The Mouse Always Wins

When I visited the Brooklyn Museum recently, they had a doll of the Warrior Mouse from Hopi legend, and I don’t think I’d heard of it before. Mouse warriors, as well as mice in just about every other profession, are common in children’s fiction. I’ve seen it speculated that this is because children identify with the tiny, largely helpless animals, and want to see them triumph. It might also have something to do with mice having hands, so showing them as walking upright and using tools doesn’t look as strange as it does with other anthropomorphized animals. This particular legend is sort of a David and Goliath story, with the small hero defeating a giant enemy. In a mesa village, a hawk has been stealing and eating all the chickens, ruining the local economy. None of the human inhabitants have been successful in killing it, but one mouse decides to make the attempt. He digs a tunnel from his subterranean home to the village plaza, dressing in typical Hopi warrior garb, and taunts the hawk. After successfully dodging it several times, he eventually tricks it into flying right into a sharpened stick.

Figures of the Warrior Mouse are quite popular, and are often lumped in with Hopi kachina dolls. This is apparently not entirely accurate. The kachina are beneficent spirits who act as intercessors between humans and gods, and are invoked with costumes and dances in religious ceremonies. The Mouse is not really a supernatural being (despite apparently being able to chat with the humans of its village), but more of a folk hero, and is not part of these ceremonies. Still, the figures are generally carved in the same style, so it’s not too surprising that sellers of Hopi art just call the Warrior Mouse a kachina anyway.

Doll and display by Ted Pavatea

This entry was posted in Animals, Mythology, Native American and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Mouse Always Wins

  1. nebbie916 says:

    Which quadrupedal animals do you think look strange in a bipedal stance and which animals do you think don’t look strange in bipedal stance?

  2. nebbie916 says:

    When it comes to quadrupedal mammals and bipedal stances and gaits, whether limited or not, this is generally done most easily by plantigrade ones like giant pangolins (which often walk bipedally), raccoons (they walk bipedally when holding food), bears, many rodents like mice, rats, ground squirrels (standing to survey their surroundings), and beavers (they walk bipedally when transporting wood to their dams), primates like apes (humans take it further by being defaultly bipedal), baboons, spider monkeys, and capuchin monkeys (they even run bipedally), and the extinct ground sloths.

    Mammals with unguligrade stances and elephants (which are semi-digitigrade) generally have the hardest time with bipedal stances and gaits. For example, elephants have a hard time just standing bipedally. There are a few exceptions. Horses can rear up on their hind legs, but they don’t stand bipedally for any prolonged period of time. The gerenuk antelope stands on its hind legs when it is eating from trees.

    Digitigrade mammals are generally somewhere inbetween plantigrade and unguligrades when it comes to bipedal stances and gaits. Meerkats stand on their hind legs to get a better view of their surroundings, but don’t walk that way. Cats, dogs, genets, and rabbits (plantigrade at rest, digitigrade when hopping) can sometimes stand and even walk bipedally (whether on their own accord, from training, or from injuries and birth defects that preclude quadrupedalism). Cats and genets, although digitigrade animals, can stand on their hind legs in a plantigrade stance.

    Most defaultly bipedal mammals hop. This includes sifaka lemurs (which hop sideways), macropods like kangaroos and wallabies and rodents like kangaroo rats, jumping mice, jerboas, and springhares.

    Semi-digitigrade is somewhere in-between digitigrade and unguligrade.

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