Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Legend of Tu-Tok-a-Nula a.k.a. El Capitan

Dear Docents-
Here’s a treasure I found in a book in the Yosemite bookshop last month. I thought it would be a perfect story to tell in front of the Struth or Kondos pieces. To me, it gives the children a little window into the culture that existed in Yosemite before everybody else arrived, and shows some of the magic that is lost when stories are forgotten and names are changed. I hope you can use it!

--Kathleen Durham

From A Day with Tupi: An Authentic Story of an Indian Boy in California’s Mountains, by Fran Hubbard, Fredericksburg, TX: Awani Press,1978.

The Legend of Tu-Tok-a-Nula

While they worked, Tupi coaxed his grandmother to tell him the story of the measuring worm, Tu-tok-a-nula, and how he saved the little Indian children. She had told him the legend more times than she could remember, but she was always glad to tell it again.

One upon a time, long ago, two little Indian boys went swimming in the river which flows through the valley called A-wa-ni. When they tired of swimming they climbed up on a warm rock on the bank and went to sleep. While they slept the rock began to grow. It grew and grew until the top was in the clouds and the little Indians touched their noses against the moon. And still they slumbered on. Finally the children awoke, and seeing how far it was down to the valley, they began to cry. Feeling sorry for them, the animals tried to get them down. First the white-footed mouse and then the wood rat tried but they could only jump a short distance up the smooth rock. Next came the coyote, who went higher, then the grizzly bear, who gave a great leap but fell back. Finally the mighty lion tried, jumping farther than any of the others, but he also failed. When all had tried and failed, the little measuring worm, Tu-tok-a-nula, began to inch his way up the cliff. For many sleeps he climbed until at last he reached the top. Taking the little Indian boys on his back he made his way carefully down. By staying with his task the measuring worm succeeded where the great animals failed. In his honor the Indians named the great rock after him.*

*Today Tu-Tok-a-Nula is known as El Capitan.

An author’s note at the back of the book:

Speaking in 1877 of the legend of Tu-tok-a-nula, Stephen Powers said: “This is not only a true Indian story, but it has a pretty meaning, being a kind of parallel to the fable of the hare and the tortoise that ran a race. What the great animals of the forest could not do the despised measuring worm accomplished simply by patience and perseverance. It also has its value as showing the Indian idea of the formation of Yosemite.” (From Heizer and Whipple’s, The California Indians: A Source Book, Berkeley: U of California P, 1951.)