Myths & Legends



Apache: The Gambler who secured the Water-Ceremony

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.

A fable that speaks of the practice of the water ceremony, said to aid the recovery of those who have been made ill by the floods due to thunderstorms.
— Orly

A boy started playing najonc and lost his arrows, his moccasins, his breechcloth, his shirt, his headband, his hair, his eyebrows, and his eyelashes. When he returned home so divested, his mother told him to go away somewhere that she might not see him again.

He started away, utterly naked as he was, and traveled until he came to the edge of the ocean. He jumped into the water but was thrown back. He did this three times with the same result and then jumped in under the water. When he looked back through the water it was white. He began to eat all kinds of “worms” as he went along. He ate, also, some of the green growth floating on the water. They came with him to the house made of water. The fly that sat inside his ear gave him information and advice. All the water people and the fog people went with him; Water-old-man was among them and Water-youth with a downy feather on the crown of his head. He was sent down that way with a message. They sent him where the black blanket of water is spread down.

“Over there he is running along,” someone said. “Now to you they are starting, Water-youths, to you they are starting. Yonder we are coming, Water-youths are coming,” he said. “They are coming right up the stream.

“Fog-youths are coming, right in front of the fog they are coming.

“Where the water stands straight up, next to him, the water people are coming to us. With water-downy-feathers as their feathers they are coming to us; holding the lightning in their hands they are coming to us.

“Where the fog stands straight up, standing next to me, they come to us,” he said. “Fog-youths come to us,” he said. “At the end of the water, they come to us. Having downy feathers of fog they come to us; holding the lightning in their hands they come to us.”

The one who became water came by the house made of fog and water. “Where is the place called 'House-of-water'?” he asked. “This place is called 'House-of-water'” the water people replied. His monitor, fly, told him they were not telling him the truth. He came to the house made of water. “Where is the place called 'House-of-water'?” he asked. It was Water Chief to whom he came. “It is called 'Water-house' right here,” he replied. His fly told him that was correct; that 'Water-house' was there.

Two vessels filled with water which was boiling, were by the fire. “Drink all there is in one of the vessels,” he was told by Water Chief. He drank the contents of one vessel and then vomited. He was saying, “wa, wa,” as he vomited. He threw up all of the underwater “worms.”

They bathed him with the contents of the other vessel. They commenced to dance and danced for twelve nights without sleeping. When they had danced twelve nights without his falling asleep they told him he might go home.

Then Naiyenezgani danced there among them. His hat was white on top. He held his hand outspread over him as he stood by him. Water-old-man, too, danced among them. Water-house was on this side.

“Water-youths all came here where they were dancing. With their downy feathers of water they came there. They came to the dance ground holding lightning in their hands.

“From 'House-made-of-fog,' Fog-girls came where they danced having their downy feathers of fog. They held lightning in their hands.

“Water-youths were behind them, pretty, they were behind them; having their downy feathers of water, they were behind them. Holding lightning in their hands, they were all behind them.

“The Fog-girls came from the house made of fog. Having downy feathers of fog, they danced with fog. All holding lightning in their hands, the dance being made of fog they started to dance with him.

“They danced with the boy who became water.”

Naiyenezgani danced among them. When they were looking somewhere else Naiyenezgani became a baby again, and was tied in a basket cradle. The attention of the people was attracted elsewhere and when they saw Naiyenezgani again he was standing among the Water-maidens to whom he did various things.

Tobatc'istcini, too, was tied as a baby, then the two men did various things to them. The twelve nights had passed without anyone sleeping. He stood between the Water-maidens. The men from a distance made a circle and danced. The Water-people danced with him. The Fog-people danced with him.

The Sun was present there. From so great a height he looked down on them. They danced in his presence. They danced, too, in the presence of the Moon. When twelve nights had passed and it was the twelfth morning he went to sleep. Far off, a Water-maiden stood. He, who became water, stood here and there stood a Fog-maiden. When twelve nights had passed he fell asleep. He loved this one. They shouted to him saying, “You are falling asleep.” The one standing behind him stepped by his foot and he fell against him.

Bił'olisn was there where they were dancing.

“He took her away, where the land is beautiful with corn.

“Fog-maiden; where the land is beautiful with pumpkins.

“Bił'olisn; where the land is beautiful with large corn, they two went.

“Fog-maiden; where the land is beautiful with large pumpkins, they two went.

“Bił'olisn; where the land is beautiful with large corn, they two sat down.

“Fog-maiden; where the land is beautiful with large pumpkins, they two sat down.

“Bił'olisn; where the land is beautiful with large corn, they two lay down.

“Fog-maiden; where the land is beautiful with pumpkins, they two lay down.

“At the east where the black water lies, stands the large corn, with staying roots, its large stalk, its red silk, its long leaves, its tassel dark and spreading, on which there is dew.

“At the sunset, where the yellow water lies, stands the large pumpkin with its tendrils, its long stem, its wide leaves, its yellow top on which there is pollen.”

This all happened where the man turned to water. He came back here where people were living. His mother had her hair cut off and was weeping for him. He came back at the end of a year. His younger brother was walking outdoors and saw him. When he saw him coming back he said, “Mother, over there my brother is returning.” “Evil one, why do you say that?” she replied. “I am telling the truth, my brother is coming. Come here and look,” the boy said. She came out and found it was true. She called him her son, and told him she had been having a hard time and had cried on his account.

He went and hunted deer in company with his brother. He asked his brother to hunt in a certain direction and circle around to him again. There were thunder showers. The young man was sitting by himself. In one direction it was raining, it was black with the falling rain.

“I wish I might drink water again on top where black rain stands up. I wish I might drink water again on top where the water stands up.” His brother returned and surprised him while he was still singing.

They went back again to the house and the boy told them that his brother had been singing. He was told there were no songs and that he was not speaking the truth. He reaffirmed his statement. He asked that a sweathouse be built. When it was ready the boys went in and were singing inside. The young man who had been turned into water started to sing the water songs. Inside he wove lightning together again. There had been no water songs and now they existed. Thus, there came to be medicinemen for water.



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