Myths & Legends


Navajo: The Creation

The Navajo (British English: Navaho, Navajo: Diné or Naabeehó) are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. After the Cherokee, they are the second-largest federally recognized tribe in the United States, with 300,460 enrolled tribal members as of 2015.

This version of the Navajo creation is written by American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft.
— Orly

The Navajos, living north of the Pueblos, say that at one time all the nations, Navajos, Pueblos, Coyoteros, and white people, lived together, underground in the heart of a mountain near the river San Juan. Their only food was meat, which they had in abundance, for all kinds of game were closed up with them in their cave; but their light was dim and only endured for a few hours each day. There were happily two dumb men among the Navajos, flute-players who enlivened the darkness with music. One of these striking by chance on the roof of the limbo with his flute, brought out a hollow sound, upon which the elders of the tribes determined to bore in the direction whence the sound came. The flute was then set up against the roof, and the Raccoon sent up the tube to dig a way out; but he could not. Then the Moth-worm mounted into the breach, and bored and bored till he found himself suddenly on the outside of the mountain and surrounded by water. Under these novel circumstances, he heaped up a little mound and set himself down on it to observe and ponder the situation. A critical situation enough! for, from the four corners of the universe, four great white Swans bore down upon him, every one with two arrows, one under either wing. The Swan from the north reached him first, and having pierced him with two arrows, drew them out and examined their points, exclaiming as the result: He is of my race. So also, in succession, did all the others. Then they went away; and towards the directions in which they departed, to the north, south, east, and west, were found four great arroyos, by which all the water flowed off, leaving only mud. The worm now returned to the cave, and the Raccoon went up into the mud, sinking in it mid-leg deep, as the marks on his fur show to this day. And the wind began to rise, sweeping up the four great arroyos, and the mud was dried away. Then the men and the animals began to come up from their cave, and their coming up required several days. First came the Navajos, and no sooner had they reached the surface then they commenced gaming at patole, their favorite game. Then came the Pueblos and other Indians who crop their hair and build houses. Lastly came the white people, who started off at once for the rising sun and were lost sight of for many winters.

Hello, World!

While these nations lived underground they all spake one tongue; but with the light of day and the level of earth, came many languages. The earth was at this time very small and the light was quite as scanty as it had been down below; for there was as yet no heaven, nor sun, nor moon, nor stars. So another council of the ancients was held and a committee of their number appointed to manufacture these luminaries. A large house or workshop was erected; and when the sun and moon were ready, they were entrusted to the direction and guidance of the two dumb fluters already mentioned. The one who got charge of the sun came very near, through his clumsiness in his new office, to making a Phaethon of himself and setting fire to the earth. The old men, however, either more lenient than Zeus or lacking his thunder, contented themselves with forcing the offender back by puffing the smoke of their pipes into his face. Since then the increasing size of the earth has four times rendered it necessary that he should be put back, and his course farther removed from the world and from the subterranean cave to which he nightly retires with the great light. At night also the other dumb man issues from this cave, bearing the moon under his arm, and lighting up such part of the world as he can. Next the old men set to work to make the heavens, intending to broider in the stars in beautiful patterns, of bears, birds, and such things. But just as they had made a beginning a prairie-wolf rushed in, and crying out: Why all this trouble and embroidery? scattered the pile of stars over all the floor of heaven, just as they still lie.

When now the world and its firmament had been finished, the old men prepared two earthen tinages or water-jars, and having decorated one with bright colors, filled it with trifles; while the other was left plain on the outside, but filled within with flocks and herds and riches of all kinds. These jars being covered and presented to the Navajos and Pueblos, the former chose the gaudy but paltry jar; while the Pueblos received the plain and rich vessel; each nation showing in its choice traits which characterize it to this day. Next there arose among the Navajos a great gambler, who went on winning the goods and the persons of his opponents till he had won the whole tribe. Upon this, one of the old men became indignant, set the gambler on his bowstring and shot him off into space—an unfortunate proceeding, for the fellow returned in a short time with firearms and the Spaniards. Let me conclude by telling how the Navajos came by the seed they now cultivate: All the wise men being one day assembled, a turkey-hen came flying from the direction of the morning star, and shook from her feathers an ear of blue corn into the midst of the company; and in subsequent visits brought all the other seeds they possess.


Source:  HHB [1]

Culture:  Navajo

Language:  Navajo is a member of the Athabaskan branch of the Na-Dené language family.  It is closely related to the Apache languages, but completely unrelated to other Native American languages.


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