Red-Painted Faces

The Paiutes say, Anka-Ku-Was-A-Wits, meaning red-painted faces. The legend of Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos was told in the first half of the 20th century by an elder in the Paiute nation. His name and actual words were recorded by a park ranger with foresight and wisdom to write down his description of the hoodoo legend passed down through dozens of generations. As indigenous languages become extinct, even the translated words tell us stories of who they were and what they thought. The Paiute tradition of passing down stories through their bloodlines give insight into their belief system. Native Americans lived in unison with mother nature and all her creations for 1000’s of years, taking and using only what they needed for survival. They have shown us through the actions of their reverence for the delicate balance of life on earth.  Storytelling was one way that they formed relationships and culture and maintained a sense of community and solidarity. Here is one such story from the mouth of Indian Dick, a Paiute elder in 1936 regarding the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon:

The Legend

“Before there were humans, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds – birds, animals, lizards and such things, but they looked like people. They were not people. They had power to make themselves look that way. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad; they did something that was not good, perhaps a fight, perhaps some stole something….the tale is not clear at this point. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits (red painted faces). This is the story the people tell.”

How did you Hoodoo?

Now you have a choice. You can believe that wind, water, seasonal changes and basic erosion formed the hoodoos.  And that iron oxide, limonite, and pyrolusite colored them red with hints of yellow and purple. Or you can imagine the powerful Coyote Spirit formed the hoodoos from an earlier indigenous people who sealed their fate from poor choices and ultimately got what they deserved!

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