The Cahuilla Creation Story from Lucile Hooper
In the early 1900s anthropologist Lucile Hooper spent time with the Desert Cahuilla. The academic question she was trying to answer was whether their culture most resembled the Colorado River tribes to their East or that of the tribes to their West. In 1920 she published “The Cahuilla Indians”, a monograph from the University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography. In her publication she recounts the creation story which she must have recorded from a net or ceremonial leader.
The Birth of Mukat and Tamaioit
In the beginning there was only Darkness across which lightning flashed. Lightning’s passed across the darkness and met and formed two substances like the white of a egg, which lay in the stomach of Darkness.
The substances disappeared and were produced again, only to disappear again. The third time the substances grew and hatched out as two boys: Mukat and Tamaioit. Mukat was the eldest because he heard the song of their mother, Darkness, first.
They decided to create light. Mukat created a cricket, another insect, a black-and-white lizard and a person. Mukat and Tamaioit turned the creatures loose to drive away the darkness. They managed to do so a little bit but when they rushed back to Mukat the darkness returned.
Mukat and Tamaioit took tobacco and pipes from their hearts and lit them with coals which they took from their hearts. They tried to deceive each other when they passed the pipes back-and-forth in the darkness.
They took from the hearts rods, a black one from Mukat, and a white one from Tamaioit. They tried to stand them up with coiled snakes around them but this did not work. They then made spiders which made a web to the corners of the darkness. This held.
They climbed up the rods and saw smoke rising from below. It was from their afterbirth which causes sickness and disease. While on top Mukat thought about creating the earth. He sang a song and a substance flowed out of their mouths and flowed all over. It was soft and they created whirlwinds and insects to smooth it.
They then made the ocean to hold the earth in place. They made the stars in the sky. Mukat and Tamaioit argued about who was older. Mukat made dark people and Tamaioit made light ones.
Mukat made the sun so that he could see what Tamaioit had created. It slipped and went to the East so there wasn’t very much light. The two of them created the Moon. In its light Mukat could see Tamaioit’s people.
They had faces on the front and back, toes pointing in both directions and breasts on the front and back. Their fingers and toes were webbed. They quarreled about the people. amaioit wanted that the people would not die. Mukat said the earth would become overcrowded if this were true. They created Wood and Mermaid to give power to shamans to cure.
They argued some more about the form of the people they had created. Tamaioit retreated under the ground, taking his people with him. This is the source of earthquakes., He left behind Coyote, Duck, Palm and Moon.
Mukat created a place to the east where two hills move apart and back together. Through this opening the souls of the dead pass. If a person was bad the hills come together to crush them and they become a rock, a bat or butterfly. If they are good they pass through to the land beyond.
Mukat, the nonhuman persons (the animals) and human beings lived together in one big house. Moon instructed the people in the right way to live. One man danced on top of Rattlesnake’s head and made fun of him. Rattlesnake complained to Mukat. Mukat pulled whiskers out and put them in Rattlesnake’s mouth. Rattlesnake bit the man who danced on him and then ran away, being the first to leave the big house.
Mukat desired Moon. She could sense this and became sad and retreated to the sky. Coyote went to the water where she always bathed to look for her. He saw her reflection in the water and jumped in to find her.
Mukat made the people speak different languages. The sun was too hot so many ran in search of shade. He made bows and arrows. One person, Tacwich, stuck arrows through his stomach and pulled them out. They left no mark.
The people shot arrows at each other, many died. The spirits of the dead went under the ground to Tamaioit who told them that he hadn’t wanted them to die. He turned them away. They went back to Mukat and asked him to go where to go. He told them about the land between the two hills.
The sun came close to the people. The ones who it came closest to were black. The Indians were further away and were brown. The people were angry at Mukat for making Rattlesnake bite one of them, for causing Moon to leave and for making bows and arrows which killed some of them. They decided to kill Mukat. They had Lizard follow him at night. He found where he defecated. Frog went and caught his droppings.
This caused Mukat to become ill. He asked some of his people to bring help and food. They deserted him. However, Coyote stayed with him. Mukat was afraid Coyote would eat him when he died. He sang so his spirit would go to the other land between the hills.
He died and Coyote went away to get fire for his funeral pyre. While he was away Fly made fire by rubbing his feet together. Coyote ran back and grabbed a piece of Mukat’s heart from the fire. Before he died Mukat told the people to hold a fiesta once a year in memory of the dead. They were to make an effigy of each dead person. Coyote knew to make the effigies of a type of seaweed.
Coyote became the net and sang for the memorial. He divided the songs into Mukat or Wildcat songs and Tamaioit or Coyote songs. They burned the big house down and built a new one.
Out of the pit where Mukat had been cremated Buzzards saw plants growing which were for the people to eat. Tobacco for was for the old people to smoke, melons came from his skull, pumpkins from his stomach, and corn from his teeth.
Anthropologist Lowell Bean and author Harry Lawton, both founders of Malki Museum, wrote an article in which they argued that the Cahuilla practiced agriculture. In recent times they had been hunter gatherers without agriculture.
They based their argument on the fact that in the creation story crop plants came from the ashes of Mukat’s funeral pyre. They state that religious culture, such as origin stories, doesn’t change much over time. They think that with the disruption of the Spanish and the Anglos agriculture ceased to be practiced. Perhaps archaeological discoveries will support their idea.