The Cahuilla Creation Story
In 1943 Cahuilla elder Francisco Patencio got with the writer Margaret Boynton and recorded stories that were published by the Palm Springs Desert Museum as “Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians.” Patencio came from a line of shamans who were thought to control the forces in the world. These forces might be translated by the word “power.”
Patencio comes from the Spanish word potencio, which means power. Francisco Patencio may have gotten his surname from the fact that his ancestors were shamans. Patencio recorded the stories that he did because he saw that the elders that knew them were passing away and the younger generation didn’t know them. One of the stories Patencio told to Margaret Boynton was about the creation.
The Cahuilla creation story
In the beginning there were two nights, brother and sister, who tried to produce a child. Four times they tried and failed, but finally they produced twin boys. The elder was Mo- cot, (sometimes spelled as Mukat.) The younger one was Mo-cot-tem-ma-ya-wit.
First Mo-cot created cut tobacco and his brother created a pipe in which to smoke it. They smoke the pipe. Then they created a staff and a bedrock to hold it, for there was nothing for the staff to stand on. They created two snakes to hold the bedrock but it would not stay steady so they made a big pile of rocks but still the staff would not stay steady.
Finally they created two spiders, one black and one white, that live at the end of the world. They then spied the sack that was left over from their birth and Mo-cot said that from this would come sickness, disease and death.
They then created the earth with two winds, one a cyclone and one a whirlwind, to smooth it. They created red ants and black ants to steady it but it would not hold. Finally they created the ocean to surround the earth and it became steady, as it is today.
They made the earth and the clay that humans were made of. They created the dog, the coyote and the owl. Mo-cot and Mo-cot-tem-ma-ya-wit set about to form people in the darkness that still enveloped the earth. Mo-cot-tem-ma-ya-wit worked carelessly because he could not see and Mo-cot felt carefully the earth and clay and created humans as they are today.
So that they could see, the two brothers created the stars and the sun but the sun would not stay steady and sank into the earth. It came up again in the morning as it has done all the days since. Mo-cot looked at the humans Mo-cot-tem-ma-ya-wit created. They had a face on the front and a face on the back, Their hands and feet were webbed. He said that this was not good.
They argued and Mo-cot-tem-ma-ya-wit said that he would withdraw into the earth and bring all that they had created with him. As he did this the land that had been smooth buckled and broke, creating the mountains as they are today.
Mo-cot was able to hold onto creation and keep it from going with his brother under the earth. After everything settled down Mo-cot was able to see that the people that he had made from the four different colored clays; the white, black, yellow and red were also of those colors. The people said that they would go away but Mo-cott was able to hold onto the red people and keep them with him.
The Moon Maiden
The Moon Maiden taught people how to conduct themselves and taught them that the Coyote People must never marry among themselves and that the Wildcat People must never marry among themselves. (The two categories that the people were split into are called moieties by anthropologists)
The people stepped on the head of rattlesnake who could not defend himself. Mo-cot felt sorry for him so he put two of his whiskers in the snake’s mouth so that he could defend himself by biting anyone who stepped on him. A person did and he died. Then at night, while the people slept, Mo-cot caused trouble with the Moon Maiden. Because of this she retreated to the sky.
Mo-cot taught the people how to make bows and arrows but they were unable to shoot the birds and butterflies. Tahquitz, one of the first people created, showed them that the arrows would not hurt him and the people, thinking that they could do anything, shot each other and many died.
The people talked among themselves and decided that Mo-cot must die. They sent out, in turn, a lizard and a water skipper to kill Mo-cot where he bathed and relieved himself in the ocean. They were unable to do so, so frog went and was able to poison and bewitch Mo-cot who became sick. Mo-cot sent, in turn, for the North wind, the West wind and the South wind so that they could cure him. They came but they would not cure Mo-cot.
He sent the hawk and the crow to find help, to no avail. He then told the people that he was going to die but not to trust Coyote with his body. He told them to send Coyote away to get fire.
When Mo-cot died the people cried; it was the first time they ever cried. They sent Coyote away to get fire to burn the body. Meanwhile the people made a fire with the palm tree and with a spark the fly created by rubbing its hands together. With this they lit the funeral pyre which Coyote saw, He came running back and grabbed Mo-cot’s heart, which is all that was left, and ran away.
From the ashes of Mo-cot’s cremation plants sprang up. They were the plants the people were able to use as food: melons, fruits, grass, corn, wheat, pumpkins and watermelons. After a time the people and Coyote decided to hold a memorial for Mo-cot. It lasted a week and as part of it a doll made of tule to represent M-cot was burned. Seeds of the plants that came from his body were scattered around the ashes.
This is a condensation of the Cahuilla creation story. In my next blog I will give a rendering of the Cahuilla creation as recorded by Lucile Hooper.