THE CHUMASH INDIAN CREATION MYTH


Like that of many other Native American cultures, Chumash Indian mythology features animal deities who existed before man, and interacted with the elements and spirits in the heavens.  The Chumash myth tells of a great deluge which engulfed the earth, taking with it all living things save for the Spotted Woodpecker, the nephew of Kaqunupenawa, the Sun God.

Spotted Woodpecker survived the flood by perching itself atop the tallest tree in the world, but as he saw the water rise all the way to his feet, he cried out for his uncle's help.  "Save me, I'm drowning! - he cried.  The Sun God's daughters heard him and told Kaqunupenawa that his nephew was dying of cold and hunger.  The Sun God lowered his torch, the one he used to light the world and create the stars, and he warmed the Spotted Woodpecker with its heat.  He then tossed two acorns  in the water at his feet, so that he would be able to pick them up and eat them.  The Sun God fed more acorns to the Spotted Woodpecker, which now explains why they are its favorite food.

After the flood, the Sun God, Morning Star, the Moon, and Slo'w the Great Eagle were discussing the creation of new people to populate the earth with the Sky Coyote, trying to decide on their appearance.  The Great Eagle and the Sky Coyote argued whether the humans should have hands like the the Sky Coyote's, who believed that the new people should be made in his image.  He won the argument, and the next day, all gathered around a white rock so that Sky Coyote could press his hand into it to make his hand print, but the Lizard, who had been a silent observer at the proceedings leapt forward and pressed his own hand onto the rock.  Lizard escaped the furious Sky Coyote, and the Sun and the Eagle approved of the hand print and this is why human hands are somewhat shaped like the Lizard's.

The first people were created from the seeds planted on Limuw (Santa Cruz Island) by Hutash, the Earth Goddess.  Hutash was married to the Sky Snake (The Milky Way), who made lightning with his tongue and gave the people their first fire. The people kept the fire burning to stay warm and cook their food.  Since the people were getting more comfortable, their population grew until the Island became too crowded.

They also made so much noise that Hutash could not get any sleep, so she decided it was time to allow some of the people to cross over to the mainland.  Hutash made Wishtoyo, a Rainbow Bridge which extended from the tallest peak of the Island to the tallest inland mountain near Carpinteria.  She told the people to cross carefully, and to never look down, but some did, and fell off the Rainbow Bridge and into the ocean, where they were turned into dolphins by Hutash to prevent them from drowning.  This is why the Chumash Indians consider the dolphins to be their brothers.  The Chumash honor Hutash every September with a great Harvest Festival named after her.

For more on the Rainbow Bridge and other Chumash legends, we recommend you read The Rainbow Bridge by Audrey Wood, and Robert Florczak (Illustrator).


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Last modified: May 09, 2003