To’Neinilii (also known as “Coyote”) is the spirit god of rain. Because he has this power, it has made him greedy, vain, cunning, and foolish, and he is sometimes quite the trickster. When dealing with the People, he feels his purpose is to test the borders of possibilities and order.
Presently, he is high atop the mountain known as Badad Do’ag (known today as Mt. Lemmon), from which he is sending rain to the plains below. The Tohono O’odham live there and grow crops on the high desert plains. The elders of the tribe respect the spirit world and give thanks for all the spirits do.
A twelve-year boy named Tohbi lives in one of the southern villages. His name means rabbit. He and his sister attend the newly opened mission school at San Xavier. In 1872, the school came under the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Caronololet. Tohbi is learning much about the white man’s ways and his God. Tobhi’s grandfather, White Hawk, is the village medicine man. He tries hard to teach Tohbi their beliefs and has some opposition to the teachings of the mission school.
“Tohbi,” White Hawk pleads. “Can’t you see that the white man’s God is only for the white man? We O’odham have followed the ways of the spirit world for many years. They help us by bringing rain and sunshine, growing our crops, and feeding the animals for us to eat. The white man’s God and his spirit Son only do things for themselves so people will follow them. The white man’s God is not from this land. He is not even from the white man’s land. We have many gods who can do more things to help us, and all we have to do is listen.”
“The sisters at the mission tell us that Jesus made the blind see and the deaf hear. They say that He even raised the dead!” Tohbi’s wide-eyed with excitement.
Curling his upper lip, White Hawk mutters, “Magic.”
“It’s not magic!” Tobhi counters. His grandfather scowls. Tobhi lowers his eyes, then continues. “The sisters don’t call it magic. They call them miracles.”
“Tell me, Tohbi,” says White Hawk. “If I plant a bean in the dry ground and it does not rain, what happens? It doesn’t grow. But if Coyote sends the rain, the bean will sprout and grow into a bean plant for us to eat! Is that not a miracle?”
“No, it’s not!” Tohbi objects and then declares, “It’s nature! T’Neinilii brings so much rain that my friend and I can’t play kickball! Even my sister and her friends can’t play toka! It’s no fun!” Squinting his eyes and frowning, Tohbi shakes his fist towards the mountain and commands, “Coyote! Stop this rain now! Do you hear me, stop the rain and make it come back some other day!”
With wide eyes and mouth gaped open, a pale White Hawk gasps, “Tohbi! No!”
Coyote has been half-listening to the medicine man and grandson atop his mountain as they have their conversation. When Tohbi yells his command, Coyote’s ears perk up. Tahbi now has the Rain God’s full attention. “Did that little rabbit demand that I stop the rain? I think he said I’m ruining his fun. What could it be that has made him so bold? I know. It’s that mission school. They teach the children about the Son of God but only tell half the story. I know this spirit Son, and I admire what he teaches his followers. To be good to one another, love one another and unselfishly give to one another. All good and valuable things indeed. There’s no reason we can’t coexist in this land, and we are both perfect gods. However, He looks ordinary, whereas I am handsome with beautifully pointed ears and a rich, colorful, silky pelt. He purrs with self-pleasure. A thought ignites as a sinister smile exposes a perfect white fang. “You know, I think this is the ideal opportunity to teach this little rabbit a lesson. I can see that when he made his demand, he didn’t think through all the possibilities of the effect it would have. Yes! I will follow his command and stop the rain. However, I’ll stop it for the next two years until he sees his mistake and apologizes.”
That night Coyote visits White Hawk in a dream and explains everything. He also stipulates that during the two-year period, the medicine man and grandson are not allowed to leave the village. It will only rain after Tohbi has learned his lesson.
White Hawk tells Tohbi about his dream and pleads with him. “Please, Tohbi, go to Badab Do’ag and tell Coyote you were foolish and that you want to apologize. Beg him not to stop the rain, for many will suffer!”
Tohbi glares at his grandfather and tightens his jaw.
“Do you want me to hike all the way up Do’ag to speak to a god that doesn’t even EXIST? Grandfather, you believe in fables.”
With slumped shoulders and head hanging low, White Hawk implores, “But you believe in the white man’s God. Also, a god you can not see, hear or even touch. He is a spirit too, is he not?”
Looking his grandfather in the eyes, he tries to explain. “Yes, but he is also three people in one, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells the whole story from the beginning and into the future. The white man’s God is not a God that takes care of us just for today, but every day until we die and are with Him in paradise.” Tobhi is looking to the heavens with his arms open wide.
A frustrated White Hawk retaliates, “When I die, I will go to the spirit world and live among the gods too!” Tohbi shakes his head.
“Oh, Grandfather, you don’t understand! But I’ll tell you this. I’m not going to the mountain. I won’t. I can’t!”
The rain stops.
Tohbi and his friends are finally able to have some fun. Everything seems to be alright. The crops are growing, and the sky is blue and clear. But as the days continued, they got warmer, and the monsoons’ waters dried up. Eventually, grandfather’s bean plants wither and die. He looks at Tohbi with sad eyes but says nothing.
After about eight months, some of the villagers move north, where there is plenty of rain and water. But the medicine man and his grandson stay. By the end of the year, the ground is parched and cracked, and there is still no rain sight. Coyote was punishing the high desert and nowhere else.
Every day Tohbi’s grandfather would ask, “What did you learn at the mission school today? What did the sisters teach you about the nature of their God?” Tohbi was reluctant to tell him, for some of the stories made their God look bad.
“I learned that God flooded the whole land once because the people were being bad. So he had a man named Noah build a big boat and gather all the animals in pairs of two to save them from the flood. Then it rained for seven days and nights until the waters covered the whole earth.”
“What happened to all the people?” Grandfather asks.
“Did not this God create the people?”
“Yes.” Tohbi answers in a small voice.
“So, this God created all these people and then drowned them for being bad? Coyote brings much water too but always for good.” Shaking his head, Grandfather goes silent.
After a year and a half of not having rain, Tohbi’s family saw no hope in staying and begged Grandfather and Tohbi to go with them. They, too, will travel north to find more water and better hunting. Grandfather refuses, saying that Tohbi has work to do here and that they will join them later.
Tohbi continues to tell his grandfather the stories he’s learned of how the white man’s God would punish the people through droughts, famines, pox, and pestilence. He tells his grandfather that the sisters are teaching them these lessons because their God is withholding the rain. God is punishing man because he will not follow God’s laws.
“So, you’re saying that if the white man had believed in God and honored Him and His laws, they could have avoided all that pain?” Tohbi’s resolve began to crumble, and his bottom lip quivered. Rushing to his grandfather, Tobhi throws his arms around the old man’s neck and sobs
“I’m so sorry, Grandfather. I didn’t mean to cause trouble for everyone. I only wanted to have fun. I will leave early tomorrow morning, go to the mountain, and apologize to the great To’Neinillii.” But there would be no need for that because Coyote has heard Tohbi’s sobs and sent the first few drops to fall on him.