Don't Be Too Curious is a Lakota story. It was originally performed by John Fire Lame Deer and recorded by Richard Erdoes during his field research between 1969 and 1975. (Erdoes and Ortiz 1998) The transcription below is a letter-for-letter copy of the version Erdoes and Ortiz published in their collection American Indian Trickster Tales. The story counts a transcription of an Oral Performance, twice removed. The Performance Theory will be used to asses and take a deeper look at the transcription of the performance.

Don't Be Too Curious


Coyote Howl 2

Shunka Manitou, Coyote, came walking along, scrounging, as usual. He met Mastincala, Rabbit, who was carrying a leather pouch on his back. "Hau kola," Coyote said, "toniktuka hwo? How are you?"

"Middling well," said Mastincala.

Coyote wanted to know what was in the pouch. He guessed: "Oh, you have chanshasha [tobacco] in that pouch on your back. I sure would like something to smoke. Give me some. You've got more than you need for your size. You are small, I am big."

Rabbit did not answer. "Come on, you greedy no good Hlete, don't be stingy." Rabbit walked on.

"Hey, you long-eared fellow, let me see what you got there on your back!"

"Nothing you would want," Rabbit finally answered.

"Well, let me see that nothing."

"No, you would be sorry. You would be angry with me."

Coyote was dying with curiosity. "If it's not tobacco, what, then?" he insisted.

"I said already that you would not want what is in this pouch," said Rabbit.

Then, in a big rage, Coyote tore the pouch from Rabbit's back and opened it. The pouch was full of fleas, so many nobody could count them. They all went on Coyote. He ran off in a frenzy, scratching himself, howling.

Rabbit yelled at him: "I told you so!" Ever since that time you can hear Coyotes howling all over the place. They howl because the fleas are biting and make them itch. That's why they howl.


A curious Coyote asks Rabbit what he has in a pouch. Eventually the curiosity becomes too much, and he rips the pouch open which contained fleas. The fleas still bite Coyote today, which is why he howls.

Approach : Performance TheoryEdit

Performance Theory
Keys to Performance:
  1. Special codes
  2. Figurative language
  3. Parallelism
  4. Special formulas
  5. Appeal to tradition
  6. Disclaimers of performance
  7. Other
HROPAll Approaches

Using the performance theory to look at any transcription of an oral performance will yield less results than actually observing a live oral performance. That said, there are only remnants of some traditions that do not exist today. Usually, like The Odyssey, these are called voices from the past. (Foley 2002) In the case of the story of Don't Be Too Curious, it was transcribed from an audio recording of a performance or the oral tradition. (Erdoes and Ortiz 1998) Some keys to performance will still exist in the script provided.

Figurative languageEdit

Native American stories are traditionally devoid of figurative language. This is generally due to their close-to-nature way of living, and other factors such as the fact that the stories contained references to plants and animals which the people were used to seeing or experiencing, so the descriptive factors are implied. Similar to figurative language, the entire story serves a symbolic nature to the audience, teaching them not only a moral lesson but a "the way it is" lesson as well.

Special formulasEdit

Because Native American and Lakota oral tradition performances are so similar to regular speaking, it can be difficult to distinguish just a few lines between OT and every day speak. The keys to performance are meant to decode this, and special formulas such as grammar and recurring phrases within a story (or the tradition itself) are generally clues to an oral performance. In this story, the character of Coyote, or any of the other stock characters, is a major key that someone is telling a story. Coyote is also an important element in many Native American tribes' spirituality and culture, but because their oral traditions are woven into the framework of their culture, the two (it is hard to classify them as two separate things) overlap in many aspects.

This story is very dialog heavy, which could be seen as a special formula. Animals do not talk in the real world, but within the realm of oral tradition, it would seem very strange that they wouldn't. Some stories feature some animals that do not talk, and the focus of these stories are typically that that creature ends up not being alive at all. (Erdoes and Ortiz 1998)

Appeal to tradition Edit

Coyote Howl

Appealing to the "old ways" despite the changing world is a struggle any tradition must endure. According to Calvin Grinnell, "Oral Tradition has no competition with cartoons." The content of this story, and the rest of the stories in Twbtg2's project on Native American trickster stories, all seems to make sense today as much as they would have hundreds of years ago. The main features of the stories - naturalism, talking animals, morality lessons - are universal and timeless. One majoy changing factor is that some stories are told in English nowadays. Don't Be Too Curious combats this minorly by using some traditional Lakota words.

Disclaimers of performance Edit

Once again, the failure to observe the original performance dampers the ability to report all disclaimers of performance. While many Native American stories begin with a reference to time, this story jumps right into the plot. (Thompson 1929) The mention of Coyote is a notification to the audience that the story will be "fictional", and that they need to understand that he is a character, rather than an animal. The audience will know this because they are versed in the tradition. Otherwise, they would be confused.

Further AnalysisEdit

This story's title and last sentences spell out both the historical and behavioral lessons it is conveying to the audience. Besides an story about coyote's howling, the story also teaches children why it is important not to be too curious and act on that curiosity. This story also features the stereotypical trickster, Coyote, being tricked by another trickster. Audiences would have known that the end of the story was going to be comical.

Further ThoughtEdit

See Talk:Don't Be Too Curious for questions to think about and discuss.

External LinksEdit

  Twbtg2's Project on Native American Trickster Stories edit

Navigation: Twbtg2 - Abstract - Table of Contents - All Articles - Suggested Routes - Sources
Elements: Trickster story type - Coyote - List and maps of Native American tribes
Stories: The Coyote & The Prairie Dog - Coyote and Junco - Coyote and Turtle Story - Coyote Races Buffalo - Coyote Steals a Drink - Don't Be Too Curious - Rabbit's Short Tail
Approaches: Ethnopoetics - Performance Theory - Immanent Art - All
Sources: American Indian Trickster Tales - Calvin Grinnell Interview - A Coyote Reader - Coyote Stories - Finding the Center - How to Read an Oral Poem - Inconstant Companions - Tales of the North American Indians - The Telling of the World - All

The Book Worm Route

Don't Be Too CuriousCoyote and JuncoCoyote Steals a DrinkSourcesOther Routes

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