Saturday, December 29, 2012

Native American Creation Stories

All cultures have creation stories, from Christians to Hindus to the native tribes throughout Africa and the Americas.  These stories of the beginning of the world give people a sense of shared heritage and purpose.  Today, in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, I read two Native American creation stories, one from Iroquois culture, and the other from Pima culture.  For centuries these stories were passed down orally.  It wasn't until the 1600s, when Europeans brought written language, that Native Americans began writing down their creation stories.  

The Iroquois Creation Story

The Iroquois narrative I read was written down by David Cusick, a Tuscarora, in 1827.  Because his command of written English was limited, I have decided to put Cusick's creation story into my own words.  Here goes:

In the beginning, before the earth existed, there were two worlds: a lower world inhabited by darkness and monsters, and an upper world of light and sky people.  In the upper world, a virgin sky woman became pregnant with twins.  While pregnant, she fell asleep and descended into the dark world.  While she was falling, a turtle decided to catch her on his back, so she would not descend into the darkness.  The turtle grew into a large island of earth, and the woman landed safely.

The sky woman suffered a lot, alone and pregnant in the lower world, and she died in childbirth.  One of her sons was good-natured and gentle.  His name was Enigorio (the good mind).  The other son was evil and devious.  His name was Enigonhahetgea (the bad mind).  

The Good Mind wanted to create a light in the dark world, so he made the sun, moon, and stars from his mother's body.  He also created creeks, rivers, animals, and plants on the Great Island (the Earth).  FInally, the good mind created man and woman in his image, and called them Eagwehowe (real people).  

While the good mind was creating all these wonderful things, the bad mind was doing some creating of his own, mostly to undermine and subvert his brother's work.  He made steep mountains and falls, and reptiles that would injure the people.

The two brothers decided to fight it out, to see who would have control over the earth.  It was a great, epic battle which uprooted mountains and trees and created great whilrwinds.  Finally, the good mind won by beating his brother with deer antlers.  The last words of the bad mind, before dying, were that he would still have equal power over mankind after death, and he became an Evil Spirit.

After the battle, the good mind repaired the earth and taught the people how to survive, and then he left.

The Pima Creation Story

The Pima people live along the Gila and Salt rivers in the desert of central Arizona.  The following creation story was written down in the early 20th century by Edward H. Wood (a full-blooded Pima) and his grand-uncle, Thin Leather.  It was published in 1911 in the book Aw-aw-tam, Indian Nights, Being the Myths and Legends of the Pimas of Arizona.  I have, again, put the account into my own words:

In the beginning there was no earth, only a being named Juhwertamahkai (The Doctor of the Earth), and he floated in nothingness.  Then he created a small bush, with ants to live on it.  The ants prospered and the bush grew.  

Next Juhwertamahkai created a buzzard man named Noo-ee, to help him with creation, but Noo-ee was not interested in helping.  So, on his own, Juhwertanahkai made the sun, moon, and stars out of stones and crystals.  He made mountains rivers, plants, and animals.  And then he sang a song:

Juhwertamahkai's Song of Creation

Juhwertamahkai made the world--
Come and see it and make it useful!
He made it round--
Come and see it and make it useful!

Then he created man and woman, and they were perfect for a while.  But then they ran out of food and started eating each other, and Juhwertamahkai was so unhappy that he let the sky fall on them and kill them.

Afterward, he created a second man and woman, but they started getting old and gray younger and younger, until the babies were gray in their cradles.  Juhwertamahkai was unhappy again, so he again let the sky fall on them and kill them.

He made a third man and woman, but they took up smoking, younger and younger until the babies in their cradles wanted to smoke.  So Juhwertahamkai made the earth fall on them again.

After making the fourth man and woman, Juhwertamahkai decided to let them be, for better or worse.  He re-made the world and left it as it is today.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting narratives. Especially interesting that the Pima would mention a round (globular) earth. Of course, the word, "round," might be a later edition.

    It would also be interesting to learn why the creator was angry with the people for smoking continuously. I doubt it has anything to do with the hazards of smoking (which were probably not recognized at the time). It probably has more to do with the spiritual connotations that the Pina placed on smoking (eg. smoking used to connect with the spirit world). Either way, thanks for sharing this info.