The Ethic of
Transformative Figures—No other figure is so identified with
Aboriginal culture as the trickster…Almost all North American
cultures have stories of this
part-human/part-animal/part/greater-than human being. These
tales are social tales, designed to bring to humans a lesson in
life and decision-making. Their relationship to the sacred has
always been difficult to ascertain because the stories do not
carry the "holy" signature that many other aspects of First
Nations narratives do. Nevertheless, the stories are about a
figure that is able to transform into almost any kind of being,
and in so doing reflects as much what the sacred is not as what
it is. It also depends upon earthly, most times human
interaction in order to carry out an educative purpose.
Furthermore, the Trickster is never construed as idle…the
stories are almost always adventurous and active…indicating that
the figure embodies a boundless energy that must work its way
out somehow in the doings of the world.
Aboriginal culture, Trickster figures carry the same weight as
do tales about the great rabbis in Judaic tradition…cautionary
and interpretive stories that teach truths about the true Law,
often in very circuitous and fascinating ways. Yet
cross-culturally, there are few themes that one could say are
held in common among all Trickster figures. Each tribal
tradition develops conceptions with a variety of imaginative
scenarios. Consequently, the Trickster in North American
Aboriginal culture is a distinctive expression of a sacred that
cannot be defined by any of our usual list of descriptors,
presenting us with the same dilemma we have in understanding
Aboriginal law. Storyteller Terry Tafoya’s selection about
Coyote indicates these many issues:
Long time ago, when mountains were the
size of salmon eggs, Coyote was going along, and saw that Rabbit
was doing something. Now, this Rabbit was a Twati, an Indian
doctor, and as Coyote watched, Rabbit sang his spirit song, and
the Rabbit’s eyes flew out of his head and perched on a tree
branch. Rabbit called out, "Whee-num, come here," and his eyes
returned to their empty sockets.
This greatly impressed Coyote, who
immediately begged Rabbit to teach him how to do this.
The term "appropriate" raises critical
questions: What is appropriate? When are appropriate times to
tell a story? How and to whom should the story be told? How is
appropriateness determined? Throughout this thesis, this term
and these questions arise. The answers are not straight forward
and not generalizable to all First Nations cultures. The answers
are determined within a cultural context.
Rabbit said no. Coyote begged. Rabbit
said no. "Oh, please," cried Coyote. "No," replied Rabbit.
"But it’s such a wonderful trick! Teach
"But I’ll do exactly as you say!"
"I will teach you," said Rabbit, "but
you must never do this more than four times in one day, or
something terrible will happen to you." And so Rabbit taught
Coyote his spirit song, and soon Coyote’s eyes flew up and
perched on a tree.
"Whee-num! Come here!" called Coyote,
and his eyes returned to him. Now Rabbit left, and Coyote kept
practicing. He sent his eyes back and forth to the tree four
times. Then he thought, "I should show off this new trick to the
Human People, instead of just doing it for myself."
So Coyote went to the nearest Indian
village, and yelled out for all the people to gather around him.
With his new audience, Coyote sang the Rabbit’s song, and the
crowd was very impressed to see his eyes fly out of his head and
perch on the branch of a tree.
"Whee-num!" Coyote called out. His eyes
just sat on the tree and looked down at him. The Indian people
started to laugh.
"Come here!" shouted Coyote. His eyes
just looked at him.
"Whee-num!" Just then a crow flew by,
and spotting the eyes, thought they were berries. The crow
swooped down and ate them.