Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo

Posted 16 April, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 6 Comments

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Title: Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo
Collected by John P. Harrington
Date Finished: April 13, 2008
Yearly Count: 20
Pages: 102

This volume, collected by John P. Harrington in the early 1900s, contains 21 folktales, 7 folkways, and several folksongs of the Picuris Pueblo Indians who live just outside of Taos, New Mexico. I didn’t realize the location of the tribe when I picked up this book, but because my in-laws have a cabin in between Taos and Angel Fire, I was glad I picked this copy up to become more familiar with the native customs from the area.

The stories are all short and according to the text the audience is usually children, although the audience is not limited to children. The stories mostly all contain an example of why things are the way they are–why the people farm the land, why coyotes are so smart, how eagles got their colors, why there are no giants, how the people have the plants that they do. The stories themselves usually are focused on animals rather than humans and contain a lot of repitition. I enjoyed reading them as a whole, but if I could dig out my notes from my Folklore course my first year of grad school I could find more entertaining examples of American Indian folktales.

The folkways section is only about a quarter of the book (or less–about 10 pages!) and gives some of the birth, death, education, and hunting customs. I would have liked for this section to be larger and in more detail. All in all, I don’t think that this book gave me any further insight into the customs of these people–but perhaps some of this could be because Harrington, from what I got from the book, was more interested in recording the language rather than the actual stories.

What folktale/folklore books or collections do you like?

6 Responses to “Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo”

  1. I find that some turn of the century collections of folktales suffer from that problem…they were written by people who ultimately weren’t all that interested in the stories themselves, and that comes across in the books.

    Two collections I really like: American Indian Trickster Tales, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, and Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars by Jeremiah Curtin (this is a turn of the century one, but it’s very well written).

  2. I’ve always been interested in Native American folklore. I haven’t heard of this book, but I’ll definitely have to look for it. Thanks for the review!

  3. This sounds like an interesting collection. I’ve never read a collection of Indian folkstories, but I was really into Greek mythology growing up, so I read lots of Greek mythology collections. My sister and I actually both shared that love, so we had quite a few books about it.

  4. *Nymeth – thanks for the suggestions! When I was looking for a folklore book, I wanted something with tricksters. This one had a few tricksters (particularly when a crow or coyote were in the story), but not what I was hoping for.

    *Literary Feline – I really enjoy Native American folklore as well–if you come across a good copy of something, I’d love to hear about it!

    *Kim L – I really enjoy Greek mythology as well. I kick myself everytime I think about selling back my mythology texts from when I was in college! I didn’t sell back many of my books (at least lit/history books), but that is one I wish I had kept.

  5. It sounds like this would be a good place to start if you didn’t have much knowledge of their folklore and maybe not the thing to pick up if you did.

  6. *Carl – yes I would think that is a good way to describe this book. A few years back I took a folklore course for grad school and read some great folktales–but with all of my recent moving my notes/articles are in a box somewhere… But, this is a good place to start for an introduction.