Quechan creation story–from Natalie Curtis
In the beginning there was only water. Two lived beneath the water. The first one, called Kokomaht, came to the surface with his eyes closed. The second one asked how he should come to the surface. Kokomaht said he should come up with his eyes open. So he came up with his eyes open and was blinded. Kokomaht named him Bakotahl, the blind one.
Kokomaht asked where is the North? Bakotahl pointed South. “No, North is this way,” said Kokomaht, pointing North. Kokomaht stepped four steps West and then came back to center. “This is West.” He did the same with South and East, naming them South and East. He led Bakotahl and showed him the directions.
Then Kokomaht said, “I will make earth,” but Bakotahl said, “No, I will do it.” Kokomaht faced North and stirred the water into a whirlpool. The water rose and then receded and revealed earth. Kokomaht sat upon it. Bakotahl sat down and tried to make a man. It came out wrong with webbed fingers and toes. He hid it behind him so that Kokomaht wouldn’t see it. Kokomaht made a man and a woman and they were perfect. He swung the man four times northward and he became a living man. He did the same with the woman and she became a living woman.
Bakotahl made seven beings. Kokomaht saw them and asked them what they were. “They are men,” answered Bakotahl. “Feel the ones I have made,” said Kokomaht. “Your creatures have no fingers or toes. What will they do if they are hurt and battle?”
Bakotahl said that they would heal themselves. Kokomaht explained that with his, if a finger is hurt you can cut it off. Saying that Bakotahl had made imperfect creatures, he kicked them into the water. Angry, Bakotahl retreated into the waters with a noise like thunder. He created a whirlwind to make a Kokomaht’s creations sick. Kokomaht put his foot upon the whirlwind but when he lifted his foot a little slipped out and that became the source of all sickness on earth.
Kokomaht was alone with his creations, the man and the woman. These were the Quechan. Then he made a man and a woman of the Cocopas, the Dieguenos and the Mohaves. He made four kinds. He thought for a moment, then made the Apaches, the Maricopas, the Pimas and the Cahuillas, four more kinds. Then he made more, until he had made 24 kinds. The last pair he made was the White People.
The first pair, the Quechans, said that they did not know how to live. Kokomaht told them to join together and create children. Kokomaht created a son, Komashtam’ho, conceived from Nothing, without a mother. He took the form of a man. The people understood and joined together and created children. Then Kokomaht decided to make light, so he made the moon and the morning star. Komashtam’ho thought that he too would create something. The different kinds of people were at different places on the earth. Kokomaht knew that his work was finished. Hanyi, Frog, decided to destroy Kokomaht. He knew this, just as he knew the thoughts of all of his creations. Kokomaht willed that he would die to show his creations how to die, just as he showed them how to live. If they did not die the earth would have too many creatures upon it.
Hanyi crept into the ground beneath Kokomaht and pulled the breath out of him. His throat became dry and he wandered this way and that, not knowing where he was at. Kokomaht sickened and lay down to die. There was no day or night, only the moon and the one star. He called his people knowing that he was dying.
The White Man, the one that was made last, sat by himself in the West crying. He was crying because his hair was curled and his skin was white. To comfort him Kokomaht crossed two sticks of wood and created a horse. He told the White Man that he could ride it. He comforted the White Man with many gifts because he was the last one created and fussed like a little child. Kokomaht gave all good things of the earth to the White Man. The Indians were older and could bear hardship better.
Kokomaht died to show people how to die. Komashtam’ho wanted to make day and night so he took some spittle and made a disk and threw it into the sky. He told the people that it was the sun and it would move from East to West. Then he pushed the sun under the earth and the darkness returned. He then took spittle on his finger and created the stars. Then he summoned from the North wood because there were no cottonwood or willow trees. With the wood he made a funeral pyre to cremate Kokomaht.
While Kokomaht was dying he called Coyote and told him to take his heart and do what was right. Coyote thought he meant to eat it. Komashtam’ho knew what Coyote was thinking and sent him to the East, to the dawn, to get fire to start the cremation. While he was away, Komashtam’ho took a stick and twirled it in a piece of wood, showing the people how to make fire. With the fire he lit the funeral pyre and the people gathered around, except for the White Man, who did not want to see the cremation. The people did not know how to mourn because they did not know what death was.
After the fire was burning a while Coyote returned and the nonhuman people gathered around the pyre to protect it but Coyote jumped over Badger who was the shortest one and ran off with the heart. The animals followed but could not catch him. Komashtam’ho called after him and said, “You will be no good. You will never have a home and you will steal because you will own nothing of your own. You will be killed for this.”
The people heard this and knew what Coyote was. And they began to cry because they knew what death was. Kokomaht had showed them that they would sicken and die. The people would have killed Frog because she was a sorceress so she hid out of sight. This is how frogs live today. Because of the heat of the pyre all of the land around it would be hot as it is today.
When the pyre was burned down the people were all together but the Cocopas did not want to be near the Quechans. The Maricopas wanted to be near the Cocopas. The Apaches, Mohaves and Dieguenos wanted to be near the Quechans.
The people saw a whirlwind at the spot that Kokomaht had been cremated. Komashtam’ho explained that it was the spirit of Kokomaht and to not grieve because he would not tire or be hungry; he would always be happy. When people died they are all equal. They are young and strong and the corn grows plentifully and they will be with the people who love them.
Komashtam’ho chose a man, Marhokuvek, to plan things that would be made and how and how things must be done. He declared that the animals, which were like people, should cut their hair in mourning. Komashtam’ho turned them into wild animals and wanted to kill them all but Marhokuvek told him not to.
Komashtam’ho called Rain so that he would cause a flood to destroy the animals. Many were killed but many were not. So it is that when a flood comes the people die of the cold because their land is normally hot from the funeral pyre of Kokomaht. Marhokuvek told Komashtam’ho to stop the rain. Nowadays the world is full of people and animals but they are fearful of each other.
Kokomaht had a house to the North but Komashtam’ho decided it would not continue to exist. So it is that when a person dies all of his possessions are destroyed so that they will go with him. His name is not to be spoken again. Komashtam’ho wanted to destroy Kokomaht’s house so he struck it with a pole. He stuck the pole into the earth and dragged it to the South and made a rut in which flowed water. This was the Colorado River. The web footed creatures which Bakotahl made floated upon it. They were the ducks and water creatures. He tried to catch them then tried to call their fledglings. They would not come. He said they would not fly like other birds and would remain near water and would be afraid of humans.
Kahk, Crow, was a good farmer and brought corn and seeds of all kinds. Flying south towards the Gulf of California he called kahk!, kahk! and stopped four times. At each stop a mountain was formed. So it is that with the overflow of the river the people could plant the seeds and they would grow. Some say that except for the four mountains formed by Crow, the other mountains were formed by Kokomaht. Others say that the waves of water splashed on the newly formed land and created the mountains.
Komashtam’ho told the Quechans that they would be under his protection. He would become the White Eagle of the North, the Black Eagle of the West, the Brown Eagle of the South and an Unseen Eagle. As the four eagles Komashtam’ho would protect the Quechan people and in dreams give them power from Kokomaht.
Bakotahl, who is evil, remained beneath the earth and when he moves causes earthquakes. Kokomaht helps the good but Bakotahl helps the evil, which is why Kokomaht lied to him and he was blinded by the water.
This is how things came to be as they are today.