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Yuman Mythology

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The tribes of the Yuman stock — of which the Mohave, Maricopa, Havasupai, Walapai, Diegueño, and Yuma proper are the most important in the United States — occupy territory extending from the southern Californian coast and the peninsula of Lower California eastward into the arid high-lands. Geographically they are thus a connecting link between the tribes of the South-West and the Californian stocks, and their customs and beliefs show relation to both groups; but their traditions assign their origin to the inland, and because of this and of their great territorial extension, which is in contrast with the limited areas held by the stocks of the coastal region, they may best be classed with the tribes of the desert region.

The little that is recorded of their mythology tells of a time when Earth was a woman and Sky was a man. Earth conceived (some say from a drop of rain that fell upon her while she slept), and twin sons were born of her (some say from a volcano), Kukumatz and Tochipa (Mohave), or Hokomata and Tochopa (Walapai, etc.). Earth at this time was close in the embrace of Sky, and the first task of the twins was to raise the heavens, after which they set the cardinal points, defined the land, and created its inhabitants though the Mohave say that the First People were created by Mustamho, who was himself the son of a second generation born of Earth and Sky; and the Walapai tell how the first man, Kathatakanave, Taught-by-Coyote, issued with his friend Coyote from the Grand Canyon.

The Walapai myth goes on to recount how Kathatakanave prayed to Those Above (the di superi) to create companions for him; how Coyote broke the spell by speaking before all men had been created and so slunk away, ashamed; how Tochopa instructed the human race in the arts and was beloved accordingly, and how Hokomata out of jealousy taught them war and thus brought about the division of mankind. The Havasupai tell also of the feud between the brothers, and that Hokomata in his rage brought about a deluge which destroyed the world. Before the waters came, however, Tochopa sealed his beloved daughter, Pukeheh, in a hollow log, from which she emerged when the flood had subsided; she gave birth to a boy, whose father was the sun, and to a girl, whose father was a waterfall (whence Havasupai women have ever been called "Daughters of the Water"); and from these two the world was repeopled. In the Mohave version, Mustamho took the people in his arms and carried them until the waters abated.

The origin of death is told by the Diegueño. "Tuchaipai thought to himself, `If all my sons do not have enough food and drink, what will become of them?' He gave men the choice of living forever, dying temporarily, and final death; but while they were debating the question, the Fly said, "`Oh, you men, what are you talking so much about? Tell him you want to die forever. This is the reason why the fly rubs his hands together. He is begging forgiveness of the people for these words."

Another myth, which the Yuman tribes share with the Piman, tells of Coyote's theft of the heart from a burning corpse. As the Diegueño tell it, it is Tuchaipai, slain through the malevolence of the Frog, whose body is placed upon the pyre; the Mohave recount the same event of the remains of Matyavela, the father of Mustamho, who may be a doublet of Tuchaipai, or Tochipa. When the pyre is ready, Coyote is sent away on an invented errand, for his presence is feared; but seeing the smoke of the cremation, he hurries back in time to snatch the heart from the burning body, and this he carries off to the mountains. " For this reason men hate the Coyote." It is tempting to see in this myth, coming to peoples whose kindred extend far into Mexico, some relation to the Nahuatlan human sacrifice, in which the heart was torn from the victim's body, which was not infrequently thereafter burned.



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