Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Laughing Lizard

At our Serrano language class on Monday, we also talked briefly about Teparxwen-yi', the San Diego horned lizard, more popularly known as a horny toad or horned toad. 
(It actually is a lizard. The fine folks at the California Herps web site offer details here.)
Here is one hunting for good food in our canyon.
© Pat Murkland Photo
Ever wonder how it got to look this way?
The Chemehuevi people know. They call this lizard Makatsatsí, according to Carobeth Laird’s masterpiece on Chemehuevi mythology, Mirror and Pattern (Malki Press 1984).
The Chemehuevi say Makatsatsí once was round, but Coyote is to blame for the way he looks now. And Cicada, too. You see, Coyote tricked Cicada.
Cicada became so angry at Coyote, he caused the wind to rise and blow very hard. Coyote and just about everyone and everything else in the village swept away in the wind, except Cicada and his cousin, Makatsatsí.
While Cicada stood and watched his great wind blow Coyote and everyone and everything in the village far away, Horned Lizard saved himself by squatting down and clinging to the Earth for dear life. He lived, but got extremely flattened by the wind. His name is related to language that means being flat, according to Laird.
Laird reports that the Chemehuevi people also saw the Makatsatsí as “a laugher, one who is easily moved to mirth.” She says: “The horned toad used not to have any horns, and he was laughing so much that his cousin (Cicada) … was afraid he would get in trouble by it, and tied flint all around his head. One time they were all together and one of the party swallowed the horned toad, who when he got way down, just turned his head from side to side, and the swallower was forced to throw him up.” (p. 141)

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