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The Creator

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



In the congeries of West-Coast peoples it is inevitable that there should be diversity in the conception of creation and creator, even in the presence of a general and family likeness. But the differences in the main follow geographical lines. To the south, while creation is definitely conceived as a primal act, the creative beings are of animal or of bird form, for the winged demiurge is characteristic of the Pacific Coast through-out its length. In the central region of California and Oregon the creator is imaged in anthropomorphic aspect, the animals being assistants or clumsy obstructionists in his work. To the north, and along the coast, the legend of creation fades into a delineation of the First People, whose deeds set a pattern for mankind.

Tribes of the southerly stocks very generally believed in primordial waters, the waters of the chaos before Earth or of the flood enveloping it. Above this certain beings dwell — the Coyote and the birds. In some versions they occupy a mountain peak that pierces the waves, and on this height they abide until the flood subsides; in others, they float on a raft or rest upon a pole or a tree that rises above the waters. In the latter case, the birds dive for soil from which to build the earth; it is the Duck that succeeds, floating to the surface dead, but with a bit of soil in its bill — like the Muskrat in the east-ern American deluge-tales. The Eagle, the Hawk, the Crow, and the Humming-Bird are the winged folk who figure chiefly in these stories, with the Eagle in the more kingly rτle; but it is Coyote — though he is sometimes absent, his place being taken by birds — who is the creator and shaper and magic plotter of the way of life.

In the region northward from the latitude of San Francisco — among the Maidu, Pomo, Wintun, Yana, and neighbouring tribes — the Coyote-Man, while still an important demiurgic being, sinks to a secondary place; his deeds thwart rather than help the beneficent intentions of the creator, toil, pain, and death being due to his interference. "I was the oldest in the olden time, and if a person die he must be dead," says Coyote to Earth-Maker in a Maidu myth, reported by Dixon." The first act of this Maidu creation already implies the covert antagonism:

"When this world was filled with water, Earth-Maker floated upon it, kept floating about. Nowhere in the world could he see even a tiny bit of earth. No person of any kind flew about. He went about in this world, the world itself being invisible, transparent like the sky. He was troubled. `I wonder how, I wonder where, I wonder in what place, in what country we shall find a world!' he said. `You are a very strong man, to be thinking of this world,' said Coyote. `I am guessing in what direction the world is, then to that distant land let us float!' said Earth-Maker." The two float about seeking the earth and singing songs : "Where, O world, art thou ?" "Where are you, my great mountains, my world mountains?" "As they floated along, they saw something like a bird's nest. `Well that is very small,said Earth-Maker. `It is small. If it were larger I could fix it. But it is too small,' he said. `I wonder how I can stretch it a little!' He extended a rope to the east, to the south he extended a rope, to the west, to the northwest, and to the north he extended ropes. When all were stretched, he said, `Well, sing, you who were the finder of this earth, this mud! In the long, long ago, Robin-Man made the world, stuck earth together, making this world." Thus mortal men shall say of you, in myth-telling.' Then Robin sang, and his world-making song sounded sweet. After the ropes were all stretched, he kept singing; then, after a time, he ceased. Then Earth-Maker spoke to Coyote also. `Do you sing, too,' he said. So he sang, singing, `My world where one travels by the valley-edge; my world of many foggy mountains; my world where one goes zigzagging hither and thither; range after range,' he said, `I sing of the country I shall travel in. In such a world I shall wander,' he said. Then Earth-Maker sang — sang of the world he had made, kept singing, until by and by he ceased. `Now,' he said, `it would be well if the world were a little larger. Let us stretch it!' `Stop!' said Coyote. `I speak wisely. The world ought to be painted with something so that it may look pretty. What do ye two think?' Then Robin-Man said, `I am one who knows nothing. Ye two are clever men, making this world, talking it over; if ye find anything evil, ye will make it good.' `Very well,' said Coyote, `I will paint it with blood. There shall be blood in the world; and people shall be born there, having blood. There shall be birds born who shall have blood. Everything — deer, all kinds of game, all sorts of men without any exception — all things shall have blood that are to be created in this world. And in another place, making it red, there shall be red rocks. It will be as if blood were mixed up with the world, and thus the world will be beautiful!' After this Earth-Maker stretched the world, and he inspected his work, journeying through all its parts, and he created man-beings in pairs to people earth's regions, each with a folk speaking differently. Then he addressed the last-created pair, saying: "`Now, wherever I have passed along, there shall never be a lack of anything,' he said, and made motions in all directions. `The country where I have been shall be one where nothing is ever lacking. I have finished talking to you, and I say to you that ye shall remain where ye are to be born. Ye are the last people; and while ye are to remain where ye are created, I shall return, and stay there. When this world becomes bad, I will make it over again; and after I make it, ye shall be born,' he said. (Long ago Coyote suspected this, they say.) `This world will shake,' he said. `This world is spread out flat, the world is not stable. After this world is all made, by and by, after a long time, I will pull this rope a little, then the world shall be firm. I, pulling on my rope, shall make it shake. And now,' he said, `there shall be songs, they shall not be lacking, ye shall have them.' And he sang, and kept on singing until he ceased singing. `Ye mortal men shall have this song,' he said, and then he sang another; and singing many different songs, he walked along, kept walking until he reached the middle of the world; and there, sitting down over across from it, he remained."

In another myth of the Maidu, Earth-Maker descends from heaven by a feather rope to a raft upon which Turtle and a sorcerer are afloat. Earth-Maker creates the world from mud brought up by the Turtle, who dives for it, and Coyote issues from the Underworld to introduce toil and death among men. The Maidu Earth-Maker has close parallels among neighbouring tribes,' perhaps the most exalted being Olelbis, of the Wintun: "The first that we know of Olelbis is that he was in Olelpanti. Whether he lived in another place is not known, but in the beginning he was in Olelpanti (on the upper side), the highest place." Thus begins Curtin's rendering of the myth of creation. The companions of Olelbis in this heaven-world — completing the triad which so often recurs in Californian cosmogonies — are two old women, with whose aid he builds a wonderful sweat-house in the sky: its pillars are six great oaks; its roof is their intertwining branches, from which fall endless acorns; it is bound above with beautiful flowers, and its four walls are screens of flowers woven by the two women; "all kinds of flowers that are in the world now were gathered around the foot of that sweat-house, an enormous bank of them; every beautiful color and every sweet odor in the world was there." The sweat-house grew until it became wonderful in size and splendour, the largest and most beautiful thing in the world, placed there to last forever — perhaps the most charmingly pictured Paradise in Indian myth.

Other creators, in the myths of this region, are Taikomol, He-Who-Goes-Alone, of the Yuki; Yimantuwinyai, Old-One-Across-the-Ocean, of the Hupa; K'mukamtch, Old Man, of the Klamath, tricky rather than edifying in character; and the Wishosk Maker Gudatrigakwitl, Old-Man-Above, who per-forms his creative work by "joining his hands and spreading them out." Among these the Hupa creator seems not to have existed forever: "It was at Tcoxoltcwedin he came into being. From the earth behind the inner house wall he sprang into existence. There was a ringing noise like the striking together of metals at his birth. Before his coming smoke had settled on the mountain side. Rotten pieces of wood thrown up by someone fell into his hands. Where they fell there was fire." This surely implies a volcanic birth of the universe, natural enough in a land where earthquakes are common and volcanoes not extinct. Something of the same suggestion is conveyed by a myth of the neighbouring Coos Indians, in which the world is created by two brothers on a foundation of pieces of soot cast upon the waters. In this Kusan myth the third person of the recurrent Californian triad is a medicine-man with a red-painted face, whom the brothers slay, spilling his blood in all directions — an episode reminiscent of the rτle of Coyote in the Maidu genesis. When the world is completed, the brothers shoot arrows upward toward the heavens, each successive bolt striking into the shaft of the one above, and thus they build a ladder by means of which they ascend into the sky.



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