Zuni: How the Animals came to be where they Are

A fable that tells us why the prey animals have their territories, from the Zuni Indians.
— Orly

Men began their journey from the Red River, and the Kâ′-kâ still lived, as it does now, at Kó-thlu-ël-lon-ne, when the wonderful Snail People (not snails, as may be inferred, but a tribe of that name), who lived in the "Place of the Snails" (K'iá-ma-k'ia-kwïn), far south of where Zuñi now is, caused, by means of their magic power, all the game animals in the whole world round about to gather together in the great forked cañon-valley under their town, and there to be hidden.

The walls of this cañon were high and insurmountable, and the whole valley although large was filled full of the game animals, so that their feet rumbled and rattled together like the sound of distant thunder, and their horns crackled like the sound of a storm in a dry forest. All round about the cañon these passing wonderful Snail People made a road (line) of magic medicine and sacred meal, which road, even as a corral, no game animal, even though great Elk or strong Buck Deer, could pass.

Now, it rained many days, and thus the tracks of all these animals tending thither were washed away. Nowhere could the Kâ′-kâ or the children of men, although they hunted day after day over the plains and mountains, on the mesas and along the cañon-valleys, find prey or trace of prey.

Thus it happened that after many days they grew hungry, almost famished. Even the great strong Shá'-la-k'o and the swift Sá-la-mo-pi-a walked zigzag in their trails, from the weakness of hunger. At first the mighty Kâ′-kâ and men alike were compelled to eat the bones they had before cast away, and at last to devour the soles of their moccasins and even the deer-tail ornaments of their dresses for want of the flesh of K'iap-in-á-hâ-i, Game animals.

Still, day after day, though weak and disheartened, men and the Kâ′-kâ sought game in the mountains. At last a great Elk was given liberty. His sides shook with tallow, his dewlap hung like a bag, so fleshy was it, his horns spread out like branches of a dead tree, and his crackling hoofs cut the sands and even the rocks as he ran westward. He circled far off toward the Red River, passed through the Round Valley, and into the northern cañons. The Shá'-la-k'o was out hunting. He espied the deep tracks of the elk and fleetly followed him. Passing swift and strong was he, though weak from hunger, and ere long he came in sight of the great Elk. The sight gladdened and strengthened him; but alas! the Elk kept his distance as he turned again toward the hiding-place of his brother animals. On and on the Sha'-la-k'o followed him, until he came to the edge of a great cañon, and peering over the brink discovered the hiding-place of all the game animals of the world.

"Aha! so here you all are," said he. "I'll hasten back to my father, Pá-u-ti-wa,* who hungers for flesh, alas! and grows weak." And like the wind the Shá'-la-k'o returned to Kó-thlu-ël-lon-ne. Entering, he informed the Kâ′-kâ, and word was sent out by the swift Sá-la-mo-pi-a† to all the We-ma-á-hâ-i for counsel and assistance, for the We-ma-á-hâ-i were now the Fathers of men and the Kâ′-kâ . The Mountain Lion, the Coyote, the Wild Cat, the Wolf, the Eagle, the Falcon, the Ground Owl, and the Mole were summoned, all hungry and lean, as were the Kâ'-kâ and the children of men, from want of the flesh of the game animals. Nevertheless, they were anxious for the hunt and moved themselves quickly among one another in their anxiety. Then the passing swift runners, the Sá-la-mo-pi-a, of all colors, the yellow, the blue, the red, the white, the many colored, and the black, were summoned to accompany the We-ma-á-hâ-i to the cañon-valley of the Snail People. Well they knew that passing wonderful were the Snail People, and that no easy matter would it be to overcome their medicine and their magic. But they hastened forth until they came near to the cañon. Then the Shá'-la-k'o,‡ who guided them, gave directions that they should make themselves ready for the hunt.

When all were prepared, he opened by his sacred power the magic corral on the northern side, and forth rushed a great buck Deer.

"Long Tail, the corral has been opened for thee. Forth comes thy game, seize him!" With great leaps the Mountain Lion overtook and threw the Deer to the ground, and fastened his teeth in his throat.

The corral was opened on the western side. Forth rushed a Mountain Sheep.

"Coyote, the corral has been opened for thee. Forth comes thy game, seize him!" The Coyote dashed swiftly forward. The Mountain Sheep dodged him and ran off toward the west. The Coyote crazily ran about yelping and barking after his game, but the Mountain Sheep bounded from rock to rock and was soon far away. Still the Coyote rushed crazily about, until the Mountain Lion commanded him to be quiet. But the Coyote smelled the blood of the Deer and was beside himself with hunger. Then the Mountain Lion said to him disdainfully, Satisfy thy hunger on the blood that I have spilled, for to-day thou hast missed thy game; and thus ever will thy descendants like thee blunder in the chase. As thou this day satisfiest thy hunger, so also by the blood that the hunter spills or the flesh that he throws away shall thy descendants forever have being."

The corral was opened on the southern side. An Antelope sprang forth. With bounds less strong than those of the Mountain Lion, but nimbler, the Wild Cat seized him and threw him to the ground.

The corral was opened on the eastern side. Forth ran the Ó-ho-li (or albino antelope). The Wolf seized and threw him. The Jack Rabbit was let out. The Eagle poised himself for a moment, then swooped upon him. The Cotton Tail came forth. The Prey Mole waited in his hole and seized him; the Wood Rat, and the Falcon made him his prey; the Mouse, and the Ground Owl quickly caught him.

While the We-ma-á-hâ-i were thus satisfying their hunger, the game animals began to escape through the breaks in the corral. Forth through the northern door rushed the Buffalo, the great Elk, and the Deer, and toward the north the Mountain Lion, and the yellow Sá-la-mo-pi-a swiftly followed and herded them, to the world where stands the yellow mountain, below the great northern ocean.

Out through the western gap rushed the Mountain Sheep, herded and driven by the Coyote and the blue Sá-la-mo-pi-a, toward the great western ocean, where stands the ancient blue mountain.

Out through the southern gap rushed the Antelope, herded and driven by the Wild Cat and the red Sá-la-mo-pi-a, toward the great land of summer, where stands the ancient red mountain.

Out through the eastern gap rushed the Ó-ho-li, herded and driven by the Wolf and the white Sá-la-mo-pi-a, toward where "they say" is the eastern ocean, the "Ocean of day", wherein stands the ancient white mountain.

Forth rushed in all directions the Jack Rabbit, the Cotton Tail, the Bats, and the Mice, and the Eagle, the Falcon, and the Ground Owl circled high above, toward the great "Sky ocean," above which stands the ancient mountain of many colors, and they drove them over all the earth, that from their homes in the air they could watch them in all places; and the Sá-la-mo-pi-a of many colors rose and assisted them.

Into the earth burrowed the Rabbits, the Bats, and the Mice, from the sight of the Eagle, the Falcon, and the Ground Owl, but the Prey Mole and the black Sá-la-mo-pi-a thither followed them toward the four caverns (wombs) of earth, beneath which stands the ancient black mountain.

Then the earth and winds were filled with rumbling from the feet of the departing animals, and the Snail People saw that their game was escaping; hence the world was filled with the wars of the Kâ′-kâ, the Snail People, and the children of men.

Thus were let loose the game animals of the world. Hence the Buffalo, the Great Elk, and the largest Deer are found mostly in the north, where they are ever pursued by the great Mountain Lion; but with them escaped other animals, and so not alone in the north are the Buffalo, the Great Elk, and the Deer found.

Among the mountains and the cañons of the west are found the Mountain Sheep, pursued by the Coyote; but with them escaped many other animals; hence not alone in the west are the Mountain Sheep found.

Toward the south escaped the Antelopes, pursued by the Wild Cat. Yet with them escaped many other animals; hence not alone in the south are the Antelopes found.

Toward the east escaped the Ó-ho-li, pursued by the Wolf; but with them escaped many other animals; hence not alone in the east are the Ó-ho-li-we found.

Forth in all directions escaped the Jack Rabbits, Cotton Tails, Rats, and Mice; hence over all the earth are they found. Above them in the skies circle the Eagle, the Falcon, and the Ground Owl; yet into the earth escaped many of them, followed by the Prey Mole; hence beneath the earth burrow many.

Thus, also, it came to be that the Yellow Mountain Lion is the master Prey Being of the north, but his younger brothers, the blue, the red, the white, the spotted, and the black Mountain Lions wander over the other regions of earth. Does not the spotted Mountain Lion (evidently the Ocelot) live among the high mountains of the south?

Thus, too, was it with the Coyote, who is the master of the West, but whose younger brothers wander over all the regions; and thus, too, with the Wild Cat and the Wolf.

In this tradition there is an attempt, not only to explain the special distribution throughout the six regions, of the Prey animals and their prey, but also to account for the occurrence of animals in regions other than those to which, according to this classification, they properly belong.



Source:  F. H. C. [1]

Culture:  Zuni (Ashiwi)

Language Group:  Zuni or Zuñi is a language isolate spoken mainly in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, and in parts of Arizona. Zuni has been influenced to some extent by other languages in the areas where its spoken, in particular Hopi, Keresan, Tanoan, and also Navajo.

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