Variations: Tse’naga’hai,Rolling Rock, Traveling Rock, Traveling Stone, The-one-having-no-speed; Tieholtsodi, Water Monster
Tsé’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was one of the many Anaye or Alien Gods. These primordial monsters were born from unnatural sexual practices, and grew up to ravage and persecute the Navajo people. Tsé’nagahi took up residence at Betchil gai, the Shining Rock, or at a lake where Tsé’espai points up. An enormous mobile stone, it killed people by hurling itself at them. If it saw someone at a distance, it would set off in pursuit, overtaking them if they stood still only to turn around and roll over them.
Nayenezgani planned ahead before coming within range of Tsé’nagahi. When he approached the traveling stone’s lair, he took his black knives and planted them in the ground. Then as he come closer he planted his blue knives, followed by his yellow knives and his serrated knives at closer intervals.
When Tsé’nagahi saw the monster-slaying hero approach, it immediately started for him, hurling itself at him as though thrown by a giant hand. But it rolled over the knives in the ground, which cut slivers of rock out of its body. These fragments became the different rocks used for pigments, each colored based on where it came from: stone from Tsé’nagahi’s bones became white rock, his flesh became blue pigment, his hair black pigment, his mouth and blood red pigment, and his intestines yellow ocher. The moisture from his sweat, mucus, tears, and urine became the wet spots that ooze from rocks today.
Nayenezgani fired off a lightning arrow, and Tsé’nagahi realized it had bitten off more than it could chew. It wheeled around and fled with Nayenezgani in pursuit. The hero continued to knock pieces off Tsé’nagahi as they raced across the land of the Navajo, leaving characteristic geological deposits behind.
In the end the chase led to the San Juan River, where Tsé’nagahi dove underwater. Nayenezgani continued to head it off and attack it – three times he did so, and the fourth time Tsé’nagahi was gleaming like fire underwater. It was virtually unrecognizable as the monstrous rock it had once been.
“Sawé [my baby, my darling], take pity on me”, it implored Nayenezgani. “If you spare me I will no longer harm your people. I will remain in the rivers, I will keep the mountain springs open and supply your people with freshwater”. Nayenezgani stayed his hand. “Very well then”, said the hero, “if you keep this promise I will spare you. But rest assured that if you ever break it, I will seek you out and this time I will kill you”.
Tsé’nagahi kept his promise. From that day forward he was Tieholtsodi, the Water Monster, a soft-furred otter with horns like a buffalo. Tieholtsodi is benevolent and benign; he is everybody’s friend.
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.
O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.