Sunday, November 05, 2006

Amerindian End of World Mythology

As promised in a much earlier posting, here are two stories, one from Biloxi with gloss and one from Rumsen Ohlone (without gloss, since I don't have the original Rumsen text--only an Old California Spanish translation*) both being "end of the world" stories:


Amą kidunahix ką ąyaa de ca oNni etu xa. Ekeką
earth roll DS people this die PAST they say always. DS

ąxti soNsa ątatka noNpa ye dą ayąk atowe nąk oNni.
woman one child two CAUS ? tree-? she lodge sit PAST

Nąx kide aniyą xepi kacidike de tidupi hi niki nąx
sat until water-DEF low ? go alight FUT none sit

ką exkanaskena ką “Tidu wiyakate,” kiye ką, “eke
DS Red-headed Buzzard DS "help me get down" she said to him DS " so

ko ątatka soNsa ikhu hi ni,” kiyedi. Kiye ką tiduwiye
? child one I give you" DECL-FEM she say. she say DS he help her down

xeni ką ątatkayą khuni oNni etu xa. Kadeska nącįyą
though DS child-DEF she give-NEG PAST they say. bird cloud-DEF

dustuki nąk oNni, sįdipa kiduspe nąk oNnidi sįdipadi
grasp sit PAST tail-all sink sit PAST tail-all-FOC

padi soNsoNti yuke xya etu xa. Omayina etike nąk
only-FOC? sharp ? always they say always. Yellowhammer there sit

oNni eke oNni sįdipa soNsoNti. Pukayi he etike nącįk
PAST so PAST tail-all sharp. Redheaded Woodpecker too there cloud-?

dustuki nąk oNni e he sįdip soNsoNti. Teįkayi ehetike
grasp sit PAST he too tail-all sharp Ivory-billed Woodpecker there

nąk oNnidi sįdip soNsoNti etu xa.
sit PAST tail-all sharp they say always.

The Earth rolled over and people died, they say always. A woman with two children was lodged in a tree waiting for the water to subside. She said to Redheaded Buzzard, "Help me get down," she said, "and I will give you one child," she said. Redheaded Buzzard helped her down but she did not give him a child. The bird [Redheaded Buzzard] clung to a cloud while his tail sank into the water. This is why his tail is all sharp at the ends, they say always. Yellowhammer was there too and his tail is also all sharp. Redheaded Woodpecker was also there clinging to a cloud and his tail is also sharp. Ivory-billed Woodpecker was there too and his tail is also sharp. This they say always.

This is a Biloxi flood myth similar to many others of different cultures all around the world. If we lop off all the frills of this story, the woman and the children and the birds, could this perhaps refer to an actual historic event, a natural cataclysm perhaps involving an earthquake (the earth rolled?) and a subsequent deluge?


Men and women were standing lined up on a small hill. They saw Hummingbird coming toward them. This hill was the only place that had light after the world ended, and the people did not want to give the light to Hummingbird. This was the only dry land, there in Salinas in Gabilan, as they called it, and they covered the light with the clothing they had. But there was an arrow hole in the clothing and Hummingbird got in through it. He carried the light away. Since then there has been light in the world, it is said. Eagle sent Sparrow Hawk to see if the sea was drying up yet. He didn’t trust Hummingbird. Sparrow Hawk brought up a rock from the bottom of the sea. Eagle then sent Crow to see if it was true that the sea was drying up. Crow went and saw many dead people and Crow, they say, started eating the flesh of the dead. That’s why Crow is black. Because Crow spent so much time eating the flesh of the dead, the sea was already drying up. Sparrow Hawk cursed Crow and that’s why Crow is black. Then the sea dried up and there began to be ranches, houses, and there were people again. Hummingbird is Eagle’s nephew. This is why the old people no longer pity Eagle, because he made the world again. That is the story of the Indians, how the world ended.

The Rumsen story seems to share some commonality with the Biloxi story. The Rumsen myth also appears to incorporate a deluge or rising sea. Some survivors are left over to begin again.

Being that both these languages were of the oral tradition with stories passed down from one generation to the next over perhaps thousands of years, it seems logical to assume that these "myths" may be based on actual fact(s) or occurrences of ancient history. Of course the actual fact of the catastrophe has been embellished possibly for purposes of entertainment or ease of memorization, but the stories may have been based on actual disasters kept alive through the ancient memories of multiple generations.

Vine Deloria, in his book, Red Earth White Lies, encourages looking seriously at Amerindian myths and legends to find evidence of the true history of our American continent. These myths were more than just stories to entertain the kids; they were also the oral passing down of history.

* I guess one of my future challenges is to re-translate this story back into Rumsen from the Spanish and English translations once I'm acquainted enough with the Rumsen language!

** The actual title here is The Earth Died, since I don't yet know the word for "end" or "finish" in Rumsen!


Anonymous said...

This is a Biloxi flood myth similar to many others of different cultures all around the world. If we lop off all the frills of this story, the woman and the children and the birds, could this perhaps refer to an actual historic event, a natural cataclysm perhaps involving an earthquake (the earth rolled?) and a subsequent deluge?

Fascinating. Do similar flood myths crop up in other Amerindian cultures? It would be interesting to see if there is any sort of shared mythical heritage among several tribes.

The Sumerian flood myth, which some argue could either be based upon a flood in south-western Anatolia or a similar event in southern Mesopotamia, appears in nearly every Near Eastern tradition from Central Arabia upward.

It is interesting to see a similar story appear in two distinct, separate cultures by happenstance.

Emily Brown, moderator said...

This is a cool blog, and I wondered if it's possible to subscribe? My email address is Thanks!

Dave said...

ROB: I believe flood myths do crop up in many Amerindian cultures--I mean here are two coming from two entirely different cultures from different parts of the continent (Mississippi-Louisiana and California). There are myths in the Northwest that purportedly describe the blowing up of the mountain that was once as high as its sister mountain, Shasta, which created Crater Lake, and other flood myths from the Northwest that scientists are just now discovering may be related to glacial icemelt somewhere in the region of modern Montana that flooded much of the current state of Washington. Lots of interesting stuff out there if we look at these myths in the light of history rather than just as mere fairy tales or stories. As far as shared mythical heritage across cultures, yes. Many Californian tribes share similar mythology, with Coyote quite prominent among many of them. The Rumsen idea of light being taken from some type of covering to illuminate the world is shared by the Hupa of northern California, a completely separate tribe and language family.

DIVA: Thanks and welcome to my blog! As far as subscribing, I'm not technologically savvy enough to know if this is possible. But feel free to bookmark it for return visits!

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know how old Crater Lake is? That could become very interesting...

Dave said...

David: According to their official website, Crater Lake was created about 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama (about 12,000 feet high and the sister of Mount Shasta in California) blew its top. That would put the occurrence around 5,500 or so BC, not very old in geologic terms. So it seems pretty logical that the Indian tribes in that part of the world had "myths" and stories about this eruption which greatly changed the landscape!

Anonymous said...

Sounds convincing!