Pima Stories of the Beginning of the World: The Story of the Creation
Selections from Awawtam, Indian Nights, Being the Myths and Legends of the Primas of Arizona (1911)
Included in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
In the beginning there was no earth – no water, no sun, no light. There was only a man. A man left to drift through the darkness, which was darkness itself; Juhwertamahkai, Doctor of the Earth. He wandered through nowhere and nothing until he’d wandered enough. He rubbed on his breast until he had moahhahttack, perspiration, or greasy earth.This he held out on the palm of his hand, tipping over three times. On the fourth try it stayed still, hanging in the middle of the air. There it now remains as the world.
First he created the greasewood bush. Then he made ants, little tiny ants, to live on the bush. But the little ants did not do any good, so he created white ants which enlarged the earth, until at last it was big enough for he himself to rest on. Next came a person, forging him out of the shadow of his eye to assist him, to be like him and to help him in creating trees and human beings and everything that was to be on earth. He named this man Nooee (the Buzzard). Nooee was given all power, but did not like the work he was created for and did not care to help; so the Doctor of the Earth created it himself.
Next came water, placing it in a hollow vessel to harden into ice. He placed the hardened ball in the sky, first in the North, but it did not work; then he tried the West, but it did not work; next he tried the South, but it did not work; finally he placed it in the East, where it worked just as he wanted it to. He made the moon the same way, trying the same places with the same results. But when he made the stars he tried something different, and filling his mouth with water spit into the sky. But the stars did not shine bright enough. He took the Doctor-stone, the tonedumhawteh, and smashed it up. He collected the pieces and threw them into the sky to mix with the water. Finally, when all was settled he created the mountains and everything that has seed and is good to eat.
The first parents were perfect; there was no sickness and no death. But when the earth was full, and there was nothing left to eat, they killed and ate each other. Juhwertamahkai did not like what had become of his people and so he let the sky fall on them. When it dropped, he took a staff a broke a hole through. A hole through which he and Nooee escaped, leaving nothing but death behind them.
Seated upon the ruins of the world he had created, Juhwertamahkai created a second heaven and earth, but the people turned grey in old age and their children became grey until eventually the babies were grey in their cradles. He did not like his people becoming grey in their cradles, and so he let the sky fall on them as well. On top of his second, he crafted a third. But these people made a vice of smoking, until the infants wanted to smoke in their cradles. He let the sky fall on them as well and set about building another heaven and earth exactly as before. This time though, he decided to leave his creations to their own devices.
At first the slope of the world ran westward and had no true valleys to catch water for people to drink. Juhwertamahkai sent Nooee to fly among the mountains to cut valleys with his wings so water could be caught and distributed. Now, the sun was male and the moon was female and together they met once a month. The moon soon became a mother and went to the mountain of Tahsmyettahn Toeahk (sun striking mountain) to bear her child. Having to return to work, she made a place for the child to rest among trampled weeds and the child, having no milk, gained sustenance on the earth. This child was the coyote, and as he grew went out to walk, and in his walk came to the house of Juhwertamahkai and Nooee, where the Doctor of the Earth dubbed him “Toehahvs,” after the name of the weeds upon which he was laid.
Out of the North came another powerful figure named Eeeetoy (Creator/Doctor of the Earth) who was greeted by Juhwertamahkai and Nooee as their younger brother at which he insisted that he was the eldest among them. After much dispute, and because he felt so strongly they agreed to call him Seeurhuh, or elder brother.
- How does this compare with the other stories of creation you may have read?
- What if any themes do you notice between this creation story and others? Are there any? Speaking generally what themes come into play now?
- How does it compare to the Iroquois stories?
- Is there anything striking about the Pima’s creation story to you particularly reading it from a modern perspective? Have people changed much since the time of its origin and now?