Indian Myths and Legends
Myths tell us important things about the cultures (tribes) they belong to. Joseph Campbell, the famous anthropologist, says myths do several things for the people who tell them. He says myths;
1. Teach a lesson about something. In European cultures we have Aesop's myths that are famous for teaching a moral or two in each story.
2. Provide rules of individual conduct. Many myths give us an example of how we should behave or how not to behave.
3. Provide rules for cultural conduct. How groups and the whole culture should behave or act in a situation like the one in the myth.
4. Help a culture remember its history, how it came to be where it is and the way it is.
5. Explain how the world came to be the way it is.
For those of you who read Joseph Campbell, you can see I have rewritten his purposes of myths slightly for so younger readers can use them.
Teachers and students, you can use these purposes to understand Indian stories and Indian cultures better. Read an Indian myth or story and then talk about it in class or write about it using these purposes of myths. See how many of them you can find in each story. Not every myth has every purpose in it.
Tips on leading discussions about Myths.
Many of myths are interesting at face value. But, for those who know a little about the culture that produced the myth, there are hidden and deeper meanings to be found. Encourage the children to apply their knowledge of specific tribes to find these hidden parts of the story. Is the story telling about some activity the tribe engages in? Does it explain something unique to that tribe? Does it use objects and things our cultures does not and if so what are these things? Is it set in a particular environment? What plants, animals and geographic features does it use?
Another fun activity is to draw pictures of the myth. Make illustrations for the myth. Jane Archer, who collected and rewrote these myths, and I would love to see some of these pictures. Send em in if you do this activity.
Jane Archer and Wordsworth Publishing have let TexasIndians.com put up some good Texas Indian myths around this site. They are from the book Texas Indian Myths and Legends, by Archer. Here is a list of them.
- When Bear Lost Fire, This is a good myth from the Alabama Coushatta Indians. It has a moral about fire. It tells about how humans got fire. It tells about acorn harvesting and it tell about how part of the natural landscape came to be the way it is.
- Corn Mill Coyote, This is a Caddo story. Here we meet the trickster Coyote. Coyote is found in Indian stories all over North America as a clever animal who can change shapes and who likes to fool and trick others. One obvious moral here it that people and things are not always what they seem to be on the outside.
- Deer Medicine , Indian fast food!! This is a Comanche myth and one of my favorites. I will not spoil it by revealing the plot here.
- Wind and Thunder Quarrel, This is a Lipan Apache myth. Sometimes a person can think too much of themselves and think they can do everything themselves. They quit working with others. This harms the people as a whole. Each person and group has a part to play in makings things work.
- Coyote Challenges Never-Grows-Larger, A Wichita myth. Big does not mean the best or the most powerful.