|Coyote and the Shadow People - Nez Perce
Coyote [ztsaya' ya] and his wife were dwelling nearby. His wife became
ill, and she died. Then Coyote became very, very lonely. He did nothing
but weep for his wife.
Then the death spirit [pa yawit] came to him and said. "Coyote,
do you pine for your wife?"
"Yes friend I long for her most painfully," replied Coyote.
"I could take you to the place where your wife has gone, but,
I tell you, you must do everything just exactly as I say. Not once are
you to disregard my commands and do something else."
"Yes," replied Coyote, "yes, friend, and what could
I do? I will do everything you say."
Then the ghost [ts' a' wtsaw] told him, "Yes. Now let us go."
Coyote added, "Yes, let it be so that we are going." They
Then he said to Coyote again, "You must do whatever I say. Do
"Yes, yes, friend I have been pining so deeply, and why should
I not heed you? Coyote could not see the spirit clearly. He appeared
to be only a shadow. They started and went along over a plain.
"Oh, there are many horses hereabouts; it looks like a roundup,”
exclaimed the ghost.
"Yes," replied Coyote, though he really saw none. "Yes,
there are many horses.” They arrived now near the place of the
The ghost knew that Coyote could see nothing, but he said, "Oh
look, such quantities of serviceberries! Let us pick some to eat. Now
when you see me reach up, you too will reach up. When I bend the limb
down, you too will pull your hands down."
"Yes," Coyote said to him, "so be it; I will do that."
The ghost reached up and bent the branch down, and Coyote did the same.
Although he could see no berries, he imitated the host in putting his
hand to and from his mouth in the manner of eating. Thus they picked
and ate berries. Coyote watched him carefully and imitated every action.
When the ghost would put his hand into his mouth. Coyote did the same.
"Such good serviceberries these are," commented the ghost.
"Yes, friend, it is good that we have found them," agreed
"Now let us go." And they went on. "We are about to
arrive," the ghost told him. There is a long, a very, very long
lodge. Your wife is there somewhere. Just wait and let me ask someone."
In a little while the ghost returned and said to Coyote, "Yes,
they have told me where your wife is. We are coming to a door through
which we will enter. You will do in very way exactly what you see me
do. I will take hold of the door flap, raise it up, and, bending low,
will enter. Then you too will take hold of the door flap and do the
They proceeded in this manner to enter the lodge. It happened that Coyote's
wife was sitting near the entrance.
The ghost said to Coyote, "Sit here beside your wife." They
both sat. The ghost added, "Your wife is now going to prepare food
for us." Coyote could see nothing, except that he was sitting on
an open prairie where nothing was in sight. Yet, he could feel the presence
of the shadow. "Now she has prepared our food. Let us eat."
The ghost reached down and then brought his hand to his mouth. Coyote
could see nothing but the prairie dust. They ate.
Coyote imitated all the movements of his companion. When they had finished
and the woman had apparently put the food away, the ghost said to Coyote,
"You stay here. I must go around to see some people " He went
out, but he returned soon. "Here we have conditions different from
those you have in the land of the living. When it gets dark here, it
has dawned in your land; and when it dawns for us, it is growing dark
Now it began to grow dark, and Coyote seemed to hear people whispering,
talking in faint tones, all around him. Then darkness set in. Oh, Coyote
saw many fires in a long house. He saw that he was in a very, very large
lodge, and there were many fires burning. He saw the various people.
They seemed to have shadow-like forms, but he was able to recognize
different persons. He saw his wife sitting by his side. He was overjoyed,
and he joyfully greeted all his old friends who had died long ago. How
happy he was. He would march down the aisles between the fires, going
here and there, and talk with the people. He did this throughout the
night. Now he could see the doorway through which he and his friend
had entered. At last it began to dawn, and his friend came to him and
said, "Coyote, our night is falling, and in a little while you
will not see us. But you must stay right here. Do not go anywhere at
all. Stay right here and then in the evening, you will see all these
"Yes, friend. Where could I possibly go? I will spend the day
here." The dawn came, and Coyote found himself alone, sitting in
the middle of a prairie. He spent the day there, first dying from the
heat, parching from the heat, thirsting from the heat. Coyote stayed
there several days. He would suffer through the day, but always at night
he would make merry in the great lodge. One day his ghost friend came
to him and said, "Tomorrow you will go home. You will take your
wife with you."
"Yes, friend, but I like it here so much. I am having a good time,
and I should like to remain here."
"Yes," the ghost replied, "nevertheless, you will go
tomorrow, and you must guard against your inclination to do foolish
things [ha' ynaim waku'']. Do not yield to any queer notions. I will
advise you now what you are to do. There are five mountains. You will
travel for five days. Your wife will be with you, but you must never,
never touch her. Do not let any strange impulses possess you. You may
talk to her but never touch her. Only after you have crossed and descended
from the fifth mountain, you may do whatever you like."
"Yes, friend," replied Coyote. When dawn came again Coyote
and his wife started. At first it seemed to him as if he were going
alone; yet, he was dimly aware of his wife's presence as she walked
along behind. They crossed one mountain, and, now, Coyote could feel
more definitely the presence of his wife. She seemed like a shadow.
They went on and crossed the second mountain. They camped at night at
the foot of each mountain. They had a little conical lodge, which they
would set up each time. Coyote's wife would sit on one side of the fire
and he on the other. Her form appeared clearer and clearer.
The death spirit who had sent them now began to count the days and
to figure the distance Coyote and his wife had covered.
"I hope that he will do everything right and take his wife through
to the world beyond," he kept saying to himself.
Coyote and his wife were spending their last night, their fourth night
camping. On the morrow she would again assume fully the character of
a living person. They were camping for the last time, and Coyote could
see her very clearly, as if she were a real person who sat opposite
him. He could see her face and body very clearly, but he only looked
and dared not touch her. But suddenly a joyous impulse seized him; the
joy of having his wife again overwhelmed him. He jumped to his feet
and rushed over to embrace her.
His wife cried out, "Stop! Stop, Coyote! Do not touch me. Stop!"
Her warning had no effect. Coyote rushed over to his wife, and just
as he touched her body, she vanished. She disappeared, returned to the
When the death spirit learned of Coyote's folly, he became deeply angry.
"You inveterate doer of this kind of thing! I told you not to do
anything foolish. You, Coyote, were about to establish the practice
of returning from death. Only a short time from now the human race is
coming, but you have spoiled everything and established for them death
Here Coyote wept and wept. He decided, "Tomorrow I shall return
to see them again." He started back the following morning. As he
went along, he began to recognize the places where his spirit friend
and he had passed and now he began to do the same things they had done
on their way to the shadow land.
"Oh, look at the horses; it looks like roundup."
He went on until he came to the place where the ghost had found the
"Oh, such choice serviceberries! Let us pick and eat some."
He went through the motions of picking and eating berries. He went on
and finally came to the place where the long lodge had stood. He said
"Now, when I take hold of the door flap and raise it up, you must
do the same."
Coyote remembered all the little things his friend had done. He saw
the spot where he had sat before. He went there, sat down, and said,
"Now, your wife has brought us food. Let us eat."
He went through the motions of eating again. Darkness fell, and now
Coyote listened for the voices. He looked all around; he looked here
and there, but nothing appeared. Coyote sat there in the middle of the
prairie. He sat there all night, but the lodge didn't appear again nor
did the ghost ever return to him.