Moccasin Game Song

YeitseThis is what awful Yeitse said
At the moccasin game,
That great destroyer,
That bad fucking news:

Woe! Woe!
You should have left it where it was!
I would have played it there,
You should have let it lie!

Striking the ground hugely
So that the tent-rags shook,
He guessed wrong,
Knowing someone had moved the stone.

Image: Detail of sketch by Fortunato Depero for Le Chant du Rossignol, ca. 1916.

Under the Hood:

This is a very free translation of a Navajo gaming song that was reported (and more literally translated) by the ethnographer Washington Matthews in 1889. See Washington Matthews, “Navajo Gambling Songs,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan., 1889), pp. 1-20. The Navajo moccasin game pits two teams against each other, each in turn trying to guess where the other team has hidden a stone counter inside one of a number of half-buried moccasins. In the mythological origin of the game, the daylight creatures and the night-time creatures play for high stakes: the daylight creatures will have perpetual day if they win; the night-time creatures, if they win, will have perpetual night. Yeitse, a monster from Navajo myth, unsurprisingly throws in with the night-time creatures. Yeitse is a lucky guesser, and the night-time creatures are winning — until one of the daylight creatures ruins Yeitse’s streak by burrowing underground and moving the stone counter from place to place.


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