Saturday, March 17, 2012

Creation Myths of Primitive America, by Jeremiah Curtin - Full Text

INTRODUCTION

Decoration
THE creation myths of America form a complete system; they give a detailed and circumstantial account of the origin of this world and of all things and creatures contained in it. In the course of the various narratives which compose this myth system an earlier world is described to us, with an order of existence and a method of conduct on which the life of primitive man in America was patterned.
That earlier world had two periods of duration,—one of complete and perfect harmony; another of violence, collision, and conflict. The result and outcome of the second period was the creation of all that is animated on earth except man. Man, in the American scheme of creation, stands apart and separate; he is quite alone, peculiar, and special. Above all, he belongs to this continent. The white man was unknown to American myth-makers, as were also men of every other race and of every region outside of the Western Hemisphere.
Described briefly and by an Indian, the American myth system is as follows: “There was a world before this one in which we are living at present; that was the world of the first people, who were[xii]different from us altogether. Those people were very numerous, so numerous that if a count could be made of all the stars in the sky, all the feathers on birds, all the hairs and fur on animals, all the hairs of our own heads, they would not be so numerous as the first people.”
These people lived very long in peace, in concord, in harmony, in happiness. No man knows, no man can tell, how long they lived in that way. At last the minds of all except a very small number were changed; they fell into conflict,—one offended another consciously or unconsciously, one injured another with or without intention, one wanted some special thing, another wanted that very thing also. Conflict set in, and because of this came a time of activity and struggle, to which there was no end or stop till the great majority of the first people—that is, all except a small number—were turned into the various kinds of living creatures that are on earth now or have ever been on earth, except man,—that is, all kinds of beasts, birds, reptiles, fish, worms, and insects, as well as trees, plants, grasses, rocks, and some mountains; they were turned into everything that we see on the earth or in the sky.
That small number of the former people who did not quarrel, those great first people of the old time who remained of one mind and harmonious, “left the earth, sailed away westward, passed that line where the sky comes down to the earth and touches it, sailed to places beyond; stayed there or withdrew to upper regions and lived in them happily, lived in[xiii]agreement, live so to-day, and will live in the same way hereafter.”
The American system, as we see, begins with an unknown great, indefinite number of uncreated beings,—in other words, of self-existent personages or divinities. Those divinities were everything at first; there was nothing except them, nothing aside from them, nothing beyond them. They existed unchanged through untold periods, or rather through a duration which would be periods were there a measure by which to divide it. They lived side by side in perfect concord, in the repose of a primeval chaos of quiescent mind which presents a most remarkable analogy with the attenuated, quiescent, undifferentiated matter which, according to the nebular hypothesis, filled all points of space in the physical universe before the first impulse of motion was given to it.
At last this long period is ended, there is mental difference among most of the first people, character is evolved and has become evident; rivalries, collisions, and conflicts begin.
The American creation myths, as far as we know them, form simply a series of accounts of the conflicts, happenings, and various methods by which the first world was changed into the world now existing. This change was effected in various ways. In the myths of certain tribes or nations, it is mainly by struggles between hostile personages. One god of great power and character overcomes a vast number of opponents, and changes each into some beast,[xiv]bird, plant, or insect; but always the resultant beast or other creature corresponds in some power of mind or in some leading quality of character with the god from whose position it has fallen. In certain single cases opponents are closely matched, they are nearly equal in combat; the struggle between them is long, uncertain, and difficult. At last, when one side is triumphant, the victor says, “Hereafter you will be nothing but a ——”; and he tells what the vanquished is to be. But at this point the vanquished turns on the victor and sends his retort like a Parthian arrow, “You will be nothing but a ——”; and he declares what his enemy is to be. The metamorphosis takes place immediately on both sides, and each departs in the form which the enemy seemed to impose, but which really belonged to him.
There are cases in which the hero transforms numerous and mighty enemies indirectly through a special wish which he possesses. For example, a certain myth hero brings it about that a large company of the first people are invited to a feast, and while all are eating with great relish he slips out unnoted, walks around the house, and utters, as he goes, the magic formula: “I wish the walls of this house to be flint, the roof also.” Next moment the whole house is flint-walled, the roof is flint also. After that he says, “I wish this house to be red-hot.”It is red-hot immediately. His enemies inside are in a dreadful predicament; they rush about wildly, they roar, they look for an opening;[xv]there is none, they see no escape, they find no issue. Their heads burst from heat. Out of one head springs an owl, and flies away through the smoke-hole; out of another a buzzard, which escapes through the same place; out of the third comes a hawk, which follows the other two; out of a fourth some other bird. Thus the action continues till every head in the flint house bursts open and lets out its occupant. All fly away, and thus the whole company is metamorphosed. Each turns into that which his qualities called for, which his nature demanded; he becomes outwardly and visibly that which before he had been internally and in secret.
The hero in the above case could not wish his opponents metamorphosed directly, he could not wish this whenever he pleased or wherever he met the great company; he had to induce them to enter the house, which he turned by his wish into flint and then heated. When the moment of terrible anguish came on them, the true nature of each of those people grew evident; each head burst open, and out sprang the real person.
All those of the first people whose minds had been modified, who, so to speak, had grown specialized internally, who were different from that which they had been to start with, were forced to change also externally, and could not escape or avoid that great power whose shadow was approaching; their destiny was on them, and they felt it.
In the Wintu system, one of the two which are set forth in this volume, nearly all changes were[xvi]effected by Olelbis; but there are examples of agents with other means. Tulchuherris turns old Tichelis into a ground-squirrel at the climax of his perfidy. He changes Hawt, the porter at the dangerous river, into a lamprey eel, whose children are to be eaten by Indians in the future. Old Sas, the false and vain chief in Saskewil, is beaten by his son-in-law, and receives his present form of sun and moon at the end of a long and bitter struggle, in which strength, wit, and keenness use the very last of their resources.
There are cases in which some of the first people are so modified mentally that they are conscious of what has happened within them. They are ready for the change, they are willing to undergo it; but there is no immediate occasion, no impending struggle in which an opponent could have the chance to transform them. These people transform themselves by the utterance of a wish, and produce their own metamorphoses. There are still others who know, as do all, that a new race is coming, that they will be changed when it comes unless they are changed some time earlier. They know that they must be changed as soon as they see the new people or a sign or a mark of their coming. These unchanged first people, few in number comparatively, attempt to escape; but their attempts are vain, their efforts are useless. In the distant east they see smoke from the fires of the advancing new people, the Indians of America, or hear the barking of the dogs of this people, and that instant they[xvii]receive the forms which are due them. Others escape for a season and hide in dark places; but the Indians go everywhere, and the metamorphoses continue till the career of the first people is ended.
I have in mind at this moment a representative picture of this last group of persons who were unwilling to be metamorphosed and strove to avoid the new race, the inevitable Indians. They had no desire to see men, and they fled to all sorts of lonely retreats and remote forest places. At a certain point on the Klamath is a rough mountain slope which rises abruptly from the water; far up, well toward the ridge, about seven-eighths of the way from the river to the summit, is a bulky high stone which seen from a distance looks much like a statue. Close behind is another stone, somewhat smaller, which leans forward in the posture of a person hastening eagerly. Both are white and shining; they have the appearance of quartz rock. These were two sisters hastening, rushing away to escape the coming change. When they reached the points where they are standing at present, the foremost sister looked toward the east and saw smoke; the second did not look, but she heard the distant barking of dogs which came from the place where the smoke was; both were changed into stone that same instant.
With the transformation of the last of the first people or divinities, which was finished only when the Indians or some sign of them appeared in every remote nook and corner in which a remnant of the first people had taken refuge, the present order of[xviii]things is established completely. There are now in the world individualities of three distinct sets and orders. First, that small number of the first people whose minds had never changed, those gods who withdrew and who live in their original integrity and harmony, who retired to places outside the sky or above it; second, the great majority of the gods, who have become everything in the present world save and except only Indians. This cycle finished, there is a new point of departure, and we meet a second group of myths concerning the existent world as it is now with its happenings,—myths containing accounts of conflicts which are ever recurrent, which began before all the first people were metamorphosed, conflicts which are going on at present and which will go on forever; struggles between light and darkness, heat and cold, summer and winter, struggles between winds which blow in opposite directions,—in fact, accounts of various phenomena and processes which attract the attention of savage men more than others because savage men are living face to face with them always.
This second group contains a large number of myths, many of them exceedingly beautiful and, so far as they are known, highly pleasing to cultivated people. Unfortunately few of these myths have been given to the world yet, for the sole and simple reason that comparatively few have been collected from the Indians.
The first cycle of myths—that is, those which refer to creation, in other words to the metamorphoses of[xix]the first people or gods into everything which is in the world, including the world itself—is succeeded by another in which are described the various changes, phenomena, and processes observed throughout nature.
In this second cycle, as I have just stated, light and darkness, heat and cold, opposing winds, heavenly bodies appear as heroes and leading actors. For ages the reverence, sympathy, and enthusiasm of primitive men have been given to those heroes, and are given to them yet, by every tribe which preserves its ancient beliefs and ideas.
In this cycle is one small group of myths which to the Indian is very sacred, a group which in many tribes is revered beyond others. This group associates the earth with the sky and sun considered as one person, or the sky and sun considered as distinct from each other. To these are added one, and sometimes two personages born of the earth. In the simplest version of this myth the earth maiden through being looked at by the sun becomes a mother, gives birth to a great hero, the chief benefactor of Indians. This hero gives the race all gifts that support existence, and it is through him that men live and prosper. Under whatever name he appears this benefactor is really that warm light which we see quivering, waving, and dancing above the earth in fine weather. He is the son of the virgin earth, of that mother who has never known a consort save the one who looked from the height of heaven on her.
[xx]The lives of the first people are described in creation myths, and presented as models upon which faithful Indians are to fashion their lives at all times and places. All institutions of primitive man in America were patterned upon those of “the first people.” Every act of an Indian in peace or in war, as an individual or as a member of a tribe, had its only sanction in the world of the first people, the American divinities.
There was not on this continent one institution, observance, right, or custom which was not god-given, theoretically. The Indians of America always acted in a prescribed manner on a given occasion, because the gods of the world which preceded this had acted in the same manner in similar conditions and circumstances.
No people could be more religious than those of this continent, for there was no act of any kind in life during which they were free of religious direction. The source of this religion is in the myths, and in the explanations concerning them given by wise men,—in other words, by sorcerers.
What shall we say of this Indian system, and what is its value?
The first to be said is that it is complete, and for every Indian believer well-founded and symmetrically developed. In the primitive religion of America there is no speculation, all is simple statement; there are no abstractions, qualities are always connected with persons.
Indians believe that the whole immense body of[xxi]myths was delivered to them by the first people in one place or another. Among the Iroquois there is a detailed account of how myths were told to an ancient chief and an assembly of the people on a circular open space in a deep forest. On this space was a large wheel-shaped stone. From beneath this stone came a voice which told the tale of the former world, told how the first people had become what they are at present.
Day after day the chief and the people came to the stone, sat, and listened till the whole cycle of tales was narrated.
On the Lower Klamath is a very old, immense tree, which has given an account of the first world and people. This tree itself is one of the first people metamorphosed; no one knows what its age is. Sorcerers go to it yearly, hold converse, put questions, receive answers. Each year a small stone is added to a pile in which there are thousands of pebbles, apparently. This pile stands near the tree; no one is permitted to count the stones in it. The pile is sacred; once a stone is placed with the others, it must stay there forever.
This sacred tree has told tales of the first world,—the tales known to Weitspekan Indians and revered by them.
On the Upper Columbia is a great rock which resembles an elk somewhat. This rock is also an oracle, one of the first people; like the round stone of the Iroquois, it has told of the first world, and its tales all belong to the Shahaptians.
[xxii]The Indian system has its plain and clear revelation; for believers it has tangible and undoubted connection with the world which preceded the present one. Its narratives explain how in one place and another the first people revealed the tale of the world’s transformation.
For the Indian this is all-satisfactory. He has a system which is perfect, extensive, rich in details, full of interest,—a system which gives proofs of its origin through testimony delivered by divinities. It was revealed to the wise men, the worthies, the patriarchs of his race. What more could he wish for? What more could he ask? Nothing. The wisdom of his nation is more valid, more reliable than the witness of his own senses. His eyes and ears might be deceived by tricksters, but not by the truth delivered to great men among his own people, preserved by them sacredly and passed down to others.
This is the position of the Indian. He believes in his own system fully. How are we to relate ourselves to that system and its contents? What should we think of it? How was it conceived, how developed?
We do not believe in an Indian first world nor a previous people turned into animals, plants, insects, birds, fish, and reptiles. We have no ancestors who founded that system; we possess no traditions that came from it, no beliefs that are based on its teachings, no faith in its sorcerers, no dread of their workings. Any statement as to how the Indian[xxiii]system was conceived and how it was developed is very different in character from a statement of what the Indian system is externally and on the basis of its own story.
In presenting the system from the purely formal side we are dealing with simple facts, which we collect and range in order. Once we possess these ordered facts, we have the externals of everything Indian,—not only religion, but medicine, politics, social life. We might stop there and say, This is the system. But from our point of view we are forced to go further, we must seek explanations. We form no part of the Indian assembly of believers, we have no faith in their system except to show us what the Indian mind is; hence we are forced to ask how the Indian founded his religion and evolved it, we are forced to look for its origin and meaning. We give no credence to his tale of revelation; we are certain that he himself—that is, his race—began the system, that it was developed from insignificant beginnings, and increased through lengthy periods till it reached its present form and fulness. We have not the details of how he acted, but we know where the myth-maker had to begin, and we see what he has effected.
The physical universe was for myth-makers of the old time in America the same in principle that it is for us to-day, the visible result and expression of unseen power and qualities. The difference between us and them is determined by the things that we see and the way in which we apprehend them.
[xxiv]What did the ancient myth-makers say of this universe, and what interest or value has their statement for us at this moment?
The primitive men of America saw before them forests, plains, deserts, mountains, lakes, and rivers of various sizes, from the smallest to the greatest; they lived in climates varying from the coldest and most inclement to the hottest and most difficult of endurance. They saw around them on all sides a world far more hostile than friendly,—a world of savage beasts, wild creatures, poisonous reptiles, deadly insects. Each creature, every plant had its own fixed and settled character, its own aim and object. Whence came beasts good for food or clothing; whence others dangerous to life, beasts to be slain or avoided? Whence came trees and plants of various kinds and uses? Whence came sweetness in the maple or bitterness and poison in another tree? What is the origin of corn, and why do poisons grow to kill as corn does to nourish? Whence came the rattlesnake, and whence the salmon? Because of these questions myths appeared, and those myths gave answers which received full faith and credence,—answers on which was built a theory of how this world arose, and what the true and proper scheme of life was.
The myth-maker looked at the universe around him, and saw throughout every part of it individualities having qualities, desires, and passions in varying degrees. He observed these individualities, and gave a detailed account and history of how[xxv]this world arose. He gave this history by projecting existence into a past which was remote and passionless. Out of that harmonious past he evolved the present world and its order by describing in the past world the play of all those passions, desires, and appetites which he saw at work in life around him. Such was the method employed in producing the American creation myths. The task required much time, long observation, careful thought, and no small constructive power. These creation myths with the next, which I have mentioned already and called action myths, are the great result of mental toil and effort in the old time on this continent. In these two sets of myths the Indian has told what he thinks of the universe.
When Europeans came to this hemisphere, the American myth system was unbroken and perfect. There was no second order of thought here. The continent was untouched by foreign conquest or ideas. The inhabitants had lived in mental isolation, in absolute freedom from every outside influence. Human history has no second example of a single system of thought developed over such a vast area. Inhabited America extended at least nine thousand miles from north to south, more than one third of the earth’s circumference and considerably more than the earth’s diameter. This territory where broadest was at least three thousand miles from east to west, both in North and South America. Over this immense portion of the earth’s surface with its endless variety of soil, climate, scenery, and[xxvi]conditions of existence, a single system of primitive philosophy was developed with a fulness and a wealth of illustration which could find no parallel in any other place. The result of all this is that we have in America a monument of thought which is absolutely unequalled, altogether unique in human experience. The special value of this thought lies, moreover, in the fact that it is primitive, that it is the thought of ages long anterior to those which we find recorded on the eastern hemisphere, either in sacred books, histories, or literature, whether preserved on baked brick, burnt cylinders, or papyrus.
The American system, which gives us a circumstantial account of the beginning of all things, is as far reaching as the nebular hypothesis, or as that theory which gives a common origin to man and all sentient existences.
Primitive man in America stood at every step face to face with divinity as he knew or understood it. He could never escape from the presence of those powers which had constituted the first world, and which composed all that there was in the present one. Man’s chief means of sustenance in most parts were on land or in the water. Game and fish of all sorts were under direct divine supervision. Invisible powers might send forth game or withdraw it very quickly. With fish the case was similar. Connected with fishing and hunting was an elaborate ceremonial, a variety of observances and prohibitions. Every man had a great many things to observe as an[xxvii]individual, a great many also as a member of his tribe or society.
The most important question of all in Indian life was communication with divinity, intercourse with the spirits of divine personages. No man could communicate with these unless the man to whom they chose to manifest themselves. There were certain things which a man had to do to obtain communication with divinity and receive a promise of assistance; but it was only the elect, the right person, the fit one, who obtained the desired favor. For instance, twenty men might go to the mountain place, and observe every rule carefully, but only one man be favored with a vision, only one become a seer. Twenty others might go to the mountain place, and not one be accounted worthy to behold a spirit; a third twenty might go, and two or three of them be chosen. No man could tell beforehand what success or failure might await him. The general method at present is the following, the same as in the old time:—
Soon after puberty, and in every case before marriage or acquaintance with woman, the youth or young man who hopes to become a doctor goes to a sacred mountain pond or spring, where he drinks water and bathes. After he has bathed and dressed, he speaks to the spirits, he prays them to come to him, to give him knowledge, to grant their assistance. The young man takes no food, no nourishment of any sort, fasts, as he is able, seven days and nights, sometimes longer. All this time he is[xxviii]allowed no drink except water. He sleeps as little as possible. If spirits come to him, he has visions, he receives power and favor. A number of spirits may visit a man one after another, and promise him aid and co-operation. The eagle spirit may come, the spirit of the elk or the salmon,—any spirit that likes the man. The spirit says in substance,“Whenever you call my name I will come, I will give my power to assist you.” After one spirit has gone, another may appear, and another. A man is not free to refuse the offers of spirits, he must receive all those who come to him. As there are peculiar observances connected with each spirit, the doctor who is assisted by many is hampered much in his method of living. There are spirits which do not like buckskin; the man to whom they come must never wear buckskin. If a man eats food repugnant to his spirit, the spirit will kill him. As each spirit has its favorite food, and there are other kinds which to it are distasteful, we can understand easily that the doctor who has ten spirits or twenty (and there are some who have thirty) to aid him is limited in his manner of living. Greatness has its price at all times, power must be paid for in every place. Those for whom the spirits have no regard, and they are the majority, return home without visions or hope of assistance; the spirits are able to look through all persons directly, and straightway they see what a man is. They find most people unsuited to their purposes, unfit to be assisted.
This preparation to become seers or sorcerers[xxix]among Indians is of very deep interest. I have given a considerable number of details on the subject in notes to “Kol Tibichi.” The spirit of any plant, any star, or other personage in creation may become a man’s attendant. In our popular phraseology, this is called his “medicine.”
In a Modoc myth the morning star is the attendant of the sun. According to this myth the sun is destroyed every day physically, is consumed into a heap of ashes; but as the sun has an immortal golden disk in his body, a disk which contains his whole existence, he can never perish. This disk remains always in the heap of ashes. There is a condition, however, incident to the sun’s resurrection: he must be called. Every morning some one must rouse him, as a hireling is roused to his daily labor. The morning star has that duty, and will never be freed from it. While the sun exists, the morning star must call him. At the summons of the star the golden disk springs from the pile of ashes, the sun is renewed completely, and goes forth to run his race till consumed again in the evening. Here we have the Phœnix rising from its ashes daily instead of once in five centuries.
The system outlined in the myths contained in this volume is that of the Wintus and Yanas, two stocks of Indians whom I shall describe somewhat later.
The Wintu system is remarkable for the peculiar development of the chief divinity, Olelbis, called also Nomhliëstawa.
[xxx]The word “Olelbis” is formed of three etymological elements: ol, up; el, in; bis, dwelling or sitting,—dwelling on high. Nomhliëstawa is formed also of three elements: nom, west; hliës, to hurl; and tawa, left-handed. Both names are epithets, and the Wintus have forgotten who or what their chief divinity is; at least I have not been able to find a man among them who could give information on this subject. Olelbis lives in the highest part of the sky; with him are the best of the first people. From his beautiful house, Olelpanti Hlut, he sees everything on earth, and seems more real and familiar than any divinity connected with other tribes. He is certainly more effective in management, more active than any divinity of other Indian stocks, so far as I know.
Olelbis disposes of the first people, except in a few cases, and he retains with himself whomsoever he likes. He sends to the earth and transforms those whom he thinks more useful below than above, and gives the example of a single ruling divinity which, without being all-powerful or all-wise, is able, through the knowledge and services of others, to bear rule over the world in all places and everywhere.
The two old women, the grandmothers, are interesting persons, counsellors of the chief divinity, rainmakers, wise with a knowledge of people of whom Olelbis is ignorant, at least professedly. These old women have been turned into a stone which has a spongy appearance and looks like the inside or porous portion of bones which are without marrow.
[xxxi]The great majority of Wintu metamorphoses are effected by Olelbis. The only exceptions are those of Sas, Hawt, and Tichelis, transformed by Tulchuherris, and certain changes such as those of color produced at the great musical contest given by Waida Dikit. When each played on a flute at that contest till he had done his best, till he had lost breath, then he changed color. Though the Wintu system differs much in detail from others, it agrees perfectly with all bodies of mythology on the great point, the main principle, metamorphosis. Through metamorphosis, all things have become what they are; through revelation it was learned that the metamorphoses took place, and in what way they took place. We must not consider the final act as the whole; the change had been in process for a long period, and the final words from opponents in conflict, the commands of Olelbis, the decisions of personages who changed themselves at the approach of Indians, or at signs of their coming, are but the very last act, the final incident, the official ending, so to speak, of an immensely long career in each case.
Of course there is no true information in the American ethnic religion as to the real changes which affected the world around us; but there is in it, as in all systems like it, true information regarding the history of the human mind. Every ethnic religion gives us documentary evidence. It gives us positive facts which, in their own sphere, are as true as are facts of geology in the history of[xxxii]the earth’s crust and surface. They do not tell us what took place in the world without, in the physical universe, they had no means of doing so; but they do tell us what took place at certain periods in the world of mind, in the interior of man.
The term “ethnic religion” needs some explanation, perhaps, before we go further. An ethnic or primitive religion is one which belongs to people of one blood and language, people who increased and developed together with the beliefs of every sort which belong to them. Such a religion includes every species of knowledge, every kind of custom, institution, and art. Every aboriginal nation or human brood has its gods. All people of one blood and origin are under the immediate care and supervision of their gods, and preserve continual communication and converse with them. According to their own beliefs, such people received from their gods all that they have, all that they practise, all that they know. Such people, while their blood is unmixed and their society unconquered, adhere to their gods with the utmost fidelity.
The bonds which connect a nation with its gods, bonds of faith, and those which connect the individuals of that nation with one another, bonds of blood, are the strongest known to primitive man, and are the only social bonds in prehistoric ages. This early stage was the one in which even the most advanced group of Indians in America found themselves when the continent was discovered.
On the Eastern hemisphere, where there were so[xxxiii]many races quite distinct and different from one another, the conquest of one race by another, or the conquest of a number of races by one, was frequent and had a great influence on thought and on religion. The influence of one religion or system of thought on another was sometimes considerable, as the intellectual influence of Egypt on Greece, and sometimes great, as that of Greece on Rome.
The influence of the physical conquest of many by one was immense politically and socially, as in the case of Rome, which subdued Greece and, together with Greece, all that Alexander had conquered in Asia and Egypt. With the ruin of Carthage, Rome destroyed the ancient thought of Phœnicia, which was closely akin to the earliest Hebrew, and one of the most important among Semitic nations. With the conquest and assimilation of Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul, the whole ancient fabric of Keltic thought on the continent gave way, and its chief elements were lost soon after.
The last of the ethnic religions of Europe, and one of the most valuable, that of the Lithuanians, continued in perfect condition till the fifteenth century, when it was ended through bloodshed and violence. This last of the systems of primitive Aryan thought in Europe passed away leaving slight traces. We know the names of some of its divinities; we know that it resembled the Slav, but was more developed, that it had sacred serpents and priestesses who guarded the holy, unquenchable fire;[xxxiv]but, to the great regret of men of science, we have only small fragments of the system, brief and meagre accounts of it.
If we look closely into the religious history of the Eastern hemisphere, we shall find the position to be approximately as follows,—
In the oldest of the inscriptional versions of the“Book of the Dead” on the walls of pyramids, we find the religion of Egypt advanced far beyond the first stages of development. Though animals, birds, reptiles, and insects occupy a prominent position in Egyptian religion, it is not evident why they occupy that position. There is no inscription or book to inform us. The earliest stage of Egyptian religion is lost to us. Egyptian priests, when reproached for the national worship rendered various animals, birds, reptiles, and insects, creatures that were vile, useful, clean, or unclean, as the case might be, were unable to give a cause for the worship. They were unable for the reason that the mythologic account was unknown to them, or had been lost or was unconsidered; whatever the reason, neither papyrus nor inscription explains it.
The chief gods of priestly Egypt answered exactly to the Indian divinities of the second class of myths in America, those which I have called action myths. Among these the sun and the earth were very prominent. Of the earliest gods of Egypt, those which answered to the “first people,” or divinities in American creation myths, we find no account thus far. If we had that account, it would[xxxv]explain why there are animals, reptiles, and insects in Egyptian religion.
In Greece those portions of the earliest mythology which were not lost were obscured. The ancient creation myths were either misunderstood, or were unknown to the educated at the period from which the first literary monuments have come down to us. Hesiod arranged and shaped Greek mythology to suit himself and his audience, so that it is quite impossible to learn from that author what the primitive myths of Greece were. If brought before him, he would doubtless have looked on them much as a certain French Algonkin and Iroquois scholar of Canada looked on the myths of America. The man had an extensive knowledge of Algonkin and Iroquois words, but an utter contempt for Indian thought, and no real knowledge of it whatever. When I mentioned Indian mythology, he exclaimed:“Mais, Monsieur, c’est quelque chose d’absurde.”
No doubt the earliest creation myths were well known throughout rural Greece among the illiterate, but there was no philosopher of that day who knew their value. There was no man to consider them.
Roman mythology, as well as Greek, suffered from literary treatment, and it is only by collecting detached fragments and facts of primitive thought throughout the whole field of classic literature that we are able to get at something beyond the official religion of polished society in Greece and Rome.
From the wreck of ancient Keltic and Teutonic thought much has been saved on the two islands[xxxvi]of Ireland and Iceland. With this, together with the American system and the mythologic inheritance of the Slav world in Eastern Europe, we shall be able perhaps to obtain materials with which to explain the earliest epoch of Aryan thought, the epoch which corresponds in development with the world of American creation myths. In that case we shall gain a connected view of Aryan speculation and its methods from those early beginnings when there was no passion or quality apart from a person, when symbols, metaphors, and personifications were in the distant future. The whole problem is to connect the thought of this continent with that of the rest of mankind, but especially and above all with the Aryan and Semitic divisions of it.
It is to be regretted that Semitic beliefs of the primitive period have not come down to us more numerously; for example, those of the Phœnicians, the earliest Hebrews, and other kindred nations. Fortunately the Arabs, the most poetic of the race, the knightly members of it, have given us in their history one fact of great value. Just before the establishment of the new religion by Mohammed there were in Mecca more than three hundred Arabic divinities, animal, vegetable, and mineral. We can hardly doubt that the pre-Mohammedan Arabic system of religion was the one which on a time belonged to the whole Semitic race, different among some divisions of it in details, of course, but substantially the same everywhere. This statement of the Arabic condition contains a fact of immense[xxxvii]significance. It points to a system exactly like the American. The pre-Mohammedan Arabic was the most splendid and important survival of primitive religion in any historic race on the Eastern Hemisphere.
It is proper here to explain the position of spirits in the Indian systems. All the first people are conceived as having bodies as well as spirits. When we speak of a spirit appearing to a sorcerer or“doctor,” it is understood that that spirit has left its body temporarily and will return to it. There are no spirits without bodies save an exceptional few who at the time of the metamorphosis of the first people lost the bodies which had belonged to them in their primal condition and received no new bodies at their fall. This loss of bodies was inflicted as a punishment. These desolate disembodied spirits wander about now in mountains and lonely weird places. Uncanny in character, they are seen rarely, and then only by sorcerers.
A good deal has been given to the world of late on mythology by able writers who with good materials would attain good results; but as the materials at their disposal are faulty, much of their work with all its cleverness is mainly a persistent pouring of the empty into the void.
We have seen attempts made to show that real gods have been developed by savage men from their own dead savage chiefs. Such a thing has never been done since the human race began, and it could never have been imagined by any man who knew[xxxviii]the ideas of primitive races from actual experience or from competent testimony. The most striking thing in all savage belief is the low estimate put on man when unaided by divine, uncreated power. In Indian belief every object in the universe is divine except man. Divinities have an immense range of power, there is an incalculable difference between the greatest and the smallest of them,—some have inconceivable strength and knowledge, while others are measurably weak and of limited intelligence,—but all belong to one category, all are divine, all are extra-human.
Vegetable gods, so called, have been scoffed at by writers on mythology. The scoff is baseless, for the first people were turned, or turned themselves, into trees and various plants as frequently as into beasts and other creatures. Maize or Indian corn is a transformed god who gave himself to be eaten to save man from hunger and death. When Spanish priests saw little cakes of meal eaten ceremonially by Indians, and when the latter informed them that they were eating their god, the good priests thought this a diabolical mockery of the Holy Sacrament, and a blasphemous trick of Satan to ruin poor ignorant Indians.
I have a myth in which the main character is a violent and cruel old personage who is merciless and faith-breaking, who does no end of damage till he is cornered at last by a good hero and turned into the wild parsnip. Before transformation this old parsnip could travel swiftly, but now he must[xxxix]stay in one place, and of course kills people only when they eat him.
The treasure saved to science by the primitive race of America is unique in value and high significance. The first result from it is to carry us back through untold centuries to that epoch when man made the earliest collective and consistent explanation of this universe and its origin.
Occupying this vantage-ground, we can now throw a flood of light on all those mythologies and ethnic religions or systems of thought from which are lost in part, great or small, the materials needed to prove the foundation and beginnings of each of them. In this condition are all ancient recorded religions, whether of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Chaldea, Persia, or India.
Through amazing ability of primitive man on this continent to retain, or perhaps through his inability to change or go forward, he has preserved a system of thought already old at the time of the first cuneiform letters and of the earliest statements on stone or papyrus. And the discovery of this system of ours coincides almost with the moment when America after a century and a quarter of free political activity, and of intellectual labor unexampled in fruitfulness, takes her due place as a World Power, and enters into intimate and searching relations, not with Europe alone, or one section of mankind, but with the whole human race wherever fixed or resident.
JEREMIAH CURTIN.
Washington, D. C., U. S. A.,
October 11, 1898.



CREATION MYTHS
OF
PRIMITIVE AMERICA
Decoration

OLELBIS

PERSONAGES
After each name is given that of the beast, bird, or thing into which the personage was changed subsequently. Names on which accents are not placed are accented on the penult. Names of places are explained in the notes. Kiemila and Herit mean“old” and “young,” respectively; they are applied to male persons. Pokaila and Loimis are applied to females; the first means “old,” the second “young.”
Bisus, mink; Chálilak, goose; Chuluhl, meadow-lark; Dokos, flint; Hau, red fox; Héssiha, tomtit; Hilit, house-fly; Hlihli, white oak acorn; Hus, turkey buzzard; Kahit, wind; Kahsuku, cloud dog;Kaisus, gray squirrel; Kar, gray heron; Karili, coon; Katkatchila, swift; Katsi, chicken-hawk; Kau, white crane; Kiriú, loon; Klabus, mole; Klak, rattlesnake; Kuntihlé, fish-hawk; Lutchi, humming-bird;Mem Loimis, water; Mem Tulit, beaver; Min Taitai, sap-sucker;Móihas, bald eagle; Pákchuso, the pakchu stone; Patsotchet, badger; Poháramas, shooting star; Sas, sun; Sedit, coyote; Sosini, a small web-footed bird; Sútunut, black eagle; Tede Wiu, a small bird; Tilichi, a water-bird; Tilikus, fire drill; Titchelis, ground squirrel;Toko, sunfish; Tórihas, blue crane; Tsárarok, kingfisher; Tsaroki Sakahl, green snake; Tsurat, woodpecker; Wehl Dilidili, road-runner;Wima Loimis, grizzly bear; Wokwuk, a large bird, extinct; Yilahl, gopher; Yoholmit, frog; Yonot, buckeye bush.
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[4]place. He was in Olelpanti before there was anything down here on the earth, and two old women were with him always. These old women he called grandmother, and each of them we call Pakchuso Pokaila.
There was a world before this one in which we are now. That world lasted a long, long time, and there were many people living in it before the present world and we, the present people, came.
One time the people of that first world who were living then in the country about here[1] were talking of those who lived in one place and another. Down in the southwest was a person whose name was Katkatchila. He could kill game wonderfully, but nobody knew how he did it, nor could any one find out. He did not kill as others did; he had something that he aimed and threw; he would point a hollow stick which he had, and something would go out of it and kill the game. In that time a great many people lived about this place where we are now, and their chief was Torihas Kiemila; these people came together and talked about Katkatchila.
[1]That is, in the Upper Sacramento Valley.
Some one said: “I wonder if he would come up here if we sent for him.”
“Let us send for him,” said Torihas; “let us ask him to come; tell him that we are going to have a great dance. To-morrow we will send some one down to invite him.”
Next morning Torihas sent a messenger to invite Katkatchila; he sent Tsaroki Sakahl, a very quick traveller. Though it was far, Tsaroki went there[5]in one day, gave the invitation, and told about Torihas and his people.
“I agree,” said Katkatchila. “I will go in the morning.”
Tsaroki went home in the night, and told the people that Katkatchila would come on the following day.
“What shall we do?” asked they.
“First, we will dance one night,” said the chief;“then we will take him out to hunt and see how he kills things.”
Katkatchila had a sister; she had a husband and one child. She never went outdoors herself. She was always in the house. Nobody ever saw the woman or her child.
When Katkatchila was ready to start he told his sister that he was going, and said to his brother-in-law:“I am going. You must stay at home while I am gone.”
The sister was Yonot. Her husband was Tilikus.
Katkatchila came to a hill up here, went to the top of it, and sat down. From the hill he could see the camp of the people who had invited him. He stayed there awhile and saw many persons dancing. It was in summer and about the middle of the afternoon. At last Katkatchila went down to where they were dancing, and stopped a little way off. Torihas, who was watching, saw him and said,—
“Come right over here, Katkatchila, and sit by me.”
Olelbis was looking down from Olelpanti at this moment, and said to the old women, “My[6]grandmothers, I see many people collected on earth; they are going to do something.”
Katkatchila sat down and looked on. Soon all the people stopped dancing and went to their houses. Torihas had food brought to Katkatchila after his journey. While he was eating, Torihas said to him,—
“My grandson, I and all my people have lived here very long. My people want to dance and hunt. I sent one of them to ask you to come up here. They will dance to-night and go hunting to-morrow.”
Torihas stood up then and said,—
“You my people, we will all dance to-night and to-morrow morning we will go to hunt. Do not leave home, any of you. Let all stay. We will have a great hunt. Katkatchila, will you stay with us?” asked he. “I shall be glad if you go and hunt with us.”
“I will go with you,” said Katkatchila. “I am glad to go.”
They danced all night. Next morning, after they had eaten, and just as they were starting off to hunt, the chief said to his people,—
“I will send my grandson with Katkatchila, and some of you, my sons, stay near him.”
Some said to others: “When Katkatchila shoots a deer, let us run right up and take out of the deer the thing with which he killed it, and then we won’t give it back to him.”
“Do you stay with him, too,” said Torihas to Kaisus, who was a swift runner.
[7]The whole party, a great many people, went to Hau Buli to hunt. When they got onto the mountain they saw ten deer. Katkatchila shot without delay; as soon as he shot a deer fell, and Kaisus, who was ready, made a rush and ran up to the deer, but Katkatchila was there before him and had taken out the weapon.
He killed all ten of the deer one after another, and Kaisus ran each time to be first at the fallen body, but Katkatchila was always ahead of him. When they went home Kaisus carried one deer, and told of all they had done, saying,—
“Now you people, go and bring in the other deer. I don’t believe any man among us can run as fast as Katkatchila; he is a wonderful runner. I don’t know what he uses to kill game, and I don’t think we can get it away from him.”
That night Hau spoke up among his friends and said, “I will go with Katkatchila to-morrow and see what I can do.”
A great many of the people talked about Katkatchila that night, saying,—
“We do not think that he will ever come to us again, so we must all do our best to get his weapon while he is here.”
Katkatchila was ready to go home after the hunt, but Torihas persuaded him, saying: “Stay one day more. Hunt with us to-morrow.”
Katkatchila agreed to stay. Next morning they went to hunt. Hau went among others, and stayed near Katkatchila all the time.
On the mountain they saw ten deer again.[8]Katkatchila stood back to shoot. Hau was ready to spring forward to get the weapon. The moment the weapon was shot, Hau ran with all his strength, reached the deer first, took out the weapon and hid it in his ear.
That moment Katkatchila was there. “You have taken my flint!” cried he. “Give it back!”
“I have not taken it,” said Hau. “I have nothing of yours. I have just come.”
“You have it. I saw you take it,” said Katkatchila.
“I took nothing. I only put my hand on the deer’s head.”
“I saw you take it.”
“No, you did not. I haven’t it.”
Katkatchila kept asking all day for his flint, but Hau would neither give it back nor own that he had it. At last, when the sun was almost down, Katkatchila turned to Hau and said,—
“I saw you take my flint. It would be better for you to give it back to me, better for you and very much better for your people. You want to keep the flint; well, keep it. You will see something in pay for this, something that will not make you glad.”
He left the hunt and went away in great anger, travelled all night and was at home next morning.
Torihas’s people went back from the hunt, and Hau with the others. He went into the sweat-house, took the flint out of his ear and held it on his palm. Every one came and looked at it. It was just a small bit of a thing.
[9]“When I took this,” said Hau, “Katkatchila got very angry; he left us on the mountain and went home.”
All the people stood around looking at the flint in Hau’s hand.
“You have done wrong, you people,” said Patsotchet.“Katkatchila is very strong and quick; you will see what he will do. He has great power, more power than you think, and he will have vengeance. He will make us suffer terribly. He is stronger than we are. He can do anything. You will see something dreadful before long.”
“Now, my people,” said Torihas, “come into the sweat-house and we will see what we can do with that flint.”
All went in. Hau went last, for he had the flint. He held it out, showed it again, and said, “I took this because you people wanted it.”
They passed the flint from one to another; all looked at it, all examined it. One old man said:“Give it to me here, let me see it.” He got it in his hand, and said: “Now all go outside of the sweat-house.”
This was Hilit Kiemila. They went out, leaving him alone. Patsotchet kept on repeating, “Katkatchila is angry, he is malicious; before long we shall see what will happen.”
As soon as Hilit was alone in the sweat-house, he began to rub the flint with his hands and roll it with his legs (Hilit was turned afterward into a house-fly, and that is why house-flies keep rubbing their legs against each other to this day). He[10]wanted to make the flint large. After he had rolled and rubbed the flint all night, it was four or five feet long, and as thick and wide. He let the block fall to the ground and it made a great noise, a very loud noise; people heard it for a long distance. Hilit went out then and said,—
“Go in, all you people, and look at that good flint.”
They went and looked. It was almost daylight at the time, and each one said,—
“Well, I don’t know what is best to do; perhaps it would be best to send this off. It may be bad for us to keep it here; bad for us to have it in the sweat-house or the village.”
They did not know who could carry the great block, it was so heavy. “Perhaps Patsotchet can carry it,” said they.
Torihas went outside and called Patsotchet, saying: “Come into the sweat-house a little while. You come seldom; but come now.”
Patsotchet left his house, which was near by, and went into the sweat-house.
“What are you going to do?” asked he. “It is too late to do anything now. I have known a long time about Katkatchila. He is very strong. He will do something terrible as soon as daylight comes.”
“Patsotchet,” said Torihas, “you are a good man. I wish you would take this big flint and carry it far away off north.”
“I don’t want to take it,” said Patsotchet. “It is too heavy.”
[11]Torihas went to Karili, who lived a little way off, and said: “Come into the sweat-house. I wish to talk with you.”
Karili went in. “Take this block,” said Torihas.“No one is willing to carry it away, but you are strong. Carry it north for me.”
Karili took up the flint, but when he had it outside the house he said: “I cannot carry this. It is too heavy. I am not able to carry it.”
Torihas called in Tichelis, and said: “My uncle, will you take this north for me?”
“Why will not others take it? Why are they unwilling to carry it?” asked Tichelis. “Well, I will take it,” said he, after thinking a little; and he made ready.
“Take it and start right away,” said Torihas.“Daylight is coming. Go straight. I will go, too, and when I am on the top of Toriham Pui Toror I will shout, and show you where to put the block.”
Tichelis put the flint on his back and hurried away with it.
When Katkatchila reached home he told his brother-in-law, Tilikus, and his brother-in-law’s brother, Poharamas, and Yonot, his sister, how his flint had been stolen.
It was just before sunrise. Tilikus and Poharamas went out in front of the house and swept a space clean and smooth; then they ran off to the east and got pine as full of pitch as they could find it. They brought a great deal of this, split some very fine, and made a large pile there on the smooth place.
[12]Just at this time Torihas’s people were in his sweat-house talking about the theft. “Nothing will happen,” said most of them; “old Patsotchet is always talking in that way, foretelling trouble. We will dance to-day. Tichelis has carried that thing far away; all will be well now.”
Yonot, Katkatchila’s sister, had one child, a little baby which she called Pohila (fire child). The woman never left the house herself, and never let any one carry the child out.
“Now, my sister,” said Katkatchila, “bring your child here; bring my nephew out, and put him on that nice, smooth place which we have swept clean; it will be pleasant there for him.”
She brought the boy out, put him on the smooth place. Poharamas was on the southeast side all ready, and Tilikus on the southwest side. As soon as Yonot put down the baby, they pushed pitch-pine sticks toward it. That instant fire blazed up. When the fire had caught well Poharamas took a large burning brand of pitch-pine and rushed off to the southeast; Tilikus took another and ran to the southwest. Poharamas, when he reached the southeast where the sky comes to the earth, ran around northward close to the sky; he held the point of his burning brand on the ground, and set fire to everything as he ran. When Tilikus reached the southwest, at the place where the sky touches the earth, he ran northward near the sky. The two brothers went swiftly, leaving a line of flame behind them, and smoke rose in a cloud with the fire.
After the two had started Yonot snatched up[13]Pohila, and as she raised the boy a great flame flashed up from the spot. She ran into the house with her son, and put him into the basket where she had kept him till that morning.
Torihas’s people had begun to dance. Some time after sunrise they saw a great fire far away on the east and on the west as well.
“Oh, look at the fire on both sides!” said one.
“It is far off, and won’t come here,” said another.
“I feel the heat already!” cried a third.
Soon all saw that the fire was coming toward them from the east and the west like waves of high water, and the line of it was going northward quickly. The fire made a terrible roar as it burned; soon everything was seething. Everywhere people were trying to escape, all were rushing toward the north. By the middle of the forenoon the heat and burning were so great that people began to fall down, crying out,—
“Oh, I’m hot! Ah, I’m hot!”
Torihas made a rush toward the north, and reached the top of Toriham Pui Toror. When he saw the fire coming very near he called out to Tichelis, who was struggling along with the great block of flint on his back,—
“Go ahead with the flint! Go on, go on, the fire is far from here, far behind us!”
Tichelis heard the shouting, but said nothing; kept going northward steadily. When he was northeast of Bohem Puyuk, he saw the fire coming very fast, a mighty blaze roaring up to the sky. It was coming from the south, east, west. Tichelis[14]could go no farther; there was no place for escape above ground; the fire would soon be where he was. The flint had grown very hot from the burning; he threw it down; it had skinned his back, it was so hot and heavy. He ran under the ground, went as far as he could, and lay there. Presently he heard the fire roaring above him, the ground was burning, he was barely alive; soon all blazed up, earth, rocks, everything.
Tichelis went up in flames and smoke toward the sky.
When the brothers Tilikus and Poharamas had carried the fire around the world and met in the north, just half-way between east and west, they struck their torches together and threw them on the ground. The moment before they joined the burning brands two persons rushed out between them. One was Klabus and the other Tsaroki, who had carried the invitation from Torihas to Katkatchila. They just escaped.
The flint rock that Tichelis dropped lies there yet, just where it fell, and when the Wintu people want black flint they find it in that place.
Poharamas and Tilikus ran home as soon as they struck their torches together.
Katkatchila had a little brother. He put the boy on his back, and went beyond the sky where it touches the earth in the south.
Yonot, the mother of Pohila, took her son and went behind the sky; her husband, Tilikus, went with her. Poharamas went to Olelpanti. He flew up to where Olelbis is.
[15]Olelbis looked down into the burning world. He could see nothing but waves of flame; rocks were burning, the ground was burning, everything was burning. Great rolls and piles of smoke were rising; fire flew up toward the sky in flames, in great sparks and brands. Those sparks became kolchituh (sky eyes), and all the stars that we see now in the sky came from that time when the first world was burned. The sparks stuck fast in the sky, and have remained there ever since the time of the wakpohas (world fire). Quartz rocks and fire in the rocks are from that time. There was no fire in the rocks before the wakpohas.
When Klabus escaped he went east outside the sky, went to a place called Pom Wai Hudi Pom. Tsaroki went up on the eastern side of the sky,—ran up outside.
Before the fire began Olelbis spoke to the two old women and said: “My grandmothers, go to work for me and make a foundation. I wish to build a sweat-house.”
They dug out and cleared a place for the sweat-house the day before the world-fire began. Olelbis built it in this way: When the two women had dug the foundation, he asked,—
“What kind of wood shall I get for the central pillar of the house?”
“Go far down south,” said the old grandmothers,“and get a great young white oak, pull it up with the roots, bring it, and plant it in the middle to support the house.”
He went, found the tree, and brought it.
[16]“Now, my grandmothers, what shall I do next?”
“Go north and bring a black oak with the roots. Go then to the west, put your hand out, and there you will touch an oak different from others.”
He went north and west, and brought the two trees.
“Now,” said Olelbis, “I want a tree from the east.”
“Go straight east to a live-oak place, you can see it from here, get one of those live-oaks.” He brought it with the roots and said,—
“Now I want two trees more.”
“Go to the southeast,” said they, “where white oaks grow, and get two of them.”
He went and got two great white oak trees, pulled them up with the roots, brought them with all the branches, which were covered with acorns.
Olelbis put the great white oak from the south in the middle as the central pillar; then he put the northern black oak on the north side; he put it sloping, so that its branches were on the south side of the house; over against this he put a southeastern white oak sloping in like manner, so that its head came out on the north side. The western oak he planted on the west side, sloping so that its branches hung on the east side; then he put up the two white oaks from the southeast on the east side: six trees in all. The top of each tree was outside opposite its roots; acorns from it fell on the opposite side. Olelbis wished to fasten the trees firmly together so they should never loosen.
[17]“Stop, grandson,” said one of the old women.“How will you bind the top?”
“I have nothing to bind it with,” answered Olelbis.
She put her hand toward the south, and on it came humus koriluli (a plant with beautiful blossoms). She took it with roots, stem, and blossoms and made a long narrow mat, the stem and roots all woven together inside and the blossoms outside.“Here, grandson,” said she, “put this around the top of the house and bind the trees with it firmly.”
He did this. The binding was beautiful and very fragrant. He wrapped it around the trees where they came together at the top of the house inside.
The two old women made four very large mats now, one for each side of the house. They wove first a mat of yosoü (a plant about a foot high, which has no branches and only a cluster of red flowers at the top). When they had finished it they told Olelbis to put it on the north side of the house.
“Now, my grandmothers,” said Olelbis, “I want a cover for the east side.”
“My grandson,” said each, “we are sorry that you are alone, sorry that you have no one to help you in building this house. Now take this mat and put it on the east side.”
They gave him a mat made of the same plant that was used for a binding to hold the top of the house.
“I want a cover now for the south side.”
[18]The old women put their hands to the east, and a plant came to them a foot high with white blossoms, of very sweet odor. A great deal of this plant came, and they made a mat of it. They put all the blossoms outside. The mat covered the south side.
“Now, how shall I cover the west side?”
“We have the covering here already, made of kin-tekchi-luli”(a plant with blue and white blossoms).
They put that mat on the west side, the blossoms turned outward.
The old women gave him all kinds of beautiful plants now, and flowers to form a great bank around the bottom of the sweat-house. 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.
When they went into the sweat-house, the perfume was delightful. The two old women said then:
“All people to come in the world below will talk of this house, and call it Olelpanti Hlut when they tell about it and praise the house on high.”
Olelbis said: “I want to lay something lengthwise on each side of the door. What shall I get?”
The two said: “We will get sau” (acorn bread made in a great round roll like a tree-trunk).
They got sau, and put a roll at each side of the door; these rolls were put there for people to sit on.
Olelbis walked around, looked at everything, and said,—
“I want this house to grow, to be wide and[19]high, to be large enough for all who will ever come to it.”
Then the house began to extend and grow wider and higher, and it became wonderful in size and in splendor. Just as daylight was coming the house was finished and ready. It stood there in the morning dawn, a mountain of beautiful flowers and oak-tree branches; all the colors of the world were on it, outside and inside. The tree in the middle was far above the top of the house, and filled with acorns; a few of them had fallen on every side.
That sweat-house was placed there to last forever, the largest and most beautiful building in the world, above or below. Nothing like it will ever be built again.
“Now, my grandson,” said the old women, “the house is built and finished. All the people in the world will like this house. They will talk about it and speak well of it always. This house will last forever, and these flowers will bloom forever; the roots from which they grow can never die.”
The world fire began on the morning after the sweat-house was finished. During the fire they could see nothing of the world below but flames and smoke. Olelbis did not like this.
“Grandson,” said the old women, “we will tell you what to do to put out that terrible wakpohas. There is a very old man, Kahit Kiemila, and he lives far north toward the east, outside the first sky. He stays there in one little place; he is all alone, and always in the same place. Tell him what to do,[20]and he will do it. If you don’t like the fire and smoke down below, tell the old man to turn his face toward you, to come this way and to bring with him Mem Loimis. He sits with his head between his hands and his face to the north, and never looks up. The place where he sits is called Waiken Pom Pui Humok Pom.”
The first person who came to Olelbis on the day of the fire was Kiriu Herit. He came about daylight.
“You have finished the sweat-house, my nephew,”said he.
“I have,” said Olelbis, “but we are going to have trouble, and do you, my uncle, go up on the west side of the sweat-house, look around everywhere, and tell me what you see.”
Kiriu went to the top of the house and looked. Soon another man came and said, “My brother, you have finished the sweat-house.”
“Yes,” said Olelbis, “and do you, my brother, go up on the east side of the house, stand there, and call to Kahit.”
This was Lutchi Herit. Two more came and saluted Olelbis. “Go into the sweat-house,” said he. These were the two brothers, Tilichi. A fifth person came, Kuntihle, and then a sixth, Sutunut, a great person. Lutchi kept darting around, looking toward the north and calling: “Kahit cannot take me! Kahit cannot take me!” Kahit was getting angry by this time, and thinking to turn and look at Lutchi, for though far away, he heard the noise of his darting and his calling. “That old Kahit[21]may come out, but he cannot catch me!” called Lutchi, as he darted around, always watching the north.
Now Olelbis called Lutchi and Sutunut, and said:“You, Lutchi, go north, pry up the sky and prop it; here is a sky pole and a sky prop.” Turning to Sutunut, he plucked a feather from each of his wings and said: “Go to Kahit in Waiken Pom Pui Humok Pom; tell him to come south with Mem Loimis. She lives not far from him. Her house is in the ground. And tell him to blow his whistle with all his breath. Put these two feathers on his cheeks just in front of his ears.”
Lutchi went quickly. No one could travel as fast as he. He reached the sky on the north, raised and propped it. Sutunut gave the message to Kahit, who raised his head from between his hands slowly and turned toward the south. Sutunut put the feathers in his cheeks then, as Olelbis had commanded.
One person, Sotchet, who lived just south of Kahit, spoke up now and said,—
“Go ahead, Kahit. I am in a hurry to see my father, Olelbis. I will follow you. I am drinking my mother’s milk.” (He was doing that to bring great water.) His mother was Mem Loimis.
“Come with me, Mem Loimis,” said Kahit to Sotchet’s mother. “When I start, go ahead a little. I will help you forward.”
Olelbis was watching, and thought, “Kahit is ready to start, and Mem Loimis is with him.”
Olelbis made then an oak paddle, and hurled it[22]to where Sotchet was. Sotchet caught the paddle, made a tail of it, put it on, and went plashing along through the water. Not far from Kahit lived an old woman, Yoholmit Pokaila. She made a basket of white willow, and finished it just as Mem Loimis was ready to start. In the same place was Sosini Herit, just ready to move. In one hand he held a bow and arrows, with the other he was to swim.
Olelbis saw all this,—saw and knew what people were doing or preparing to do. “Grandmothers,”said he, “Mem Loimis is ready to move. Kahit is ready. All the people around them will follow.”
The great fire was blazing, roaring all over the earth, burning rocks, earth, trees, people, burning everything.
Mem Loimis started, and with her Kahit. Water rushed in through the open place made by Lutchi when he raised the sky. It rushed in like a crowd of rivers, covered the earth, and put out the fire as it rolled on toward the south. There was so much water outside that could not come through that it rose to the top of the sky and rushed on toward Olelpanti.
Olelbis went to the top of the sweat-house and stood looking toward the north. Sula Kiemila and Toko Kiemila had come that morning. “Take your places north of the sweat-house,” said Olelbis, and they did so. Olelbis saw everything coming toward him in the water from the north, all kinds of people who could swim. They were so many that no one could count them. Before he had[23]built the sweat-house, the two grandmothers had said to Olelbis: “Go far south and get pilok, which is a tall plant with a strong fibre, and make a cord.” He did so, and twisted a strong cord from pilok. Of this he made a sling. He put his hand to the west, and kilson came on it, a round white stone an inch and a half in diameter. He put the stone in the sling, tied the sling around his head, and kept it there always.
He took this sling in his hand now, and stood watching ready to throw the stone at something that was coming in the water. Olelbis threw with his left hand. He was left-handed, and for this reason was called Nomhlyestawa (throwing west with the left hand).
Mem Loimis went forward, and water rose mountains high. Following closely after Mem Loimis came Kahit. He had a whistle in his mouth; as he moved forward he blew it with all his might, and made a terrible noise. The whistle was his own; he had had it always. He came flying and blowing. He looked like an enormous bat, with wings spread. As he flew south toward the other side of the sky, his two cheek feathers grew straight out, became immensely long, waved up and down, grew till they could touch the sky on both sides.
While Kahit flew on and was blowing his whistle, old Yoholmit lay in her basket; she floated in it high on the great waves, and laughed and shouted,“Ho! ho!”
“How glad my aunt is to see water; hear how she laughs!” said Olelbis. And he gave her two[24]new names, Surut Womulmit (hair-belt woman) and Mem Hlosmulmit (water-foam woman). “Look at my aunt,” said Olelbis again. “She is glad to see water!”
As Yoholmit was laughing and shouting she called out,—
“Water, you be big! Grow all the time! Be deep so that I can float and float on, float all my life.”
Olelbis was watching everything closely. Sosini Herit was coming. He held a bow and arrows in one hand and swam with the other. He was next behind old Yoholmit.
“Look at my brother, Sosini, look at him swimming,”said Olelbis. When mountains of water were coming near swiftly, Olelbis said to the two old women, “Go into the sweat-house.” The two brothers, Kuntihle and Tede Wiu, went in also. Olelbis stood ready to use his sling. When Yoholmit was coming near, he hurled a stone at her. He did not hit her. He did not wish to hit her. He hit the basket and sent her far away east in it until the basket struck the sky.
When the water reached Toko, it divided, went east and west, went no farther south in Olelpanti. At this time Olelbis saw a hollow log coming from the north. On it were sitting a number of Tede Memtulit and Bisus people. Just behind the log came some one with a big willow-tree in his mouth, sometimes swimming east, sometimes swimming west. He slapped the water with his new tail, making a loud noise. This was Sotchet, the son[25]of Mem Loimis. Olelbis struck the log with a stone from his sling, and threw it far away west with all the Memtulits on it except one, which came to the sweat-house and said,—
“My brother, I should like to stay with you here.” This was Tede Memtulit.
“Stay here,” said Olelbis.
Next came Wokwuk. He was large and beautiful, and had very red eyes. When Kahit came flying toward the sweat-house, and was still north of it, Olelbis cried to him,—
“My uncle, we have had wind enough and water enough; can you not stop them?”
Kahit flew off toward the east and sent Mem Loimis back. “Mem Loimis,” said he, “you are very large and very strong, but I am stronger. Go back! If not, I will stop you. Go home!”
Mem Loimis went back north, went into the ground where she had lived before. Kahit went east, then turned and went north to where he had been at first, and sat down again in silence with his head between his hands.
When Mem Loimis and Kahit had gone home, all water disappeared; it was calm, dry, and clear again everywhere. Olelbis looked down on the earth, but could see nothing: no mountains, no trees, no ground, nothing but naked rocks washed clean. He stood and looked in every direction,—looked east, north, west, south, to see if he could find anything. He found nothing. After a time he saw in the basin of a great rock some water, all that was left. The rock was in Tsarau Heril.
[26]“My grandmothers,” asked Olelbis, “what shall I do now? Look everywhere, there is nothing in the world below but naked rocks. I don’t like it.”
“Wait awhile, grandson,” said they. “We will look and see if we can find something somewhere. Perhaps we can.”
On this earth there was no river, no creek, no water in any place but that water at Tsarau Heril. This was the morning after Mem Loimis had gone home.
Now a person came from the east to Olelpanti, Klabus Herit. “My uncle,” said Olelbis to Klabus,“I am looking all over the world below, but can see nothing on it. Do you know any place beyond the sky on the north, south, east, or west, where there is earth?
“I know no place where there is earth,” said Klabus.
Soon another person, Yilahl Herit, was seen coming from the west. When he came up, Olelbis asked,—
“My uncle, do you know of earth, or trees, or people in any place beyond the sky?”
“I do not,” answered Yilahl. “But are you all well here?”
“We are well and unharmed,” answered Olelbis.
“How did you come here? Which way did you come? Where did you stay that the world fire did not burn you?” asked Klabus of Yilahl.
“I will tell you,” said Yilahl. “When the fire began, I went west, I went under the sky where it[27]touches the lower world, I went out to the other side. The fire did not go there. There is earth now in that place.”
“My uncles,” said Olelbis, “I want you both to go down, to go west, and get that earth for me.”
“I will go,” said Klabus; and turning to the two old women he said: “Give me two baskets, very large round baskets.”
The old women made two very large baskets. Klabus took these and went west with Yilahl. As soon as they started Olelbis took a great sky net (kolchi koro), and it spread out; it reached to the ends of the sky in every direction; it was full of small, fine holes, like a sieve. He spread it out in Olelpanti; put it under his sweat-house. It is above this world yet, but we cannot see it.
Klabus and Yilahl went west to where the earth was. Klabus dug it up and filled the baskets quickly; went to the north side of the sweat-house and threw the earth into the great net, then hurried back and brought more earth and threw it on the net. It went through the net and fell down here, fell on the rocks in this world like rain.
Klabus hurried back and forth very quickly, carrying one basket on each arm. He was going and coming for five days and five nights; fine earth was falling all this time, till the rocks were covered, and there was plenty of earth everywhere.
Yilahl gave no help. He went down the first time with Klabus, showed him the earth, and stayed there, but he did not help to carry earth or to dig it.
[28]When Klabus had covered all the rocks with good earth, Olelbis told him to rest.
“Go west and tell Yilahl to help you,” said Olelbis to Klabus the next morning, after he had rested. “Tell him to work with you, fixing the earth which you have thrown down. Go, both of you; make mountains, hills, and level country; arrange everything.”
No fire was visible anywhere; every bit had been quenched by the flood which came in after Lutchi propped up the sky. Yilahl came out into this world below from under the edge of the sky in the west, and Klabus came out from under it in the east. Both met and went to work. Yilahl made the small hills and fixed the rolling country. Klabus raised the great mountains and mountain ranges. There was nothing but earth and rock yet; no people at work only these two, Klabus and Yilahl.
Olelbis stood watching and looking; he looked five days, found no fire in any place. Next day he saw a little smoke in the southwest coming straight up as if through a small opening. Olelbis had a Winishuyat on his head tied in his hair, and the Winishuyat said to him,—
“My brother, look; there is a little fire away down south; a woman there has fire in a small basket.”
This woman was Yonot, the mother of Pohila, who had gone back to live in her old house.
“My brother,” said Olelbis, turning to Tede Wiu, “do you see that place there? Go and bring fire from it.”
[29]Tede Wiu went quickly to the place where Olelbis had seen the smoke. He found a house, and looking through a crack he saw the glow of fire, but not the fire itself.
Tede Wiu stayed five days and nights watching. He could not get into the house where the basket was. That house was closed firmly, and had no door. At last he went back to Olelpanti without fire.
“I should like to catch the fish which I see jumping in that southern water,” said Kuntihle,“but we could not cook fish if we had it, for we have no fire.”
“You would better go yourself and try to get fire,” said Olelbis.
Kuntihle went and watched five days. He could not get into the house, and no fire fell out. He went back to Olelpanti.
“We need fire,” said Olelbis, “but how are we to get it? Go again and try,” said he to Tede Wiu; “watch till fire falls out, or go in and take some.”
Klabus and Yilahl were at work yet.
Tede Wiu went, crept under the house, watched five days and nights, stayed right under the basket in which Pohila was. On the sixth morning, very early, just at daybreak, a spark of fire fell out. Tede Wiu caught the spark, ran off quickly to Olelbis, and gave it to him.
They had fire in Olelpanti now, and were glad. Neither Yonot, the mother, nor Tilikus, the father of Pohila, knew that fire had been carried away to Olelpanti.
[30]Klabus and Yilahl were still at work making the mountains and valleys, and had almost finished.
Now that there was fire in Olelpanti, Kuntihle said: “I will go and see that fish. Tilitchi, will you come with me?”
Tilitchi went. Before they started Olelbis gave them a fish net. They caught a fish, and went back, dressed, cooked, and ate it.
“This is a good fish,” said Olelbis. “How did it get into that water? That pond in the rock is small and round; there is no water to run into it. Grandmothers, what shall we do with this pond and the fish in it?”
“We will tell you,” said the old women. “Go to the west under the sky, break off a strip of the sky, bring it here, and make a pointed pole of it.”
Klabus and Yilahl were just putting the top on Bohem Puyuk; all the other mountains in the world were finished.
Olelbis went west, got the sky pole, and pointed one end of it. He stuck the pole down at the foot of Bohem Puyuk, drew the point of it along southward, making a deep furrow. Then he stuck the pole far north, and made a second furrow to join the eastern end of the first one. There was no water in either furrow yet, and Olelbis said,—
“Now, my grandmothers, what shall I do next?”
“Take this grapevine root,” said they. “Throw it to the place where you thrust in the pole at the foot of Bohem Puyuk.”
He threw the root. One end of it went into the[31]mountain, the other hung out; from this water flowed.
“This will be called Wini Mem,” said the grandmothers. “The country around it will be good; many people will go there to live in the future.”
The grandmothers gave a second root, a tule root, and Olelbis threw this far up north, where one end stuck in the ground as had the grapevine root, and from the other end flowed Pui Mem—there is much tule at the head of Pui Mem to this day.
Olelbis took his sky pole again and made deep furrows down southward from Bohema Mem, large ones for large rivers and smaller ones for creeks. Water flowed and filled the furrows, flowed southward till it reached the place where Kuntihle found the first fish; and when the large river reached that little pond, fish went out of it into the river, and from the river into all creeks and rivers.
When the rivers were finished, and water was running in them, Olelbis saw an acorn tree in the east, outside the sky. He looked on the north side of the tree and saw some one hammering. He hurled a stone from his sling, struck down the person, and sent Tilitchi to bring him. Tilitchi brought him.
“Of what people is this one?” asked he of the old women.
“He is of a good people,” answered they. “Put him on the central pillar of the sweat-house; we call him Tsurat.”
[32]Tsurat was only stunned. When Tsurat was taken to the central pillar, he climbed it, stopping every little while and hammering. The sound which he made, “Ya-tuck! ya-tuck!” was heard outside the sweat-house,—a good sound; all liked to hear it.
Olelbis saw on the same tree another of the same family. When he was brought, the old women said,“This is Min Taitai; put him on the ground east of the fire”—the fire was in the middle.
Min Taitai began to talk to himself. They could hear two words, “Wit, wit!” (coming back, coming back).
Olelbis stunned a third person, who was brought by Tilitchi. The old women said, “He, too, is of a good people, he is Hessiha; let him be with Min Taitai, and put a basket of red earth and water near them.”
Min Taitai talked on to himself, “Wit, wit!”
“Who is ‘Wit, wit?’” asked Hessiha.
“Sas” (the sun), answered Min Taitai, “was going down, and now he is coming back; that is who ‘Wit, wit’ is.”
“Who is coming back?” asked Hessiha.
“Sas is coming back.”
“Sas is not coming back, he is going on.”
(In winter Sas goes down south, and in summer he comes back north. Min Taitai was saying Sas is coming back, up north. Hessiha thought he was saying Sas has gone down toward the west, and now is coming back east without setting.)
“Wit, wit” (coming back, coming back), said Min Taitai.
[33]“Cherep, cherep!” (going on, going on), said Hessiha.
Soon they came to blows, began to fight; when fighting, Hessiha took red mud from the basket and threw it. Min Taitai took mud, too, and threw it at Hessiha. Both were soon covered with mud and water.
Clover, beautiful grasses, and plants of all kinds were growing around the sweat-house in Olelpanti. The whole place was a mass of blossoms. “Now, my grandmothers,” said Olelbis, “tell me what you think. All that ground below us is bare; there is nothing on it. What can we do for it?”
“My grandson, in a place southeast of this is a house in which people live. The place is called Hlihli Pui Hlutton [acorn eastern sweat-house place]. An old man lives there. Send Tsurat to bring that old man to us.”
“I will,” said Olelbis; and he sent Tsurat, who brought Hlihli Kiemila, who had lived all his life in that eastern sweat-house. When Olelbis looked at the old man, he said to Tsurat: “Go to the world beneath us with Hlihli. Carry him all over it,—north, south, east, and west.”
Hlihli was like an old worm-eaten acorn outside; inside he was like meal or snuff, and when he moved this inside sifted out of him. He had a daughter, Hlihli Loimis, and she had many sons.
Tsurat carried Hlihli all over the world, and when he had carried him five days little oak bushes were springing up everywhere from the dust which fell from him. They took seeds of clover growing[34]around the sweat-house in Olelpanti and scattered them; clover grew up in every place. Olelbis threw down all kinds of flower seeds from the flowers blossoming in Olelpanti.
A little way east of Olelbis’s sweat-house lived Sedit. At the time of the fire he ran through under the sky in the south and went up on the sky to Olelpanti. He stayed there with Olelbis until the fire and water stopped. Then he went east a short distance, and made a house for himself. During the great water Sedit caught Wokwuk, and afterward built a house near his own for him.
There was a big rock east of Sedit’s house. Olelbis saw Chuluhl sitting on this rock, and he said,—
“My brother, I have put clover on the earth. I want you to go down there and stay with that clover, stay with it always. The place is a good one for you.” This place was Tokuston on Pui Mem. “Take this pontcheuchi [headband made of dew], wear it around your head, wear it always, guard the clover, put your head among its leaves, and keep the grass and clover wet and green all the time. I will take that rock from near Sedit’s house, and put it down on the earth for you.”(The rock stands now about fifty miles above Paspuisono. It is called Pui Toleson—rock leaning east.)
Wokwuk at the time of the great water lost the middle and longest finger on one hand; it went far north, and after a time became a deer, and from that deer came all the deer in the world after the[35]fire. When Kahit and Mem Loimis went east on the way home, Wokwuk lost a small feather from above one of his eyes. It went west and was turned into the beautiful shells tsanteris. He also lost two neck feathers. They went west and became kalas, and from that came all pearl shells. He lost the tip of his little finger. It went west and became the Wokwuk bird down here. He lost some spittle. It went east on the water and turned to blue beads, such as people wear now around their necks. Wokwuk lost a small bit of his intestines. It went south on the water and became mempak; from that come all mempak (water bone). He lost a piece of his backbone. It went east on the water and became an elk, and from that elk came all elks.
One day Sedit said to Olelbis, when all were telling Olelbis what they were going to do:“Grandson, I am going to take off my skin and let it go to the world below.”
“Do so,” said Olelbis.
Sedit took off his skin as he would a coat, and threw it down to this world.
“Now there will be Sedits all over down there,”said he.
While Olelbis was gathering into Olelpanti all the people from every place outside this sky above us, Min Taitai and Hessiha were disputing and throwing red mud at each other.
Olelbis gathered people from every side till he had gathered them all at his house. They were there in crowds and in thousands, singing[36]and talking inside and outside, everywhere in Olelpanti.
One morning Olelbis said to the old women,—
“My grandmothers, I cannot tell what to do nor how to get what I want, but far west of here is a ridge that stretches from the south to the north, and on that ridge people of some kind come from the south and hurry north; they do that every day; they go north along that ridge, and I do not know what kind of people they are. When they are on the top of the ridge, they run north very swiftly. As soon as Klabus and Yilahl finished the level ground and the hills and mountains in the world below, these people began to travel along the ridge in this way, and they have been going north ever since.”
“You do not know those people,” said the old women, “but we know them, the Katkatchila brothers know them; they are Kahsuku, the cloud dogs, the cloud people. If you wish to know more about these cloud people, ask the elder Katkatchila; he knows them; he lives far west at this time; go and ask him, go yourself.”
Olelbis set out next morning early, and just before he reached Katkatchila’s house in the west he came upon some one who was stooping and looking toward the south. It was the elder Katkatchila, who was watching the cloud people.
“Stop, my brother,” said Katkatchila, “and watch with me.”
The two looked along the ridge toward the south—it was before sunrise then—and they saw[37]a person come a little way in sight, then turn and go back. He did not come nearer because he saw Olelbis. The cloud people are very timid; they can see a long distance, and have a very keen scent. When he saw Olelbis, this one ran away home.
“My brother,” said Katkatchila to Olelbis, “we have been watching here to drive back these cloud people. We have watched night and day, I and my little brother. My brother is near the eastern slope of this ridge which runs north and south; he stays there and watches.”
“What do you mean by cloud people?” asked Olelbis; “what kind of people are they? I have seen only the head and neck of one; what I saw looked well, seemed good. I wish you, my brothers, would catch one of these people, if you can.”
“How is it that you do not know these people?”asked Katkatchila. “You ought to know them; you have seen every place, every person, everything; you ought to know these people. I will tell you how they came. My sister and I made the great world fire; we made the wakpohas because Torihas and his people stole my flint. I was angry. I told my sister to put her baby outside the house. We put pitch-pine around it, and fire blazed up from the baby. When the fire was burning all over the earth and there were great flames and smoke, a big water and a strong wind came; the water filled the whole world with steam, and the wind drove the steam and smoke[38]from the great fire, and carried them far off to the south, where they became a people,—the cloud people. These people are red or white or black, all of them, and they are going north always. They have good heads and long necks.”
“I should like to stand near some of these people and look at them,” said Olelbis.
“I do not like to see them go north,” said Katkatchila.“My brother and I are here trying to drive them back; but they go north in spite of us. My brother is on the other slope over there to frighten them back; but they turn to the east a little and go around him.”
“Bring your brother here,” said Olelbis.
Katkatchila brought his brother, and the two said,—
“These cloud people are very wild; we cannot go near them. But we should like to drive them back or catch them.”
“Go west, my brothers,” said Olelbis, “and get something to stop that gap on the east where the cloud people pass you and go north. Stop that opening on the east, and stop the western slope also, leaving only a narrow place for them to go through. Get yew wood, make a very high fence with it, and stop the eastern slope.”
They brought the yew wood and made a very high fence on the eastern slope, and then one on the west, leaving only a narrow gap open.
“Go to the east now,” said Olelbis, “get katsau, which is a strong, fibrous plant, and make strings of it. Make a rope of the string and set a snare[39]in the opening of the fence across the western slope to catch those cloud people.”
The elder brother was on the ridge near the western slope, and the younger on the ridge near the eastern slope. The brothers made the snare and set it on the western slope. Both watched and waited for the clouds to come.
“Now, my brother,” said Olelbis, when he saw this work, “watch these people well, frighten them into the trap, and I will go back to Olelpanti.”
Next morning early the two brothers were watching, and very soon they saw a great many cloud people coming. Both brothers were lying flat on the middle of the ridge, so that the clouds could not see them. The clouds watched closely. They came to the place where they had always turned east to go past little Katkatchila; they ran against the fence and could not pass. They turned and went toward the west to pass northward along the central ridge; but when both brothers stood up, the clouds rushed to the western slope and fell into the trap.
Olelbis saw this and said: “Now, my brothers are driving them in. I must go and see!” And he ran off quickly.
“Oh, my brother,” said the Katkatchilas when he came, “we have caught one cloud. All the rest went through the fence. They broke it—we caught one; the others burst away.”
Olelbis looked at the cloud and said,—
“This is a black one! They broke down the fence and ran away! They are a strong people.”
[40]“Now, my brother,” said the elder Katkatchila,“we will skin this cloud, and you may have the skin. We will give it to you.”
“I shall be glad to have it,” said Olelbis.
They stripped the skin from the cloud, and, when giving it to Olelbis, the elder one said, “You must tan this carefully.”
“Make another fence,” said Olelbis, “but make it stronger. You will catch more of these people.”
“A great many clouds have broken through our fence to-day and gone north. Others went before we made the fence. We shall see these people by and by,” said Katkatchila. (He meant that clouds would stay in the north and become another people; stay there always.)
Olelbis took the skin, turned toward home, and travelled on. He was rubbing it in his hands, tanning it as he went. The brothers put the body in a hole and buried it, not caring for the flesh. They wanted only the skin.
Olelbis went along tanning the skin of the black cloud, and he walked around everywhere as he tanned. He went away west, then north, then south, then east. At last he came home with the skin well tanned. He spread it and stretched it smooth. The two Katkatchila brothers had not been able yet to catch another of the cloud people, but they were working at it all the time. After Olelbis spread the skin on the ground, he took it up and said to one of the old women,—
“My grandmother is always cold; let us give[41]her this skin;” and he gave it to her. Each of the two old women said,—
“My grandson, we are glad to have this skin. We shall sleep warm now.”
“I must go,” said Olelbis, “and see my brothers drive in more of the cloud people.” And he went.
“We cannot catch these clouds,” said the older brother; “they go through our fence, they escape, we cannot catch them; they have gone to the north, they will stay there and become a new people. We have caught only one, a white cloud. Those that have escaped will become a new people; they will be Yola Ka” (snow clouds).
The Katkatchilas stripped the skin from the white cloud and gave it to Olelbis. He went around north, south, east, and west, tanning it in the same way that he had tanned the black skin. After he had tanned it well he spread the skin, stretched it, straightened it; then he gave it to the other grandmother.
Both old women were glad now. Both said:“We shall sleep warm at night now all the time.”
Next day the two brothers caught a third cloud, a red one, but they kept that skin for themselves. They did not give it to Olelbis, because he told them to keep it. We see this skin now often enough, for the brothers hang it up when they like in the west and sometimes in the east.
“Now,” said the two old women, “we have this white skin and this black one. When we hang the white skin outside this house, white clouds will go from it,—will go away down south, where its[42]people began to live, and then they will come from the south and travel north to bring rain. When they come back, we will hang out the black skin, and from it a great many black rain clouds will go out, and from these clouds heavy rain will fall on all the world below.”
From that time the old women hang out the two skins, first the white, then the black skin, and when clouds enough have gone from them they take the skins into the sweat-house again; and from these two skins comes all the rain to people in this world.
“The cloud people who went north will stay in the northwest,” said Olelbis, “and from them will come snow to people hereafter.”
All this time the people in Olelpanti were singing and talking. Any one could hear them from a distance. Olelbis had brought in a great many different kinds of people, others had come themselves, and still others were coming. After the tanning of the two cloud skins a man came and took his place above the sweat-house door, and sat there with his face to the east. This was Kar Kiemila. Right after him came Tsararok, and took his place at the side of Kar. Next came Kau; then the two brothers Hus came, and Wehl Dilidili. All these people in the sweat-house and around it asked one another,—
“What shall we do? Where shall we live? We should like to know what Olelbis will do with us.”
“You will know very soon where we are going,”[43]said Toko and Sula. “Olelbis will put us in our places; he is chief over all.”
Next morning Olelbis said: “Now, my grandmothers, what do you think best? What are we to do with the people here? Is it best for them to stay in Olelpanti?”
“Our grandson,” answered the old women, “send all that are not needed here to the lower world; turn them into something good for the people who are to come soon,—those fit for this place up here. The great people, the best ones, you will keep in Olelpanti, and send down only a little part of each of them to turn into something in the world below and be of use to people there.”
Olelbis called all who were in the sweat-house to come out, and he began to send them to their places.
To Kar he said: “Go and live on Wini Mem. Be a gray heron there; that is a good country for you.” (Before white people came there were many of these birds on that river.)
To Toko he said: “Go to Kawiken on Pui Mem. Be a sunfish and live there always. You, Sula, go to the south of Bohem Puyuk on Wini Mem. Be a trout, and live at Sulanharas.”
To Torihas he said: “You will be a blue crane,”and to Chalilak: “You will be a goose. You both will have two places to live in, one in the south and the other in the north. You will go north in the spring and live there all summer; you will go south in the fall and live in the south all winter. Do this always; travel that way every year.”
[44]To Kiriu he said: “Go and live along the water. You will be a loon, and you will go up and down great rivers all your life.”
To Katsi he said: “You will be a fish hawk, catch fish and eat them, live along rivers.”
Olelbis plucked one small feather from the neck of Moihas. This he threw down and said, “Be an eagle, and live on high mountains.” All bald eagles on earth came from that feather, but the great Moihas remained above with Olelbis, where he is now.
From Lutchi Olelbis plucked one feather, threw it down, and said: “You will be a humming-bird. Fly around in spring when the green grass comes and the trees and flowers bloom. You will be on blossoms and dart from one to another everywhere.”Lutchi himself stayed in Olelpanti.
Olelbis pulled a feather from Kau, threw it down, and said: “You will fly along rivers, be a white crane, and live near them always.” The great Kau stayed in Olelpanti with Olelbis.
From the elder Hus brother Olelbis plucked a feather from the right side, sent the feather down on this earth, and said,—
“You be a buzzard down there, and in spring go up on Wini Mem and look for dead salmon and other fish along Pui Mem, Bohema Mem, and other rivers, eat dead salmon and other fish. When people kill a snake or something else which they do not like, you will go and eat the snake or other dead thing. The Wintu, the coming people, will feed you always with what is dead.”
[45]Tilitchi had been sent for three persons, and now he brought the first.
“Who is this?” asked Olelbis of the old women.
“This is Dokos,” said they; “he is bad.”
Dokos was placed a little northeast of the sweat-house. He sat looking toward the west. Tilichi brought in a second and third person.
“Who are these?” asked Olelbis.
“These are both bad people,” said the old women. “These are Wima Loimis and Klak Loimis.”
“Put them with Dokos,” said Olelbis. After he had called all the people out of the sweat-house to send them to their proper places, Olelbis had put something on their teeth to make them harmless.
“Come here, Wima Loimis,” said Olelbis. “I have something to put on your teeth so that they may harm no one.”
“I want nothing on my teeth,” said Wima Loimis. “If something were put on them I could not eat.” He asked again, but she shook her head, saying: “I want nothing on my teeth, I could not eat if anything were put on them.”
“If she will not come, come you, Klak Loimis.”Klak Loimis would not go to him.
“Why not come when I call you?” asked Olelbis.
“My sister Wima will not go. She says that she could not eat if her teeth were touched. I want nothing on my teeth. I am afraid that I could not eat.”
“Very well,” answered Olelbis, “you, Wima,[46]and you, Klak, want to be different from others. Come, Dokos, I will touch your teeth.”
“My sisters, Klak and Wima, want nothing on their teeth. I want nothing on mine. I am angry at my sisters; my heart hates them. I do not wish to be good. I am angry at my sisters. I will be wicked as well as they.” Then turning to his sisters he said: “After a while people will employ me against you whenever they are angry at you. Whenever you bite people or hurt them, they will call me to fight against you, and I will go with them. I will go into your bodies and kill you. Then you will be sorry for what you have done to-day. Olelbis asked you to be good. He wants you to be good, but you are not willing. I will be bad to punish you.”
When the two women heard these words they cried, and Wima said, “Well, my brother, we can put something on our teeth yet.”
Dokos placed his head between his hands and sat awhile in that posture. Then he straightened himself and said,—
“You two have talked enough; you would better stop. You are not like me; I am stronger than both of you, and I shall be so always. You, Wima, and you, Klak, will hate people only, but I shall hate all living things. I shall hate you, hate every one; kill you, kill every one. I want nothing of any one. I want no friend in any place.”
“Well,” said Olelbis, “you go as you are.”
“I will go first,” said Dokos.
[47]“Go,” said Olelbis, “to Koiham Nomdaltopi, be flint there, and spread all around the place. You, Klak Loimis, will go to Klak Kewilton, be a rattlesnake there, increase and spread everywhere. I will send you, Wima, to Wima Wai Tsarauton; you will be a grizzly bear there. After a while a great family will come from you and spread over all the country. You will be bad; and, Klak, you will be bad, but, Dokos, you will be the worst, always ready to hurt and kill; always angry, always hating your sisters and every one living.
“You, Klak, and you, Wima, when you see people you will bite them, and people will take Dokos to kill you, and Dokos will go into your bodies, and you will die. Wima, you will be sorry that you would not let me change your teeth. You, Klak, will be sorry. You will bite people, and they will kill you because you cannot run away from them. Your dead body will lie on the ground, and buzzards will eat it.
“Dokos, you will go to your place and increase. People will go there and get you to kill your sisters and others for them, and when you have pleased them and killed all the people they wished you to kill, when they want you no longer, they will throw you down on a rock and break you to pieces, then you will be nothing. You will be dead forever. Now go!”
To all those who let their teeth be made innocent, Olelbis said: “You will go to where I send you,—one here, another there.” And he gave their places to all. To some he said: “After a[48]while the new people will use you for food,” and to the others he said: “The new people will use your skins, and you will be of service to them, you will be good for them.”
The first person taken up to Olelbis’s sweat-house was Tsurat; and now Olelbis spoke to Tsurat last of all and said,—
“Pluck one feather from your back.”
Tsurat plucked it.
Olelbis threw the feather to the earth and said,—
“The place where this falls will be called Tsurat-ton Mem Puisono. This feather will become woodpeckers, and their place will be there. Their red feathers will be beautiful, and every one will like their red scalps and will use them for headbands. The woodpeckers will be also called Topi chilchihl”(bead birds).
All people that were good on this earth only, of use only here, Olelbis sent down to be beasts, birds, and other creatures. The powerful and great people that were good in Olelpanti and useful there he kept with himself, and sent only a feather or a part of each to become something useful down here. The good people themselves, the great ones, stayed above, where they are with Olelbis now.

View the rest of Creation Myths of Primitive America, by Jeremiah Curtin - Full Text

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