AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS by Richard & Alfonso Ortiz--Eds. Erdoes

AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A rich, colorful, chaotic anthology. The 160 tales collected here come from a staggeringly varied group of tribes, from Pequod to Pima, Hopi to Kwakiutl, Snohomish to Iroquois, Yuma to Blackfoot. Some are taken from accounts by travelers and anthropologists; some are told by contemporary Indians (in English or various native tongues); some are highly traditional, some are new or personal elaborations on old material. Erdoes (an expert on the Plains Indians) and Ortiz (a noted Tewa anthropologist) have gathered their harvest into ten large barns: sensible though necessarily somewhat arbitrary categories--tales of human creation, of world creation, of heroes and monsters, war and the warrior code, love and lust, tricksters, etc. The range is enormous, in every direction. An ancient Modoc story explains why grizzlies walk on all fours (they went upright until the Chief of the Sky Spirits cursed them for abducting his daughter), while a White River Sioux woman reports the perfectly historical episode of the death of Chief Roman Nose, in the Battle of Beecher's Island (1867), after he accidentally broke his vow never to use any metal object in eating. There are noble, almost tragic culture heroes like Hiawatha (Onondaga) and Sweet Medicine (Northern Cheyenne), and the endless sexual exploits of Coyote, the pan-tribal schemer and troublemaker who is also, in a Caddo tale, the power who makes death eternal. Two kinds of readers will have objections to this agglomeration: scholars will find it a hodge-podge (with casual attributions such as ""Retold from various sources"" and ""Told in New York City""), while beginners are likely to be overwhelmed by baffling names (Tsitctinako, Tu-chai-pai, Huruing Wuhti, Motzeyouf) in obscure contexts. Still, these tales have a special kind of verve, a brisk, bawdy, down-to-the-ground flavor, casually blending the sacred and the profane, that anyone can appreciate. A fine, fat grab-bag of ""primitive"" wisdom and entertainment--though not on a literary or scholarly level with John Bierhorst's compilations.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1984
ISBN: 0844669261
Publisher: Pantheon