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The Navaho Genesis

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The Navaho believe that the world is built in a sequence of storeys, the fifth of these being the earth on which men now dwell. The genesis-legend of this tribe divides into four episodic tales, the first of which, the Age of Beginnings, narrates the ascent of the progenitors of Earth's inhabitants from storey to storey of the Underworld, and their final emergence upon Earth. The second, the Age of Animal Heroes, tells of the setting in order of Earth, its illumination by the heavenly bodies, and the adventures of its early inhabitants. The third, the Age of the Gods, recounts the slaying of the giants and other monsters by the War-Gods and the final departure of the great goddess to the West. The fourth, the Patriarchal Age, chronicles the growth of the Navaho nation in the days of its early wanderings; to this age, too, belong most of the revelations which prophets and visionaries bring back in the form of rites, acquired in their visits to the abodes of the gods.

The lowest of the world-storeys, where the Navaho myth begins, was red in colour, and in its centre was a spring from which four streams flowed, one to each of the cardinal points, while oceans bordered the land on all sides. Tieholtsodi, the water monster, the Blue Heron, Frog, and Thunder were chiefs in this world; while the people who "started in life there" were ants, beetles, dragon-flies, locusts, and bats (though some say First Man, First Woman, and Coyote were in existence even here). For the sin of adultery these people were driven out by a flood raised by the Underworld gods, and as they flew upward, seeking a place of escape, a blue head was thrust from the sky and directed them to a hole leading into the next storey. This second world was blue, and was inhabited by the Swallow People. Here they lived till, on the twenty-fourth night, one of the strangers made free with the wife of the Swallow chief; and they were commanded to leave. Again they flew upward, and again a voice — that of Niltshi, the Wind — directed them to an opening by which they escaped into the third storey. Here they were in a yellow world, inhabited by Grasshoppers; but exactly what happened in the world below was repeated here, and once more directed by a Wind they flew up into the fourth storey, which was all-coloured."

The fourth world was larger than the others and had a snow-covered mountain at each of the cardinal points. Its in-habitants were Kisani (Pueblo Indians), who possessed cultivated fields and gave the wanderers maize and pumpkins. The four gods of this world were White Body, Blue Body, Yellow Body, and Black Body, and these created Atse Hastin (First Man) and Atse Estsan (First Woman), from ears of white and yellow maize respectively. To this pair came five births of twins, of whom the first were hermaphrodites, who invented pottery and the wicker water-bottle. The other twins inter-married with the Mirage People, who dwelt in this world, and with the Kisani, and soon there was a multitude of people under the chieftainship of First Man.

"One day they saw the Sky stooping down and the Earth rising to meet it." At the point of contact Coyote and Badger sprang down from the world above; Badger descended into the world below, but Coyote remained with the people. It was at this time that the men and women quarrelled and tried the experiment of living apart; at first the women had plenty of food, but eventually they were starving and rejoined the men. Two girls, however, who were the last to cross the stream that had separated the sexes, were seized by Tieholtsodi, and dragged beneath the waters. Guided by the gods, a man and a woman descended to recover them, but Coyote surreptitiously accompanied them and, unperceived, stole two of the offspring of the Water Monster. Shortly afterward, a flood was sent by the Monster, "high as mountains encircling the whole horizon." The people fled to a hill and various animals. attempted to provide a means of escape by causing trees to outgrow the rising waters, but it was not until two men appeared, bearing earth from the seven sacred mountains of what is now the Navaho's land, that a soil was made from which grew a huge hollow reed, reaching to the sky. The last of the people were scarcely in this stalk, and the opening closed, before they heard the loud noise of the surging waters outside. But there was still no opening in the sky above. They sent up the Great Hawk, who clawed the heaven till he could see light shining through; the Locust followed, and made a tiny passage to the world above, where he was met by four Grebes from the four quarters, and in a magic contest won half of their world; finally, the Badger enlarged the hole so that people could go through, and all climbed into the fifth world, whose surface is our earth.

The place of emergence was an islet in the middle of a lake, but the gods opened a passage, and they crossed to the shores. It was here that they sought to divine their fate, and a hide-scraper was thrown into the water: "If it sinks we perish, if it floats we live." It floated, but Coyote cast in a stone, saying, "Let me divine: if it sinks we perish, if it floats we live." It sank, and in answer to the execrations of the people, he said: "If we all live and continue to increase, the earth will soon be too small to hold us. It is better that each of us should live but a time on this earth and make room for our children."

But the peril of the flood was not yet escaped, for waters were observed welling up from the hole of emergence. Then it was discovered that Coyote had with him the stolen off-spring of Tieholtsodi. At once the people threw them into the hole, and with a deafening roar the waters subsided. Shortly after this, the first death occurred, and two hunters, looking down into the lower world, beheld the deceased combing her hair, as she sat beside a river. The two men died very soon; so that the people knew that a ghost is a thing ill seen.

First Man and First Woman, Black Body and Blue Body, built the seven mountains of the Navaho land, one at each cardinal point, and three in the centre. "Through Tsisnadzini [Pelado Peak, New Mexico], in the east, they ran a bolt of lightning to fasten it to earth. They decorated it with white shells, white lightning, white corn, dark clouds, and he-rain. They set a big bowl of shell on its summit, and in it they put two eggs of the Pigeon to make feathers for the mountain. The eggs they covered with a sacred buckskin to make them hatch [there are many wild pigeons in this mountain now]. All these things they covered with a sheet of daylight, and they put the Rock-Crystal Boy and the Rock-Crystal Girl into the mountain to dwell."" Mount Taylor, of the San Mateo range, is the southern mountain, and this was pinned to earth with a great stone knife, adorned with turquoise, mist, and she-rain, nested with bluebird's eggs, guarded by Turquoise Boy and Corn Girl, and covered with a blanket of blue sky. San Francisco, in Arizona, the mountain of the west, was bound with a sunbeam, decked with haliotis shell, clouds, he-rain, yellow maize and animals, nested with eggs of the Yellow Warbler, spread with yellow cloud, and made the home of White-Corn Boy and Yellow-Corn Girl. San Juan, in the north, was fastened with a rainbow, adorned with black beads, nested with eggs of the Blackbird, sheeted with darkness, and made the abode of Pollen Boy and Grasshopper Girl. In a similar fashion the three central mountains were built.

The Sun-Disk, the Moon-Disk, and the Stars were then made by First Man and First Woman, and two men from among the people were appointed to be the Sun-Carrier and the Moon-Carrier, these being the same two men who had caused the reed to grow, by means of which the folk had ascended from the world below.

The earth was now formed, but its inhabitants were not yet in order. The myth goes on to tell of the birth of the giants and other man-devouring monsters — the dread Anaye. They were the offspring of women who had resorted to evil practices during the separation of the sexes in the world below. The first-born was the headless and hairy being, Theelgeth; the second the harpylike Tsanahale, with feathered back; the third was the giant whose hair grew into the rock, so that he could not fall, and who kicked people from the cliff as they passed; the fourth birth produced the limbless twins, the Binaye Ahani, who slew with their eyes; and there were many other monsters besides these, born of sinful women to become destroyers of men.

The next event in this age was the descent of a gambler from the heavens, He-Who-Wins-Men, who enslaved the greater part of mankind by inducing them to bet their freedom. Now we first hear of the beneficent Yei, Hastsheyalti and Hastshehogan, with their assistants, Wind, Darkness, the animal-gods, and others. By their aid a young Navaho defeated the Gambler, and with a magic bow shot him into the sky whence he came, and whence he was sent back into the world to become the ruler of the Mexicans.

Coyote now appears upon the scene in a series of ad-ventures such as are told of him by neighbouring tribes; the unsuccessful imitation of his host, in which Coyote comes in-gloriously to grief in endeavouring to entertain, first Porcupine, then Wolf, as they had entertained him; a tradition of Coyote's hunt, in which he rounds up game by driving them with fire from a faggot of shredded cedar-bark — a story with many resemblances to the Ute version of the theft of fire; the tale of the blinding of Coyote, who attempts to imitate birds whom he sees toss up their eyes and catch them again in the sockets, and of the substitution of gum eyes, which melt as fire is approached, for the eyes he has lost; the story of how Coyote killed a giant by pretending to break and heal his own leg, and inducing the giant to follow his example; and the legend, which is apparently a version of the fire-theft tale, of how Coyote marries a witch who is unable to kill him, is concealed by her from her man-devouring brothers, steals fire from their lodge, is persecuted by animals at the instigation of the brothers, and is avenged by his wife, who is transformed into a bear. The youngest brother, however, with the aid of the winds, escapes the Bear Woman and eventually kills her, causing her to live again in the form of the several animals, which spring from the parts of her body as he cuts it up.

Here end the adventures of the Age of Animals. The ensuing is the Age of the New Gods. The Yei, under the leadership of Hastsheyalti, create Estsanatlehi — the great goddess who rejuvenates herself whenever she grows old — from an image of turquoise, and her sister, Yolkai Estsan, from white shell. Each sister gives birth to a son; Estsanatlehi becomes the mother of Nayanezgani, whose father is the Sun; Yolkai Estsan of Thobadzistshini, Son of the Waters» Counselled by Niltshi, the Wind, and aided by Spider Woman, who gives them life-preserving feathers, the boys journey to the home of the Sun-Carrier — passing, with magic aids, clashing rocks which, like the Symplegades, close upon those who go between them; a plain of knifelike reeds and another of cane cactuses, which rush together and destroy travellers, and finally- a desert of boiling sands.' Bear guardians, serpent guardians, and lightning guardians still bar their way to the Sun's house, but these, too, they overcome by means of the Spider's spells. In the lodge of the Sun, which is of turquoise and stands on the shore of a great water, the children of the Sun-Carrier conceal them in a bundle; but the Sun-Carrier knew of their coming, and when he had arrived at the end of the day's journey, and had taken the Sun from his back and hung it on a peg on the west wall of his lodge, he took down the parcel.

"He first unrolled the robe of dawn with which they were covered, then the robe of blue sky, next the robe of yellow evening light, and lastly the robe of darkness." In a series of tests he tried to slay the boys, but, finding at last that he could not do so, he acceded to their request for weapons with which to fight the beings that were devouring mankind — armour from every joint of which lightning shot, a great stone knife, and arrows of lightning, of sunbeams, and of the rainbow. The brothers returned to earth on a lightning flash, and in a series of adventures, like the labours of Hercules, cleansed the world of the greater part of the man-devouring monsters which infested it. On a second visit to the Sun, they received four hoops by means of which their mother, Estsanatlehi, raised a great storm which brought to an end the Age of Monsters and formed the earth anew, shaping the canyons and hewing pillars of rock from the ancient bluffs. "Surely all the Anaye are now killed," said Estsanatlehi; but Old Age, Cold, Poverty, and Hunger still survived, and were allowed to live on; for should they be slain, they said, men would prize neither life nor warmth nor goods nor food.

When this had been accomplished, the brothers returned to the mountain which is their home, and whither warriors go to pray for success in war. Then the Sun-God, after creating the animals which inhabit the earth, departed for the far West where he had made a lodge, beyond the waters, for Estsanatlehi, who became his wife and the great goddess of the west, the source of the life-bringing rains. Every day, as he journeys toward the west, the Sun-Carrier sings:

"In my thoughts I approach,
The Sun-God approaches,
Earth's end he approaches,
Estsanatlehi's hearth approaches,
In old age walking the beautiful trail.

"In my thoughts I approach,
The Moon-God approaches,
Earth's end he approaches,
Yolkai Estsan's hearth approaches,
In old age walking the beautiful trail."

For Yolkai Estsan, too, became the bride of a god. But before she departed for the divine lodge, she remained for some time solitary. It was then, in the days of her loneliness, that Hastsheyalti came to her, and it was decided that a new race of men should be created. With the assistance of all the gods a man was formed from a white, and a woman from a yellow, ear of maize. Niltshi gave them the breath of life; the Rock-Crystal Boy gave them mind; the Grasshopper Girl gave them voices. Yolkai Estsan gave them fire and maize, and married the man to Ground-Heat Girl and the woman to Mirage Boy, and from these two couples is descended the first gens of the Navaho tribe — the House of the Dark Cliffs, "so named because the gods who created the first pair came from the cliff houses."



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