Ma’ii and Horned Toad

by Vicky on February 15, 2011

On January 28, our Page Presents class featured Ma’ii and Cousin Horned Toad; A Traditional Navajo Story, retold and illustrated by the great Shonto Begay.

Ma’ii, of course, is Coyote, one of the Diné Holy People who is often a central character in stories that show the way to lead a good life.  I learned this particular story from my friend, Eric Bitsui, when he was an English instructor and I was a librarian at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Eric’s portrayal of the hardworking, taciturn Horned Toad was unforgettable, and I always feel like I’m channeling him when I tell this story, especially since Hosteen Horned Toad’s harrumphing, gravelly voice always wrecks my throat.

I adhere to the Diné practice of telling stories of Ma’ii only during the winter months.  So I look forward to telling this story every winter, since it is one of my favorites.  At Diné College, everyone looked forward to the day in early winter when the library began checking out the great animated Navajo language films produced by the San Juan School District Media Center in Blanding, Utah (including Coyote and Beaver, Coyote and Lizard, Coyote and Rabbit, Coyote and Skunk, and Coyote and Horned Toad).  

Last year when I told this story, we made Horned Toad paper bag puppets.  This year, I designed Ma’ii masks for the children to make.  They yipped and yodeled like coyote pups as they showed off their masks.

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