An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 78

The Arawak family, inhabiting the Guianas, Northern Brazil, and part of Columbia, believe that in the beginning the animals were created by Makonaima, the great spirit, whom no man has seen.[7] They had at that time the power of speech, and[Pg 178] Sigu, the son of Makonaima, was placed to rule over them. Makonaima created a marvellous tree, each branch of which produced a different kind of fruit The agouti discovered it first, and, coming daily to the tree, ate his fill without apprising the other animals. Sigu, suspecting him, ordered the woodpecker to keep him in sight, but the bird failed to detect him, and he was ultimately convicted by the rat. The tree was now open to all, and the animals were about to consume the fruits in toto when Sigu determined to cut down the tree and extend it over the whole earth by planting every seed and slip which it would furnish. To this end he employed the birds and beasts, all of which assisted willingly, except Iwarrika, the monkey, who thwarted the labours of the others. The stump of the tree was discovered to be full of water containing the fry of every description of fresh-water fish. The water beginning to flow, Sigu covered the tree-stump with a closely woven basket, but the monkey removed this and precipitated a terrible flood. Sigu then led the animals to an eminence where some high cocorite palms grew, and these he made the birds and climbing animals ascend. Those which could not climb and were not amphibious he placed in a cave, and closed and sealed it with wax. He then ascended the cocorite palm himself. During the terrible period of darkness and storm which followed Sigu dropped the seeds of the cocorite into the water beneath to judge by the sound of its depth. When at length he heard them strike the soft earth he knew that the period of flood had passed. The Macusis believe that the only person who survived the deluge re-peopled the earth by converting stones into human beings, as did Deucalion and Pyrrha. The Tamanacs say that one man and one woman were saved by taking refuge on the lofty mountains of Tamanucu, and that they threw over their heads the fruits of the Mauritius palm, from the kernels of which sprang men and women. The Warrau tribe of the Arawaks possessed the following legend of their own origin and that of the Caribs. The Warraus originally dwelt in a pleasant region above the sky, where there were neither wicked men nor noxious animals. Okonorote, a young hunter, having wandered far in pursuit of a beautiful bird, espied it and[Pg 179] discharged an arrow which missed its mark and disappeared. While searching for his arrow he found a hole through which it had fallen, and on looking through it descried the lower world. He made a rope by which he descended with his tribe, a corpulent woman, as in several of the North American myths, remaining fixed in the aperture, and filling it up. In answer to the people's cries for water the Great Spirit created the Essiquibo river. Later, Korobona, a Warrau maiden, produced the first Carib—a terrible warrior, who slew many Warraus. The Paressi tribe of the Arawaks believed that the neglect of certain customs was the origin of misfortune in the world. They also related that Maiso, a stone woman, produced all living beings and all rivers. Even the domestic animals and iron tools of the whites were borne by this original mother.

The Arawaks of Guiana had a myth that Aimon Kondi, the Great Spirit, scourged the world with fire, from which the survivors sought refuge in underground caverns. A great flood followed, and Marerewana and his followers saved themselves in a canoe. Still another Arawak myth relates that the Creator, having completed the cosmic scheme, seated himself in a great silk-cotton tree by a river side and cut off pieces of its bark, which he cast all around. Those which reached the water became fish, those which touched the air birds, those which alighted upon the earth animals and men.

The Athapascan Indians of North-west America believe the creator of the world to be Yetl, the bird from whose wings came thunder. The plane of earth arose from the waters as Yetl brooded thereon. The Athapascans trace their descent from Yetl, who, they believe, saved their ancestors from the flood and, like Prometheus, brought them fire from Heaven.


The Iroquois tribes believe that their female ancestress fell from Heaven into the waste of primeval waters; but the dry land bubbled up under her feet and quickly grew to the size of a continent. Several of these tribes, however, are of opinion that some amphibious animals, such as the otter, beaver, and[Pg 180] musk-rat, noticed her fall, and hastened to break it by shovelling up earth from the mud beneath the waters. Indeed, the Indians of this family were wont to point to the mountain so raised near the falls of the Oswego river.


Although there are no less than twenty-one different linguistic divisions in California, the similarity of their myths is remarkable. The Maidu have a most intricate creation myth of Kodoyanpe, the Creator, and the Coyote, who discovered the world and rendered it habitable for men. The first human beings were small wooden images like those in the Popol Vuh, but these mannikins were no more tractable than were those of Guatemala, and were at last changed into animals. Kodoyanpe, the Beneficent, perceived that Coyote was bent upon evil courses, and conceived the idea of his destruction. In this he was aided by a being called the Conqueror, destroyer of many monsters and evil things which would have menaced the life of man still unborn; but at length Kodoyanpe was defeated by Coyote and fled eastward, as did Quetzalcoatl in Mexican myth. The Indians then sprang from the places where the mannikins of the first creation had been buried. Other versions of the myth tell of a primeval waste of waters upon which Kodoyanpe and Coyote dropped in a canoe. "Let this surf become sand!" cried Coyote, and it became sand.

The Achomawi, neighbours to the Maidu, state that the Creator originally emerged from a small cloud, and that Coyote sprang from a fog. The Aschochimi of California had a flood myth of the total destruction of humanity; but by planting the feathers of divers birds the Coyote grew a new crop of men of various tribes.

Mr W. Barbrook Grubb in his recent book on the Lengua Indians of South America describes their creation myth as follows:

"Their whole mythology is founded upon their idea of the Creation, of which we know only the bare outlines. The Creator of all things, spiritual and material, is symbolized by[Pg 181] a beetle. It seems that the Indian idea is that the material universe was first made. The Creator, in the guise of the beetle, then sent forth from its hole in the earth a race of powerful beings—according to many in an embodied state—who for a time appear to have ruled the universe.

"Afterwards the beetle formed man and woman from the clay which it threw up from its hole. These were sent forth on the earth, joined together like the Siamese twins. They met with persecution from their powerful predecessors, and accordingly appealed to the creating beetle to free them from their disadvantageous formation. He therefore separated them, and gave them power to propagate their species, so that they might become numerous enough to withstand their enemies. It then appears that some time after this, or at this time, the powerful beings first created became disembodied, as they never appear again in the tradition of the Indians in material form. The beetle then ceased to take any active part or interest in the governance of the world, but committed its fortunes to these two races, which have been antagonistic ever since.