Creation of the World Indian Style
By Joseph Parish
In this rant, I will be comparing and contrasting the Apache and the Achomawi Indian tribes’ adaptation of the creation of their world. Prior to discussing the two versions, it would be appropriate to appreciate some of the history behind these two tribes. The first to be discussed will be the Apache tribe’s history.
The Apaches were originally located in the Alaskan region, some portions of Canada and within numerous regions of the American Southwest. Over a period of time, the Apache tribe journeyed toward the southern portion of America where it separated into two essential groups. The Rio Grande River served as the in-between line for the two Apache groups. In general, being nomadic in nature the tribe tended to travel extensively. The Apache’s diet consisted largely of Buffalo meat and this Indian tribe holds the honor of being the first Native Americans to ride and use horses on a daily basis. A large portion of the Apache tribe had migrated to the Kansas plain by the year 1700, where the tribe became somewhat of a farmer. The members were not accustomed to being located in one specific location, but managed to rise crops such as beans, corn and watermelon. Eventually their land was seized by the Comanche tribe which forced the Apache to relocate in the southwest portions of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and parts of Mexico.
In 1730 the Spaniards and Apaches fought bitter battles with many deaths on both sides. Finally, in 1743 the Apaches were designated a portion of land in the state of Texas. This assignment of land resulted in the Apaches “burying a hatchet” during a 1749 ceremony indicating the fighting was finally over. The Apache and the white man began developing a very strong relationship at this time and the Indians felt protected by the white man. This security was short lived as raids began taking place where the Indians lost both possessions and Indian lives. By 1940, these actions had taken a serious toil upon the Indian tribe, reducing the Indian numbers to a mere 35 members in Oklahoma and 1500 in New Mexico.
With this being said of the Apache tribe, the next history to cover will detail the Achomawi tribe. This tribe is often referred as the Pit River Tribe and resides on what is now Northeast California. All total there are nine separate tribes, each speaking a slightly different dialect of the same language. These are small tribes with estimated populations of about 1500 members as of the year 2000. Each of these nine bands of Indians has separate, defined territories along the banks of the Pit River. Within these territories each of the bands has built several villages composed of related family members usually anywhere from 20 to 60 inhabitants per village. Generally, the communities were organized as one central village along with several multiple satellite sites nearby. The lower mountain areas were more forest, while the upper ones were located in a drier type atmosphere. Since their environment changed from one tribal location to the other the food sources, housing and seasonal movements also varied. Summertime homes were usually cone-shaped “tule-mat” houses. In the wintertime larger home were constructed partially underground.
The Achomawi were the victims of the slave raids made by the tribes from the north. Once captured, the tribal members would be sold into slavery at a slave market. When escaping the possible trade market and living a normal life they would begin a family of their own. After marriage, the bridegroom would live in the bride’s home working and hunting for the bride’s family. In time they would rotate and move into the husband’s family home. The chief was determined to be the eldest son. If a child was born into the family the parents would be placed in seclusion, and they had specific food restrictions placed on them as they waited for the umbilical cord to drop off. In the event that twins were born one would be killed and destroyed at birth.
The Achomawi tribe would bury their dead in baskets with the dead member on their side facing the east. If a member of the family were to die outside of the immediate community they would be cremated and the ashes brought home for burial. Belongings were frequently buried with the body and there were no special ceremonies performed at their death. Widows would cut their hair, and put pitch on their faces, along with wearing a necklace around her neck with lumps of pitch on it for a period of three years. When her hair once again reached her upper arm, she was free to marry her deceased husband’s brother. They survived by fishing, hunting and gathering food from the area they lived in. The meat and fish consisted of bass, catfish, deer, pike, trout and wildfowl while the tribe gathered various eggs, herbs, insects and wild plants. The only meat that was avoided by the tribes was the domestic dog.
The Apache believed that in the beginning there was literally nothing. There was no Earth, Sky, Sun or Moon, but only darkness everywhere. As the legend states, suddenly out of this darkness came a thin disc with yellow on one side and white on the other. This disc appeared to be suspended in the air. On closer examination, there could be seen a small bearded man in the center. This was the Creator or the One Who Lives Above. The lone man wakes up rubbing his face and eyes with his hands, glancing into the darkness as light appears above. Looking down, he creates a sea of light. To the east is reveals yellow streaks of light indicating dawn. To the west are viewed tints of color. Clouds of different shades can be seen everywhere.
Tiring of this hard work the creator wiped the sweat from his face and as he is rubbing his hands together a shining cloud appears with a little girl atop it. The creator asks the little girl where she is going, but she fails to answer him. He then offers his hand to the girl as she asks him where she came from. He answers that she came from the east, where the light is and then he steps onto her cloud. He names this creature “Girl-without-Parent”. She next inquires as to where the earth is, to which the creator, replies where is the sky? He proceeds to occupy himself with creating several additional creatures such as Sun-God and Small Boy. As they sat upon the cloud the creator asked what they should do next and they all replied that the cloud was too small for any others to be on it. This was his clue to make Big Dipper, Lightning Maker and Tarantula. At this particular time, he decided it was time to create the earth. As all four of the Gods shook hands their sweat mixed and created a brown, small round ball the size of a bean. Girl-without-parent kicked the ball and it began enlarged. After a bit more work the creator announced that the world was now made.
It is easy to understand how the various Indian tribes centered their complete lifestyle on nature. Some tribes relied upon hunting while others were more subdued as their occupations bordered upon farming. The two examples above illustrate that the Apache were nomadic in culture and thus were composed of hunters and gatherers while the Achomawi were generally fishermen and growers, meaning the tribe was more confined to one single location.
The apaches thought that in the beginning there was nothing at all – nothing existed, no Earth, or Sky, no Sun or Moon. There was only darkness. The Apache was accustomed to the dark nights on the open plains and that’s reflected in their stories of creation. The Achomawi were more “Ocean” orientated and saw their humble beginnings in a water environment.
When it comes to warfare most tribes were about equal. They each had their bows, arrows, the wooden shields and battle clubs along with the more common type weapons. There was little if any gear used for fishing, which was developed by the apache civilization, but there were all kinds of fishing equipment discovered for the Achomawi tribes. Since fishing was the Achomawi’s major source of food the equipment was of the finest made at that time. It included various types of nets, baskets and spears used to capture the fish along with an abundance of fish traps made from stone. The tribe developed what was known as the dip net to entrap the fish. Other tools included fish hooks and spear points that were created from bone and horn.
As was mentioned above, there is a close relationship between the Native Americans and nature especially animals. The Indians spirituality centers upon the animal kingdom as a basis for the tribe’s cultural heritage. Often times the Indians rituals will involve sacred animals and procedures which are sometimes open to outsiders while at other times restricted to the tribe itself. The Indians religious beliefs have a common practice which includes animism, shamanism and related ceremonies frequently intended to encourage success in the hunting of animals. In the mind and spirit of the Apache there is a great deal of respect and admiration for these animals which reveals the nomadic hunting in the guise of the mountains and sky gods, while the Achomawi includes not only animals but fish and agriculture under the aspects of Mother Earth Goddesses who generate new life and vegetation. As with other Goddess related religions the Native American concept divides the universe between the Heavens, the Earth and the underworld. Here are presented various distinctions between animals, divinities, humans and spirits. Frequently these divisions are sometimes blurred and unclear.
This preliterate knowledge of the Indians is handed down orally from one generation to another and was rarely written down. In one sense, this knowledge has become communal and is contributed by many tribes and members to create a traditional knowledge base with a vast range of tribal variations. The ultimate goal of the tribes is to achieve harmony in the personal, social and spiritual realms.
To finalize this article it should be brought to light that often in the legends of the Indians the female gender has as much respect and reverence, then do the males. Typical of this was the Apache folktale featuring Girl-without-parent discussed above. Originally the girl was fabricated by the creator, but after the earth was created with her help the creator ultimately bestowed the responsibility for the overall management of all other gods in the girl’s hands.
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