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Essay/Term paper: Native americans creation legend

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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Thesis: The Shaman"s job of passing down the tribe"s ancient legends are very important.

I Shamans

A. definition

B. purpose

1. balance

2. success hunting

3. planting

4. cure sickness

C. Usually males

1. post menopausal women

2. blood powers

II passed down from generation to generation

A. usually from memory

1. sand drawings

2. birch bark scrolls

3. paintings on rocks

4. animal hides

B. children

1. eight-familiar stories

2. ten- know history

III answer basic questions

A. where do we come from

B. where are we going

C. how the world came into being

D. how it was transformed

E. guidelines of behavior

F. tools of survival

IV unknown how long been around

A. possible nomadic ancestors from old world

1. Siberian land bridge

2. Migrated

3. Regional tales similar

B. Environmental contributions

1. northeastern forest dwellers

a. arctic hare

b. wolf

c. cedar tree

2. agricultural southerners

a. Corn maidens

b. Sacred mountains

3. coastal people

a. aquatic animals

b. sea birds

c. ocean monsters

V stories told in different ways

A. told by fire

B. Chanting

1. Netslik Inuit

2. Special powers

VI special rites

A. Maidu-lay down

B. Cheyenne-smooth dirt

C. Other-presents

VII Special words

A. Seneca- when the world was new

B. Pima- they say it happened long ago

C. Zuni answers

D. Californian- order back to cave

VIII Reoccurring themes

A. Mother earth

B. Humans and animals

C. Animal teachers

D. Plots

1. complex

2. humor

3. values

IX equal with everything

A. Share earth like family

B. Man another animal

X characters

A. Animals

1. ravens

2. raccoons

3. foxes

4. beavers

5. blue jays

6. spiders

B roles

1. helpers

2. meddlers

3. both

C Coyote

1. respected

2. cunning

3. able to survive in all environments

a. prairie

b. woodlands

c. mountains

d. desert

XI Crow Indians

A Old man coyote

B. Ducks

1. root

2. mud

C. Empty island

1. root- trees plants

2. ducks

3. men

4. women

5. different animals

6. drum

7. songs

8. dancing

D. Shirape


2. Different languages

3. war

XII One animal

A. Plains Indians-muskrat

B. Inuit- raven with spear

C. Californian –turtles, waterfowl

D. Many- turtle

XIII Seneca

A. chief"s wife falls

B. waterfowl catch

C. frog gets dirt

D. turtle spreads- landmass

XIV Nez Perce

A. Monster eats all except coyote

B coyote tricks monster

C. befriend monster

D. go in stomach

E. make fire

F. cut out heart

G. flung flesh

H. tribes sprung up

I. blood- Nez Perce

XV Wappo Legend

A. flooded earth

B. hawk and coyote alone

C. create people from feathers

D. ask Old man moon

1. talk

2. movement

3. laughter

4. walk eat

XVI Tsimshian

A. raven pities dark world

B. transformed to a cedar leaf

C. dropped in stream

D. swallowed by chief"s daughter

E. gave birth to raven

F. played with the box that held daylight

G. stole it and flew to earth

H. smashed it on rocks

XVII Enlightenment of the sky

A. Zuni

1. Mother and father earth in primordial waters

2. Mother grew pregnant

3. Slipped beneath

B. Luiseno

1. short dialogue

2. made love

XVIII Okanagon

A. Earth a woman

B. Mother of all people

C. Flesh- soil

D. Bones- rocks

E. Breath- wind

F. Hair- plants

G. Movements- earthquakes

XIX Wichita

A. Star that is always moving

B. Shoot third deer

C. First-white

D. Second- black

E. Chased it in the sky

F. Stars

G. Finally catches world ends

XX Pawnee

A. Buffalo

B. Hair falls each year

C. All gone the end of the world

XXI Pawnee

A. Council meeting

B. Wolf not invited

C. Stole storm"s wind bag

D. People killed the wolf

E. Wolf people

XXII Closing

Shaman is a word that described the mystic healers of Siberia. They are also one of the names that French trappers named the Native American "doctors", along with medicine men and priests (Flaherty 15). Shamans are usually males, but sometimes they are postmenopausal females. The Native Americans say that menstrual blood is thought to contain special powers all of its own. The tribes count on the shamans to maintain a balance between the tribe and spirit world. They also ensure success in hunting, planting or in preventing sickness and curing diseases. One of their most important and interesting customs and responsibilities is to keep the tribe's legends throughout the tribe.

They pass down these ancient legends from each generation to generation. The shamans miraculously usually only use their memory alone, but sometimes they have a few reminders. Some shamans have used sand drawings or birch bark scrolls, and paintings on rocks or animal hides. The tribe"s memories for remembering the stories are amazing. Only a few have used these reminders and they are only a few pictures for details. By the time most Indian children were eight years old, they were already familiar with many stories and legends. By the time they were ten they could recite their nation"s history for hundreds and hundreds of years (geocities).

The stories answer basic questions concerning the human condition. Where do we come from? Where are we going? How did the world come into being? How was the world transformed? What are good guidelines for behavior? They also teach tools of behavior. The ability to hunt certain animals, plant certain crops or perform certain ceremonies or prayers are ideas usually found in the stories.

Exactly how long these legends have been around for is unknown. It is possible that the nomadic ancestors of the Indians brought elements of the tales with them from the Old World across the Siberian Alaskan land bridge into North America (Flaherty 17). As the migrants worked their way south and east, they altered the tales to reflect their environments and their own tribal histories. Gradually the sharing of the stories and the collective experience among the tribes living in particular regions of North America gave way to regular tales that showed similar characteristics. The northeastern forest dweller's stories usually feature the arctic hare, the wolf and the cedar tree. The agricultural southerner's legends include corn maidens and sacred mountains. The coastal people had tales of all kind of aquatic animals, seabirds, and sometimes ocean monsters.

The legends are told by a fire most of the time. They were occasionally accompanied by chanting or prayers. It was usually in comprehensible to the listeners. The chants were said to carry special powers. A Netslik Inuit described them as, "thoughts sung out with breath when people are moved by great forces and ordinary language no longer will do."

Different special rites according to which tribe they come from precede the tales. The Maidu, who used to live by the eastern tributaries of the Sacramento River in present day California, used to make the audience lie down on their backs to better promote quiet and attentiveness. The Cheyenne, of present day Minnesota to the Great Plains, introduce the tales by smoothing the dirt on the ground and passing his hands all over his body in brushing motions. Other tribes require those who want to listen to give a present to the storyteller before the story can begin.

Sometimes the ancient legends are preceded or finished with special words or phrases. The Seneca of the Northeast begin their tales with, "When the world was new." The Pima and Papago often begin their stories with, "They say it happened long ago." Others require a response from the people they"re listening like the Zuni. They begin with, "Now we are taking it up." To which the audience replies, "Yes, indeed." The narrator then says, "Now it begins to be made." When the tale is finished, some Californian Indians order the tale back to its cave as if it was alive.

Since most of the stories are similar there are only a few reoccurring themes. One is mother earth as our life host. Another is the relationship of reprocity that exists between human beings and animals. The Indian's dependence on animals as teachers is yet another. The plots are usually complex. They take numerous twists and turns. They also often include humor. The story's humor should not take away from the values of the story. Many parents count on the legends to teach their children how to be good, honest, and generous people.

Native Americans do not think they were put on this earth more important than anything, alive or inanimate. In the eye of the Creator they believe, man and woman, plant and animal, water and stone are all equal. They believe we all share the earth together almost like a family. Jenny Leading Cloud of the Rosebud Indian Reservation explains, "We Indians think of the earth and the whole universe as a never ending circle, man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers, the birds our cousins. We end our prayers with the words all relations-and that includes everything that grows, creeps, hops, and flies.

The stories found in oral tradition usually involve the workings of supernatural powers and spirits of clever animals. Usually these animals are ravens, raccoons, foxes, beavers, blue jays and spiders. They all speak the language of the people. The animals play the roles of helpers, meddlers, or both. Of all animals, the coyote appears the most. It is respected its supreme cunning and remarkable ability to survive in all environments. It can live in the prairie, the woodlands, the mountains, and the desert.

The crow Indians believed that a coyote created the earth. In the beginning according to the crow tale, Old Man Coyote stood alone gazing out on an endless expanse of water. In time, two red-eyed ducks paddled by, and Old Man Coyote eagerly asked if they had seen anything else during their travels. The ducks replied that they had seen nothing, but suggested that perhaps there was something under the waters. His curiosity piqued, Old Man Coyote asked them to have a look. So one of the ducks dove to the bottom, only to return with nothing. Old Man Coyote appealed him to try again. This time the duck returned with a small root in his bill. Then he dove a third time and returned with a lump of mud.

"Well, my younger brothers," Old Man Coyote said, "this is something we can build on." Old Man Coyote blew on the mud until it expanded to an island. He blew one more time and the island grew into the earth.

"It would be nicer if it was not so empty," suggested one of the ducks. To please them, Old Man Coyote made the grass, the trees, and all the plants out of the root that the duck had plucked from beneath the waters. The ducks and the coyote now admired the brown prairie that now lay before them, but eventually they decided it was too flat. So Old Man Coyote shifted the earth to form rivers, canyons, and mountains.

"This is perfect," exclaimed the ducks happily. "Who could imagine anything more?"

Nevertheless, Old Man Coyote was not entirely satisfied with what he had created. "This is very beautiful," he conceded. "But I am lonely and bored. We need companions."

So Old Man Coyote scooped up some of the earth and shaped it into men. After finishing that task, he molded male ducks of all varieties. Old Man Coyote was pleased with his handiwork until he realized that he had forgotten something.

"If there were woman, the men would be content, and they could multiply and grow strong," he said. So he scooped up another handful of dirt and made woman and female ducks.

Then, one day while Old Man Coyote was walking about the earth, he encountered another coyote. "Why younger brother, what a wonderful surprise!" he said. "Where did you come from?"

"Well, my elder brother, I don't know. I exist. That is all. Here I am. Shirape, I call myself." The two coyotes traveled together across the land. Shirape suggested that Old Man Coyote make some other animals besides ducks. Old Man Coyote agreed and made them by pronouncing different animal names, such as buffalo, deer, elk, antelope and bear. After a while, he created the drum, songs and dancing. When the bear threatened the other animals with his claws, Old Man Coyote banished him to a den where he had to sleep all winter long.

Meanwhile, the people were in a miserable state. One day, Shirape suggested to Old Man Coyote that he give them tools to work with, tipis to live in, and fire to cook by and warm themselves. Shirape also suggested giving them bows and arrows and spears so that they could hunt better. "Why shouldn't the animals have bows and arrows too?" Old Man Coyote inquired.

"Don't you see?" Shirape replied. "The animals are swift. The already have big claws, teeth and horns. The people are slow. Their teeth and nails are not very strong. If animals had weapons, how could the people survive?"

Old Man Coyote gave the people weapons, but Shirape remained dissatisfied. "There is only one language," he complained. "You can't fight someone who speaks your language. There should be enmity. There should be war.

"What are wars good for?" asked Old Man Coyote.

"Oh my respected elder brother," Shirape replied. "Sometimes you are not thinking. War is a good thing. Say you are a warrior. You paint yourself with vermilion. You wear a fine war shirt. You sing war songs. You have war honors. You look at the good-looking young girls. You look at young woman whose husband have no war honors. They look back at you. You go on the warpath. You steal the enemies' horses. You steal his woman and maidens. You count coup, do brave deeds. You are rich. You have gifts to give away. They sing songs honoring you. You have many loves. And by and by, you become a chief." So Old Man Coyote divided the people into tribes, giving them different languages. Then there was war, then there was horse stealing, then there was counting coup, then there were songs of honor.

Many tribes, like the crow say that one animal created the earth. For the Plains Indians the muskrat created the world. For the Inuit of far North, a raven armed with a spear is the creator. For the Californian Indians a turtle or some kind of water fowls. Many North American peoples also thought the world was a giant turtle floating around in a vast endless sea.

The Seneca of New York has several creatures as their creators. Long ago, when the world was nothing but water, the wife of the great chief fell from her home in heaven and plummeted toward the abyss. Looking up, waterfowl saw her coming and kindly joined their bodies to cushion her fall. In time she became too heavy for the waterfowl to hold, so they persuaded a frog to dive beneath the ocean and return with the dirt needed to make a landmass. Then, they enlisted the help of a turtle and spread the mud on the animal"s carapace, where it expanded and deepened until it was able to accommodate all of the creatures that were produced there after.

The Nez Perce also trace their origin to the crafty coyote. A monster comes out of the woods and eats all of the animals except for the coyote. Angered by the loss of his friends, Coyote climbed the highest mountain, tied himself to its peak with a strong rope, and challenged the monster to eat him. The monster tried to suck him up, but the rope was too strong. The monster recognizing the coyote"s cleverness and befriended him. Coyote asked to go visit his friends in the monster"s stomach, to which the monster agreed. When in the monster, the coyote kindled a fire and cut out the monster"s heart freeing the animals. To commemorate his feat the coyote flung pieces of the corpse and wherever they land, a tribe of Indians sprang up. When the coyote was done, the fox reminded him that he had not made a tribe on the place where he had killed the monster. The monster"s corpse was all gone so he wrung the blood off of his hands and made the Nez Perce.

The Wappo Legend involves a coyote and a hawk. The place where they were living was flooded. The coyote locked himself up in the hole in the rock together with his grandson. After twenty days, the water had disappeared and the coyote looked around and no one was there. "Well," said the chicken hawk, "what are we going to do, grandfather?" The coyote said, "We"ll create people." Then he picked up some feathers and built a sweathouse. In the sweathouse he placed these feathers one by one. "Well, may these become people!" and the feathers became alive. The next day they woke up but all were lying down and they did not speak. "Grandfather," said chicken hawk, "what is the matter with them? They don"t talk." The coyote went to old man moon. Moon said, "well?" The coyote said, "I have come after words," and moon placed some words in a sack. He tied up the end of the sack and said, "Here take it." The coyote packed it on his back and took it to the sweathouse. There he untied the sack and the people were able to speak.

They slept there and the next morning chicken hawk said, "grandfather, they don"t move." The coyote went to old man moon. Moon said, "well?" The coyote said, "I have come after fleas," and moon placed some fleas in a sack. He tied up the end of the sack and said, "Here take it." The coyote packed it on his back and took it to the sweathouse. There he untied the sack and poured out the fleas. They bit the people and they moved.

They slept there and the next morning chicken hawk said, "grandfather, they don"t laugh." The coyote went to old man moon. Moon said, "well?" The coyote said, "I have come after laughter," and moon placed some laughter in a sack. He tied up the end of the sack and said, "Here take it." The coyote packed it on his back and took it to the sweathouse. There he untied the sack and people laughed.

Again they slept and the next morning chicken hawk said, "grandfather, they don"t walk." The coyote went to old man moon. Moon said, "well?" The coyote said, "I have come after walking," and moon placed some walking in a sack. He tied up the end of the sack and said, "Here take it." The coyote packed it on his back and took it to the sweathouse. There he untied the sack and the people walked.

The next morning the people walked, laughed, spoke, and moved around. Chicken hawk said, "grandfather, they don"t eat." The coyote went to old man moon. Moon said, "well?" The coyote said, "I have come after bread and mush and pinole," and moon placed a piece of bread, and put some mush and pinole in a sack. He tied up the end of the sack and said, "Here take it." The coyote packed it on his back and took it to the sweathouse. There he untied the sack and divided the bread and pinole and mush. Each person got just enough. Then they stayed there and were happy.

The Tsimshian relate a story that honors the raven for fetching light from heaven to light up the world below. When the earth was young and still shrouded in twilight, the chief of sky gave one of the youth in heaven the skin of a raven, which the boy wore in order to fly all around the world. Soaring above the earth, the boy took pity on its people, who he observed fumbling around in the twilight. He knew that there was light in heaven, and he made up his mind to steal it.

To steal daylight from the chief of sky, however, Raven had to assume an elaborate disguise. Flying to his home in heaven, he transformed himself into a cedar leaf and dropped into a stream. There, the chief"s daughter later stopped for a drink of the cool water and unwittingly swallowed him. Impregnated by this action, she soon gave birth to Raven. The precious child insisted on playing with a magic toy, the box that held daylight. His loving grandfather, the chief, could not deny him the box. The boy played with the box for four days in the great house in the sky. Then, when the chief was not looking, the boy put on his raven skin and flew to earth. He carried the box of daylight carefully beneath one wing.

After landing on a tree near the river, Raven, who was always famished, called to the people who were fishing to bring him some of their fish. They only ignored him. Furious, Raven smashed the box on the rocks below. Suddenly there was a wondrous flash and the world was transformed. Dawn arrived and it has been this way ever since.

Other tales tell of the sky as a great source of power and enlightenment, but it must be wedded to the earth first. The Zuni legend tells us that at the dawn of time Mother Earth and Father sky lay in the primordial waters in a fertile embrace. Growing large with her offspring, Mother Earth separated herself from Father sky and slid underneath the waters. In a similar story, the Luiseno tell that life began when two formless energies that were male and female drifted close to each other in the void. The female said, "I am that which stretches out flat." The male replied, "I am that which arches over everything." After that small conversation they made love and produced the "thoughts" of all that was to come.

The Okanagon"s tales say that a mysterious creator known as chief of spirits formed earth out of woman. The chief told her, "You will be the mother of all people." Out of her own flesh he made the soil that we live on. From her bones we have rocks. Her breath is our wind. Out of her hair he made our plants and trees. When she moves, that is when we have earthquakes.

The Wichita of the South Plains tell that the world began when a voice sang out to the great hunter, Star That Is Always Moving, instructing him to shoot the third deer leaping out of the primordial waters. The first deer was as white as the moon. The second deer was as black as the night sky. The third was a combination of black and white. Star That Is Always Moving shot the black and white deer, wounding it with it"s arrow. Now there is always alternation of day and night. The hunter, hoping to get back his arrow, chased the wounded deer and its two companions into the sky where they became stars. In hope of recapturing his arrow, he has continued to chase the wounded deer ever since that time. Every year he gets closer. When he finally catches his prey, the world will end.

The Pawnee people of the Plains said that the Great Spirit propped up the heavens by placing a huge buffalo bull in the northwestern corner of the sky. That is the direction of which great herds of migrating buffalo appeared in the fall. Each year one hair will fall from the buffalo. When all of the hairs have fallen, the world will end.

It is told in the creation legend of the Pawnee that a great council was held to which all the animals were invited. For a reason no one remembers, the brightest star in the southern sky, the Wolf Star, was not invited. We watched from a distance, silent and angry, while everyone else decided how to make the earth. In the time after the great council the Wolf Star directed his resentment over this bad treatment at The Storm that Comes Out of the West, who had been charged by the others with going around the earth, seeing to it that things went well. Storm carried a whirlwind bag with him as he traveled inside of which were the first people. When he stopped to rest in the evening he would let the people out and they would set up camp and hunt buffalo.

One time the Wolf Star sent a gray wolf down to follow Storm around. Storm fell asleep and the wolf stole his whirlwind bag, thinking there might be something good to eat inside. He ran far away with it. When he opened it, all the people ran out. They set up camp but, suddenly, looking around, they saw there were no buffalo to hunt. When they realized it was a wolf and not Storm that had let them out of the bad they were very angry. They ran the wolf down and killed him.

When The Storm that Comes out of the West located the first people and saw what they had done he was very sad. He told them that by killing the wolf they had brought death into the world. That had not been the plan, but now it was this way.

The Storm that Comes out of the West told them to skin the wolf and make a sacred bundle with the pelt, enclosing in it the things that would always bring back the memory of what had happened. Thereafter, he told them, they would be known as the wolf people, the Skidi Pawnee.

The Wolf Star watched all this from the southern sky. The Pawnee call this star Fools the Wolves, because it rises just before the morning star and tricks the wolves into howling before first light. In this way the Wolf Star continues to remind people that when it came time to build the earth, he was forgotten.

After reading and learning about these creation legends I am intrigued. The shaman"s job of keeping and teaching the legends isn"t even their full job, but it"s important enough to be one. They have to remember and keep all of the customs that go with the story also. I think that they their way of teaching history is great. They all memorize the stories when they are very young and share them. These stories aren"t just history, they are also the guidelines for the children"s behavior.


Flaherty, Thomas H. The Spirit World. Virginia: Time Life Books, 1992.




Leonard, Linda Schierse. Creation"s Heartbeat. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.


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