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Leslie Marmon Silko's Legend of the Yellow Woman and the Giant

A Passage From "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination"


Leslie Marmon Silko's Legend of the Yellow Woman and the Giant

Leslie Marmon Silko

In both her fiction and nonfiction, Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko draws on the oral story-telling traditions of her ancestors, the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Her essay "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination" illustrates specifically how "the oral narrative, or 'story,' became the medium in which the complex of Pueblo knowledge and belief was maintained." In this passage, a feature of the terrain near the Pueblo village of Old Laguna is explained by the legend of Kochininako (Yellow Woman) and Estrucuyo (the giant).

Legend of the Yellow Woman and the Giant

from "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination"* by Leslie Marmon Silko

As offspring of the Mother Earth, the ancient Pueblo people could not conceive of themselves within a specific landscape. Location, or "place," nearly always plays a central role in the Pueblo oral narratives. Indeed, stories are most frequently recalled as people are passing by a specific geographical feature or the exact place where a story takes place. The precise date of the incident often is less important than the place or location of the happening. "Long, long ago," "a long time ago," "not too long ago," and "recently" are usually how stories are classified in terms of time. But the places where the stories occur are precisely located, and prominent geographcal details recalled, even if the landscape is well-known to listeners. Often because the turning point in the narrative involved a peculiarity or special quality of a rock or tree or plant found only at that place. Thus, in the case of many Pueblo narratives, it is impossible to determine which came first: the incident or the geographical feature which begs to be brought alive in a story that features some unusual aspect of this location.

There is a giant sandstone boulder about a mile north of Old Laguna, on the road to Paguate. It is ten feet tall and twenty feet in circumference. When I was a child, and we would pass this boulder driving to Paguate village, someone usually made reference to the story about Kochininako, Yellow Woman, and the Estrucuyo, a monstrous giant who nearly ate her. The Twin Hero Brothers saved Kochininako who had been out hunting rabbits to take home to feed her mother and sisters. The Hero Brothers had heard her cries just in time. The Estrucuyo had cornered her in a cave too small to fit its monstrous head. Kochininako had already thrown to the Estrucuyo all her rabbits, as well as her moccasins and most of her clothing. Still the creature had not been satisfied. After killing the Estrucuyo with their bows and arrows, the Twin Hero Brothers slit open the Estrucuyo and cut out its heart. They threw the heart as far as they could. The monster's heart landed there, beside the old trail to Paguate village, where the sandstone boulder rests now.

Selected Works by Leslie Marmon Silko

  • Ceremony, novel (Viking, 1977)
  • Storyteller, poetry and prose (Seaver, 1981)
  • Almanac of the Dead, novel (Simon & Schuster, 1991)
  • Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, essays (Simon & Schuster, 1996)
  • Gardens in the Dunes, novel (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

*First published in 1981 in the journal Antaeus, the essay "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination" appears in the collection Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today by Leslie Marmon Silko (Simon & Schuster, 1996).

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