A recent post here included a sketchy presentation of one Kokopelli, trickster of Native American legend. Vee commented that it is interesting that legends among native peoples often bear similarities one to another, though tribal differences and locations are evident. This is a subject area in which I am not well-versed, but it got me to thinking about my own limited experiences.
When I was a sophomore in college, my roommate was Bill Demmert,* a Tlingit from Craig, Alaska. After considerable time had passed, and after the basketball season was over (Bill was on the basketball team) we found ourselves comfortable enough with one another to be able to share some of our thoughts. After the lessons were completed in the evening, and before we extinguished the lights for the night, we would simply sit and perhaps munch on the seaweed which Bill carefully doled out from his stash. It was in this setting that he would relate his family history and the legends of his people. Fascinating.
One tale that I recall specifically was that of the kooshdaakaa. The kooshdaakaa were the shape-shifting land otter people of Southeast Alaska. I was informed that the Tlingit people were very reluctant to talk about these creatures, but I was privileged to hear a bit about them. It seems that one of the goals of the kooshdaakaa was to steal the souls of other people, and failing that, they might on occasion kill a victim outright. To the Tlingit, loss of the soul was a big deal, indeed, for this deprived the victim of his chance at reincarnation, and hence his hope of eternal life. This behooves one to be exceedingly cautious as he goes about his daily living. Do not have an encounter with kooshdaakaa!
In keeping with Vee’s line of thought, I recalled that over the years I have read various stories involving shape-shifters in other locales and among other peoples. At one stage of my life I “got hooked” on Tony Hillerman’s stories set in the American Southwest primarily involving the Navajo people, as well as the Hopi and the Yaqui to some extent. One of his books was entitled Skinwalkers. Skinwalkers, or yee naaldlooshii to the Navajo, were witches with the power to assume animal forms, and even, in some cases, the forms of other people. Hillerman’s last book prior to his death was The Shape Shifters, and again we find the theme of creatures that assume various forms.
Shape-shifters have made an appearance in many novels, and movies and television shows over the past decades. It is highly likely that if you participate at all in popular culture you have encountered these creatures, and hence you may fill in the rest of the story from your own memory.
*Demmert. had a very distinguished career. You may read a bit about it here.
William G. Demmert, Jr. 1934 - 2010 RIP