The coyote is a famed figure in Native American storytelling. The sly animal can represent some qualities such as selfishness and craftiness. Because of these qualities associated with this animal, the coyote plays an important part in Native American trickster tales. Going over the similarities and differences in the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ and, ‘The Coyote and the Rabbit’, studying these examples of Native American stories can help the readers come to a better understanding of the ‘trickster’ motif.
Starting with the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’, this story aligns with many other ‘trickster’ stories that contain a coyote character. But in these other trickster stories, the coyote is not the trickster character and instead the ‘trickster’ takes the form of another animal such as a raven or a raccoon. Each of these stories contain a different conflicts but the trickster theme stays the same. We read in the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ that the Great Mystery grants a request from the animals (which are mostly nocturnal) who ask for more light. The Great Mystery gives the animals pebbles so that they can place in the sky which would then appear as stars. The other animals try to fulfill this duty however, Coyote becomes distracted and spills the pebbles which end up in the sky. The other animals become upset with Coyote because he did not follow the Great Mystery’s directions.
The role of the trickster and the Coyote in this story is ironic in a way. Most likely without having any prior knowledge of what a a trickster would be, you would assume a trickster’s character traits would be crafty or sly. They are self-serving and they know how to work an outcome in their own best interest. But in this story, the Coyote made a mistake and did not purposely mess up the Great Mystery’s plan and the other animals’ request for more light in the sky. He made a simple mistake and Coyote regrets his actions. The other animals are frustrated and want nothing to do with Coyote. They shun him and because of this, the common characteristic with a coyote is that they are lone and independent creatures. ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ give a superficial view to the coyote’s characteristics as an animal and also a view on how the sky came to be.
Moving onto, ‘The Coyote and The Rabbit’, this story comes from Navajo origin. The author or possibly several authors of ‘Coyote and The Rabbit’ might have been inspired by other Native American trickster stories. The dynamic between these two animals is quite interesting and gives a different take on the term ‘trickster’. The story starts with a coyote that chases a rabbit into a hole. The coyote starts talking to the rabbit trying to coax it out of its hiding hole however, the rabbit is one step ahead of the coyote’s seemingly sly talking.
“You will kill me. I do not eat pinyon pitch,” said Rabbit .
Coyote was happy.
He ran from pinyon tree to pinyon tree .
He gathered pinyon pitch . .
He put the pinyon pitch in the hole .
He set the . pinyon pitch on fire.
He bent low. He blew on the fire.
” Come closer,” said Rabbit .
Coyote come closer.
He blew harder.
I’m nearly dead,” said Rabbit ..
Blow a little harder’”
Coyote come closer.
He blew harder.
He shut his eyes.
He blew harder.
He kicked hard .
The fire flew in Coyote’s’ face .
Rabbit ran away.
He was laughing very hard.”
“The Coyote and the Rabbit”
The interaction between the coyote and the rabbit is unexpected because we would expect the rabbit to have very timid and docile qualities and the coyote to have the intellect to persuade the rabbit to leave its hole. This story is reminiscent of the Three Little Pigs folktale [at least in the translation/version that I am personally most familiar with] where the pigs outsmart the big bad wolf and the wolf falls down in a chimney into a boiling pot of water. In this case, the rabbit would be considered the trickster but for good reason. It was a matter of life and death.
“Rabbit and Coyote”
Another example of a trickster story is called, “Raven the Trickster”. Unlike the other two trickster stories mentioned in this post, ‘Raven the Trickster’ does not have a coyote character at all and the sly qualities are associated with a bird.
In this story, “Raven tricks a whale to open his mouth, he flies in and has a minor adventure inside the beluga. Then, when he messes with a lamp he’s supposed to leave alone, the fire goes out and the inside of the whale is left in darkness.” Once the fire in the lamp goes out, the whale dies and Raven flies out of the whale when its body reaches the shore. Soon, Raven sees that men come to the dead animal and intend to take the whale’s blubber. Raven see this as an advantage and decides to have a little fun with them. Raven asks the men if they saw something swift and black come from the dead whale. Then Raven says that it was a dark spirit. The men receive this information and come to the conclusion that they do not want anything to do with a dark spirit and they leave the dead whale behind which was Raven’s master plan all along. The crafty bird then gets the whale all to itself.
This story is another example of how portraying human qualities onto an animal is quite effective story telling. Especially when there is a lesson or moral to be taught. However, I personally think that associating anthropomorphic qualities to an animal can be damaging especially if the character traits being utilized are misused. If the calculating, sly, or craft qualities are associated with a fox or coyote, then it can be misleading in other stories or folk tales when that animal is portrayed otherwise.
“Book review: “Trickster: Native American Tales, a graphic collection,” edited by Matt Dembicki”
(Reardon, Patrick T, and Name. “Book Review: ‘Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection,” Edited by Matt Dembicki.” Patrick T Reardon Writer Essayist Poet Chicago Historian, 27 June 2018, https://patricktreardon.com/book-review-trickster-native-american-tales-a-graphic-collection-edited-by-matt-dembicki/)
In conclusion, ‘Coyote and The Pebbles’, ‘The Coyote and the Rabbit’, and ‘Raven the Trickster’, are all examples of Native American trickster stories. Each of them have a message to go along with the story as well as a lesson to be taught. Coyote and Rabbit and Raven’s story dealt with trust and Coyote (and the Pebbles) dealt with being othered and how your own actions can directly and indirectly affect others.