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Apache And Piman Mythology

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The mythology of the Apache, who like the Navaho are of Athapascan stock, is of the same general character as that of their kindred tribe, except that it lacks the organization and poetry of Navaho myth, and in general reflects the inferiority of Apache to Navaho culture. The same gods reappear, frequently with the same names; similar stories are told of them, though in a fragmentary fashion; rites and ceremonies show many common elements. Occasionally, an Apache version reveals a dramatic superiority to the Navaho, as in the Jicarilla story of the emergence, where a feeble old man and old woman were left behind when the First People ascended into this world. "Take us out," they called, but the people heeded them not, and the deserted ones cried after them, "You will come back here to me"; and now they are rulers of the dead in the lower world. Such improvements, however, are incidental; the bulk of Apache lore is on an inferior level, with an emphasis on the coarser elements and on the unedifying adventures and misadventures of Coyote.

Similar in grade is the mythology of the other two wide-spread stocks of the South-West, the Piman and Yuman, who occupy the territories to the west and south-west of the Navaho country, far into Mexico and Lower California, and who form, in all probability, the true autochthones of the arid region. In material culture these peoples are perhaps superior to the Apache, their hereditary foe, for they are successful agriculturists on the scale which their lands permit; yet they are in no sense the equals of the Navaho. Their mythology and religion have been slightly reported, but enough is known to make clear the general relations of their ideas.

Among tribes of the Piman stock Sun, Moon, and Morning Star are the great deities governing the world, while Earth Doctor and Elder Brother are the important heroes of demiurgic myth. The Moon is the wife of Father Sun, the pair being identified by some of the half-Christianized Mexican peoples with the Virgin and the Christian God. Coyote is the son of Sun and Moon according to the Pima, and all the tribes of this stock have their full quota of tales of Coyote and his kindred. The Devil is a mighty power in the eyes of the Tarahumare, a Mexican tribe of Piman stock, and no mean antagonist for Tata Dios ("Father God"), whom he slays twice before he is finally cast down. Death, it may be noted, is no annihilation in Piman view, for, as one shaman remarked, "the dead are very much alive." It is among the Cora of Mexico, that Chulavete, the Morning Star, is most important, though the other tribes recognize him (or her, for with the Pima "Visible Star" is a girl). Star-myths are found in various tribes, an interesting instance being the legend, which occurs in analogous forms in Tarahumare and Tepehuane lore, of the women who commit the sin of cannibalism and flee from their husbands into the heavens : there they are transformed into stars, the Pleiades or Orion's Belt, while the husband who has vainly pursued them is changed into a coyote. The use of the cross, apparently an ancient and indigenous symbol of the Sun Father, and the cult of the peyote (a species of plant, especially the cactus Lophophora Williamsii, used to exalt and intensify the imaginative faculties) are features of the ritual of tribes of this stock; the peyote, deified as Hikuli, the four-faced god who sees all things, being one of the important deities of the pagan Tarahumare.

Piman cosmogony contains the typically southwestern ascent of the First People from the Underworld and the universal story of the deluge, but the form and embellishment of these incidents are original. As told by a shaman of the Pima tribe: "In the beginning there was nothing where now are earth, sun, moon, stars, and all that we see. Ages long the darkness was gathering, until it formed a great mass in which developed the spirit of Earth Doctor, who, like the fluffy wisp of cotton that floats upon the wind, drifted to and fro without support or place to fix himself. Conscious of his power, he determined to try to build an abiding place, so he took from his breast a little dust and flattened it into a cake. Then he thought within himself, `Come forth, some kind of plant,' and there appeared the creosote bush." Three times the earth-disk upset, but the fourth time it remained where he had replaced it. "When the flat dust cake was still he danced upon it singing:

`Earth Magician shapes this world.
Behold what he can do!
Round and smooth he molds it.
Behold what he can do!

`Earth Magician makes the mountains.
Heed what he has to say!
He it is that makes the mesas.
Heed what he has to say!

`Earth Magician shapes this world;
Earth Magician makes its mountains;
Makes all larger, larger, larger.
Into the earth the magician glances;
Into its mountains he may see."

Assuredly this is an extraordinary genesis, with its conception of a primeval void and fiat creation, to come from the untaught natives, and it is possible that mission teachings may have influenced its form, though the matter seems to be aboriginal. The story goes on with the creation of insects; then of a sky-dome which the Earth Doctor commanded Spider to sew to the earth around the edges; then of sun, moon, and stars, the two first from blocks of ice flung into the heavens,

"I have made the sun!
I have made the sun!
Hurling it high
In the four directions.
To the east I threw it
To run its appointed course,"

the stars from water which he sprayed from his mouth. Next Earth Doctor created living beings, but they developed cannibalism and he destroyed them. Then he said: "I shall unite earth and sky; the earth shall be as a female and the sky as a male, and from their union shall be born one who shall be a helper to me. Let the sun be joined with the moon, also even as man is wedded to woman, and their offspring shall be a helper to me." is Earth gave birth to Elder Brother, who in true Olympian style later became more powerful than his creator; and Coyote was born from the Moon. Elder Brother created a handsome youth who seduced the daughter of South Doctor, and the unrestrainable tears of the child of this union threatened to destroy all life in a mighty flood. Elder Brother, however, escaped by enclosing himself in a pot which rolled about beneath the waters; Coyote made a raft of a log; while Earth Doctor led some of the people through a hole which he made to the other side of the earth-disk. After the flood Elder Brother was the first of the gods to appear, and he therefore became the ruler. He sent his subordinates in search of earth's navel, and when the central mountain had been discovered, they set about repeopling the world.

The myth continues with incidents having to do with the origin of fire and the cremation of the dead; the freeing of the animals, by the wile of Coyote, from the cave in which they were imprisoned; the coming of the wicked gambler, who is finally defeated and is changed into a vicious, man-devouring Eagle; the birth and destruction of a cannibal monster, Ha-ak, and the origin of tobacco from the grave of an old woman who had stolen Ha-ak's blood; and finally the destruction of Elder Brother by the Vulture, his journey to the underworld, and his return to conquer the land with the aid of some of the antediluvians who had escaped to the other side of the world.



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