Myths & Legends



Apache: Migration of the Gans

The White Mountain Apache are one of several Western Apache tribes, each of which has a different language, history, and culture despite being related. The account of their legends is the result of anthropological work done in and about 1910, recorded for the American Museum of Natural History, collected by Pliny Earle Goddard in Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History Vol. XXIV, Part II

Pliny Earle Goddard (November 24, 1869 – July 12, 1928) was an American linguist and ethnologist noted for his extensive documentation of the languages and cultures of the Athabaskan peoples of western North America. He played a major role in creating the academic infrastructure for American Indian linguistics and anthropology in North America.

The Migration of the Gans is a quest for immortality.
— Orly

They say they moved about from place to place under the cliffs. “We will move to a place where we will not die,” they said. They went to a place halfway between the earth and sky, and lighted on a mirage. They were dying there too. They came back to this world. Wind and rain ceased.

Mocking bird said he wanted to be chief. Gopher said he wanted to be chief. When someone remarked that the chief's eyes were small, Gopher was angry and went under the ground, taking with him the wind and rain.

Humming bird started over the earth, hunting in vain for the wind and rain. He came where Gopher had gone underground and went in there and came where the Gans were living. They had much corn and ripe crops. It rained there all the time. Humming bird came back and reported that he had been where there were many ripe crops and where rain fell all the time. He also said those who live there do not die. The Gans started to move down there and on their way came to a place called “Two-mountains-go-around-each-other-in-opposite-directions.” Rocks, white and all colors, lie there, one above the other. The Indians went there and came where the Gans were living.

A small mountain stood at the east and on it Black Gan stood every dawn and talked as a chief. When he had spoken as chief four mornings, they asked why Black Gan was talking that way. All the Gans came together and he talked to them. “May one of your children remain here?” he asked. All the Gans said, “No. Our children are all going with us.” Then Black Gan decided that one of his should stay. He left the youngest little girl, putting a turquoise water jar by her pillow. He covered this with earth. They started away where people do not die. His little girl returned to the place where her water jar had been put. While she was gone for it the others moved away and left her.

Some Indians found the baby, who was running about crying, and took her to raise. When she was grown, she married, and gave birth to a boy. Then Black Gan had a son-in-law and many people came to see him because he was Black Gan's son-in-law. They crowded into the house and kept saying, “Move over a little, Donaildihi.” He, Eats-a-long-time-without-being-satisfied, moved over; and they kept coming in until the house was stretched over to one side.

Black Gan's son-in-law lay down with one leg over the other, and called for the baby. When its grandmother brought it, he tossed it up and down on his chest and sang to it. When he was done playing with it, he called to them to take it again.

After a time another boy was born. When they were both grown they were hunting birds and came where the Gans were living. When they returned, food was offered them in vain. They had eaten where the Gans lived while away, and would not eat on their return.

A man fell sick. His eyes and mouth were crooked, as were also his arms and legs. The people were asking what they should do about it. The man told the mother of the boys to prepare a deerskin which had no holes in it with a piece of turquoise fastened at the forehead. To the turquoise he asked that downy feathers be tied. She directed that bacinϵ with downy feathers be tied between the eyes. In addition tsϵltcϵϵ and yołgai each with downy feathers were to be tied to the skin. She asked that the skin prepared thus be placed on the top of the feet of the children (Gan's grandchildren).

When they put it on the foot of one of these boys, he kicked it to the other boy, who kicked it back. When this had been done four times one of them directed that wood be brought in, and they consented to give a dance for the sick man. They directed that all the people should come together and that the sick man should be brought to the dancing place. Preparations were also made there for the fire. “All of you come here where we are going to sing,” they announced.

When they had come together they began to sing, the two grandsons of Black Gan acting as leaders. When they started to dance one of them stood up and made a speech. He told them they must not go away during the dance or something bad would happen to them.

Image:  Orly

Image:  Orly

When they had sung four songs, the sound of a bull roarer was heard underground to the east, south, west, and north. The Gans ran there and formed in line around him (the sick man). The Gans came to the dance ground, and Black Gan shook himself by the side of the sick man. He took the sick man up and threw him over there. Then Brown Gan shook his body by the sick man and swayed from side to side. Then the Gan who has one side of his face covered, shook himself by the sick man and threw him over there. Next Red Gan swayed himself and took up the sick man and threw him over there.

The Black Gan then went to the sick man and made his eyes good again. Brown Gan went to him and fixed his arms. The Gan whose face is half covered fixed his back. On this side (north) Red Gan restored his legs. The man was well again, and danced among the others. They danced four nights and the morning after, the Gans and men stood with their little fingers interlocked; first a man and then a Gan; a man and then a Gan; a man and then a Gan. Thus they formed a circle, standing in a line alternating, with their little fingers interlocked. They danced until it grew light and then the dance began to move away toward the sunrise. Old men and old women were lying down nearby. The dancing people kept moving away toward the east. The old women and old men ran after them. They were dancing on the ground and then began to move up higher and higher in the air. The Indians ran after them but the Indians who were dancing went up with the dance. They could hear the sound of the dancing up there and the songs. They moved away to the Sun. He sent them where they do not die. They are still living there, I suppose. They are the people who do not die.



Pliny Earle Goddard, Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural  History Vol. XXIV, Part II


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