Pelican Totem by Sage Healer, Story Teller
Native American – Miwok tale – Miwoks are the tribe that inhabited many locations in the part of coastal northern California where I live.
As Told by Sage Healer
A long time ago, in the land of the South People, it was time for
Pelican Girl to become a woman.
A special dance and ceremony was planned, to celebrate the event in the proper way of the South People.
All the people of the village gathered for the dance, including Little Owl, the Snipe family, and Coyote and his grandson Hawk Chief. All the right ceremonies were carried out for Pelican Girl.
“This party is so cool, ” said Pelican Girl to the Snipe sisters as they danced to the beat of the drum.
When the dance finally finished and the drums were quiet, the women of the village took Pelican Girl to the women’s house. She had to stay there until the moon had become small and then grown full size again.
When the moon had finished its cycle the women took Pelican Girl out of the house to receive her beads of womanhood. They placed the beads around her neck, wrists and ankles.
Pelican Girl was told that for the next few weeks she must stay close to the village and she was not allowed to gather food or bend down to pick up anything. This was the custom of the South People when a young maiden became a woman.
As Pelican Girl sat outside her home the Snipe sisters walked by with their pack baskets.
“Where are you going?” asked Pelican Girl.
“We’re going to pick berries. Come with us and we’ll tell you all the latest gossip,” answered the Snipe sisters.
Pelican Girl asked her mother if she could go, but her mother said no, because it was forbidden.
“I want to go! I want to go!” screamed Pelican Girl as she clenched her hands tightly and stamped her feet.
“It’s OK,” said the Snipe sisters to Pelican Girl’s mother. “We’ll pick the berries for her.”
Finally her mother agreed. “OK, you can go but remember you’re not allowed to pick any berries or bend over to lift anything off the ground.”
All day Pelican Girl did as she was told. She carried her pack basket but did not pick any berries.
Late in the afternoon, the girls headed back to the village. Pelican Girl was tired and walked slowly behind the Snipe sisters. Too busy talking to notice, the Snipe sisters got further ahead until they disappeared out of site around a bend in the trail.
Just then, Pelican Girl saw in the middle of the trail, a big goose that looked like it had fallen from the sky.
“Wow, look at that,” shouted Pelican Girl. She gently touched the goose with her foot.
“Maybe it had a heart attack or something?” she said. “Its feathers are so beautiful. My uncles could really use them.”
Forgetting her promise not to pick up anything, Pelican Girl bent over, picked up the goose and put it in her pack basket.
As she walked along the trail Pelican Girl thought to herself “This basket is becoming really, really heavy.”
Finally it became so heavy she had to put it down.
Just then she heard a strange noise and a man appeared in front of her basket.
“Little girl,” he whispered. “I want those beads around your neck and your wrists and ankles.”
Pelican Girl knew who it was.
It was Shoko, a powerful shaman from the North World where the fire-eaters lived. He had disguised himself as the goose so Pelican Girl would pick him up.
By breaking the custom of her people she had given him the power to carry her away to his land.
And that is what he did.
After Pelican Girl had removed her beads and thrown them to him, Shoko did a dance and spirited her off to the land of the North People where he hid her in a pit underneath a dance drum.
When the Snipe sisters returned to the village the people wanted to know what had happened to Pelican Girl.
The Snipe Girls were frightened. “We don’t know,” they said.
“We heard her say something about feathers, but when we went back to look, we couldn’t find her,” they cried.
So Coyote, the wise one, with some of the best trackers from the village and Pelican Girls mother, went to find her.
Coyote soon worked out what had happened.
“The people of the North World have taken her,” he said. “We must go there and rescue her.”
They ran along the trail towards the North World. When they reached the entrance to the North World valley, Coyote told everyone to stop.
Coyote knew that Shoko and the fighting men of the North World would be waiting for the South People to try and rescue Pelican Girl.
Coyote told Little Owl to take the shape of a bird and fly over the fighting men to give them a message.
Little Owl flew over where the fighting men were hiding and whispered to them “Coyote and the South People are not coming tonight. Go to sleep and rest.”
All the fighting men listened to Little Owl and went back to their house to sleep.
Coyote changed his people into mice and told them to get into his sack, which he then carried into the village.
Coyote let the mouse people out of his sack. They went round the North People, tying their long hair together. Then they chewed through their bowstrings and the sinews that held the stone heads on their spears and arrows.
When their work was done they changed back to people and looked for Pelican Girl.
Coyote found her underneath the dance drum. She was very sick and could not move.
Coyote picked her up and silently carried her through the house. But he accidentally stepped on one of the sleeping North People.
“Ooops,” said Coyote. “This can’t be good.”
The fighting man woke up and his shouts woke all the others.
But when the North People tried to stand up, they fell back again because their long hair had been tied together.
And they could not use their weapons either.
Coyote and the others escaped.
The North People had turned Pelican Girl into a fire-eater and Little Owl had to sing and dance for many days and nights to try and cure her. At last her body and spirit were cleansed and she was well again.
After time had passed, Pelican Girl married Coyote’s grandson, Hawke Chief and she became one of the women who taught the young girls of the village how to behave when it came time for them to become women.
Thanks to Pelican Girl’s experience, none of them ever made the mistake she did.
Why Butterfly Cannot Sing
As Told By Sage Healer
I found this story while researching information for my “Butterfly Kachina” talisman series. While I have had a lifelong interest in Native American culture and art, this most recent series of Anasazi and Hopi-inspired talismans resulted from my research for the Native American Thread’s “Anasazi” challenge that Kicking Bear inspired a few months ago.
The beauty, power of flight, and complete metamorphosis of butterflies inspired many Native American myths. The Blackfeet believed that butterfly brings dreams during sleep. They had a fascinating sign for a butterfly – a design that was roughly in the shape of a Maltese cross with one arm horizontal and the other vertical. This sign was painted on a lodge to indicate that the style and method of painting the lodge were taught to the lodge owner in a dream. Blackfoot women had a custom to help babies sleep – a butterfly was embroidered on a small piece of buckskin, and this was tied in her baby’s hair when she wanted the baby to go to sleep. The mother sang a lullaby to the child, asking the butterfly to fly about and put the child to sleep.
Butterfly is a prominent symbol in Hopi myth and ritual. Butterfly images are frequently on prehistoric pottery. The ritual “Butterfly Dance” is performed in late summer each year. There is a Butterfly clan among the Hopi pueblos. And there are three different Butterfly Kachinas.
Butterfly’s legendary beauty is recognized by Native American tribes in many ways. The Papago people are now known as “Tohono O’odham”, meaning “People of the Desert.” The name Papago, given by the conquistadors, meant “bean people” and has been rejected in modern times. This tribe lived primarily in the Sonoran Desert of the southeastern Arizona and northwest Mexico. Here is a Butterfly legend from this tribe:
The creator felt sorry for the children when he realized that their destiny was to grow old and become wrinkled, fat, blind, or weak. He gathered beautiful colors from various sources such as the sunlight, leaves, flowers, and the sky. These colors were put into a magical bag and presented to the children. When the bag was opened by the children, colored butterflies flew out, enchanting the children who had never seen anything so beautiful. The butterflies also sang with beautiful voices, which further delighted the children. The songbirds were jealous that butterflies were both so beautiful and could sing like birds, so they complained to the Creator. The Creator withdrew the butterflies’ ability to sing. Now, butterflies are beautifully colored, but are silent.