An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 79

"It is rather remarkable, when we consider that they have no written records, and no system of carefully transmitted tradition, that they should retain a belief in an original Creator, in the immortality of the soul, and in the existence of these powerful and numerous evil personifications which they call kilyikhama.

"That the Indian should regard the beetle as the symbol of creative power is, perhaps, the most remarkable feature in their mythology, for it closely resembles the Egyptian Scarabæus and the ideas associated with it."


Some American myths recount the manner in which mankind originally emerged from the earth. Thus the Caddoan family (Pawnees, Wichitu, etc.) believed that they came from the Underworld. Atius Tirawa, their creative agency, was omnipotent and invincible, dwelt in the upper air, and guided the constellations. A similar myth is that of the[Pg 182] Mandan Sioux, who suppose that the progenitors of their 'nation' lived in a subterranean village near a vast lake. A grape-vine penetrated the earth, and clambering up this several of them gained the upper world.


The ancient Caribs of the Antilles, now extinct, regarded the earth, which they designated Mama Nono, as "the good mother, from which all things come." They believed that their original founder created the race by sowing the soil with stones, or with the fruit of the Mauritius palm, which sprouted forth into men and women (Müller, Amerikanische Urreligionen). The Bakairi Caribs possess a belief akin to that of the Zuñi Indians of New Mexico regarding the coming together of the Sky-Father and the Earth-Mother, originally in opposition to one another, communicating, then touching, and at last moving away from one another until they exchanged places. In the legends of the Bakairi, the mystical twin heroes Keri and Kame brought the first animals from the hollow trunk of a tree, which they connect with the Milky Way. The Caribs possess the same myth as the Arawaks regarding the efforts of the primitive culture-hero to gauge the depths of the volume of water which enshrouded the earth. Another Carib deluge myth related that excessive rains brought about a great flood, and that humanity was saved by the ibis, which had scooped up so much earth with its beak that hills could be formed from the heap. The Bakairi believe that the sun and moon were in the beginning aimlessly carried about by two birds, until at last Keri and Kame seized them by cunning, and made them proceed in a regular course. They aver that the luminaries are concealed by certain animals—lizards, birds, and spiders—which swallow the sun at night and the moon by day, disgorging them in the morning and evening respectively. Others believe that the moon is obscured at night by a shaman taking the form of a bird, and covering its disk with his wings. The Pleiades the Bakairi believe to be parakeets. In Orion they see a dried stick of manioc.

[Pg 183]


A twofold destruction befell the original Tupi-Guarani people of Brazil. According to the myth, Monan the Creator, vexed with mankind, attempted to destroy the world by fire; but one Irin Magé a magician of might, extinguished the conflagration by a heavy rain-storm. This in turn caused the rivers and lakes to overflow. When the flood subsided, a quarrel between the hero-brothers Tamandare and Aricoute precipitated another deluge, for the former stamped his foot so deeply into the ground that a flood of water issued therefrom, and the two brothers and their families were forced to take refuge in trees. The Mundruku tribe possesses a myth that a god Raini formed the world by placing it in the shape of a flat stone upon the head of another demiurge. Some other Tupi tribes believe in an interchange of Heaven and earth, as do the Zuñi Indians, while the Mundruku hero, Karu, creates mountains by blowing feathers about. The River Chaco Indians, cognate to the Guarani, believe that the universe was created by a gigantic beetle. After having made the plains, mountains, and forests, it scraped a hole in the ground and entered the earth. From this hole numerous living beings issued and covered the face of the earth. These beings after death became evil spirits, and constantly torment mankind. From the particles of soil thrown up by its excoriations the beetle constructed a man and woman, the progenitors of all human kind. Subsequently other evil spirits came from the hole, and attempted to overthrow the man and woman. The beetle gave power to the human beings to resist, but then withdrew, taking no further interest in their fate. An early traveller, Hans Staden, writing in 1550 of the Tupi-Guarani tribes, states their belief in the destruction of their ancestors by a powerful supernatural being, Maire, in an inundation from which but a few were saved by climbing trees and hiding in caves. The same authority gives the names of three brothers, Krimen, Hermitten, and Coem, from whom these tribes claimed descent. The southern tribes speak of four brothers, two of them called Tupi and Guarani respectively, and parents of the racial divisions designated after[Pg 184] them. Among the northern Tupi proper a very definite cosmogony is discovered. Toru-shom-pek, the sun, is their principle of good, and Toru-guenket, the moon, the power of evil. The latter is supposed to fall periodically and destroy the earth, and from her emanate all baneful influences, such as thunder-storms and floods. Tupi cosmology rests primarily upon the idea that all created things possess a maker or 'mother' who is solely responsible for the scheme of creation, no male influence being traceable. There are three other superior deities, who made the various natural families and are generally known among the Tupi tribes as Guaracy, the sun, creator of all animals, Jacy, the moon, creator of plant-life, and Peruda or Ruda, the god of generation, who promotes the reproduction of human beings. Each of these has a number of demiurges under him, served by numerous spirits who protect every individual animal, plant, and person. But Tupi cosmology varies with locality, and this accounts for the conflicting notices of its several investigators. Like the Arawaks, the Tupi believe in Tupan, who alone of his four brothers survived the deluge, but he does not appear as a creative agency. The conception of natural phenomena among the Tupi-Guarani tribes is no less curious than their theories of creation. They believe the Pleiades to be a swarm of celestial bees. The Bororos Indians and other tribes believe the Southern Cross to be the track of an emu, and the Milky Way an ash-track.