How Music and the Tar Came to the Kiva

Told by Denis Sivack

The story is still told in the kivas not only of the ancient ones but of their children and transformations. As it was told to me, so I tell it to you. This was before fires and the instruments we have had since. It is a story of your relatives: the swift-footed, four-leggeds, and the winged ones.

The children of Swift Running Deer were known to roam and be dreamers. The middle one, a rabbit, would leap through the sage, a brush shadow of his mother, longing for the day when he could go from the prairie grounds to deeper woods. His older sister had already gone about, yet not too far, as a jay watching from pinyon pines and junipers, hidden in higher branches, watching Brother Rabbit and her younger sister, the Owl Child, closer to the ground.

Together they kept council of the lands, watching, dreaming, and making music. Each longed to be heard, for as they conversed with each other, they also desired to explore more and to be known to the two-leggeds they saw making trails through their home lands. Rabbit could be seen, but scarcely heard. He tried hard to drum, but his furred feet in soft sand and needles gave him no sound. It was the desire of elder sister not only to sing but to make music from the very bough and wood from which she called. The Owl Child could blow a soft “whoo,” but wanted to harness the wind itself in her song. They watched and sang and dreamed, thinking of other animals and the two-legged ones whose speech they didn’t understand.

One time they followed by day and night the two-legged ones to the kivas. They watched from the outside as the two-legged ones went into the kivas. Sometime later when the two-legged ones left, Rabbit, Pinyon Jay, and the Owl Child entered the small door and looked around.

“It is dark in here,” they said, “and spare – little more than dirt, logs, stones, and benches.” “The two-legged ones need light and music,” said the children of land and air. Rabbit said, “I will drum for them,” but at first his soft feet could hardly be heard. Pinyon Jay said, “I will take this bow and branch and wood and make great heat.” The Owl Child said, “I will blow and blow the ember you have started and give them fire.”

Through his great thumping efforts, Rabbit by now had quickly grown considerably and was foot-thumping so strongly on the hard kiva floor that he shed his rabbit fur and the starting smoke and fire toughened his skin to goat skin. Pinyon Jay found her bowing made her song modulate and she became a Canyon Wren, able to sing out from the lower lands with a surrounding echo, not a squawk, to fill the canyons. Owl Child could change her size by blowing to be any owl and make any owl sound to fill the woods.

The smoke from the fires they made filled the kiva, and as the smoke went through the kiva door so did their new animal spirits to leave their marks in the land around you as footprints and song. To this day, each of these animals and birds wears some gray from that fire. In the first kivas the warm, charred wood remained as did the tarred walls. The wood was warm enough and red enough, so the two-leggeds, on returning, in attempting to blow the remaining smoke away, learned how to start fire from heat and char. They guarded it as they have guarded these stories and tell you to tell others that all animals are your relatives and that, from that kiva, you still might hear the night song and the wind singing to you through the canyon.


[Trailhead to Sheik’s Canyon, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Utah, August 1996]

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