Native American Lore
Translated from the Tewa by Alfonzo Ortiz
Long ago two Summer
People society membersóa father and his sonólived in one of the Hopi
villages. Whenever offerings were made to the supernaturals, the son
would always say.
"I don't believe that these things are ever taken
by the gods. I wonder if there really are any gods."
At last he
"I'll find out the truth. I'm going to
the Lower Place to
see if the gods really are there, and if they're all they're
supposed to be."
Explanations from his father and other religious
leaders that the gods do not take the offerings themselves, but only
the essence of the core, did no good. He set out on his way.
After he had traveled for several days, the Silent One, a
god, appeared to the young man. The Silent One asked:
"Where are you
"I am going to the Lower Place to look for the gods."
"Even if you travel until you grow old, you will never get there,"
the Silent One replied. "The Lower Place is too far for you to
reach. Go no further, and do not doubt the existence of the gods."
After saying this, the
Silent One turned himself into his
supernatural form and then back into a man again. The youth was
frightened and impressed, but he could not let the rain god deter
him. He insisted on continuing his journey.
After the young man had traveled further, the Deer-Kachina-Cloud god
appeared, also in human form. Again the youth did not recognize him
as a god, and again the god scolded him and urged him to go back.
have horns," the god said, "and I am the gamekeeper of your people."
Whereupon he also transformed himself into his supernatural form and
then back to a man. Despite these warnings, the youth insisted on
"Snake Village is closer than the
Lower Place, and that is
as far as you can go," said Deer-Kachina-Cloud. "After visiting
Snake Village you must return to your people."
Reluctantly the young
man agreed to this.
When the youth had gone another short distance,
Star-Flickering-Glossy Man appeared, dressed in the feathers of many
birds. He warned the young man again:
"You can go only to
Village, no further. The snakes will try to bite you, because you
are a doubter. Use this herb on them. In the middle of the village
lives the governor of the snake people, and you should go there
right away. The snakes are also spirits who can change themselves
When the youth reached the village, the snakes did indeed try to
bite him, but he spat the herb in their direction and they
retreated. He reached the snake governor's home unharmed and was
received kindly, though the governor also warned him not to proceed
The snake governor had two beautiful daughters, who treated the
youth so well that he slept with one of them that night. The next
day as he prepared to start on his journey home, the governor
offered him his choice of the two daughters to take with him. He
chose the one he had slept the night with.
Next the governor told him to make piki, ceremonial bread, in white,
yellow, red, and blue, and to scatter it, on his return, before a
mountain north of his village. After he had made the piki, he and
his wife began their trip in the company of some of the snake
people, who went with them for a part of the way.
So great was the distance that the young man's wife had become
pregnant and was due to give birth any day by the time they reached
the Hopi village. On their way the young man had already scattered
the piki before the mountain in this order: white, yellow, red, and
blue. Immediately four bands of these colors appeared across the
mountains. They were intended to be used by the Hopi people, and so
they have been ever since:
the red for painting pottery
and red for painting moccasins
the blue (or green) for painting
When the couple reached the foot of the mesa, the wife said she
would remain there until he returned. She told him, however, that no
one must touch him and he must touch no one until he came back to
her. When he climbed to his village at the top of the mesa, the
young man told his people to take him to the kiva, to build a large
fire there, and to gather the whole village. As was expected of him,
he told his whole story from the time he set out to the Lower Place.
This took the whole of the night.
The following morning as he walked down to the bottom of the
mountain to take his wife some food, he met a woman with a water jar
coming up. She was a former lover of his, and without warning she
ran to him and embraced him. When he reached his wife, she already
knew what had happened. Weeping, she said: "You don't care for me,
so I shall leave and return to my people. But your child will always
remain with you." She gave birth to a baby who, like herself,
change into a snake at will. Then she departed.
That's why the Hopi's dance the snake dance today. The dancers are
the descendants of the child born to the young man and his snake