Myths & Legends


Zuni: The Drying of the World

The world arises from the great cavern, a creation legend from the Zuni.
— Orly

In the days when all was new, men lived in the four caverns of the lower regions (Á-wi-tën té-huthl-na-kwïn=the "Four Wombs of the World"). In the lowermost one of these men first came to know of their existence. It was dark, and as men increased they began to crowd one another and were very unhappy. Wise men came into existence among them, whose children supplicated them that they should obtain deliverance from such a condition of life.

It was then that the "Holder of the Paths of Life," the Sun-father, created from his own being two children, who fell to earth for the good of all beings (Ú-a-nam átch-pi-ah-k'oa). The Sun-father endowed these children with immortal youth, with power even as his own power, and created for them a bow (Á-mi-to-lan-ne,=the Rain Bow) and an arrow (Wí-lo-lo-a-ne,=Lightning). For them he made also a shield like unto his own, of magic power, and a knife of flint, the great magic war knife (Sá-wa-ni-k'ia ä′-tchi-ë-ne). The shield (Pí-al-lan-ne) was a mere network of sacred cords (Pí-tsau-pi-wi,=cotton) on a hoop of wood, and to the center of this net-shield was attached the magic knife.

Zuni Bowl

Zuni Bowl

These children cut the face of the world with their magic knife, and were borne down upon their shield into the caverns in which all men dwelt. There, as the leaders of men, they lived with their children, mankind.

They listened to the supplications of the priests. They built a ladder to the roof of the first cave and widened with their flint knife and shield the aperture through which they had entered. Then they led men forth into the second cavern, which was larger and not quite so dark.

Ere long men multiplied and bemoaned their condition as before. Again they besought their priests, whose supplications were once more listened to by the divine children. As before, they led all mankind into the third world. Here it was still larger and like twilight, for the light of the Sun himself sifted down through the opening. To these poor creatures (children) of the dark the opening itself seemed a blazing sun.

But as time went on men multiplied even as they had before, and at last, as at first, bemoaned their condition. Again the two children listened to their supplications, and it was then that the children of men first saw the light of their father, the Sun.

The world had been covered with water. It was damp and unstable. Earthquakes disturbed its surface. Strange beings rose up through it, monsters and animals of prey. As upon an island in the middle of a great water, the children of men were led forth into the light of their father, the Sun. It blinded and heated them so that they cried to one another in anguish, and fell down, and covered their eyes with their bare hands and arms, for men were black then, like the caves they came from, and naked, save for a covering at the loins of rush, like yucca fiber, and sandals of the same, and their eyes, like the owl's, were unused to the daylight.

Eastward the two children began to lead them, toward the Home of the Sun-father.

Now, it happened that the two children, saw that the earth must be dried and hardened, for wherever the foot touched the soil water gathered—as may be seen even in the rocks to-day—and the monsters which rose forth from the deep devoured the children of men. Therefore they consulted together and sought the advice of their creator, the Sun-father. By his directions, they placed their magic shield upon the wet earth. They drew four lines a step apart upon the soft sands. Then the older brother said to the younger, "Wilt thou, or shall I, take the lead?"

"I will take the lead," said the younger.

"Stand thou upon the last line," said the older.

And when they had laid upon the magic shield the rainbow, and across it the arrows of lightning, toward all the quarters of the world, the younger brother took his station facing toward the right. The older brother took his station facing toward the left. When all was ready, both braced themselves to run. The older brother drew his arrow to the head, let fly, and struck the rainbow and the lightning arrows midway, where they crossed. Instantly, thlu-tchu! shot the arrows of lightning in every direction, and fire rolled over the face of the earth, and the two gods followed the courses of their arrows of lightning.

Now that the surface of the earth was hardened, even the animals of prey, powerful and like the fathers (gods) themselves, would have devoured the children of men; and the Two thought it was not well that they should all be permitted to live, "for," said they, "alike will the children of men and the children of the animals of prey multiply themselves. The animals of prey are provided with talons and teeth; men are but poor, the finished beings of earth, therefore the weaker."

Whenever they came across the pathway of one of these animals, were he great mountain lion or but a mere mole, they struck him with the fire of lightning which they carried in their magic shield. Thlu! and instantly he was shriveled and burnt into stone.

Then said they to the animals that they had thus changed to stone, "That ye may not be evil unto men, but that ye may be a great good unto them, have we changed you into rode everlasting. By the magic breath of prey, by the heart that shall endure forever within you, shall ye be made to serve instead of to devour mankind."

Thus was the surface of the earth hardened and scorched and many of all kinds of beings changed to stone. Thus, too, it happens that we find, here and there throughout the world, their forms, sometimes large like the beings themselves, sometimes shriveled and distorted. And we often see among the rocks the forms of many beings that live no longer, which shows us that all was different in the "days of the new."

Of these petrifactions, which are of course mere concretions or strangely eroded rock-forms, the Zuñis say, "Whomsoever of us may be met with the light of such great good fortune may see (discover, find) them and should treasure them for the sake of the sacred (magic) power which was given them in the days of the new. For the spirits of the We-ma-á-hâ-i still live, and are pleased to receive from us the Sacred Plume (of the heart—Lä-sho-a-ni), and sacred necklace of treasure (Thlâ-thle-a); hence they turn their ears and the ears of their brothers in our direction that they may hearken to our prayers (sacred talks) and know our wants."


Source:  F. H. C. [1]

Culture:  Zuni (Ashiwi)

Language Group:  Zuni or Zuñi is a language isolate spoken mainly in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, and in parts of Arizona. Zuni has been influenced to some extent by other languages in the areas where its spoken, in particular Hopi, Keresan, Tanoan, and also Navajo.


Related Reading

Yana: The Making of the Yana

Apache: Bear, Owl and Coyote