Myths & Legends



Apache: The Placing of the Earth

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.

What follows is a White Mountain Apache variation of the creation legend, a fable of the coming forth of the children of the sun.
— Orly

They did not put this large one (the earth) that lies here in place before my eyes.

The wind blew from four directions. When there was no way to make the earth lie still, Gopher, who lives under the earth, put his black ropes under the earth. Here his black rope lies under it; here his blue rope; here his yellow rope; and here his white rope.

Over here (east) they made a black whirlwind stand with black metal inside of it. Here (south) a blue whirlwind and blue metal were placed; here (west) a yellow whirlwind and yellow metal; and here (north) a white whirlwind and white metal. With these standing on all sides, the earth came to its proper place and was stable.

“Now that this is as it should be, what shall we do next?” said one of them. “To what purpose have we had such a hard time making this earth lie properly which otherwise would have been unstable?” Then he began to pat it with his hand. “Let a black cloud move about sprinkling,” he said.

“There will be life from this; the world will be alive from the dampness,” he said. “They did well by us, what shall we do? Now thank you,” they said.

The people had nothing. The one who was in charge (the Sun); that one only was walking around. “It will turn out well with him walking about,” they said. They looked well at the one they meant. “That one is the Sun,” they said. “We did it in the presence of that one walking about.”

Then Ests'unnadli said she would do something unseemly. Thinking she would do it where the Sun first shone in the morning, she seated herself there. She was doing this only that people might live. There were no people and she thought there should be many and she did it for that reason.

She became pregnant. She and the one walking around were the only ones who understood about generation. She gave birth to a child there where she sat. She went back to the child early each morning for four mornings and on the fourth, the child walked back with her. He was entirely dressed as he walked back with her.

“It is not good that there should be only this one,” she said. “It will be well for me to do an improper thing again.” She sat repeatedly where the water was dripping and became pregnant again. She gave birth a second time to a child. “I will do as I did before,” she said. She went to her child early each morning for four mornings. The fourth morning after he was born, the child returned with her. He was dressed in buckskin, shoes and all.

She had given birth to two children. The latter one she named Tobate'isteini and the first one Bilnajnollije. They were the children of this one (the Sun).

A black water vessel by the door of the sun's house was flecked with sunshine. He caused dark lightning to dart under it from four directions. He caused it to thunder out of it in four directions. He caused it to thunder in four directions. He caused male rain to fall in four directions. He caused fruits to stand on the earth in lines pointing in four directions. “Thanks,” they said, “he has treated us well.”

A yellow water vessel by Ests'unnadlehi's door was flecked with light. She caused yellow lightning to pass under it from four directions. She caused it to thunder from it toward four directions. She caused female rain to fall four times in four directions. She caused fruits to stand in lines converging from four directions. “Thanks, she has treated us well,” they said. “Because of her, things are well with us.” “She caused the wind to agitate the grass from four directions for us,” they said. “With no trouble for us it comes to its place. The earth will remain well for us,” they said. “It is still the same way for us that it was long ago. We are thankful yet.”

“Mother, where does our father live?” the boys asked. “Do not ask, for he lives in a dangerous place,” Ests'unnadlehi replied. “Do not say he lives in a dangerous place but show us where it is, for we are going there,” they replied. “If you go you must travel only by night. During the day one must sit still,” she told them. She said this, for she meant for them to make the journey without being seen by the Sun.

They wondered why she told them to go only at night and resolved to travel by day. They came near where the ground was black with mosquitoes that had teeth of becdiłxił, and there was no way to pass through them. They caused a rain, yellow with sunshine, to fall on them and wet their wings so that they stuck to the trees. By this means, they passed beyond them. “This is why she said it is dangerous,” they said to each other. They came where the earth was crossed with a stripe of cactus which had spines of becdiłxił. A black whirlwind with a core of becdiłxił passed, twisting through the cactus; the boys got by it. “This was surely the bad place of which our mother told us,” they said. As they were going on toward their father's house, they came to sand which, if one stepped on it, rolled back with him. There was no way to get through it. A big black measuring worm having his back striped with a rainbow, bent himself over the sand for them and they crossed over. They were now approaching their destination when they found the house surrounded by thirty-two lakes which could not be avoided.

A turquoise bird sat in the ear of one of them and directed them on their way. The Sun's wife saw the two men pass through, avoiding the four bodies of water that surrounded the house. She concealed them under the bed which stood in the house. When the Sun returned, he saw the tracks of two men and asked where they had gone. The Sun's wife replied that they were not there. “You are always saying you have made no visits and yet your two sons come here,” she said. The Sun directed that they should come to him. They sat facing him. He had tobacco hanging in sacks in four places. It was black tobacco which grew on stalks ofbecdiłxił. He had a turquoise pipe with thirty-two holes for the tobacco to burn in. With this tobacco, he killed those who were not really his children. They heard him draw on the pipe once and then he tapped it on something and the ashes rolled out. “Fix me a smoke, that is why I came,” one of the boys said.

They two went to the sack which was hanging on this side. It was filled with large blue tobacco which grew on stalks of becdoł'ije. He filled a pipe with thirty-two bowls and lighted it again. Having drawn on the pipe, he passed it to them. He heard them draw on the pipe once and then the ashes fell out.

“Prepare a smoke for me, for I came for that purpose,” one of the boys said again. When the other kinds, yellow, and white had been tried from the remaining world-quarters, one of the boys produced some tobacco and a pipe made of clay with a hole through it. “This is my pipe and my tobacco,” the boy announced. “Why did you not tell me before that you had tobacco?” the Sun said. He had chairs placed and took a seat between the two boys. The three looked just alike. “Come, Djingona'ai, move yourself,” the Sun's wife said, so that she might distinguish him from the others. “They are surely my children,” the Sun declared. “What do you desire?” he asked them. The boys said they had come to hear him ask that. The Sun urged them to ask for what they wished without delay as he had many things.

The Sun had domesticated animals in four corrals on four sides of his house. He had four kinds which were bad. They were bear, coyote, panther, and wolf, of which one is afraid. He led a bear from the eastern corral, remarking that this was probably the sort they meant, that it was his pet. The boys refused it, saying they had come for his horse. In turn he led animals from corrals at the south and west which were refused each time on the advice of the monitor that sat in the ear of one of the boys. The Sun pretended he had no other horse, that he was poor. The monitor urged them to persist in their request, saying that the Sun could not refuse. He finally led to them one of the horses which was walking around unconfined. He was just skin and bones. The rope also was poor. “Did you ask for this one?” the Sun said. “That is the one,” they replied. The Sun told them the horse could not travel far, but the boys said that was the animal they wanted.

He gave them the horse with the admonition that they must not let Ests'unnadlehi see it or she would send them away with it, it looked so bad. The boys assured him it would be all right. He replied that she would be surprised at least. He requested them to tell Ests'unnadlehi that he, the Sun, always told the truth. He charged the two boys that they should not lie to each other. “This is a good day for you both,” he told them. “Thank you, Ests'unnadlehi, my mother, thanks.” “Thank you, Djingona'ai, my father. It is true that it is fortunate for us. It was for that reason you raised us,” they said.

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