Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Creation Mythology: Native America - California

Today we are going to begin looking at the creation myths of Native America, starting with the myths from the tribes of Native California.  There were once hundreds of small tribes of Native California, many of which were decimated by disease and the Spanish Missionaries.  Despite the loss of these tribes, much of their culture, mythology, and religion is available to us thanks to the anthropologists of the late 19ths and early 20th century.

The Hool-poom’-ne Miwok tribe lived on the east side of the lower Sacramento River.  The following myth on the creation of man speaks of Ol'-le, the Coyote-man who is the Creator, Mol’-luk the Condor and Wek’-wek the Falcon, who is the son of Mol’-luk and grandson of Ol'-le.  Here people are created using the feathers of Choo'-hoo the Turkey Buzzard, Kok'-kol the Raven, and Ah-wet'-che the Crow.
Ol'-le or Coyote-Man
The Creation of Man

After a while the world cooled off and Wek'-wek came back to Oo'-yum-bel'-le (Mount Diablo) to see his father Mol'-luk and his grandfather Ol'-le. He said to Mol'-luk, "O father;" and Mol'-luk answered, "What is it my son?"
Wek'-wek asked, "How can we make Mew'-ko (Indian people) and have them in the country?"
His father replied, "I cannot tell you; ask your grandfather, he can tell you."
So Wek'-wek asked his grandfather, Ol'-le, how they were going to make people.
Ol'-le answered, "Hah-hah, it will take you a good while to do that. If you are going to do that you must have a head. If people are coming you must first put out [provide] everything everywhere so they can live. If you want to do this I will think about it."
"I want to see it done," answered Wek'-wek.
"All right," said Ol'-le, "I know how. I must catch the three birds--Choo'-hoo the Turkey Buzzard, Kok'-kol the Raven, and Ah-wet'-che the Crow. The only way to catch these birds is to make-believe dead."
So Wek'-wek and Ol'-le went out on the plain together and Ol'-le lay down on the ground and pretended he was dead. He opened his mouth and let his tongue out and relaxed himself so Choo'-hoo the Buzzard would think he was dead. He told Wek'-wek he would call if he caught the birds; and Wek'-wek went away.
Soon Choo'-hoo the Turkey Buzzard came sailing over and saw the dead Coyote-man and circled around and lit on the ground beside him. Kok'-kol the Raven and Ah-wet'-che the Crow saw Choo'-hoo go down and knew that he had found something to eat, so they too hastened to the place. just as all three began to eat, O-let'-te suddenly sprang up and caught them. He then called Wek'-wek to come, and told him to pick off the feathers and be careful not to lose a single one. This Wek'-wek did; he picked all the feathers from the three birds and. took them all home.
Then he asked his grandfather, "What are we going to do next?"
Ol'-le, Coyote-man and Wek'-wek, Falcon at their Roundhouse
"Make people," answered O-let'-te.
"All right," said Wek'-wek, "do you know how?"
"Yes," answered O-let'-te.
Wek'-wek then told Mol'-luk his father that they were going to make people. Mol'-luk answered, "All right."
Next morning Ol'-le and Wek'-wek took the feathers and traveled over all the country. They picked out the places where they wanted Indian villages to be, and in each place stuck up three feathers--one for Chā'-kah the Chief, one for Mi'-yum, the head woman or Woman Chief, and one for Soo-lā-too the poor. And they gave each place its name--the name it has always had and bears today.
The next morning the three feathers at each place stood up and came to life and became Mew'-ko [Indian People]. This is the way people were made in the beginning and this is the way all the different rancherias or villages were named.
After that Ol'-le said to Wek'-wek, "Now we also are going to change; I am going to be a hunting animal and you are going to be a hunting bird." So Ol'-le the Coyote-man, whose form up to this time we do not know, changed to the Coyote, a furry hunting animal and became the first furry animal. And Wek'-wek changed to the Falcon, a hunting bird.

The Luiseno, or Payomkawichum, are a Native American people who lived in the coastal area of southern California.  The name Luiseno comes from the Spanish, who called them this because of their proximity to the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia (The Mission of Saint Louis King of France).  In the following myth Ké-vish-a-ták-vish, the first being, is the creator of the world.

Ké-vish-a-ták-vish Creates the World

In the beginning all was empty space. Ké-vish-a-ták-vish was the only being. This period was called Óm-ai-yá-mal signifying emptiness, nobody there. Then came the time called Há-ruh-rúy, upheaval, things coming into shape. Then a time called Chu-tu-taí, the falling of things downward; and after this, Yu-vaí-to-vaí, things working in darkness without the light of sun or moon. Then came the period Tul-múl Pu-shún, signifying that deep down in the heart or core of earth things were working together.
Then came Why-yaí Pee-vaí, a gray glimmering like the whiteness of hoar frost; and then, Mit-aí Kwai-raí, the dimness of twilight. Then came a period of cessation, Na-kaí Ho-wai-yaí, meaning things at a standstill. 
Mother Earth by myjavier007
Then Ké-vish-a-ták-vish made a man, Túk-mit, the Sky; and a woman, To-maí-yo-vit, the Earth. There was no light, but in the darkness these two became conscious of each other.
"Who are you?" asked the man.
"I am To-maí-yo-vit. And you?"
"I am Túk-mit."
"Then you are my brother."
"You are my sister."
By her brother the Sky, the Earth conceived and became the Mother of all things. Her first-born children were, in the order of their birth, See-vat and Pá-ve-ut,  Ush-la and Pik-la, Ná-na-chel and Patch'-ha-yel, Tópal and Tam'-yush. 
Then came forth all other things, people, animals, trees, rocks, and rivers, but not as we see them now. All things then were people.
But at first they were heavy and helpless and could not move about, and they were in darkness, for there was no light. But when the Sun was born he gave a tremendous light which struck the people into unconsciousness, or caused them to roll upon the ground in agony; so that the Earth-Mother, seeing this, caught him up and hid him away for a season; so then there was darkness again.
After the Sun was born there came forth another being called Chung-itch'-nish (spelled Chin-ig-chin-ich by Boscana), a being of power, whose voice sounded as soon as he was born, while all the others rolled helplessly upon the ground, unable to utter a word. The others were so terrified by his appearance that the Earth-Mother hid him away, and ever since he has remained invisible.
The rattlesnake was born at this time, a monster without arms or legs.
When all her children were born, the Earth-Mother left the place and went to Ech'-a-mo Nóy-a-mo. The people rolled, for like newborn babies they could not walk. They began then to crawl on hands and knees, and they talked this way: Chák-o-lá-le, Wá-wa, Tá-ta. This was all that they could say. For food they ate clay. From there they moved to Kak-wé-mai Po-lá-la, then to Po-és-kak Po-lá-lak.
They were growing large now and began to recognize each other. Then the Earth-Mother made the sea so that her children could bathe in it, and so that the breeze from the sea might fill their lungs, for until this time they had not breathed.
Then they moved farther to a place called Na-ché-vo Po-mé-sa-vo, a sort of a cañon which was too small for their abiding-place; so they returned to a place called Tem-ech'-va Tem-eck'-o, and this place people now call Temecula, for the Mexicans changed the Indian name to that.
Here they settled while everything was still in darkness. All this time they had been travelling about without any light.
The Earth-Mother had kept the sun hidden away, but now that the people were grown large enough and could know each other she took the Sun out of his hiding-place, and immediately there was light. They could all see each other; and while the Sun was standing there among them they discussed the matter and decided that he must go east and west and give light all over the world; so all of them raised their arms to the sky three times, and three times cried out Cha-cha-cha (unspellable guttural), and he rose from among them and went up to his place in the sky.
Messenger by thanfiction
After this they remained at Temecula, but the world was not big enough for them, and they talked about it and concluded that it must be made larger. So this was done, and they lived there as before.
It was at Temecula that the Earth-Mother taught her children to worship Chung-itch'-nish. Although he could not be seen, he appointed the Raven to be his messenger, flying over the heads of the people to watch for any who had offended against him. Whenever the Raven flew overhead, they would have a big fiesta and dance.
The bear and the rattlesnake were the chosen avengers for Chung-itch'-nish; and any who failed to obey would suffer from their bite. When a man was bitten by a rattlesnake it was known that he had offended Chung-itch'-n ish, and a dance would be performed with religious ceremonies to beg his forgiveness.
The stone bowls, Tam'-yush, were sacred to his worship; so were the toloache and mock-orange plants. All the dances are made for his worship, and all the sacred objects, stone pipes, eagle feathers, tobacco, etc., were used in this connection.

The Yokuts were the Indians of the San Joaquin Valley and were unique in California in that they were divided into true tribes.  The Tachi Yokuts were one of those true tribes and they tell the following myth of the chief, eagle, who oversees the creation of the world.

Chief Eagle by SteffieSilva*
Truhohi Tokuts. The Beginning of the World 

Far in the south was a mountain.  It was the only land.  Everything else was water.  The eagle was the chief.  The people had nothing to eat.  They were eating the earth and it was nearly gone.  Then Coyote said: ‘Can we not obtain earth?  Can we not make mountain?’  The eagle said: ‘I do not know how?
Coyote said: ‘There is a man that we will ask.’  Then they got the magpie.  The eagle said: ‘Can we obtain earth?’  The magpie said: ‘Yes.’  ‘Where?’  ‘Right below us.’  Then all the ducks dived and tried to bring up the earth.  Some were gone half a day.  They could not reach the bottom and died and floated up.  The eagle said: ‘When you reach the ground take hold of it and bite it, and fill your nose and ears.’  For six days they dived and found nothing.  There was only one more to go down, the mudhen.  Then the eagle said: ‘Now you go.  Let us see if you can find the earth.’  The mudhen said: ‘Good.’  Then it dived.  It was gone for a day and a night.  In the morning it came up.  It was dead.  They looked it over.  It had earth in its nails, its ears, its nose.  Then they made the earth from this ground.  They mixed it with chiyu seeds and from this they made the earth.  After six days the eagle said to the wolf: ‘Now go around.’  Then the wolf went where the Sierra Nevada now is and around to the west and came back along where the Coast Range is.  The eagle said: ‘Do not touch it for six days.  Let it dry first.’  All the people said: ‘Very well, we will let it become dry.’  But soon Coyote said: ‘I will try it.  It is getting hard now.’  He travelled where the Sierras are.  That is why these are rough and broken now.  It is from his running over the soft earth.  Then he turned west and went back along the Coast Range.  That is why there are mountains there also.  Coyote made it so.  Now the eagle sent out the prairie falcon and the raven (Khotoi).  He told them: ‘Go around the world and see if the earth is hard yet.’  Then the prairie falcon went north along Sierra Nevada and Khotoi went north along the Coast Range.  Each came back the way he had gone.  No at first the Sierra Nevada was not so high as the Coast Range.  When the two returned the eagle said: ‘How is the earth?  Is it hard?’  ‘Yes,’ they said.  Then the prairie falcon said: ‘Look at my mountains.  They are the highest,’ but Khotoi said: ‘No, mine are higher.’  The prairie falcon said: ‘No, yours do not amount to anything.  They are low.’  Then the eagle and Coyote sent the people to different places.  They said:
Coyote Sky by Celesmeh
‘You go to that place with your people.  You go to that spring.’  So they sent them off, and the people went to the different places where they are now.  They were still animals, but they became people.  For a little while after they had all gone the eagle and Coyote stayed there.  Then Coyote said: ‘Where will you go?’  The eagle said: ‘I am thinking about it.  I think I will go up.’  Coyote said: ‘Where shall I live?’  The eagle said: ‘Here.’  But Coyote said: ‘No, I will go with you.’  The eagle told him: ‘No, you must stay here.  You will have to look after this place here.’  So they talked for six days.  Then the eagle took all his things.  ‘Goodbye,’ he said, ‘I am going.’  Then he went.  Coyote looked up.  He said: ‘I am going too.’  ‘You have no wings.  You cannot,’ said the eagle.  ‘I will go,’ said Coyote, and he went.  Now they are together in the sky above.

The following myth comes from the Yana of California.  They once inhabited the north-eastern Sacramento region of California and have mythology which is similar to their neighbours, the Maidu, the Shasta, and the Wintun, and also to the Australian dream-time myths.

Lizard, Grey Squirrel, and Coyote lived in a big sweat-house at Wamā'rawi.  They had no wives or children.  Coyote wanted to make people, but the others thought that they themselves were enough.  Finally Lizard agreed, ‘We’ll make people, different kinds of people.’  So Lizard went out and cut three sticks like gambling sticks.  The others wanted to know how he was going to make people out of there.  Lizard said, ‘I’ll show you.’  One stick he took for the Hat Creeks, one for the Wintun, and one for the Pit Rivers.  When he looked at them he said, ‘There is something lacking.’  Coyote asked, ‘Who has been left out?’  Lizard said, ‘The Yana.’  So he took any kind of a stick, broke it up into little pieces, and put them in a pile for the Yana.  The stick for the Hat Creeks he places in the east, the stick for the Wintun in the west, the stick for the Pit Rivers in the north.
Grey squirrel by wimke
All three, Lizard, Gray Squirrel, and Coyote, then made a big basket, heated rocks, put water in the basket, and heated the water by putting hot rocks into the basket.  Then Lizard put the sticks into the boiling water, put in more hot rocks to boil the sticks.  All then went to sleep, after setting the basket outside on the roof and covering it up.  Before they slept Lizard said, ‘Early in the morning you will hear someone when the basket turns over.  That will be because there are people.  You must keep still, must not move or snore.’
Early in the morning they heard people falling down, heard the basket turn over.  By and by they heard the people walking about outside.  They got up, then covered the door with a large rock to keep the people out.  They did not talk or answer those outside.  For a long time the people were talking.  One called out, ‘Where is the door?’  Coyote said, ‘Keep still, that talk does not sound right.’  Others then spoke, asked also.  Then Coyote said, ‘Now it sounds right,’ and then they opened the door.  Then all the people came crowding in, all came into the sweat-house.  Then the three said, ‘It is well.  There are people.’

The following myth comes from the Achomawi, who once lived in the north-eastern Sierra Nevada of California, and tells of how Silver-Fox created the world from the hair of Coyote.

The Fox and the Coyote by kyoht
How Silver-Fox Created the World

In the beginning all was water. In all directions the sky was clear and unobstructed. A cloud formed in the sky, grew lumpy, and turned into Coyote. Then a fog arose, grew lumpy, and became Silver-Fox. They became persons. Then they thought. They thought a canoe, and they said, "Let us stay here, let us make it our home." Then they floated about, for many years they floated; and the canoe became old and mossy, and they grew weary of it.
"Do you go and lie down," said Silver-Fox to Coyote, and he did so. While he slept, Silver-Fox combed his hair, and the combings he saved. When there was much of them, he rolled them in his hands, stretched them out, and flattened them between his hands. When he had done this, he laid them upon the water and spread them out, till they covered all the surface of the water. Then he thought, "There should be a tree," and it was there. And he did the same way with shrubs and with rocks, and weighted the film down with stones, so that the film did not wave and rise in ripples as it floated in the wind. And thus he made it, that it was just right, this that was to be the world. And then the canoe floated gently up to the edge, and it was the world. Then he cried to Coyote, "Wake up! We are going to sink!" And Coyote woke, and looked up; and over his head, as he lay, hung cherries and plums; and from the surface of the world he heard crickets chirping. And at once Coyote began to eat the cherries and the plums, and the crickets also.
After a time Coyote said, "Where are we? What place is this that we have come to?" And Silver-Fox replied, "I do not know. We are just here. We floated up to the shore." Still all the time he knew; but he denied that he had made the world. He did not want Coyote to know that the world was his creation. Then Silver-Fox said, "What shall we do? Here is solid ground. I am going ashore, and am going to live here." So they landed, and built a sweat-house and lived in it. They thought about making people; and after a time, they made little sticks of service-berry, and they thrust them all about into the roof of the house on the inside. And by and by all became people of different sorts, birds and animals and fish, all but the deer, and he was as the deer are to-day. And Pine-Marten was the chief of the people; and Eagle was the woman chief, for she was Pine-Marten's sister. And this happened at Ilā'texcagēwa.
On The Rocks by Lance Johnson
And people went out to hunt from the sweat-house. And they killed deer, and brought them home, and had plenty to eat. Arrows with pine-bark points were what they used then, it is said, for there was no obsidian. And Ground-Squirrel, of all the people, he only knew where obsidian could be found. So he went to steal it. To Medicine Lake he went, for there Obsidian-Old-Man lived, in a big sweat-house. And Ground-Squirrel went in, taking with him roots in a basket of tules. And he gave the old man some to eat; and he liked them so much, that he sent Ground-Squirrel out to get more. But while he was digging them Grizzly-Bear came, and said, "Sit down! Let me sit in your lap. Feed me those roots by handfuls." So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear as he had asked, for he was afraid. Then Grizzly-Bear said, "Obsidian-Old-Man's mother cleaned roots for some one," and went away. Ground-Squirrel went back to the sweat-house, but had few roots, for Grizzly-Bear had eaten so many. Then he gave them to the old man, and told him what the bear had said about him, and how he had robbed him of the roots. Then Obsidian-Old-Man was angry. "To-morrow we will go," he said. Then they slept. In the morning they ate breakfast early and went off, and the old man said that Ground-Squirrel should go and dig more roots, and that he would wait, and watch for Grizzly-Bear. So Ground-Squirrel went and dug; and when the basket was filled, Grizzly-Bear came, and said, "You have dug all these for me. Sit down!" So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear roots by the handful. But Obsidian-Old-Man had come near. And Grizzly-Bear got up to fight, and he struck at the old man; but he turned his side to the blow, and Grizzly-Bear merely cut off a great slice of his own flesh. And he kept on fighting, till he was all cut to pieces, and fell dead. Then Ground-Squirrel and Obsidian-Old-Man went home to the sweat-house, and built a fire, and ate the roots, and were happy. Then the old man went to sleep.
In the morning Obsidian-Old-Man woke up, and heard Ground-Squirrel groaning. He said, "I am sick. I am bruised because that great fellow sat upon me. Really, I am sick." Then Obsidian-Old-Man was sorry, but Ground-Squirrel was fooling the old man. After a while the old man said, "I will go and get wood. I'll watch him, for perhaps he is fooling me. These people are very clever." Then he went for wood; and he thought as he went, "I had better go back and look." So he went back softly, and peeped in; but Ground-Squirrel lay there quiet, and groaned, and now and then he vomited up green substances. Then Obsidian-Old -Man thought, "He is really sick," and he went off to get more wood; but Ground-Squirrel was really fooling, for he wanted to steal obsidian. When the old man had gotten far away, Ground-Squirrel got up, poured out the finished obsidian points, and pulled out a knife from the wall, did them up in a bundle, and ran off with them. When the old man came back, he carried a heavy load of wood; and as soon as he entered the sweat-house, he missed Ground-Squirrel. So he dropped the wood and ran after him. He almost caught him, when Ground-Squirrel ran into a hole, and, as he went, kicked the earth into the eyes of the old man, who dug fast, trying to catch him. Soon Ground-Squirrel ran out of the other end of the hole; and then the old man gave chase again, but again Ground-Squirrel darted into a hole; and after missing him again, Obsidian-Old-Man gave up, and went home.
Ground-Squirrel crossed the river and left his load of arrow-points, and came back to the house and sat down in his seat. He and Cocoon slept together. Then his friend said, "Where have you been?" And Ground-Squirrel replied, "I went to get a knife and to get good arrow-points. We had none." Then the people began to come back with deer. And when they cooked their meat, they put it on the fire in lumps; but Ground-Squirrel and Cocoon cut theirs in thin slices, and so cooked it nicely. And Weasel saw this, and they told him about how the knife had been secured. In the morning Ground-Squirrel went and brought back the bundle of points he had hidden, and handed it down through the smoke-hole to Wolf. Then he poured out the points on the ground, and distributed them to everyone, and all day long people worked, tying them onto arrows. So they threw away all the old arrows with bark points; and when they went hunting, they killed many deer.

The Shasta tribe of Northern California tell the following myth of Chareya, Old Man Above, who made the world as it is after he descended from the sky.

Mount Shasta by H.C. Best
How Old Man Above Created the World

Long, long ago, when the world was so new that even the stars were dark, it was very, very flat.  Chareya, Old Man Above, could not see through the dark to the new, flat earth.  Neither could he step down to it because it was so far below him.  With a large stone he bored a hole in the sky.  Then through the hole he pushed down masses of ice and snow, until a great pyramid rose from the plain.  Old Man Above climbed down through the hole he had made in the sky, stepping from cloud to cloud, until he could put him foot on top the mass of ice and snow.  Then with one long step he reached the earth.
The sun shone through the hole in the sky and began to melt the ice and snow.  It made holes in the ice and snow.  When it was soft, Chareya bored with his finger into the earth, here and there, and planted the first trees.  Streams from the melting snow watered the new trees and made them grow.  Then he gathered the leaves which fell from the trees and blew upon them.  They became birds.  He took a stick and broke it into pieces.  Out of the small end he made fishes and placed them in the mountain streams.  Of the middle of the stick, he made all the animals except the grizzly bear.  From the big end of the stick came the grizzly bear, who was made master of all.  Grizzly was large and strong and cunning.  When the earth was new he walked upon two feet and carried a large club.  So strong was Grizzly that Old Man Above feared the creature he had made.  Therefore, so that he might be safe, Chareya hollowed out the pyramid of ice and snow as a tepee.  There he lived for thousands of snows.  The Indians knew he lived there because they could see the smoke curling from the snoke hole of his tepee.  When the pale-face came, Old Man Above went away.  There is no longer any smoke from the smoke hole.  White men call the tepee Mount Shasta

Useful Resources

Mythology of the Mission Indians by Constance Goddard Du Bois
Indian Myths of South Central California by A. L. Kroeber
Yana Texts by Edward Sapir
Achomawi and Atsugewi Tales by Roland B. Dixon
Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest by Katherine Berry Judson

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