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How the Bluebird and Coyote Got Their Colors

by Katharine Barry Judson

January/February 2018 - Week Five:

This week we’re visiting Arizona and a tale about the Coyote, explaining why he is now the colour of dirt, while the Bluebird, who was once ugly, is now a beautiful blue colour. I found this story in  Katharine Barry Judson’s Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest. It features myths and legends from the tribes of New Mexico (Navajo and Pueblo Indians), Arizona (Pima), and California (Karok, Miwok, Yokuts). This wonderful collection has creation stories and many that feature the Coyote, who is quite the trickster.

The Pima people or Akimel O’odham which means ‘river people’ are a group that live in what is now central and southern Arizona. They lived along the Gila, Salt and Sonora rivers. Their life was centred around the river, which is considered holy and featured prominently in their philosophy and values. Unfortunately the Gila and Salt rivers are now dry, due to upstream dams that block the flow and diversion of water by non-native farmers. This led to a devastating famine within the community and led to a long legal battle with the United States Government. This was eventually settled in favour of the Akimel O’otham after nearly a century and their rights were signed into law by George W. Bush in 2005.

Blue has always been a very important colour in art and storytelling. In ancient Egypt the semi precious stone Lapis Lazuli was used as jewellery and later during the Renaissance was used to create ultramarine, the most expensive of all pigments. Many have used to to represent intelligence, knowledge and concentration. In this story I think represents natural beauty and magic. Next week a classic Brothers Grimm fairytale. Although perhaps one of the lesser known stories of theirs! 

How the Bluebird and Coyote Got Their Colors

A long time ago, the bluebird was a very ugly color. But Bluebird knew of a lake where no river flowed in or out, and he bathed in this four times every morning for four mornings. Every morning he sang a magic song:

There's a blue water. 

It lies there.

I went in.

I am all blue.

On the fourth morning Bluebird shed all his feathers and came out of the lake just in his skin. But the next morning when he came out of the lake he was covered with blue feathers.

Now all this while Coyote had been watching Bluebird. He wanted to jump in and get him to eat, but he was afraid of the water. But on that last morning Coyote said, "How is it you have lost all your ugly color, and now you are blue and gay and beautiful? You are more beautiful than anything that flies in the air. I want to be blue, too." Now Coyote at that time was a bright green.

"I only went in four times on four mornings," said Bluebird.

He taught Coyote the magic song, and Coyote went in four times, and the fifth time he came out as blue as the little bird.

Then Coyote was very, very proud because he was a blue coyote. He was so proud that as he walked along he looked around on every side to see if anybody was looking at him now that he was a blue coyote and so beautiful. He looked to see if his shadow was blue, too.

But Coyote was so busy watching to see if others were noticing him that he did not watch the trail. By and by he ran into a stump so hard that it threw him down in the dirt and he was covered with dust all over. You may know this is true because even today coyotes are the color of dirt.


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