana: What a big fish. I could feed my whole family with this--if I had a family. My sister left on that boat. (Smiling) She must have a husband by now. At least she has a family.
Karana walks to a rock and sits looking out over the ocean.
Karana: I feel so alone. When the ship picked up my people and my little brother was still on the beach, I had to swim back to shore to be with him. Then we were left here alone. Within a few days the wild dogs killed my brother, and now I am alone. I pray that the ship will soon return.
Kimki approaches a Chumash village in Santa Barbara.
Village elder #3: Welcome to our village stranger. You look like you have traveled far.
Kimki: Thank you. I have been traveling for days and have long since been out of water.
A member of the village gives Kimki a gourd of water, and Kimki drinks it.
Kimki: You are good hosts. You must wonder why I am traveling alone.
Village elder #3: We will hear your story if you wish to tell it.
Kimki sits and begins the story.
Kimki: My people live on a island far beyond the islands that you can see from your land. Strangers came to hunt our Otters, and they killed most of our people after a disagreement. It is no longer safe for my people on our island, and I hope to find someone who will bring them to your mainland.
Village elder #3: Two of our sailors will leave tomorrow for San Diego on the Santa Paula. (To the young sailors) Will your captain sail passed the island to look for the people?
Young person: Our captain is a fine leader. I am sure we will go out of our way, but the captain will have to be paid.
Kimki: My people have many otter pelts with which they can pay your captain.
Young person: We will sail tomorrow, but then we sail on to San Diego and then a place called Acapulco. It will be a long time before you find out if your people have been rescued.
Kimki: As long as they are rescued. That is all that matters.
Narrator: The sun has set three times since the young people left the Chumash village.
Karana is sitting on a rock when she sees a ship approaching.
Karana: A ship. I wonder if it is those bad people or people who have come to rescue me.
Karana hides and waits to see if it is a friendly boat.
Karana: It is not the bad people. (Karana jumps up and down and waves her arms) Here! Here! I am here! Oh no! They are sailing away! Here! Here! I am here! They are gone. They are leaving me. (Karana begins to cry) I am alone--still alone.

 

Act 4

 

Karana is sitting on a rock looking out over the ocean.
Karana: I feel so alone. When the ship picked up my people and my little brother was still on the beach, I had to swim back to shore to be with him. Then we were left here alone. Within a few days the wild dogs killed my brother, and now I am alone. I pray that the ship will soon return.
Karana looks up, not believing her eyes.
Karana: A ship. It is a ship. They are anchoring in the cove. Here! Here! I am here!
The captain #2 and a priest come ashore and approach Karana.
Karana: What of my people. Are they safe?
Priest: I know nothing of your people my child, but I once met someone who said there were people on this island, and that person was trying to find someone to rescue them. I don’t know what became of your friend.
Narrator: The sun sets three times before Karana arrives in Santa Barbara at the village where Kimki has been living.
The villagers know who she is because old Kimki is among them, and they greet her joyously by singing their welcoming song.
Village:
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey hey hey hey hey umguwa
Hey umguwa, hey umguwa.
(Repeat four times, the last tree times by the entire cast and the audience)

 

The end.

 

      Circularity exists throughout this play in Karana’s repeating dialogue as she sits on the rock when Kimki repeats experiences in the various villages. Polyvocalism is displayed with the entire cast speaking and the story being told from two points of view, that of Karana and Kimki. The story becomes Non-linear each time both Karana and Kimki flash back to recount their past. The singing of the Chumash welcoming song includes Audience Participation.
 

 

Clapper Stick
      The clapper stick was one of the most popular musical instruments of the California Indians.  It was usually made of elderberry, but river cane and other woods were used as well.  Often colorful beads were strung on the leather straps on the bottom.  Sometimes clapper sticks were painted bright colors.  The handle of the clapper stick was often wrapper in sinew or cord or colorful twine.
(Color this clapper stick in the way you think it would look best)
      The Chumash welcoming song was often sung with clapper sticks.  As the song is sung, the clapper stick are hit in double beats.
      Here is another song you can sing with clapper sticks:

 

The Bear Calling Song

 

Henna May, henna may, henna may chi-chay-o,
Henna May, henna may, henna may chi-chay-o,
Henna May, henna may, henna henna hi-yo,
Henna May, henna may, henna henna hi-yo,

 

(Repeat this song four times, each time going faster)

 

      The following two creation stories are from the Yokuts of the Central California macro-culture and the Southern Paiute of the Great Basin macro-culture. These stories may be paraphrases and not the original stories. As you read them, try to imagine including elements that would give them storytelling form: circularity, audience participation, polyvocalism, and non-linear presentation.

 

Creation Story of the Yokuts ethnie

 

      A Great Flood had occurred upon Earth long, long ago. While Earth was still covered with water, there were no living creatures upon the land.
      Then out of the sky one day glided an enormous Eagle with a black Crow riding upon its back, searching for a place to light.
      Around and around Eagle flew until discovering a projecting tree stump, or what appeared to be a stump to land to rest. There was a home at last upon the flat surface, which was amply large enough for Eagle and Crow to roost upon.
      From here, they surveyed the greenish-gray water as far as they could see. The sky was a gorgeous bright blue with a few drifting clouds, occasionally swirled by a passing breeze. All seemed serene to Eagle and Crow.
      Small fish were visible below the water, sometimes leaping out of the sea playfully. Hunger caused Eagle and Crow to swoop down, catching a meal for themselves from time to time. Soon a game developed between the two birds to see which one would be the winner in the fish-catching contest. Upon their return to the stump, however, they always shared the reward.
      Eagle's great size and wingspan made it easy to soar to great heights and survey widely, as the two birds often flew in opposite directions exploring for land. But no land did they find. No other flying creatures did they see. But they always returned to their home base on the tree stump.
      Between them, they wondered "How can we possibly think of a way to make land?"
      "We know we cannot dive deep enough to find dirt, and the fish are of no help except to provide food."
      Day after day these scenes were repeated, exploring in search of land or wondering how to create land, only to return to their stump and catch more fish.
      One morning soon thereafter and much to their surprise, a Duck was swimming around and around their stump. Occasionally, Duck dived deep in the water, rose to the surface chewing small fish, twisting its head from side to side trying to swallow its meal. One time, Duck emerged with more mud than fish in its mouth.
      Eagle and Crow talked excitedly about this! "Can Duck possibly bring up enough mud for us to build land?" they wondered.
      How could they let Duck know that mud was what they needed most?
      An idea occurred to Eagle, which the bird told to Crow, "If we supply fish for Duck, maybe it will bring up more mud than fish."
      By trial and error, the two birds caught fish for Duck, placing them at the edge of the stump, until Duck learned that the fish were there in exchange for mud!
      When Duck appeared on the surface after a deep dive, Eagle and Crow brushed off the mud from Duck's bill and body with their wings. Progress was slow but steady.
      Gradually, Eagle had a pile of mud on its side of the stump, and Crow had a similar pile on its side. Each placed fish on its own side for Duck, who now responded by carrying more and more mud to Eagle and Crow. This became a great game of fish-and-mud exchange.
      Duck worked very hard. Consequently, Duck was always hungry. The birds were surprised at how large each one's mud pile grew every day. In bird talk they said, "Duck is helping us to make a new world. This we will share equally."
      Occasionally, Eagle and Crow flew toward the horizon, exploring for any new signs of land. But they returned with nothing new to report; however, they noticed a slight lowering of water around the tree stump.
      "Surely, the flood must be coming to an end," Crow and Eagle bird said.
      Each day they watched for a change in the waterline. Each day their piles of mud seemed higher and higher. Faithful Duck kept up the good work as Eagle and Crow caught fish for it and scraped off mud for each side of the new world.
      Another time, Eagle flew high and far in search of dry land, not returning until late. The sun set and darkness enveloped the world on the stump. The next morning, to Eagle's surprise, it saw how much more mud it had acquired and was pleased. But after looking across at Crow's mud pile, Eagle was astounded to see that Crow had given itself twice as much mud while Eagle was away.
      Was this Crow's idea of sharing the new world equally?" accused Eagle.
      Of course, they quarreled all that day and the next over Crow's unfairness. But the following day, they went back to work making their new land. Eagle decided that it must catch up. It caught two fish for Duck and put them in the usual place. Duck responded by bringing up mud twice to Eagle in exchange for two fish. All three worked very hard for many, many moons.
      Gradually, Eagle's half of the new world became taller than Crow's half, even though Crow seemed to work just as hard as Eagle. Duck was faithful to the task, never tiring in its effort to supply mud. Of course, Duck continued to give Eagle twice as much mud for its two fish. Crow never seemed to notice why Eagle's half became higher and higher than its half.
      One morning, as the sun rose brightly, the two birds looked down through the water and saw what appeared to be land!
      So that is where Duck finds the mud," the bird talked. They were pleased to see that the water was subsiding. How they hoped that soon they would be high and dry on their new world.
      But all was not so easy, for that very night lightning flashed across the waters and thunder rolled and rolled from one horizon to the other followed by a heavy, drenching rain. Eagle and Crow sought shelter in holes they dug into the sides of their mud piles. All night long the rain continued to fall, washing away much of the new world into the sea.
      As the rain stopped and the sun rose, Eagle and Duck looked out upon the waters and saw an arc of many colors reaching from one edge of the horizon across the sky to the other horizon. This brilliant display held their eyes in wonderment. What did it mean? They marveled at how long the colors lingered in the sky. Eagle flew toward the scene for a closer look, returning when the arc disappeared.
      In bird talk, Eagle and Crow decided that the storm of the night before must have been a clearing shower. They began their land-building project again, hoping that Duck would resume its work as mud-carrier. Soon the sun's rays burned strong and hot, packing the mud until it was hard. Duck appeared, and the team of three continued to build the two halves of the new world.
      Day by day, the waters subsided and new land began to show above the waterline and far, far below the new creation by Eagle and Crow. Eagle's half became taller and taller and hard-packed by the hot sun. Crow's share of the new world was still great, but never could become as large as Eagle's half of the new world.
      Eagle's half became the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains. Crow's half became known as the Coast Mountain Range.
      People everywhere honor the brave and strong Eagle, while Crow is accorded a lesser place because of its unfair disposition displayed during the creation of the new world.
http://www.indeginouspeople.org/natlit/creamyth.htm

 

Creation Story of the Southern Paiute

 

      Coyote had been carefully cutting strips from cured rabbit pelts, and he had now turned to twisting these long strips into thick fur threads. They would make a fine woven blanket for the coldest of winter's nights. But suddenly, a woman's face popped inside his cave and looked around. Both were startled, and she quickly pulled away and went on. Coyote was taken with her right away so he jumped out of his cave, leaving his rabbit skins behind, and followed along. Pretty soon, he was scrambling up a rocky hillside, and he was really impressed by her rapid progress. But she was finally stopped by a large lake, and Coyote caught up, asking her loudly if he could come along where she was going.
      So after Coyote had won the woman's heart with several ducks that he had freshly hunted, the woman accepted Coyote's proposals and took him as her husband. She was a powerful and mysterious woman, who did not show her love easily, but Coyote was very cautious, even uncanny. And the woman became pregnant. So, as it turned out, one fine spring day, the woman and Coyote were gathering near a lowland stream, and Coyote was playing on some smooth rocks that made a slide into the waterway. The woman went into pains of childbirth and, before Coyote knew it, she was delivering more children than he could imagine! And the children were getting up and running off toward other parts of the country. Coyote hollered that he'd be there to take charge of the children; but by the time he got to where she was, only the 'scrubby-looking ones' were left. That was all right. These were our people; Whatever they lacked in beauty, they made up for, abundantly, in skill and intelligence and bravery.

 

Reproduced with permission of: Beckman, Tad. View From Native California. Harvey Mudd Col, 1997

 

Assignment: Retell both stories orally, identify the parts (circularity, polyvocalism, audience participation, and non-linear presentation), and discuss the differences between the written and oral stories.

 

Chapter Three Quiz:

 

1. What is a story called that has animals as talking characters?

_______________________

2. Yes or no, are repeating phrases evidence of circularity?  __________
3. What was the name of the island where Karana was stranded?

_____________________________________

4. Yes or no, is musical form similar to storytelling form?  __________
5. In the Yokuts creation story, what animal did Eagle and Crow get to dive for mud to create Earth?

______________________

6. What ethnie’s welcoming song did the village and audience sing to Karana?

_____________________________

7. Yes or no, was there circularity in Island of Blue Dolphins?  ____________
8. Who was the father of the children in the Southern Paiute creation story?

________________________________

9. Were the two creation stories in this chapter fables?   __________
10. Is circularity common to all oral traditions? ______________