Monday, August 1, 2016

Native American Creation-Myths by Lewis Spence 1914

Native American Creation-Myths by Lewis Spence 1914

The History & Mythology of the American Indian, 100 Books on DVDrom

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The mythologies of the Red Man are infinitely more rich in creative and deluge myths than those of any other race in the two hemispheres. Tales which deal with the origin of man are exceedingly frequent, and exhibit every phase of the type of creative story. Although many of these are similar to European and Asiatic myths of the same class, others show great originality, and strikingly present to our minds the characteristics of American aboriginal thought.

The creation-myths of the various Indian tribes differ as much from one another as do those of Europe and Asia. In some we find the great gods moulding the universe, in others we find them merely discovering it. Still others lead their people from subterranean depths to the upper earth. In many Indian myths we find the world produced by the All-Father sun, who thickens the clouds into water, which becomes the sea. In the Zuñi record of creation Awonawilona, the creator, fecundates the sea with his own flesh, and hatches it with his own heat. From this green scums are formed, which become the fourfold mother Earth and the all-covering father Sky, from whom sprang all creatures. "Then from the nethermost of the four caves of the world the seed of men and the creatures took form and grew; even as with eggs in warm places worms quickly form and appear, and, growing, soon burst their shells and there emerge, as may happen, birds, tadpoles, or serpents: so man and all creatures grew manifoldly and multiplied in many kinds. Thus did the lowermost world-cave become overfilled with living things, full of unfinished creatures, crawling like reptiles over one another in black darkness, thickly crowding together and treading one on another, one spitting on another and doing other indecency, in such manner that the murmurings and lamentations became loud, and many amidst the growing confusion sought to escape, growing wiser and more manlike. Then Po-shai-an-K'ia, the foremost and the wisest of men, arising from the nethermost sea, came among men and the living things, and pitying them, obtained egress from that first world-cave through such a dark and narrow path that some seeing somewhat, crowding after, could not follow him, so eager mightily did they strive one with another. Alone then did Po-shai-an-K'ia come from one cave to another into this world, then island-like, lying amidst the world-waters, vast, wet, and unstable. He sought and found the Sun-Father, and besought him to deliver the men and the creatures from that nethermost world."

Algonquian Creation-Myth

In many other Indian mythologies we find the wind brooding over the primeval ocean in the form of a bird. In some creation-myths amphibious animals dive into the waters and bring up sufficient mud with them to form a beginning of the new earth. In a number of these tales no actual act of creation is recorded, but a reconstruction of matter only. The Algonquins relate that their great god Michabo, when hunting one day with wolves for dogs, was surprised to see the animals enter a great lake and disappear. He followed them into the waters with the object of rescuing them, but as he did so the lake suddenly overflowed and submerged the entire earth. Michabo despatched a raven with directions to find a piece of earth which might serve as a nucleus for a new world, but the bird returned from its quest unsuccessful. Then the god sent an otter on a like errand, but it too failed to bring back the needful terrestrial germ. At last a musk-rat was sent on the same mission, and it returned with sufficient earth to enable Michabo to recreate the solid land. The trees had become denuded of their branches, so the god discharged arrows at them, which provided them with new boughs. After this Michabo married the musk-rat, and from their union sprang the human race.

The Muskhogean Creation-Story

The Muskhogean Indians believe that in the beginning the primeval waste of waters alone was visible. Over the dreary expanse two pigeons or doves flew hither and thither, and in course of time observed a single blade of grass spring above the surface. The solid earth followed gradually, and the terrestrial sphere took its present shape. A great hill, Nunne Chaha, rose in the midst, and in the centre of this was the house of the deity Esaugetuh Emissee, the 'Master of Breath.' He took the clay which surrounded his abode, and from it moulded the first men, and as the waters still covered the earth he was compelled to build a great wall upon which to dry the folk he had made. Gradually the soft mud became transformed into bone and flesh, and Esaugetuh was successful in directing the waters into their proper channels, reserving the dry land for the men he had created.

This myth closely resembles the story in the Book of Genesis. The pigeons appear analogous to the brooding creative Spirit, and the manufacture of the men out of mud is also striking. So far is the resemblance carried that we are almost forced to conclude that this is one of the instances in which Gospel conceptions have been engrafted on a native legend.

Siouan Cosmology

The Mandan tribes of the Sioux possess a type of creation-myth which is common to several American peoples. They suppose that their nation lived in a subterranean village near a vast lake. Hard by the roots of a great grape-vine penetrated from the earth above, and, clambering up these, several of them got a sight of the upper world, which they found to be rich and well stocked with both animal and vegetable food. Those of them who had seen the new-found world above returned to their home bringing such glowing accounts of its wealth and pleasantness that the others resolved to forsake their dreary underground dwelling for the delights of the sunny sphere above. The entire population set out, and started to climb up the roots of the vine, but no more than half the tribe had ascended when the plant broke owing to the weight of a corpulent woman. The Mandans imagine that after death they will return to the underground world in which they originally dwelt, the worthy reaching the village by way of the lake, the bad having to abandon the passage by reason of the weight of their sins.

The Minnetarees believed that their original ancestor emerged from the waters of a lake bearing in his hand an ear of corn, and the Mandans possessed a myth very similar to that of the Muskhogees concerning the origin of the world.

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