Myths & Legends



Apache: The Creation

With a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, the legend that follows of the Apache Creation is edited by Frederick Well Hodge, and reproduced in The North American Indian, Being A Series Of Volumes Picturing And Describing The Indians Of The United States And Alaska.

Frederick W. Hodge (October 28, 1864 – September 28, 1956) was an editor, anthropologist, archaeologist, and historian.

Frederick W. Hodge frames the religious beliefs of the Apache: “the Apache is inherently devoutly religious; his life is completely moulded by his religious beliefs. From his morning prayer to the rising sun, through the hours, the days, and months—throughout life itself—every act has some religious significance. Animals, elements, every observable thing of the solar system, all natural phenomena, are deified and revered. Like all primitive people, not understanding the laws of nature, the Apache ascribe to the supernatural all things passing their understanding. The medicine-men consider disease evil, hence why try to treat evil with drugs? Disease is of divine origin, so to the beneficent and healing gods the Apache naturally make supplication for cure.”

Absent the written word, the Apache theology is inferred from their legends and cultural practices, a common observation of native cultures north of the Rio Grande. Kuterastan is the creator in a creation myth of the Kiowa Apache from the southern plains of North America. His name means One Who Lives Above.
— Orly

There was a time when nothing existed to form the universe—no earth, no sky, and no sun or moon to break the monotony of the illimitable darkness. But as time rolled on, a spot, a thin circular disc no larger than the hand, yellow on one side and white on the other, appeared in midair. Inside the disc sat a bearded man but little larger than a frog, upon whom was to fall the task of creating all things. Kútĕrastan, The One Who Lives Above, is the name by which he is now known, though some call him Yŭádĭstan, Sky Man.

Kútĕrastan, as if waking from a long sleep, sat up and rubbed his face and eyes with both hands. Then bending forward, he looked up into the endless darkness, and lo! light appeared everywhere above him. He then looked down, and all below became a sea of light. A glance to the east created yellow streaks of dawn, another to the west the saffron tints of the dying day, both soon becoming obscured by numerous clouds of many hues, formed by his looking around and about in all directions.

Again with both hands Kútĕrastan wiped his eyes and sweating face and, rubbing his hands together as if he were rolling a small pebble between the palms, suddenly parted them with a quick downward fling, and there before him on a shining, vaporless, mirage-like cloud sat a little girl no larger than a doll. Kútĕrastan directed her to stand up, asking where she intended to go, but she replied not. He cleared his vision once more with his hands, then proffered his right hand to the girl, Stĕnátlĭhăn, Woman Without Parents, who grasped it, with the greeting "Whence came you?"

For reply Kútĕrastan merely repeated her question, adding, "Look to the east, it is light! There will be light in the south, in the west, and in the north." And as she looked she saw light. He then came out upon the cloud.

"Where is the earth?" asked Stĕnátlĭhăn, to which Kútĕrastan replied by asking:

"Where is the sky?" Then requesting that he be not disturbed, he began to sing: "I am thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking what shall I do next." Four times he thus sang, at the end of the fourth time brushing his face with his hands, which he rubbed briskly together and parted quickly; and there before him stood Chuganaái, the Sun. Raising his left hand to his brow, from the sweat thereon, which he rolled in his hands as before, Kútĕrastan let drop from his right palm a small boy, Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn.

The four sat upon that still cloud for a time as if in reverie, the first to break the silence being he who commenced the creation: "What shall we do next? I do not like this cloud to live upon, but we are to rule and must stay together. How dreary it is here! I wish we had some place to go." And then he set to work again, creating Nacholécho, the Tarantula, who was later to help in completing the earth, and Nôkusé, the Big Dipper, whose duty it would be to befriend and to guide. The creation of Nĭlchídĭlhkĭzn, the Wind, Ndídĭlhkĭzn, the Lightning Maker, and the clouds in the west to house Ndísâgochan, Lightning Rumbler, whom he placed in them at the same time, next occupied his attention. Then turning to Stĕnátlĭhăn, Kútĕrastan said, "Truly this is not a fit place in which to live; let us make the earth." And so saying he at once began to sing, "I am thinking of the earth, the earth, the earth; I am thinking of the earth," which he repeated four times. As he ceased, Stĕnátlĭhăn, Chuganaái, and Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn each shook hands with him. Sweat from their hands adhered to his. He at once began rubbing his palms, when suddenly there slipped from between them a small brown body, no larger than a bean. Kútĕrastan kicked it and it expanded; Stĕnátlĭhăn then kicked it and its size further increased; Chuganaái next gave it a severe blow with his foot and it became larger still; a kick from Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn made it greater yet. Nĭlchídĭlhkĭzn, the Wind, was told to go inside and blow outward in all directions. This he did, greatly expanding the dimensions of that body, now so wide that they could hardly see its edge. The Lightning was next directed to exert his strength, so with a terrific flash and roar he penetrated the body to its centre, spreading it still wider. Then Tarantula was called on to assist, and accordingly he started off to the east, spinning a strong black cord, on which he pulled with all his might; another cord of blue was spun out to the south, a third of yellow to the west, and a fourth of glistening white to the north. A mighty pull on each of these stretched the surface of that dark brown body to almost immeasurable size. Finally Kútĕrastan directed all to cover their eyes with their hands, and when they opened them a moment later they beheld Nigostú̆n, the Earth, complete in extent. No hills or mountains were there in sight, nothing but a smooth, treeless, reddish-brown plain.

Nĭlchídĭlhkĭzn, the Wind, scratched his chest and rubbed his fingers together, when out from between them flew Dátĭlyĕ, the Humming-bird. Dátĭlyĕ was told to make a circuit of the earth and report what he saw. He started off toward the east, circled south, west, north, and back from the east. All was well; the earth was most beautiful, very smooth, and covered with water on the western side.

But the Earth was not still; it kept shifting and rolling and dancing up and down, so Kútĕrastan made four great posts—colored black, blue, yellow, and white—to support it. Then he directed Stĕnátlĭhăn to sing a song. She sang, "The world is made and will soon sit still." These two then stood and faced Chuganaái and Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn, when into their midst came Nĭlchídĭlhkĭzn, who dashed away to the cardinal points with the four posts, which he placed under the sides of the earth; and upon them it sat and was still. This pleased Kútĕrastan, so he sang a song, repeating, "The world is now made and sits still."

Then Kútĕrastan began another song, referring to the sky. None existed as yet, and he felt there ought to be one. Four times he chanted the song, at the end of the fourth time spreading his hands wide before him, when lo! there stood twenty-eight men and women ready to help make a sky to cover the earth. He next chanted a song for the purpose of making chiefs for the sky and the earth, and at its close sent Ndídĭlhkĭzn, the Lightning Maker, to encircle the world. Ndídĭlhkĭzn departed at once, but returned in a short time with three very uncouth persons, two girls and a boy, whom he had found in the sky in a large turquoise bowl. Not one of them had eyes, ears, hair, mouth, nose, or teeth, and though they had arms and legs, they had neither fingers nor toes.

Chuganaái at once sent for Doh, the Fly, to come and erect a kaché̆, or sweat-house. It took but a short time to put up the framework, which Stĕnátlĭhăncovered closely with four heavy clouds: a black cloud on the east, a blue one on the south, a yellow one on the west, and a white one on the north. Out in front of the doorway, at the east, she spread a soft red cloud for a foot-blanket after the sweat. Twelve stones were heated in a fire, and four of them placed in the kaché̆. Kútĕrastan, Stĕnátlĭhăn, Chuganaái, and Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn each inspected the sweat-house and pronounced it well made. The three newcomers were bidden to enter and were followed by Chuganaái, Nĭlchídĭlhkĭzn, Ndídĭlhkĭzn, Nôkusé, and Doh. The eight sang songs as their sweat began. Chuganaái led, singing four songs, and each of the others followed in turn with the same number. They had had a good sweat by the time the songs were finished, so Stĕnátlĭhăn removed the black cloud and all came out. She then placed the three strangers on the red-cloud blanket, and under the direction of Kútĕrastan made for them fingers, toes, mouth, eyes, ears, hair, and nose. Then Kútĕrastan bade them welcome, making the boy, whom he called Yádĭlhkĭh Skhĭn, Sky Boy, chief of the sky and its people. The second he named Nigostú̆n Nalí̆n, Earth Daughter, and placed her in charge of the earth and its crops; while to the third, Hádĭnĭn Nalí̆n, Pollen Girl, was assigned the care of the health of the earth's people. This duty also devolved upon Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn, but each looks more to the welfare of his own sex than to that of the other.

The earth was smooth, flat, and barren, so Kútĕrastan made a few animals, birds, trees, and a hill. Then he sent Ágocho, the Pigeon, to see how the world looked. Four days later Ágocho returned and said all was beautiful, but that in four days more the water on the opposite side would rise and flood the land. Kútĕrastan at once created a piñon tree. This Stĕnátlĭhăn skilfully tended until it grew to be of gigantic size at the end of four days. Then with four great limbs as a framework she made a very large water bottle, tus, covering it with gum from the piñon. When the water appeared as predicted, Kútĕrastan went up on a cloud, taking his twenty-eight helpers with him, while Stĕnátlĭhăn summoned all the others and put them into the tus, into which she climbed last, closing the mouth at the top.

The flood completely submerged the earth for twelve days. Then the waters subsided, leaving the tus on the summit of the hill Kútĕrastan had made. The rush of the waters had changed the once smooth, level plain into series of mountains, hills, rivers, and valleys, so that Stĕnátlĭhăn hardly knew where they were when she opened the tus and came out. Tázhĭ, the Turkey, and Gấgĕ, the Crow, were the first to make a tour of the land. At the base of the hill they descended into a small muddy alkaline creek, in which the Turkey got the tips of his tail-feathers whitened, and they have been white ever since. On return they reported that all looked beautiful as far as they had travelled. Stĕnátlĭhăn then sent Ágocho to make a complete circuit and let her know how things appeared on all sides. He came back much elated, for he had seen trees, grass, mountains, and beautiful lakes and rivers in every direction.

Directing the others to remain where she left them, Stĕnátlĭhăn summoned Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn, Hádĭntĭn Naln, Ndídĭlhkĭzn, and Ágocho, and took them up in a cloud, in which they drifted until they met Kútĕrastan and his band of workers, who had completed the sky during the time of the flood. The two clouds floated to the top of the hill on which stood the tus. All descended to the valley below, where Stĕnátlĭhăn marshalled them into line, that Kútĕrastan might talk to them. He briefly told them that he was going to leave them and wished each one to do his part toward making the world perfect and happy. "You, Ndísâgochan, shall have charge of the clouds and the water. You, Yádĭlhkĭh Skhĭn, I leave in charge of the sky. Nigostú̆n Nalí̆n, you are to look after the crops of our people; and you, Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn, must care for their health and guide them." He then called Stĕnátlĭhăn to him and placed her in charge of all.

The people stood in line facing their god, with hands extended as if in supplication. Kútĕrastan and Stĕnátlĭhăn stood facing each other. Each rubbed their thighs with their hands, then cast their hands downward, and there arose between them a great pile of wood. Stĕnátlĭhăn knelt and slipped a hand under it, and as she did so Kútĕrastan passed his hand over the top. Great white billowy clouds of smoke at once issued forth, rising straight skyward. Into these Kútĕrastan disappeared. All the other gods and goddesses soon followed, leaving the twenty-eight whom Kútĕrastan had made to build the sky to remain upon the earth and people it. Chuganaái went east to travel with the sun; Stĕnátlĭhăn departed westward to make her home in clouds on the horizon, while Hádĭntĭn Skhĭn and Hádĭntí̆n Nalín sought homes among the clouds in the south, and Nôkusé may still be seen in the northern sky at night.


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