Variations: Cac na’alka hi, Bear that Pursues, Tracking Bear
The fearsome Sasnalkáhi, the Bear that Pursues, was a monstrous bear that terrorized the Navajo people. As one of the Anaye, Sasnalkáhi was born from unnatural sexual practices; in this case, his “fathers” were a smooth stone and a leg sinew. He lived in a cross-shaped mountain cave at Tse’bahástsit, the “Rock that Frightens”. Once Sasnalkáhi set on a hunt, his prey had no hope of escape.
When Nayenezgani set out to slay Sasnalkáhi, he carried yucca fruit in his left hand and hard oak twigs in his right hand. Those medicinal plants warded off Sasnalkáhi’s attentions.
Eventually Nayenezgani found the bear’s head emerging from a hole. He inspected the east, south, and west entrances; when he got to the north, Sasnalkáhi’s head immediately withdrew, and the bear headed for the south entrance. This time Nayenezgani was waiting for him, and when Sasnalkáhi stuck his head out, Nayenezgani decapitated him.
“You were a bad thing in life”, proclaimed Nayenezgani to the head. “You caused nothing but mischief. But now I will make you useful to the people; you will feed them, clean them, and clothe them in the future”. Sasnalkáhi’s head was chopped into three pieces. One piece was thrown east, where it became tsási (Yucca baccata). One piece was thrown west, becoming tsásitsoz (Yucca angustifolia). The last piece was thrown south, to become nóta (mescal). The nipples became pinyon nuts, while two pieces of fat cut from around the tail became a bear and a porcupine. The left forepaw, gall, and windpipe were taken as trophies.
Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.
Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.
Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.