adapted from the telling of Thomas Blackburn from the notes of JP Harrington
There are three worlds: one above, one below and this one. We live in the center, on the biggest island. There are two snakes below, who, when they move cause of earthquakes. There is a being above, the Eagle of the Sky, that stretches its wings. This causes the phases of the moon. The water of the springs and streams of the middle world is the urine of frogs that live in them.
In the world above, the sun, the Eagle of the Sky, the Morning Star and Coyote of the Sky play peon. Moon is the referee and they stay up all night until dawn playing all year round. On Christmas Eve they count to six to see who has won. When Coyote of the Sky wins it will be a rainy year. There is a lot to eat. The sun stakes all the food plants and Coyote of the Sky, when he wins, opens the door so that all the good things fall to earth. When the sun wins he takes his winnings in human lives. Coyote of the sky wants to pay with the lives of old people but sometimes the sun takes a young person’s life.
The moon is an unmarried woman who lives near the sun. They have their jobs to do to light the sky. The morning star’s job is to light the dawn. The Sky Coyote is our father and the sun our uncle. None of them grow older. The sun lights the sky with a brand made of the inner bark of a sky tree that is like a cottonwood. The Sky Eagle creature stays in the same spot but when he gets tired he spreads his wings causing the phases of the moon and eclipses of the moon.
The sun is an old man and a widower who lives alone with his pets. His two daughters live with him too. The sun carries away people of this world and he and his daughters eat them at the end of the day. There are devil like creatures in the shape of men who come out when night falls. La Llorona, the weeping woman, cries in the trees. When you hear her someone is going to die. The swordfish creatures live in the sea and can throw a whale out of the water.
There once was a great flood and Spotted Woodpecker, the sun’s nephew, was the only survivor. He alighted at the top of the tallest tree and cried for his uncle to help him. The sun lowered his torch and the waters went down. Then he tossed some acorns to the woodpecker who ate them. To this day he eats acorns.
After the flood sky Coyote, Sun, Moon, the Morning Star and the great Sky Eagle decided to create man. Sky Coyote wanted their hands to be like his. Silently lizard listened and waited. They all gathered around a rock and just as Sky Coyote was going to stamp his hand down Lizard put his down. Sky Coyote wanted to kill Lizard but he scurried into a crack in the rock. the Sky Eagle and Sun approved of the lizard’s handprint and that is how we got the hands we have.
Sky Coyote wanted to toss men into a lake to make them young again but Matavenado said the earth would be too full of people so Coyote lost that argument as well. The sun was adored by the Indians and they also adored the elements earth, air, and water. Some say that the rainbow is a shadow of three elements – wind, rain and fire. The elements give the rainbow its colors. The sun had the morning and evening stars as his wives.
The souls of the dead stayed around for five days but someone who has been cremated has his soul go to the West and it doesn’t stay around. His soul goes to the west, as does the souls of babies. After 12 years the soul is reincarnated. It has been said that white people have been reincarnated with a different color and with different languages.
As the sun reemerges, the souls resurrect. The old people said that there were three lands to the west which were like purgatory, hell and heaven. There are two rocks that crashed together. Any living person who tried to pass them would be crushed but the souls of the dead passed on through. The souls of poisoners and evil people turn to stone from the neck on down and remain immobile, unable to progress. They are only able to watch as the other souls progress. Two monsters try to frighten the souls as they cross a pole. Those that fall off are those who have not drunk hallucinogenic toloache or who do not know about the old religion. They fall into the water and turn into a frog, a turtle, a snake or a fish. There are many such beings in the water.
Children were named for the month they were born in. The 12 different months all have names reflecting qualities they have. Men have qualities of the month they are born in.
Relation of the voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo 1542 – 1543
In: Spanish Exploration in the Southwest 1542 – 1706, edited by Herbert Eugene Bolton, Scribner’s Sons New York 1916
On the following Thursday they went about six leagues along the coast running north northwest, and discovered a port, closed and very good, which they named San Miguel. It is in thirty four and one third degrees. Having cast anchor in it, they went ashore where there were people. Three of them waited, but all the rest fled. To these three they gave some presents and they said by signs that in the interior men like the Spaniards had passed. They gave signs of great fear. On the night of this day they went ashore from the ships to fish with a net, and it appears that here there were some Indians, and they began to shoot at them with arrows and wounded three men.
Next day in the morning they went with the boat farther into the port, which is large, and brought two boys, who understood nothing by signs. They gave them both shirts and sent them away immediately.
Next day in the morning three adult Indians came to the ships and said by signs that in the interior men like us were traveling about, bearded, clothed, and armed like those of the ships. They made signs that they carried crossbows and swords; and they made gestures with the right arm as if they were throwing lances, and ran around as if they were on horseback. They made signs that they were killing many native Indians, and for this reason they were afraid. These people are comely and large. They go about covered with the skins of animals.
At daybreak on Saturday, the seventh month of October, they were at the islands which they named San Salvador and La Victoria. They anchored at one of them and went ashore with the boat to see if there were people; and when the boat came near, a great number of Indians emerged from the bushes and grass, shouting, dancing, and making signs that they should land. As they saw that the women were fleeing, from the boats they made signs that they should not be afraid. Immediately they were reassured, and laid their bows and arrows on the ground and launched into the water a good canoe which held eight or 10 Indians, and came to the ships. They gave them beads and other articles, with which they were pleased, and then they returned. Afterward the Spaniards went ashore, and they, the Indian women, and all felt very secure. Here an old Indian made signs to them that men like the Spaniards, clothed and bearded, were going about on the mainland. They remained on this island until midday.
On the following Sunday, the eighth of said month, they drew near to the mainland in a large bay which they called the Bay of Los Fumos, (Bay of the Smokes), because of the many smokes which they saw on it. Here they held a colloquy with some Indians whom they captured in a canoe, and who made signs that toward the north there were Spaniards like them. This bay is in 35° and is a good port, and the country is good, with many valleys, plains, and groves.
… We saw on the land a pueblo of Indians close to the sea, the houses being large like those of New Spain. They anchored in front of a very large valley on the coast. Here there came to the ships many very good canoes, each of which held 12 or 13 Indians; they told them of Christians who were going about in the interior. The coast runs from Northwest to Southeast. Here they gave them presents, with which they were greatly pleased. They indicated by signs that in seven days they would go to where the Spaniards were, and Juan Rodriguez decided to send two Spaniards into the interior. They also indicated that there was a great river. With these Indians they sent a letter at a venture to the Christians. They named this town the Pueblo of Los Canoas. The Indians dress in skins of animals; they are fishermen and eat raw fish; they were eating maguey also….
… All this coast which they have passed is very thickly settled. The Indians brought for them many sardines, fresh and very good. They say that in the interior there are many pueblos and abundant food. They ate no maize. They were dressed in skins, and wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings interwoven with the hair, there being attached to the strings many gew gaws of flint, bone, and wood. The country appears to be very fine.
The Serrano (Spanish for mountain people) ranged over the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California–Their relatives the Vanyume are little known because they were devastated by the European conquest–They ranged out over the Mojave Desert–Here is part of the Serrano creation story–It has elements found in most Southern California Creation stories–The dying god–twin gods–the cremation with Coyote eating Creator’s heart
Serrano Creation Story – – Adapted from the Telling of Ruth Benedict
In the beginning, in the darkness, the two creator god’s, Pakrokitatc and Kukitatc made the nonhuman persons, the animals. Kukitatc stayed with his people and he said that when they died they would come back.
The people decided to kill Kukitatc because the world would become overpopulated. They got a shaman to do the job. The shaman saw that Kukitatc went out every night and defecated in the ocean. He sent Frog to eat his excrement.
When Kukitatc went to the ocean he did not hear his excrement splash in the water. He knew that Frog was below and that he was going to die. He told the people to cremate him but to send Coyote to the north to gather wood. Coyote set out and the people lit the pyre. The people stood around the fire so Coyote could not get through before the body was burned.
Coyote circled the ring and until he found his opportunity: he slipped between Badger’s bowed legs and snatched Kukitatc’s heart. He ran off and ate it.