Native American Legends
A Journey to the Skeleton House 2
A Hopi Legend
Halíksai! In Shongópavi the people were living first,
and there a young man was often sitting at the edge of the village
looking at the graveyards and wondering what became of the dead,
whether it is true that they continue to live somewhere. He spoke
to his father about it. His father could not tell him very much.
'We do not know much about it,' he said; 'so that is what you are
thinking about.' His father was the village chief. He said to his
son that he would speak to the other chiefs and to his assistants
about it, which he did. He talked about it especially to the village
crier, and told them that those were the things that his son was
thinking about, and whether they knew anything about it. 'Yes,'
they said, The Badger Old Man (Honán Wuhtaka) has the medicine
for it and knows about it. We shall inform him.' So they called
the Badger Old Man. When he arrived he asked them what they wanted
with him. 'Yes,' they said, 'this young man is thinking about these
dead, whether they live anywhere, and you know about it, you have
medicine for that, and that is the reason why we called you.'
''Very well,' he said, 'so that is why you wanted me. I shall go
and get my medicine.'
So he went over to his house and looked over his medicines and
finally found the right one. 'This is the medicine,' he said, and
took it, returning to the village. 'Very well,' he said; 'now when
does he want to find out about it?' 'Tomorrow,' they said. 'Very
well; have you a white kilt?' 'Yes,' the village chief replied.
'You put this on your son the next morning,' he said, 'and then
you blacken his chin with tóho (a black shale), and tie a
small eagle feather (píph¸) to his forehead.' The next
morning they dressed up the young Man as they were instructed, preparing
him as they prepare the dead. Hereupon the Badger Old Man spread
a white ówa on the floor and told the young man to lie down
on it. He then placed some medicine into his mouth, which the young
man ate. He also placed some medicine into his ears and some on
his heart. Then he wrapped him up in a robe, whereupon the young
man, after moving a little, 'died.' 'This is the medicine,' the
Badger Old Man said, 'if he eats this he will go far away and then
come back again. He wanted to see something and find out something,
and with this medicine he will find out.'
After the young man had fallen asleep he saw a path leading westward.
It was the road to the Skeleton house. This road he followed and
after a while he met some one who was sitting there. ''What have
you come for?' he asked the young man. 'Yes,' he replied, 'I have
come to find out about your life here.' 'Yes,' the other one replied,
'I did not follow the straight road; I did not listen, and I now
have to wait here. After a certain number of days I can go on a
little, then I can go on again, but it will be a long time before
I shall get to Skeleton house.' This one was simply living in an
enclosure of sticks. That was all the house and protection he had.
From here the young man proceeded westward. The path led through
large cactus and through many agave plants so that sometimes it
could hardly be distinguished. He finally arrived at the rim of
a steep bluff. Here somebody was sitting. He asked the young Man
why he had come, and the latter told him. 'Very well,' the chief
said. 'Away over there is the house that you are going to,' but
as there was a great deal of smoke in the distance the young man
could not see the house. But hereupon the chief placed the young
man's kilt on the ground, placed the young man on it, then lifted
it up, and holding it over the precipice he threw it forward, whereupon
the young man was slowly descending on the kilt as if he were flying
When he had arrived on the ground below the bluff he put on his
kilt again and proceeded. In the distance he saw a column of smoke
rising from the ground. After he had proceeded a distance he came
upon Skeleton Woman (Más Wuhti). He asked her what that was.
''Yes,' she said, ''some of those who had been wicked while living
in the village were thrown in there. There is a chief there who
tells them to go over this road, and throws them in there. Those
who are thrown in there are destroyed, they no longer exist. You
must not go there,' she added, 'but you keep on this road and go
straight ahead towards Skeleton house.' When he arrived there he
could not see any one at first except a few children who were playing
there. ''Oh!' they said, 'here a Skeleton has come.' There was a
very large village there, so he went in and now the people or Skeletons
living there heard about him. So they assembled there on all sides
and looked at him. ''Who are you?' they asked the young man. 'I
am the village chief's son. I came from Shongópavi.'
So they pointed him to the Bear clan, saying, 'Those are the people
that you want to see. They are your people.' Because there were
a great many different clans there. They are sleeping there in the
daytime. So the Skeleton took him over to the house where his clan
lived. 'Here your ancestors are,' they told him, and showed him
the ladder that led up to the house, but the rungs of the ladder
were made of sunflower stems. He tried to go up but the first rung
broke as soon as he stepped on it, but when the Skeletons went up
and down the ladder the rungs did not break. So he was wondering
how he should get up. 'I shall stay down here,' he said; 'I shall
not go up. You bring me food here and feed me down here,' he said
to them. So the Skeletons brought him some melon, watermelon, and
When they saw him eat they laughed at him, because they never eat
the food, but only the odor or the soul of the food. That is the
reason why they are not heavy. And that is the reason why the clouds
into which the dead are transformed are not heavy and can float
in the air. The food itself the Skeletons threw out behind the houses.
So this young man, when he was wandering around there, would sometimes
eat of it. When he had eaten they asked him what he had come for.
'Yes,' he said, ''I was always thinking whether Skeletons live somewhere.
I spoke to my father about it and told him that I wanted to go and
find out whether they were staying somewhere, and my father was
willing and he dressed me up in this way and the Badger Old Man
gave me some medicine that knows about this so that I could go and
find out.' 'So that is what you have come for; so that is why you
have come here. Now, you look at us. Yes, we are thus.' Thus they
spoke to him, and then added: 'This is the way we are living here.
It is not light here; it is not as light as where you live. We are
living poorly here. You must go back again, you cannot stay with
us here yet; your flesh is still strong and 'salty.' you eat food
yet; we only eat the odor of the food. Now you must work there for
us. Make nakwákwosis for us at the Soyál ceremony.
These we tie around our foreheads and they represent dropping rain.
We then shall work for you here, too. We shall send you rain and
crops. You must wrap up the women when they die, in the ówa,
and tie the big knotted belt around them, because these ówas
are not tightly woven and when the Skeletons move along on them
through the sky as clouds, the thin rain drops through these ówas
and the big raindrops fall from the fringes of the big belt. Sometimes
you cannot see the clouds very distinctly because they are hidden
behind these nakwákwosis just as our faces are hidden behind
Looking around, the young man saw some of the Skeletons walking
around with big burdens on their backs, consisting of healing stones,
which they carried over their forehead by a thin string that had
cut deeply into the skin. Others carried bundles of cactus on their
backs, and, as they had no clothes on, the thorns of the cactus
would hurt them. They were submitted to these punishments for a
certain length of time, when they were relieved of them and then
lived with the other people there. At another place in the Skeleton
house he saw the chiefs who had been good here in this world and
had made a good road for other people. They had taken their típonis
with them and set them up there, and when the people here in the
villages have their ceremonies and smoke during the ceremonies,
this smoke goes down into the other world to the típonis
or mothers and from there rises up in the form of clouds.
After the young man had seen everything at this place he returned.
When he arrived at the steep bluff he again mounted his kilt and
a slight breeze at once lifted him up. The chief that was living
here at the top of the bluff who had assisted the young man in getting
down was a Kwániita. He had a big horn for a head-dress.
This chief told him that he should return now. 'You have now seen
how they live here; it is not good, It is not light here; no one
should desire to come here. Your father and mother are mourning
for you now, so you return home.' On his way back nothing happened
to him and he did not meet anybody. When he had just about arrived
at his house his body, that was still lying under the covering in
the room where he had fallen asleep, began to move, and as he entered
his body he came to life again. They removed the covering, the Badger
Old Man wiped his body, washed off the paint from his face, dis-charmed
him, and then he sat up. They fed him and then asked him what he
had found out.
'Yes,' he said, ''because I wanted to find out this, you dressed
me up and laid me down here. Then you fed me something and put some
medicine on my heart. After I had died I traveled westward, and
when I was traveling I came upon a woman. She lived in an inclosure
of brush and she was slowly moving westward and had not yet reached
her destination by a Ion distance. She asked me where I was going
and I told her that I was going to the Skeleton house and asked
her where that was. She said that I was not very far away any more.
Then I proceeded and passed through a great deal of cactus that
was growing very closely so that I could hardly get through and
had to step carefully. Then there was a place where it was clear.
After that I came through a great many 'c (another species
of cactus) plants, where I again had to work my way through carefully.
When I came out of this I traveled on and came to a very steep bluff.
'When I arrived there somebody was sitting there. He had a large
horn head-dress with one horn. He had the chief's decoration in
the face, a white line under the right eye running around the outside
of the eye. It was a Kwániita. 'You help me down here,' I
told him. 'What with?' he asked. Then I laid down my kilt. The chief
placed me on this kilt, then he lifted it up and raised me above
the precipice, when I slowly descended as if I were flying. From
here I went on and came to a place where there was a great deal
of smoke coming out of the ground. Here I met a Skeleton woman.
She told me not to go there, but that I should go straight ahead
on the path, as that place is where the wicked people were thrown
in and burned. Then I traveled on and finally came to the Skeleton
house. Here some children saw me and said, 'Aha, a Skeleton has
come.' I looked around and could not see any one; then I remembered
that they meant myself. I then entered the Skeleton house where
many rows of houses like in the village are.
'The children had already told them that a Skeleton had come so
the people came down from their houses and gathered outside. They
asked me who I was, and when I told them, they said I was from the
Bear clan, and showed me the place where the Bear people lived.
When I tried to go up the ladder the rungs broke because they were
made of sunflower stalks. So I told the people and they came down
and fed me. I was the only one that was actually eating, and I saw
that they threw away the food to the rear of the houses. I asked
them why they did so, and they told me that they were eating the
soul or the odor of the food only. They then asked me why I had
come and I told them. They said: 'Your flesh is still 'salty.' You
will not stay with us here. Thus we are living here. We are not
living like you Hopi live. It is light there, but here it is not
light. We are living poorly here. Some of us have only very few
nakwákwosis left on our foreheads. They are worn out so we
cannot see very well through them any more. You must make many nakwákwosis
and báhos for us in the village and we shall also work for
you here. you make prayer-offerings for us and we shall provide
rain and crops and food for you. Thus we shall assist each other.
So you go back now and you tell them in the village that we are
living here and that we are living here in the dark, and tell them
that no one should wish to come here. For some it is not yet at
all time to come, but if their hearts are not good and they are
angry they will come here sooner, so tell them that no one should
desire to travel this way. Now you return right straight, and do
not tarry anywhere.' And so I came straight back.
'It is really true that the Skeletons are living somewhere, and
I also saw that those who are bad here and wicked are punished there.
They have to carry heavy burdens. Some carry healing stones, and
others cactus, the thorns of which prick them. Especially are those
punished there in the other world that are bad to the maidens and
women here. I have seen it all myself now, and I shall after this
remember that and think that we are living in the light here. They
are not living in the light there. So I shall not want to be thinking
about that place, and no one should desire to go there, because
here we are living better: we are living in the light here. I have
seen it myself, and we should not think about that world so much.'
'Very well,' they all said that were sitting around; 'very well;
so that is the way. Honán Wuhtaka said to the young man:
'Now you must not think about that any more. You must go home now
and live there strong. Do not think about these things any more.'
The típoni is
the palladium of the priest, and usually consists of an ear of corn
to which are wrapped feathers of different bird, pieces of turquoise
and shells, etc., and into which are sometimes placed different
objects held sacred by the priest.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends