MYTHOLOGY OF THE TWO AMERICASULTIMATE INFINITE
Although American mythology is extremely varied, there are analogies from one end of the
continent to the other which allow of its being considered as a whole.
At the base of all American religions we find totemism; and the totem is an object, a being, a force
of Nature, which is generally looked on as the ancestor of a group or clan or an individual, who
take its name and identify themselves with it.
In exchange for the totem's help and protection all its representatives owe it a certain amount of
deference and worship, rather as if it were an ancestor. But to make the totem favourable they
have to multiply its effigies, make offerings and show it respect; in exchange for which they
acquire rights over the totem which helps and protects them. In some of the more advanced
civilisations, other and more evolved cults were attached to these primitive beliefs. Totemism itself
became more complicated. The great gods appeared, and then was seen the rise of pantheons as
full as those of Aztecs and Mayas, or in Peru the very complex cult of the Sun with all its
hierarchy. The worship of divinities became general among the American peoples, and so too did
the ideas about the formation of the universe. They believed in an upper world where
the heavenly powers reside, a low world of the dead, and a central world lived in by men and
Some tribes recognised at the beginning either a creator or a protector, but the general belief was
that there existed either a heavenly world previous to any life, which contained the images of
beings destined to people the earth, or a sort of underground from which the first parents
emerged. Everywhere in different forms may be found the heroes destined to create an
organisation and laws, conquerors of the monsters which terrorised the earth, as well as the myth
of the world's destruction by flood or fire, or the legend of the theft of fire. These explanatory
myths and the heroic and divine legends were the expression among the American Indian
populations of a more or less conscious, but sometimes very intense, religious emotion. An
examination of them shows the evolution of human thought in its search for God.
In a limited study it is impossible to give a complete account of the mythology of the American
peoples, but we shall try to give a clear if limited picture which will show the main outlines of the
most important legends. The reader will find many reminiscences of classical or biblical
mythologies. It is thought that these legends may have a common origin either in the great
phenomena of Nature, or the cataclysms which in the past terrified primitive humanity.
THE ESKIMOS. The Eskimos occupy the area bounded by Hudson Bay, Bering Straits and
Their religion is influenced by the perpetual battle they have to maintain with the elements—it is
savage and pitiless.
In the main, Eskimo myths are of a practical nature, and their speculative myths are always
concerned with human destiny and with the influence which actions may have on it, with the
object of conciliating the gods and other supernatural powers.
For Eskimos the world is under the dominion of a multitude of invisible forces or 'Innua'.
Everything in Nature has its Innua—the air, the sea, stones, animals. These may become the
guardians or helpers of men, and then take the name of 'Torngak'. This, it will be seen, is an
individual form of totemism.
The Innua of stones and bears are especially powerful. If the spirit of a bear becomes a man's
Torngak, the man may be eaten by a bear and then brought back to life. He then becomes an
Angakok or sorcerer.
Angakoks can make good or bad weather as they choose, can effect cures, see things hidden, and
discover crimes by their second sight. Thus they form a kind of magistrature.
Angakoks have the Torngaks as their familiar spirits, and the name is derived from Torngasoak,
the most powerful of spirits who command in his name. The Eskimos call him the Good Being, but
are not agreed on the shape he assumes. Some say he has no shape, some say he looks like a bear,
others represent him as a tall man with only one arm, and still others make him as small as a
finger. He is immortal, but may be slain by the god Crepitus.
Torngarsak is not the creator of all things but has in him the characteristics of divinity, and in spite
of his limited power the Eskimos call him the Great Spirit. At the same time they have spirits
of fire, water, mountains and winds; and dog-faced demons. The souls of abortions become
hideous spectres, and even ghosts are familiar to these people. A child whose mother was dead
saw her spirit in broad daylight and heard her say: 'Don't be afraid, I'm your mother, and I love
you.' For even in that land of ice Love is stronger than Death.
The goddess Sedna holds a very important place in the mythology and popular traditions of the
Eskimos. She is thought of as the divinity of the sea and sea animals, but her power only extends
to the material body of the beings in her submarine kingdom. She is hostile to the human race.
Sedna is more feared by the Eskimos than any other deity, and they do their best to secure her
favour by propitiatory sacrifices. The Eskimos think of her as being of gigantic size, and she has
only one eye, the other having been torn out by her father when he threw her out of a boat, as
some say, to save himself. The legend of Sedna contains elements showing that this personage,
comparable with certain divinities of the Kalevala and the Edda, may be a theme common to
Here are the main lines of the legend:
'Sedna was a pretty Eskimo gist, the only child of a widowed father with whom she lived beside
the sea. When Sedna reached marriageable age she was courted by a large number of young men
from her own tribe and by foreigners from distant lands; but Sedna refused to marry, and took
pleasure in rebuffiing and hurting all her suitors. One day, however, there arrived from a distant
land a young and handsome hunter dressed in splendid furs. He carried an ivory spear. His kayak
approached the shore, but instead of landing he let his canoe rock among the waves and called to
the girl in her hut, imploring her with a seductive song:
"Follow me," he said, "into the land of birds, where there is never any hunger. You shall rest in my
tent on warm bear skins, your lamp shall be always filled with oil, and your pot with meat..."
'Sedna, framed in the doorway of the cabin, rejected the stranger's alluring proposals. Although
won by his first glance, she remained timid and confused. Was it not her duty to refuse? The
stranger then began to implore her. He drew for Sedna an enchanting picture of his country,
describing the ivory necklaces he would give
her...and Sedna felt herself yielding, and little by little allowed herself to be drawn down to the
sea. The stranger made her enter his boat, and started away. Thus it was that Sedna fled, and her
father never again saw her on the shore where their home stood.
'Sedna's lover was not a man. He was only the phantom of a bird. Sometimes he took on the shape
of a fulmar petrel, sometimes of a diving bird. He was a Bird-spirit with the power to assume
human form and had fallen in love with the girl, and did not let her know his real nature. ,
'When Sedna knew the truth, her despair was immense, and her husband vainly tried to overcome
the girl's repugnance. She could not grow accustomed to her seducer, and spent her days in grief
and tears.. .
'Sedna's father, Angusta, was inconsolable for the loss of his daughter. One day he set out for the
distant shore to which his child had been taken. When he arrived the Bird-spirit was away. Seeing
his daughter plunged in grief, he took Sedna in his arms, carried her to the boat, and they set sail
for their native land.
'When the fulmar returned he looked for his wife, but mysterious cries carried by the wind told
him that Sedna had fled with her father, with lamentations and cries of anger. The bird reassumed
his phantom form, entered his kayak, and set out in pursuit of the fugitive. Soon he came in sight
of the boat which carried Sedna and her father, but when he saw the phantom he hid his daughter
under some furs.
The canoeist rapidly overhauled the boat, and demanded his wife: "Let me see Sedna, I beg you,
let me see her." But the angry father refused to listen and continued on his way.
'Wild with despair, the Kokksaut —which is the name the Eskimos give to strange creatures—fell
back. He had failed. Then was heard the beat of a furious wing—the phantom had changed back
into a bird. Spreading his wings, the bird soared over the fugitives, uttering the strange cry of the
loon, and then disappeared into the darkness. Suddenly a terrible storm, the dark storm of the
Arctic ocean, swept across the sea. Sedna's father was smitten with horror, and fear of the manbird
gripped his heart. The horror at having offended the powers of heaven and earth gave him
the strength to make a dreadful sacrifice. The waves clamoured for Sedna, and he must listen to
their demand! Leaning forward, he seized his daughter and, with a horrible thrust, hurled her
from the boat — hideous sacrifice, which was intended to appease the offended sea!
'Sedna's pale face appeared above the waves, while her hands desperately seized the side of the
boat. The father, wild with terror, seized a great ivory axe and cut off the fingers clutching the
boat. The girl sank into the water, while her chopped-off fingers were transformed into seals.
Three times she strove to escape death, but she was lost, she was the prey of the ocean and
nothing could save her. Thrice her father mutilated her wounded hands. The second knuckles
gave birth to the ojuk (the deep-sea seals), the thrid became walruses, and from the remainder
whales were born. When the sacrifice was completed, the sea grew calm, and the boat soon
reached the shore. The father entered his tent, and fell into a deep sleep, exhausted as he was by
suffering and grief. Sedna's dog was tied to the tent-pole, the tupik. During the night there was an
exceptionally high tide which covered the shore, swallowing
up the tent and the two living beings in it. And so the man and the dog were re-united with Sedna
in the depths of the ocean. Since then they have reigned over an area called Adliden. It is the place
where souls after their death are imprisoned to expiate the sins committed by the living.
According to the gravity of the sin this punishment is temporary or eternal.'
Such is the legend of Sedna.
Sometimes when the Eskimos fail to catch any seals the Angakoks dive down to the bottom of the
sea to compel Sedna to set them loose. According to ancient Greenland legend, the Angakok who
wants to reach her must first pass through the kingdom of the dead, and then an abyss where
there turns ceaselessly a wheel of ice and a boiling cauldron full of seals. When the Angakok has
managed to escape the huge dog guarding the entry, he has to cross a second abyss on a bridge as
slender as a knife edge.
Such, according to the Eskimos, are the dangers of a journey to the land of spirits.
The Eskimos see, moving around these higher spirits, an infinite number of lower spirits and
monsters, some friendly to mankind, while others hunt them down implacably:
One day an Angakok went very far out to sea in pursuit of a seal. Suddenly he saw that he was
surrounded by strange kayaks—they were fire spirits who had come to capture him. But there was
an eddy among them, and the Angakok saw they were being pursued by a kayak whose prow
opened and shut like a huge mouth, devouring everything which came its way. The fire spirits
disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. The Angakok had been saved by his protecting spirit.
The Eskimos think that there is a lower world in the sky. The lower world is sometimes like the
human world but with a paler sun and sky, and is sometimes formed of four caves placed one
below the other, the first three being low and uncomfortable, while the lowest is spacious and
The upper world beyond the dome of the sky turns around the summit of a mountain. As on earth
there are hills and valleys, and it is the abode of the Innuas, heavenly bodies who were once men
but were taken up into heaven and changed into stars.
The road which leads to the upper world is also full of danger. On the way to the moon somebody
tries to make the travellers laugh, and if he succeeds, tears out their entrails.
Among the Eskimos are legends relating to the flood. In Alaska there existed the tradition of a
terrible flood accompanied by an earthquake, which swept so rapidly over the country that only a
few people managed to escape in their canoes, or took refuge on the tops of the highest mountains,
consumed with terror.
The Eskimos of the Arctic ocean say that a flood swept over the earth, and that some people saved
themselves by lashing their
boats together to make a large raft. They tried to keep warm 1 lying close together as they were
shivering in an icy wind. At la a sorcerer named Anodijum, which means 'Owl's son', threw I bow
into the sea, saying: 'Enough, wind. Be still.' He then thre in his ear-rings and the waters grew less.
Here are some of the Eskimo divinities:
Agloolik: He lives under the ice, and is the tutelary spirit of tl seal caves. He helps hunters to find
game. He is considered a goc spirit.
Aipalookvik: An evil spirit. He has a passion for destructio and tries to bite and destroy boatmen.
He lives in the sea.
Aulanerk: Lives in the sea. He is naked, and struggles, thi causing the waves. He is a source of joy
Nootaikok: He is the spirit of icebergs. A benevolent spirit livir in the sea. When invoked he
Koodjanuk: Spirit of the first rank. At the creation of the worl he was a very large bird with a black
head, a hooked beak, an a white body. He is a benevolent spirit able to give satisfactio when
invoked. He heals the sick.
Oluksak: Divinity of lakes. He lives on their banks. The Angakol receive their inspiration through
him as intermediary.
Tekkeitserktok: He is the god of the earth and of the distric All deer belong to him. This god's
power is greater then that c all the other deities. He is offered numerous sacrifices every yea before
the hunting season.
Tootega: Looks like a little woman. This spirit has the ability t walk on water. It lives on an island
in a stone house.
Akselloak: This is the spirit of rocking stones. Considered agooi spirit.
Aumanil: Lives on land, and guides whales.
Eeyeekalduk: Lives on land, and looks like a little man. It i dangerous to look into his eyes. His
face is black. He lives in a stone This benevolent spirit tries to heal the sick.
Keelut: An earth spirit, looking like a hairless dog. Evil.
Kingmingoarkulluk: Lives on land, looks like a tiny Eskimo When you see him he always sings
Noesarnak: Lives on land. Looks like a woman with spindl) legs. Is dressed in deer-skins, and
carries a deer-skin mask. Hf must be treated very gingerly.
Ooyarrauyamitok: This deity has no special abode. Sometime! on earth, sometimes in heaven. If he
is respected and invoked he gives the Eskimos meat, or at least the means of obtaining it.
Pukkeenegak: This spirit of a feminine appearance has a tattooed face. It wears very large boots
and very pretty clothes. It is considered a benevolent deity, since it procures food and materials
for making clothes, and gives children to the Eskimo women.
Sedna: Goddess of marine animals.
Ataksak: Lives in heaven. Looks like a sphere. He is a personification of joy. He has several very
brilliant cords on his clothes. When he dies his body also shines in the same way. He comes to the
Eskimos by way of the Angakoks. He is considered to be a benevolent spirit.
INDIANS OF THE FOREST
The Algonquins. When the Whites began to colonise North America vast forests covered the
regions which extend from the frozen steppes of Labrador and the shores of Hudson Bay down to
the alluvial lands of the Gulf of Mexico. They were inhabited by many native tribes connected
with the great Algonquin and Iroquois families, large warlike and hunting tribes.
The myths of these great tribes are peopled with ideal figures of civilising heroes, looked on half
as the earliest men, and half as demiurges and creators. These beings are skilled in all the arts of
magic, and have the power to change themselves into animals.
The Indians believe that everything in Nature — beings, plants, stones, etc.— is inhabited by a
mysterious power, which spreads out and influences other beings. The Iroquois call it 'Orenda'
and the Algonquins 'Manitou', and mean by it all magical powers or 'medicines' from the lowest to
the highest. Men must get control of the small powers, and on the other hand do everything
possible to gain the favour of the powerful Manitous, who are intelligent spirits.
According to the Algonquins of the North, the most powerful of all the Manitous is the Kitcki
Manitou, the Great Spirit, who is the father of life and was never created. He is the fountain-head
of all good things. And it is in his honour that the Indians 'smoke the pipe of peace'. The
Delawares relate how the Great Spirit instituted this rite:
The tribes of the North collected in council had decided to exterminate the Delaware people when,
suddenly, a bird of glittering white appeared among them, and hung with open wings above the
head of the great chiefs only daughter. She heard an inner voice saying to her: "Bring all the
warriors together and tell them the Great Spirit's heart is sad and hidden in a dark cloud, because
they seek to drink the blood of his first-born, the Lenni-Lennapi, the oldest of the tribes. To
appease the anger of the Master of Life and to bring joy back to his heart, let all the warriors wash
their hands in the blood of a fawn and then, bearing presents and their pipes let them all go
together to their elders, let them distribute the presents, and smoke with them the great pipe of
peace and fraternity which will unite them for ever." '
The Great Spirit who dwells in heaven is above all other powers. He is the master of light and is
manifest in the sun. He is the breath of life, and penetrates everywhere in the shape of the winds.
According to an Algonquin myth there exists another very important spirit, Michabo or the Great
Hare, father of the race, born in an island called Michilimakinak.
The Great Hare made the earth, and is the inventor of fishing nets. He created water, fish, and a
great deer. It was he who drove away the cannibal Manitous.
Michabo's house is situated at the place where the sun rises, and he seems to be a personification
of the Dawn. The souls of good Indians live there, and feed on juicy fruits. Michabo also has the
power of changing himself into a thousand different animals.
Cosmogony legends. Like almost all Indians, the Algonquin tribes believe in the Thunder Bird, a
powerful spirit whose eyes flash lightning, while the beating of his wings is the rolling of thunder.
He it is who prevents the earth from drying up and vegetation from dying. He is escorted by
minor spirits who are represented in the form of birds resembling falcons or eagles. Above the
clouds which are the dwelling-place of winds and
House totem from the Pacific North West.
The eagle at the top probably represents the Thunder Bird.
an enormous supernatural creature with an eagle's head,
the beating of whose wings produces the rolling of the thunder and
whose eyes flash forth lightning. Though awe-inspiring it is not malignant
for it is the Thunder Bird who prevents the earth from drying up and
vegetation from dying. A belief in its existence was common to
almost all the Indian tribes.
Sioux dance shield. In the centre is a mounted chieftain in his feathered head-dress while round
about him other Indians are shown fighting with bows and arrows, spears and guns either on
horseback or on foot. Though horses were unknown until introduction by the Spanish in the
seventeenth century, they were quickly incorporated into Indian mythology and in a legend found
among the Sioux tribes of Montana their invention is attributed to the tribal culture-hero, Coyote.
thunder, there is the abode of sun and moon, usually represented as a man and a woman, who are
sometimes husband and wife but more often brother and sister. One Algonquin tribe relates that
the sun armed with bow and arrows went hunting, but was away so long that his sister was
alarmed, set out to look for him, and travelled for twenty days before she found him. Since then
the moon has always made journeys of twenty days across the sky.
Above sun and moon live the stars.
Beneath the clouds is the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom
feeds plants, animals and men. The Algonquins Call her Nokomis, the Grandmother.
The birds act as intermediaries between human beings and the
upper powers, while snakes and aquatic creatures communicate with the lower powers. Usually
the world is divided into different levels—four for the upper world, four for the lower. At each of
the four cardinal points lives one of four friendly spirits. The one to the North brings ice and snow
which permit the hunting of wild animals; the South brings fruits, maize and tobacco; the West
gives rain, and the East light and sun.
A legend of the Montagnais, belonging to the Algonquin family, relates how Michabo or the Great
Hare re-established the world after the flood:
'One day Michabo went hunting, and the wolves he used as hunting-dogs plunged into a lake and
did not return. Michabo
looked for them everywhere, and at last a bird told him that the wolves were lost in the midst of
the lake. When he wanted to go in and look for them, the water overflowed and covered the whole
Michabo told the raven to bring him a lump of clay to re-make the world, but the raven could not
find any. Michabo then sent an otter, which dived but brought nothing back. At last he sent out a
musk rat which returned with some soil which Michabo used to re-make the earth. He fired
arrows into tree-trunks, and they changed into branches. He took vengeance on those who had
kept his wolves in the lake, and then married a musk-mouse by whom he had children to repeople
Iroquois and Hurons. The most important among the chief gods of the Iroquois are Thunder,
Wind and Echo. Stone giants play the part of Titans'. Among the oldest deities the Iroquois
include their own ancestors and certain animals which assumed human form, and whose names
were later used for the clans.
The giants are powerful magicians, very good hunters who are ignorant of the bow and arrows,
and use stones as missiles. They have unbelievable strength, and when they fight, their weapons
are trees of the biggest size which they uproot with the greatest ease. They are dreaded, for it
seems they are given to cannibalism. One of the most important is Ga-oh, the giant who
commands the winds. Side by side with this giant is Hino the Thunder spirit. He is
the guardian of the sky. Armed with a powerful bow and arrows of fire he destroys all harmful
things. His wife is the Rainbow. He has a number of helpers, among them a boy named
Gunnodoyak who was once a mortal. Hino took him up into his kingdom, armed him, and sent
him to fight the Big Water Snake which devours mankind. Gunnodoyak himself was devoured
but Hino and his warriors killed the Snake, recovered Gunnodoyak and took him back to heaven.
Oshadagea, the Big Eagle of the Dew, is also in Hino's service. He lives in the Western sky and
bears a lake of dew in the hollow of his back. When the destructive spirits of fire shrivel up all
earthly vegetation, Oshadagea flies up and the beneficent moisture falls drop by drop from his
Above the clouds where Thunder lives, are the Sun and Moon, and above them are the stars. The
Indians tell each other many legends of the stars. One of the prettiest is told by the Iroquois about
the Morning star.
Sesondowah, the hunter, saw that the Heavenly Elk had wandered down to earth. In the heat of
the chase his pursuit took him up to heaven, in the region above the Sun's dwelling, and there he
was taken prisoner by Dawn who made him the watchman at her door. Sesondowah looking
down from there to earth saw a girl he loved. When spring came he assumed the form of a blue
bird and flew down to her. In summer he became a black bird, and in autumn a huge falcon which
carried her off to heaven. Furious at this escapade Dawn chained him to her door, and changed
the girl into a star which she tied on her forehead, so that he is consumed with longing to reach
her and can never succeed. The star is called Gen-denwitha, the Morning Star.
That is how the Iroquois conceive of the upper powers.
The most important of the lower powers is the Earth which the Iroquois call Eithinoha, Our
Mother. They say that her daughter Onatha, Spirit of Wheat, went out one day to look for the
Refreshing Dew and was carried off by the Spirit of Evil who imprisoned her in the darkness
under the earth.
There she remained until the day when the sun found her and brought her back to the fields she
had deserted. Since then Onatha has never again dared to go looking for dew.
On earth and under the earth dwell multitudes of strange and
more or less invisible and mysterious beings in a certain order.
First come the dwarfs, grouped by the Iroquois into three categories: the Gahongas, living in water
and rocks; the Gandayaks whose duty is to make vegetation fruitful and to take care of the fish in
the rivers; and then the Ohdowas who live under ground and there are in charge of all kinds of
monsters and venomous beasts. Under water live beings in human form dressed in snake-skins
and wearing horns. Sometimes the beauty of their daughters attracts men, who disappear into the
depths of the water and are for ever lost to their kin.
Other monsters live either in the forest or in underground dwellings. For instance among the
Iroquois we have the Big Heads and the Stone Giants. The former are represented in the form of
enormous heads covered with thick hair, from which project two paws with sharp nails. Their
eyes flame, and their mouths are wide open. They fly among storms, supported by the profusion
of their hair. They say that one day a Big Head followed an Indian girl to her wigwam, and there
saw her eat chestnuts roasted on the fire; whereupon he seized and swallowed the burning
brands, and killed himself
Cosmogony legends. There has always existed a world like ours above the dome of the sky, and
there the warriors, like those on earth, went hunting and at night slept in long huts.
The Iroquois and Huron myth describing creation, begins with this heavenly world in which pain
'A little girl, Ataentsic, was born there soon after her father's death. It must be noted that this was
the first death among the dwellers in heaven. His body was placed on a bed of state, and the child
formed the habit of going to it and speaking to her father.
'When she grew up he told her to make a journey across the lands of the "Chief who owns the
earth" whom she was to marry. The girl set out, crossed a river on the trunk of a maple, and, after
escaping various dangers, came to the chiefs hut pitched beside the "big tree of heaven". There
after passing various tests she became the chief's wife. When he saw she was with child he became
ferociously and unjustly jealous of the Fire Dragon. Ataentsic gave birth to a daughter, Breath of
Wind. Representatives of all things and beings of creation then visited the chief and held council.
Lights guessed that Ataentsic's husband was jealous, and advised him to uproot the "tree of
life", which he did at once, forming an abyss into which he cast his wife and child. Thus Ataentsic
fell from the sky and as she passed through the air noticed a kind of blue light. She looked and
thought she saw that she was falling towards a big lake, but saw no earth anywhere.
'Meanwhile the water creatures living in the lake noticed this body falling from the skies, and
deicded to look for eath at the bottom of the lake.
The otter and the turtle failed in their object, and only the rhusk rat succeeded in placing the earth
he had brought up on the turtle's back. At that moment the shell grew enormously and became the
solid earth. Ataentsic, borne up by the wings of birds, set foot on this soil.
'Her daughters, Breath of Wind, grew up, and one night received the visit of the Master of Winds,
giving birth to twins, loskeha and Tawiscara. The twins hated each other, and fought before they
were born, causing their mother's death. From her body Ataentsic made the sun and moon, but
did not set them in the sky. Tawiscara persuaded his grandmother that loskeha alone had caused
their mother's death. So she cast him out.
'He fled to his father, the Master of Winds, who gave him a bow and arrows and maize, thereby
making him master animal and vegetable food. loskeha then created the various species of
animals. He then overcame the dwarf Hadui who causes all diseases, and wrenched from him the
secret of medicine and the ritual use of tobacco. He stole the sun and moon from Ataentsic and
Tawiscara, and let them take their course in the sky. Then loskeha created mankind. Tawiscara
tried to imitate him, but only succeeded in producing monsters, and in the end was sent into exile
by his brother.'
In this myth loskeha appears as the great hero of creation, while his brother Tawiscara is the
incarnation of all evil powers. They correspond to Osiris and Set. This legend also exists among
the Algonquins, except that the names of the twin brothers are different.
The legend of the 'fished-up-earth', of which fragments are found in the myth of loskeha is
frequently associated with that of the deluge.
The flood legends of the Iroquois and Hurons are analogous to those of the Algonquins. In a
sentence— the Iroquois, Huron and Algonquin myths agree on looking for the origin of life in a
higher world placed above the clouds. The Hurons recognise their ancestor in Ataentsic, who was
cast out of heaven.
INDIANS OF THE PLAINS
Very different in appearance and life are the great plains of North America, which extend from the
frozen regions of the Mackenzie river to the north of Mexico and the west of the Mississippi.
When the Whites reached them, these vast prairies gave pasture for innumerable herds of caribou
in the north and bison in the south. There was abundance of game of all kinds, and the scattered
Indian tribes lived comfortably on the products of the chase and of agriculture. Their horizon was
boundless, with no thick forest or deep valleys to divert their gaze. According to the season and
the area the Indian saw on all sides either the intense green of grass or the dazzling white of snow.
Everywhere around him the sky seemed to touch the earth and to make a huge canopy covering a
flat, circular earth. This apparent simplification of Nature, on a grand scale appears in the
mythology of the tribes of the plains. The world is governed by an all-powerful and invisible
being, who takes precedence of all the other great gods. According to the tribe this supreme Being
is called the Great Spirit, or the Master of Life, or our Father the Sky, or the Great Mystery.
The Sioux Indians call him Wakonda and the Pawnees Tirawa, or the Arch of Heaven. As a rule
the Indians do not represent him in a definite form, but by symbols—dawn, for instance,
suggesting the light white clouds floating very high in the sky. Wakonda is the source of all life
and power; while the great gods whom the Indians revere are merely intermediaries between the
distant, unknown Great Spirit and mankind. The gods are nearly always: The Sun,, the Earth, the
Moon, the Morning Star, Wind, Fire, Thunder, for the prairie Indians. For the agricultural tribes
corn must be added. Among the Rawness, the Sun, 'Shakuru', is the greatest and most powerful. A
very important ritual is observed
in his honour, and the 'dance of the Sun' is the greatest ceremony of the year among the tribes of
the plains. It usually lasts a week, and consists of processions, symbolical dances and voluntary
self-mutilations by warriors carrying out vows. It is also the great festival when the deeds of the
young warriors are praised, and tribal affairs discussed.
Our Mother Earth is the start and finish of all life. She is the provider of all food. Ceremonies are
also held in her honour, representing the marriage of Earth and Heaven, and the birth of life.
After the Sun the most important of the heavenly powers is the Morning Star. The Indians
represent it as a young man painted in red (the colour of life), shod with moccasins, and wrapped
in a large robe. On his head he wears a downy eagle's feather stained red, the image of the breath
of life. To him the Great Spirit entrusted the Gift of Life which he is commanded to spread over
Formerly the Skidi Pawnees had the custom of sacrificing a virgin in his honour. The victim's body
was cut into pieces, and buried in the fields to make them fertile.
The Black Feet relate a legend of the Morning Star's son:
'Once upon a time Morning Star noticed on earth Soatsaki, an Indian girl of great beauty, sleeping
near her tipi (camp), and fell in love with her. He married her, and took her up to heaven, to the
dwelling of his father and mother, the Sun and the Moon. There Soatsaki had a son, Little Star. The
Moon, her Mother-in-Law, gave Soatsaki a pick as a present, and warned her not to use it to dig
up the turnip which grew near the dwelling of the Spider Man. But curiosity got the better of the
young woman, who tore up the forbidden turnip and found that she could see the Earth through
the hole she had made. Seeing the tipis of her tribe she fell violently home-sick, and her heart grew
deathly sad. To punish her disobedience the Sun, her father-in-law, decided to turn her out of
heaven with her son, and lowered them to earth wrapped in an elk skin. But when the poor Indian
girl found herself separated from her husband she soon died, leaving her son alone and poor.
'The child had a scar on his face and was nicknamed "Poia", Scar-face. When he grew up Poia fell
in love with the chiefs daughter, who rebuffed him because of his scar. In despair he made up his
mind to seek his grandfather, the Sun, who would take away the scar, and so started out towards
the West. When he reached the Pacific coast he halted, and passed three days in fasting and
prayer, and on the morning of the fourth day a luminous trail unrolled before him across the
ocean. Poia stepped boldly on to the miraculous path and reached the Sun's dwelling place. When
he reached the sky he saw his father Morning Star battling with seven monstrous birds. Rushing
to the rescue, he slew them all. In reward for this deed, the Sun took away the scar, and then after
teaching him the ritual of the Sun dance, made him a gift of raven's feathers, a proof of his kinship
with the Sun, and another of a flute which would win him the heart of his beloved. Poia returned
to earth by another path called the Wolf Trail or the Milky Way, taught the Black Feet the Sun
dance and having married the chiefs daughter, took her up to heaven.'
The chief constellations have a place in Indian mythology, and each has a legend which varies
from tribe to tribe. Thus the Great Bear is either an ermine or a coffin followed by mourning
relatives, or seven brothers pursued by a monstrous bear, or seven young men reduced by poverty
to changing themselves into stars and going up to heaven by unrolling a spider's web.
Alongside these heavenly powers the Indians of the plains revere the powers of Earth, Water, Fire
and Air, and the different tribes represent them in different ways. Thus, the Sioux imagine that the
water spirits are divided into two categories, those of the streams and those of the waters below
ground. The former look like men, but the latter like women, though some believe that they form a
hideous many-headed monster supporting the earth.
Thunder is the most important among the air spirits. In those vast plains where thunderstorms
assume terrific proportions, the imagination of the natives naturally tried to explain these
phenomena of Nature.
To them, thunder is the voice of the Great Spirit speaking in the clouds. They believe that thunder
comes in the shape of a huge bird (the thunder-bird) accompanied by a swarm of smaller birds,
the beating of whose wings causes the distant rolling which is heard rumbling among the clouds
after each clap of thunder.
One of the Caddoan tribes, the Pawnees of Nebraska, tell a
cosmogony legend which explains the creation of the world as follows:
'In the beginning, Tirawa, the great chief and Atira his wife dwelt in heaven. All the other gods
were seated about them. And Tirawa said to them: "I shall give each of you a task to carry out in
heaven and a portion of my power, for I mean to create men in my image. They will all be under
your protection, and you will take care of them." Thus, Shakuru the Sun was placed in the east to
give light and heat; and Pah the moon in the west to give light by night. He said to Bright Star, the
evening star: "You will stay in the west and you shall be called the mother of all things, for all
beings shall be created by you." And to the Big Star, the morning star: "You shall stay in the east
and be a warrior. Take care that none stays behind when you urge the people to the west." In the
north he placed the Pole Star, and made it the first of heaven. In the south he placed the Star of
Spirits or the Star of Death. Then he placed four other stars, one in the north-east, one in the northwest,
one in the southeast and one in the south-west, and said to them: "Your task will be to
support the sky."
'After he had done all this Tirawa said to the evening star: "I will send you clouds, winds,
lightning and thunder, and when you receive them you will set them near the Heavenly Garden.
There they will become human beings, I shall clothe them in buffalo robes and they shall be shod
with moccasins." Immediately afterwards the clouds assembled, the winds began to blow,
lightning and thunder entered the clouds. When the sky was entirely darkened, Tirawa dropped a
pebble on the thick clouds which opened and revealed an immense expanse of water. Tirawa then
armed the gods of the four stars of the quarters of heaven with maces and bade them smite the
water, and the waters were separated and the earth appeared. On a fresh order from Tirawa the
four gods began to sing songs in praise of the creation of the earth, and their voices brought
together the gods of the elements, of clouds and winds, of lightning and thunder, and so caused a
terrific thunderstorm to break, which by its violence split the earth into mountains and valleys.
Then the four gods again began to sing in praise of forests and prairies, where-upon another storm
broke which left the earth green and covered with trees and vegetation. They sang a third time,
and the rivers and streams began to flow rapidly. At the fourth song, seeds of all kinds germinated
and enriched the earth.
'Tirawa ordered the sun and moon to unite, to people this Earthly Paradise, and a son was born to
them. The morning and evening
stars also united, and they had a daughter. The two children were placed on earth and when they
had grown up Tirawa sent gods to teach them the secrets of Nature. The woman was given seeds,
and moisture to make them grow, a hut and a hearth. She learned the arts of fire and of speech.
The man received male clothes and the weapons of a warrior. He learned the science of war-paint,
and the names of the animals, the art of shooting with bow and arrows, of smoking and of fire
The Bright Star appeared to the young man, and taught him the ritual of sacrifice. Other men were
created by the stars, and he became their chief and taught them what he had learned. A circular
camp was built and laid out in the same order as the stars are fixed in heaven, in memory of the
way in which the world had been created.'
The Pawnees also explain the origin of death: 'Before creating men Tirawa sent Lightning to
explore the earth. Bright Star who has command of the elements gave him the sack of storms, in
which he had enclosed the constellations which Morning Star drives before her. When he had
travelled over the earth, Lightning laid down his sack and took out the stars, which he hung in the
But one of the stars (called Coyote-Cheater because the coyote howls at it thinking it is the
Morning Star which it precedes) was jealous of Bright Star's power, and sent a wolf to steal the
sack of storms. The wolf succeeded, and let out all the beings shut up in the sack, but they were
angry at not finding their master Lightning, and threw themselves upon the wolf and killed him.
Since then death has never left the earth, and will never leave it until the day when all things
vanish and the South Star, the star of death, will reign over the earth. Then the moon will redden
and the sun go out. Men will be changed into little stars and will fly in heaven along the Milky
Way, which is t^e path the dead take to go to heaven.'
Animal stories have a very considerable part in the legends of the Redskins. Sometimes they are
spirits which put on an animal's skin, and they are always beings gifted with supernatural power.
They teach men what rites should be performed, and give them remedies for sicknesses etc.
Among the Pawness the coyote has been especially regarded as a heroic character in various
The Hopi or Moqui Indians of Arizona give a different version ;
in their myths of the creation of mankind. According to the Moqui, ;
two deities, both named Huruing Wuhti, after filling the world ! with animals decided to create
men and women. They took clay
and moulded it and sang an incantation together, and soon the man .
and woman came to life. *
THE PERICUS i
The Pericu Indians of California paid no homage to created things. They had no festivals, no
prayers, no vows. In heaven they recognised an all-powerful master named Niparaya, creator of
heaven and earth, who gives food to all creatures. He is invisible, and has not a body like human
Niparaya has a wife called Amayicoyondi and although he has no relations with her, having no
body, nevertheless he had three sons by her. One is called Quaayayp, that is, Man. Amayicoyondi
gave birth to the second on a red mountain. His name was Acaragui. Quaayayp took up his
residence with the Indians of the south, in order to teach them. He was very powerful, and had a
great number of servants who came down on earth with him. At last the Indians murdered him in
violent enmity. He is dead even unto this day, but corruption cannot touch him, so that his blood
flows continually. He does not speak, but an owl speaks to him.
In one myth the Pericus say that heaven is more populous than earth, and that at one time there
was great strife between the inhabitants. Among them was Wac or 1 upuran who was very
powerful. He revolted against Niparaya, but was completely defeated and deprived of his power,
driven out of heaven, and shut up with his followers in an underground cave, with the task of
looking after whales and seeing they did not escape.
Thus there were two parties among the Californian Indians, those who followed Niparaya and
were sensible and good, and those who preferred to follow Wac-Tupuran and were addicted to
The Pericus thought that the stars were pieces of burning metal, that the moon was created by
Cucumunic, and the stars by Purutabui.
The Guacure Indians among the tribes of the Loretto nation
believed that the northern part of the sky was inhabited by spirits, whose chief was Gumongo.
They it was who sent men plague and diseases.
Among other beliefs they think of the Sun, Moon and Stars, Evening and Morning, as having the
forms of men and women, disappearing every evening in the western ocean, and re-appearing
every morning in the east after having swum across the ocean during the night.
The Luiseno of Lower California say that a flood covered the highest mountains and destroyed
most of mankind. Only a few were saved because they took refuge on the heights of Bonsald
which alone were spared by the waters, when all the rest of the land was flooded. The survivors
remained there until the flood ended.
Clan totemism no longer existed in Mexico at the time of the conquest. There remained only a sort
of individual totemism, whereby, following on a significant dream, a man felt he was living in
close sympathy with an animal or a thing. At that period the mythology included an enormous
number of deities who were continually increasing. In accordance with the custom of conquering
pagans, the Aztecs felt they ought to revere the gods of the conquered. Thus new cults grew up.
Several of their great gods had such an origin, particularly Quetzalcoatl who was of Toltec origin,
Tlaloc an ancient deity of the Otomi, Camaxtli formerly a god of the Chichimees, Xilonen, goddess
of maize, deity of the Huastecs, etc.
As with the Indians of North America, the Mexican pantheon has the peculiarity of placing the
gods in the 'quarters' of space. The north was the dwelling place of Tezcatlipoca, the south that of
Huitzilopochtli, the east that of Tonatiuh, and the west that of Quetzalcoatl.
Certain figures of great gods stand out from the innumerable crowd of deities, Huitzilopochtli,
Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and his wife Chalchiuhtlicue, and Tzinteotl.
Huitzilopochtli (humming-bird of the South, or He of the South), the god of war, was worshipped
in the temple of Tenochtitlan where numerous human sacrifices were made to him. He was also
the storm-god. His attributes were humming-bird's feathers fastened to his left leg, a snake of fire,
and a stick curved in the shape of a snake. In the manuscripts his face is shown crossed with blue
lines and a brown band.
Huitzilopochtli was the son of the pious Coatlicue (She whose garment is woven of snakes) who
was already the mother of a daughter and a number of sons called the Centzon-Huitznahuas (the
Four hundred southerners). One day when she was praying a crown of feathers fell from heaven
on to her breast, and soon after it was seen that she was with child. Her daughter was furious,
believing that her mother was dishonoured, and urged the Centzon-Huitznahuas to murder her;
but Huitzilopochtli whom the mother carried in her womb spoke to the girl and calmed her.
Huitzilopochtli was born fully armed in a sort of blue armor, like Athena springing from the head
of Zeus, with humming-bird feathers decorating his head and left leg, and a blue javelin in his left
hand—a sign of skill. His whole body was painted blue. He hurled himself on his sister and killed
her, and then slew the Centzon-Huitznahuas and all who had plotted against his mother. He was
the protector and guide of the Aztecs on their journeys.
Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror) was the Sun god. He personified the summer sun, which ripens the
harvest but also brings drought and sterility. He was linked with the Moon as the god of evening.
Different names were given him, according to how he was invoked at festivals, some of which
were sacred to him as god of music and dancing. He was invisible and impalpable, appearing to
men sometimes as a flying shadow, or as a dreadful monster, but often as a jaguar. According to
one legend the Aztecs thought that Tezcatlipoca wandered at night in the shape of a 'giant',
wrapped in an ash-colored veil and carrying his head in his hand. When nervous people saw him
they died, but the brave man seized him, saying he would not let him go until sunrise. The 'giant'
begged to be released, and then cursed. If the man succeeded in holding the monster until
daylight, he changed his tone and offered wealth and invincible power if he was set free before
dawn. The victorious
man received four thorns as a pledge of victory from the conquered. The brave man tore out his
heart, and took it home; but when he unwrapped the cloth in which he had folded it he found
nothing but white feathers or a thorn or ashes or an old rag. The Aztecs feared him more than any
other god, and offered him blood sacrifices. Every year the handsomest among the prisoners was
chosen to personify him. He was taught to sing and play the flute, to wear flowers and to smoke
elegantly. He was richly garbed, and eight pages were assigned to wait on him. For a whole year
he was heaped with honors and pleasure. Twenty days before the date fixed for his sacrifice, he
received four girls as his wives, personifications of four goddesses. Then began a series of festivals
and dances. After which when the fatal day had arrived the young god was taken with great
pomp out of the town and sacrificed on the last terrace of the temple. With one cut of his obsidian
knife the priest opened his breast and tore out the palpitating heart which he offered to the Sun. In
Mexican mythology Tezcatlipoca was the great enemy of Quetzalcoatl, and the myth seems to
indicate some great racial conflict.
In all his treacherous plottings Tezcatlipoca thought only of destroying the people of Tulla, that is
to say, the Toltecs, whose most important god was Quetzalcoatl up till the time when after. the fall
of the Toltecs he became one of the chief Aztec divinities.
One day the people of Tulla saw three sorcerers enter their town, one of whom in the form of a
handsome young man was Tezcatlipoca. He succeeded in seducing the nieces of Quetzalcoatl, the
daughter of the king Uemac, which enabled him to spread vice and disregard for the law
During an important festival he danced and sang a magic song. He was soon imitated by a
multitude of people, but he led them on to a bridge which collapsed under their weight, and a
large number of them were hurled into the river where they were changed into stones. Soon after
he appeared to the Toltecs and showed them a puppet magically dancing on his hand. In their
wonder they crowded round to see better, and many of them were suffocated. He then told them
that they ought to stone him because of the harm he had done them. They obeyed, and killed him,
but the sorcerer's body gave off such a dreadful strench that numbers of Toltecs died. At last after
many casualties the Toltecs succeeded in dragging him out of the town. Tezcatlipoca is
represented with a bear's face and brilliant eyes. His face was striped with yellow and black, his
body was painted black, and he had bells on his ankles. He was the cause of disorder and war. He
spread wealth. The Aztecs thought he had the power to destroy the world if he wished. Like most
of the other gods, he rose from the dead and came back from heaven to earth.
Quetzalcoatl, the Snake-bird, god of wind, master of life, creator and civiliser, patron of every art
and inventor of metallurgy, was originally a deity of Chololan, but was driven out by the intrigues
of Tezcatlipoca and decided to return to the old land of Tlapallan after the fall of the Tulla. He
burned his houses, built of silver and shells, buried his treasure, and set sail on the Eastern sea
preceded by his attendants who had been changed into bright-hued birds, after promising his
people he would return to them. Ever since then sentries were stationed on the East coast to watch
for the god's return. When they saw the Spaniards wearing their bright breastplates, standing on
ships which came from the East, they thought it was the return of Quetzalcoatl and sent to tell
their emperor Montezuma. He sent presents to the new arrivals, including the snake mask
incrusted with turquoises and the feather cloak, emblems of the god. Traditionally Quetzalcoatl is
represented as a white-haired old man with a long beared dressed in a full robe. His face and
whole body are painted black. He wears a mask with apointed snout coloured red.
Tlaloc (pulp of the earth) was the god of mountains, rain, and springs. He belonged at first to the
Otomi. Like the foregoing he is painted black, but wears a garland of white feathers topped with a
green plume. Among his attributes occurs the mask of the two-headed snake.
Tlaloc lived on the mountain tops, and his dwelling Tlalocan was abundantly provided with food.
There lived the goddesses of cereals, and especially of maize.
Tlaloc owned four pitchers of water which he used for watering the earth. The water of the first
was good, and helped the growth of maize and fruits; that of the second produced spiders' webs
and caused blight among the cereals; that of the third turned to frost, and that of the fourth
destroyed all fruits.
The cult of Tlaloc was the most horrible of all. Numerous children and babies at the breast were
sacrificed to him. For the festival in his honour the priests started out to look for a large number of
babies which they bought from their mothers... After killing them, they cooked and ate them... If
the children cried and shed plenty of tears the spectators rejoiced, saying that rain was coming.
Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of running water, springs and streams, was the wife or sister of Tlaloc.
She was invoked for the protection of new-born children, marriages, and chaste loves.
An agricultural nation, the Aztecs possessed many deities of the earth's products, chief of whom
was Tzinteotl, goddess of origins, who presided over procreation.
They had also a god of fire, of lust, of traders: Yacatecuhtli god of traders; Xiuhtecutli god of fire;
Tlazolteotl goddess of guilty loves, of pleasure and filth. She is the Mexican Venus, about whom
we find this legend:
'A certain Jappan wished to become a favourite of the gods, so he left his family and all his
possessions to live a hermit's life in the desert. He discovered a very high rock on which he lived
day and night, spending his time at his devotions. The gods wished to test his virtue, and
commanded the demon Yaotl (the enemy) to spy on him, and try to punish him if he yielded.
Yeotl sent him the most beautiful women who vainly urged him to come down. The goddess
Tlazolteotl was annoyed by this, and appeared to Jappan who was deeply moved by her great
' "Brother Jappan", she said, "I am Tlazolteotl. I am amazed by your virtue and touched by your
sufferings, and I went to console you. How can I reach you and talk to you more easily?" The
hermit did not see the goddess's ruse, came down from his rock and helped her to climb it. And
Jappan's virtue succumbed. Yaotl arrived at once, and in spite of his entreaties cut off his head.
The gods changed him into a scorpion, and from shame he hid under the stone which had been
the scene of his defeat.
'His wife, Tlahuitzin (the burning), was still alive. Yaotl went to look for her, brought her to the
stone where the scorpion was, told her everything, and finally cut off her head. From her came
another species of scorpion (fire-coloured). She joined her husband under the stone, and they had
little scorpions of different colours.
The gods thought that Yaotl had exceeded his instruction, so they punished him by changing him
into a grasshopper.'
According to the Aztecs the 'nine heavens' are inhabited by: Tonatiuh, the sun; Meztli, the moon;
Tlahuizcal-pantecuhtli, who was lord of the red glow of dawn, and also a great lover of sacrifices.
Among the very numerous other Mexican gods must be noted: Xochipili and Xochiquetzal, gods
of the two sexes, of flowers, singing and dancing; Cihuatcoatl, goddess invoked at childbirth, who
is sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile; Chicomecoatl, goddess of rural plenty, the Mexican
Ceres; Xolotl, god of ball play and protector of twins.
Among ill-defined deities are the Tepictoton, dwarfs who were the protectors of mountains and to
whom children were sacrificed; the Yohual-tecuhtin, lords of the night to the number of ten, who
determined the fates of men and one by one in turn ruled over their days.
According to a Mexican myth called 'Story of the four suns', the fifth of which is that which now
gives us light, the gods created four successive worlds. Torrential rains followed and drowned all
mankind except for a few who were changed into fish, under the first sun named
Chalchiuhtonatiuh (sun of precious stones). Under the second sun Tletonatiuh (sun of fire) the
men of that creation were destroyed by a rain of fire, and changed into chickens, dogs, etc. The
third sun is called Yohualtonatiuh (sun of darkness). The men of this third creation fed on pitch
and resin, and were either swallowed up by an earthquake or devoured by animals. The sun
which shone on the fourth generation was Ehecatonatiuh (sun of wind or air). During this epoch
men lived on fruits and were changed into monkeys.
The underworld was ruled by the infernal deities: Mictlantecuhtli and his wife Mictanchihuatl,
who govern the 'nine underground rivers' and the souls of the dead.
The Aztecs, like nearly all peoples, had a tradition of a flood and of a confusion of languages. They
say that humanity was wiped out by a flood, but one man Coxcoxtli and one woman Xochiquetzal
escaped in a boat, and reached a mountain called Colhuacan. They had many children, who were
dumb until the time when a dove on top of a tree made them the gift of languages; but these
differed so much that the children could not understand each other.
Yucatan. The most interesting among the peoples of Central America are the Mayas of Yucatan
and their southern neighbours the Quiche Mayas, nations of Toltec origin driven towards the
isthmus by Aztec invasions. At the head of the mythological pantheon of the Yucatan Mayas is the
god Hunab Ku (the one god), also'called Kinebahan (mouth and eyes of the sun), whose wife was
Ixazaluoh (water), the creator of weaving.
As was the case in Mexico, the Sun had a son, Itzamna, a civilising hero, inventor of drawing and
letters, sometimes represented in the form of a red hand, to which the sick prayed. He brought
back the dead to life, and for that reason there was a great cult of him in his town, Itzamal. Alms
and presents were given to him. Many pilgrimages were made to him every year, during which
squirrels were sacrificed to him and tissues offered up. In return Itzamna looked after the fertility
of the fields and the abundance of water supply.
In their very extensive mythology must be mentioned the Bacabs, four wind gods, the pillars of
heaven; Echua, the god of travellers; Yuncemil, the lord of death; Acat, the god of life, who shaped
children in their mothers' wombs; Backlum-Chaam, the Maya Priapus, and Chin, god of vice.
The people of Yucatan also worshipped the god Cukulcan (bird-spake), of whom they told this
'Once upon a time Cukulcan came from the west with nineteen companions, two of whom were
gods of fish, two others gods of agriculture, and a god of thunder. .. They stayed ten years in
Yucatan. Cukulcan made wise laws, and then set sail and disappeared in the direction of the rising
The people of Yucatan believed in a god of creation, benefactor of the world, Nohochacyum (the
grandfather) among the La-candons, and Nohochacyumchac among the modern Mayas. Among
the former he was the son of two flowers. Nohochacyum was perpetually at war with an evil deity
Hapikern, the enemy of mankind, and he had three brothers: Yantho who was associated with
Xamani-qinqu, spirit of the north; Usukun a god ill-disposed to men, whose assistant is Kisin the
earthquake; and Uyitzin, a benevolent god.
Beside these supreme gods was Akna (the mother) goddess of birth, whose husband was
Guatemala. In Guatemala, as in Honduras, we again come upon the cult of the sun and moon,
whose gods Hun-Ahpu-Vuch and Hun-Ahpu-Mtye (grandfather and grandmother) are
represented in human form but with the face of the sacred animal, the tapir. The son Gucumatz
(the feathered snake) is the civilising and agricultural god, changing himself at will into different
animals, and living in heaven and hell.
However, there exists another more powerful god, Hurakan, known also in the West Indies, and
worshipped even by Gucumatz. He presides over the whirlwind and the rumblings of the
thunderstorm. He gave the Quiche Mayas fire by rubbing his sandals together. His surname is
Tohil, a name also given to Quetzalcoatl.
The basic idea of the Quiche myths is that of the sun, which dies and is born again, and also of the
creation of mankind. Here is the Guatemala legend in which we find a curious cosmogony.
'In the beginning everything was under water, above which hovered Hurakan and Gucumatz, the
givers of life. They said: "Earth!" and immediately the earth was created. The mountains rose out
of the water, to the great joy of Gucumatz who congratulated Hurakan. (Here we note the
superiority of the latter over Gucumatz.) The earth was covered with vegetation, and the creators
peopled it with animals with the command to do them homage. But as the animals could not
speak, they roared, howled or whistled, but could not make themselves understood. To punish
them the gods decided they should be killed and eaten.
'They then made clay men who were unable to move their heads or speak or understand. They
decided to make wooden men, but they lacked intelligence and feelings, and had no knowledge of
their creators. The gods destroyed them. But some survived, and made little wooden monkeys.
'After consulting together Hurakan and Gucumatz decided to make four men of yellow and white
maize. But as they were too
perfect, the gods shortened their sight. During their sleep they created four women. And these
were the ancestors of the Quiche tribe. However, they complained that they could not see clearly,
for the sun had not yet appeared, so they went off to Tullan where they learned about their gods.
It was very cold there, and they received fire from Tohil (Hurakan). But the sun did not appear,
and the earth remained damp and cold. Speech was divided, and the ancestors no longer
understood each other. They then left Tullan guided by Tohil and came to the Quiche country.
There at last the sun appeared, followed by the moon and the stars. In their delight animals and
men sang a hymn, and offered the gods blood from their ears and shoulders. Later they thought it
better to shed the blood of victims.'
Honduras. In Honduras, where sun and moon also were worshipped, there is a rather strange
legend of the 'White Woman':
'A white woman of matchless beauty came down from heaven to the town of Cealcoquin. There
she built a palace ornamented with strange figures of men and animals, and placed a stone in the
chief temple with mysterious figures on three of its sides. It was a talisman which she used to
conquer all her enemies.
'Although she remained a virgin, she gave birth to three sons; and when she grew old she divided
her kingdom with them. Then she had her bed carried to the highest part of the palace, and
disappeared into the sky in the form of a beautiful bird..."
This legend has a great resemblance to a myth of the moon, whose three sons might well be the
three visible phases of the moon. Moreover, in Honduras we find myths which are very similar to
those of Mexico.
Nicaragua. The inhabitants of Nicaragua all had the same religion.
The gods of the Niquirans (one of the tribes in Nicaragua) lived in heaven and were immortal. The
two chief deities were Tamagostad and the goddess Zipaltonal, creators of the earth and
everything in it. They lived in the east. With them were Ecalchot, the wind god; the little Ciaga, a
water god, who shared in the creation; Quiateot, the rain god; Misca, god of traders; Chiquinau,
god of the air and the nine winds; and Vizetot, god of famine. After death, souls departed
according to their deserts either to heaven with Tamagostad and Zipaltonal, or under the ground
with Mictanteot (the MictlantecuhtU of Mexico).
Among the underground gods is Masaya, the goddess of volcanoes, to whom sacrifices were
made after earthquakes by throwing human victims into a crater. She is represented as a
termagant with a black skin, thin hair and sagging breasts but she was consulted for her oracles
which were highly esteemed.
There is every reason to think that Mexican influences were important in developing the early
religious customs of this country.
Haiti. Totemism seems not to have existed among the Tainos of Haiti. All we find are some Zemis
or idols, which are representations of individual protecting spirits, similar to the Mexican nahuals.
These idols, considered as gods, were invoked for the conquest of enemies or the ripening of the
These supernatural beings revealed themselves to the Indian after a fast of six or seven days.
The Tainos had a god in heaven named Joca-huva, son of the goddess Atabei (these deities were
not represented in images), and then Guabancex, the goddess of storms, winds and water, whose
idol was made of stone; by her side was her messenger Guantauva, and Coatrischie, a deity who
collects water among the mountains and lets it rush down on the lowlands to damage them.
Beside these gods the people of Haiti thought the world was peopled with souls of the dead or
opita, who were gathered together in an island named Coaibai and went out only at night.
Anyone who met an opita and tried to fight it was bound to die.
The myths of the Tainos of Haiti relate the creation of the world and the origin of the female sex,
after a flood in which all the women were drowned and all the men changed into trees.
THE CHIBCHAS OF CUNDINAMARCA. The inhabitants of central Colombia worshipped
especially a great solar god, Bochica, creator of civilisation and all the arts. In a myth he is
described as fighting with a demon named Chibchacum who after being defeated was forced as a
punishment to support the earth on his shoulder. When Chibchacum changes his burden to the
other shoulder there are earthquakes.
The myth of Bochica contains the story of a great flood:
'Long ago the people of the Cundinamarca plateau at Bogota lived as pure savages, without laws,
agriculture or religion. One day there appeared an old man with a long thick beard, by name
Bochica who belonged to a race different from that of the Chibchas. He taught the savages how to
build huts and how to live together in society.
'His wife who was very beautiful and named Chia appeared after him, but she was wicked and
enjoyed thwarting her husband's efforts at civilising. As she could not overcome Bochica's power
she managed by her magical means that the river Funzha should rise, overflow and cover the
whole plain. Many of the Indians died, and only a few managed to escape to the summits of the
neighboring mountains. Bochica was very angry, and exiled Chia from earth to the sky, where she
became the moon given the task of lighting the nights. He then cleft the mountains which closed
the valleys of the Magdalena from Cauca to Tequendama, so that
the water might flow out. The Indians who had escaped the flood then returned to the Bogota
Valley, where they built towns. Lake Guatavita still remains to prove this local deluge.
'Bochica gave them laws, taught them to cultivate the land, instituted the worship of the sun with
periodical festivals, sacrifices, and pilgrimages. He then divided the power among two chiefs, and
retired to heaven after passing two thousand years on earth as an ascetic.
'Everything we know about the mythology of the Chibchas is to be found in the basic theme of the
civilising hero Bochica. In this mythology there is also mention of Nencatacoa, the god of weavers;
of Chaquen, the guardian god of boundaries; of Bachue, goddess of water, protectress of
vegetation and harvest; of Cuchavira, master of the air and the rainbow who healed the sick and
protected women in childbirth; of a god of drunkenness who was not greatly venerated; and of
Fomagata or Thomagata, a deity of terrifying appearance, the storm god, represented by his
worshippers under the form of a fire spirit passing through the air and tyrannising over men,
whom he sometimes liked to change into animals. Bochica had to make use of all his power to rid
the land of this evil being. Thereafter Fomagata was reduced to impotence, but retained his right
to appear in the Guesa procession, in the ritual dances, and in the assembly of the gods.
'He is represented with one eye, four ears, and a long tail. The Guesa (wanderer or vagabond) was
a boy dedicated to sacrifice in honour of Bochica. He had to be taken from a village now called San
Juan de los Llanos. It is from there, so they say, that Bochica first came.
'Up till the age of ten then, Guesa was brought up in the temple of the Sun at Sagamozo, never
going out except to walk in the paths Bochica had used. During all his walks the Guesa received
the highest honours and the most attentive care. At the age of fifteen he was taken to a column
dedicated to the Sun, followed by masked priests of whom some represented Bochica and others
his wife Chia, and still others the frog Ata. When they reached their destination the victim was
bound to the column, and shot to death with arrows. Then they tore out his heart to offer to
Bochica, and collected his blood in sacred vases.
'Here we again find the feature, so well-marked in Mexico and Central America, of the victim
being associated with the deity he represents. The method of putting to death recalls the Mexican
custom, but here the tearing out of the heart occurred after the Guesa's death. In a cosmogony
myth we hear of the god Chimini-qiiagua (guardian of the sun), who opened the house in which
the heavenly body was shut up. Huge black birds came forth, spreading sun-rays over the whole
According to the Chibchas the human race was born from a woman who appeared on the shores
of lake Iguaque holding a child in her arms. Later they were both changed into snakes, and
disappeared into the lake, for which reason the Chibchas made offerings to it. A myth of
Cundinamarca says that the souls of the dead were carried into the 'next world' on a canoe, made
of spiders' webs, which took them to the centre of the earth by following the course of a great
underground river. Hence the great respect for spiders.
ECUADOR. During the pre-Columbian period the coast of Ecuador was inhabited by civilised
people, called the Caranques. They worshipped the sea, fish, tigers, lions, snakes and numerous
richly decorated idols.
From this we can see that the Caranques were acquainted with totems. One of the two temples
they owned was dedicated to Umina, the god of medicine, represented by a large emerald, which
received divine honours and was visited by pilgrims. The pilgrims made offerings to the high
priest of gold, silver, or precious stones. The other temple belonged to the Sun, and was associated
with a splendid worship, celebrated during the festival of the winter solstice. Offerings and
sacrifices were made to the Sun. The victims were usually animals, but the Caranques also
sacrificed children, women, and prisoners of war. The priests examined the entrails of the animal
victims, and so predicted the future. In their funeral rites they buried with the deceased the most
beautiful and best beloved of his wives, as well as jewels and food.
The Canarians, an Indian tribe of Ecuador, relate the story of a flood from which two brothers
escaped by going to the top of
a high mountain called Huaca-vnan. As the water rose the mountain grew higher, so that the two
brothers escaped the disaster. When the waters retired, the provisions of the two brothers were all
consumed, so they went down to the valley, and built a little house where they eked out existence
on plants and roots. One day, when exhausted and almost dying of hunger, they returned home
after a long excursion in search of food, and found that food and chicha were there, although they
did not know who could have brought them. This happened ten days running. They agreed to try
to find out who was so kind to them. The elder brother concealed himself, and soon there entered
two macaws dressed as Canarians. As soon as the birds came in they began to prepare the food
they had brought with them. When the man saw they were good-looking and had the faces of
women, he came out of his hiding-place, but when the birds saw him they were angry and flew
away without leaving anything to eat. The younger brother had been out looking for food, and
when he returned he found nothing ready as had happened on other days. He asked his brother
the reason, and both felt very cross. Next day the younger brother decided to hide himself, and
wait for the birds. After three days the macaws came back, and started to prepare food. The two
brothers waited until the two birds had finished cooking, and then closed the door. The two birds
were very angry at being caught, and while the two brothers were catching the smaller, the other
flew away. The two brothers married the smaller macaw, and had by her six boys and girls, from
whom the Canarians are descended. Ever since then the Indians consider the Huaca-ynan
mountain as sacred. They venerate macaws, and- prize their feathers, which they use to deck
themselves out for festivals.
Before the Spanish conquest Peru included modern Peru, the republic of Ecuador to the north,
part of Bolivia to the south-east, and part of Chile to the south.
Before they came under the civilising influence of the Incas, the ancient Peruvians accepted
totemism. They worshipped animals, plants and stones, and took their names. Several Quiches
(ancient Peruvians) believed they were descended from animals which they worshipped, such as
the condor, the snake, and the jaguar, or from rivers and lakes. These protecting spirits were given
the name of Huaca, by which they meant mysterious powers.
Along the coasts of Peru the chief totem was the sea, and its inhabitants were sub-totems.
Where the Incas established themselves totemism gave way to the cult of the Sun. The Peruvian
name for the sun was Inti or Apu-Punchau (the head of day). They thought he had a human form,
and his face was represented by a disk of gold surrounded with rays and flames. The Incas
believed they were descended from Inti, and only they were allowed to utter his name.
Among divinities Mama Quilla, the moon, came immediately after the Sun, her brother and her
husband. Her image was a silver disk with human features. She was the protecting goddess of
married women. Many temples were dedicated to these chief deities, the most famous of which
was the Coricancha of Cuzco.
The other deities grouped about the pair Sun-Moon and looked upon as their attendants were
greatly venerated. Among them were Cuycha the rainbow, and Catequil the thunder and
lightning god, represented carrying a sling and a mace. Children were sacrificed to him. Twins
were looked upon as his children. Chasca (the long-haired star) was the planet Venus, and was
thought to be a man acting as page to the Sun. Among the Incas this planet was the protectress of
princesses and girls, the creatress and protectress of flowers. The other planets and stars were
maids in waiting to the Moon. Other constellations were worshipped. The most revered were the
Pleiads who protected cereals. Comets were a sign of the gods' wrath. In addition to these starry
deities, they worshipped Pachamama (mother earth) and fire, Nina.
However, the Incas did not suppress all the cults older than that of the Sun and Moon. They
retained two great gods whom they annexed to their pantheon - Viracocha (the foam or fat of the
lake) and Pachacamac (he who animates the earth).
Pachacamac, who was outside the cycle of Inca gods, was considered the supreme god by the
maritime population of Peru. His legend spread out from the valley of the Lurin, to the south of
where he had his sanctuary, and makes him the rival of Viracocha. He renewed the world by
changing the men created by Viracocha and teaching them the different arts and occupations. He
must have been the god of fire, and so the Incas made him a son of the Sun, the master of giants.
His worship required human victims. He uttered mysterious oracles. He was invisible, and it was
forbidden to represent him in any form whatever. At Cuzco there was current a myth of the
mountaineers of Pacari-Tambo (house of the morning):
'Once upon a time four pairs of brothers and sisters emerged from the caves of Pacari-Tambo. The
eldest climbed up the mountain and threw a stone to each of the four cardinal points, saying that
it was a token that he had assumed possession of the whole land. This angered the other three, the
youngest of whom was the cleverest. He made up his mind to get rid of his brothers and reign
alone. He persuaded the eldest to go into a cave, and shut him in with a huge rock. Then he got his
second brother to come up the mountain with him under the pretext of looking for the eldest
brother. But when they reached the top he threw the second brother into the void, and by magic
changed him into a stone statue. The third brother fled in terror. So the youngest built Cuzco and
had himself worshipped as son of the Sun under the name of Pirrhua-Manco or Manco-Capac. The
first god was probably Pachacamac, god of underground fire; the second seems to have been a
personification of the worship of stones; and the third Viracocha, the god who vanished.'
On the other hand the Incas taught that the Sun had three sons -Choun (one of the surnames of
Viracocha), Pachacamac, and Manco-Capac.
Viracocha was originally also outside the cycle of the Inca gods, but was annexed to the 'cult of the
Sun.' According to legend he lived in lake Titicaca, and represented its fertilising and procreative
powers. He is the god of rain, and of the liquid element generally.
'Before the Sun appeared the earth was already peopled,' says the original myth of Viracocha.
'When he emerged from the depths of the lake he made the sun, the moon, the stars, and set them
MYTHOLOGY OF THE TWO AMERICAS — 443
their regular courses. Then he made several statues, which he brought to life, and commanded
them to come out of the caves in which they had been carved. He then went to Cuzco and
appointed Allcavica as king over the people in the town. The Incas descended from this Allcavica.
Then Viracocha went away and disappeared into the water.'
Viracocha has neither flesh nor bones, and yet he runs very swiftly; he brings down the mountains
and lifts up the valleys. He is represented with a beard, which is a symbol of water gods. His
sister-wife was Mama-Cocha (rain and water). Beside these deities there existed special gods and
powers of an animal nature, in which the Indians recognised mysterious power. Snakes were
greatly revered, such as Urcaguary the god of underground treasures who is represented in the
form of a large snake, with the head of a deer and little gold chains decorating his tail. The condor
was thought to be the messenger of the gods. One of the peculiarities of the Inca religion is that
they had 'Virgins of the Sun' or Aclla, who were real vestal virgins, maintaining the sacred fire
under the control of matrons called Mama-Cuna who educated them and directed their work. The
'Virgins of the Sun' were chosen at the age of eight and shut up in cloisters, which they could not
leave for six or seven years, and then only to marry chiefs of high rank.
Every Aclla convicted of relations with a man was buried alive, unless she could prove that she
was with child, in which case it was supposed to be due to the Sun.
Human sacrifices occurred every year at the festivals celebrated in honour of the gods Inti,
Pachacamac and Viracocha. Two or three children and large numbers of animals were massacred
at these festivals. According to the myths, the earth was called Pacha, and above the earth were
ranged four heavens inhabited by gods. The great god lived in the highest heaven.
The Incas thought that Inti, the sun, after crossing the sky, plunged into the western sea, which he
partly dried up. He returned by swimming under the earth, and reappeared next morning
rejuvenated by his bath.
Eclipses of the sun were held to indicate Inti's anger. The Peruvian
myths of creation, of the origin of mankind, and of the flood, seem to have been local, as was the
case -in Mexico.
In a province of Peru to the east of Lima, the Indians say that once upon a time the world came
near to total destruction. One day an Indian wanted to tie a llama in a good pasture, but the
animal resisted, and in its way gave signs of grief. His owner said: 'Idiot! Why do you lament and
refuse to browse? Are you not in a place with good grass?' 'Madman!' said the llama, 'learn that
there is plenty of reason for my grief, for within five days the sea will rise and cover the whole
earth!' The astonished Indian asked if there was no way of escaping. The llama told him to collect
provisions for five days, and then to follow it to the top of the high mountain called Villca-Coto.
So the man collected provisions, and led the llama on a leash. When they reached the top of the
mountain they saw that all kinds of birds and animals had already taken refuge there. The sea
began to rise, and covered all the plains and mountains except the top of Villca-Coto; and even
there the waves dashed up so high that the animals were forced to crowd into a narrow area. The
fox's tail dipped into the water, and that is why it has a black tip. Five days later the water ebbed,
and the sea returned to its bed. But all human beings except one were drowned, and from him are
descended all the nations on earth.
Another legend of the Peruvian Indians deals with the reappearance of men after the flood: 'In a
place about sixty leagues from Cuzco the creator made a man of every nation, and painted the
costume which each of the nations was to wear. He gave hair to those who were to have long hair,
and clipped the hair of those who were to have short hair. To each he gave the speech he was to
was to talk, suitable songs, and the seeds and food he was to grow. Then he gave life and soul to
these men and women, and sent them underground. In this way each nation went to the region it
was to occupy.'
Among the Incas there was a god of death, Supai, who lived inside the earth. Supai, the god of this
dark world, is no more malevolent than Hades or Pluto, but he is a dreary and greedy god, always
longing to increase the number of his subjects, so he must be placated, even at the cost of painful
sacrifices. Thus, every year a hundred children were sacrificed to him.
THE ARAUCANIANS OF CHILE
The religious opinions of the Araucanians assumed a material form. The Araucanians do not
appear to have got beyond fetishism, and give a corporeal form to all their divinities. They did not
claim that all inanimate objects are inhabited by spirits, but think that spirits may live in them for
a time. The Araucanians were acquainted with totemism, and practised the cult of ancestors. They
did not recognise the existence of a superior being. They have no temples, no idols, no established
The Araucanians imagined their chief gods to be evil spirits who had to be placated by
propitiatory and expiatory sacrifices. The most powerful of the upper gods was Pillan, the god of
thunder, who was also the provider of fire. He caused earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and
lightning. The Indians represented him as a corporeal deity having several forms at once.
The'chiefs and warriors killed during a war were absorbed into Pillan. The former became
volcanoes, the latter clouds. Out of this belief arose a myth: 'During a storm the Indians looked at
the sky to see in which direction the clouds were moving. They supposed that the clouds
represented the battles between their peoples and the Spaniards. If the clouds moved to the south
the Araucanians broke out into lamentations. If they went north, the Indians rejoiced at the defeat
of their enemies.'
Pillan had at his disposal evil spirits called Huecuvus, who were able to change themselves into
any shape they wished for the purpose of doing evil. The Araucanians attributed to them every
disease, especially those they could not understand, and all physical phenomena occurring at a
period when they should not, such as rain during the harvest, the blights which affected their
plantations, etc. Among all the other servants of Pillan were the Cherruve, spirits represented in
the form of snakes with human heads. These were the cause of comets and shooting stars, which
Araucanians thought were omens of dreadful calamities to those of their villages towards which
Another deity was the god of winds, Meuler (whirlwind, waterspout,
typhoon). He was represented as a lizard disappearing under ground when the typhoon
The only beneficent deity among the Araucanians was' Auchimal-gen', the moon, the sun's wife.
She protected the Indians against disasters, and drove away evil spirits by the fear she created in
them. A red moon was the sign of the death of some great person. If one remembers how the
Araucanians were connected with the Incas, it is very curious to note that they had no cult of the
Ngurvilu, the god of water, rivers, and lakes, assumes the form of a wild cat, whose tail ends in a
formidable claw. If any accident happens to an Indian in a boat or swimming, this deity is blamed
for it. Huaillepenyi, god of fog, appeared in the form of a ewe with a calFs head and the tail of a
seal. He lived on the banks of rivers and
; lakes or on the sea-shore. When a deformed child was born, his
] deformity was attributed to the influence of this spirit.
j Among secondary deities and inferior evil spirits is Chonchonyi.
i He is represented in the form of a human head whose very long ears
I served as wings to carry him where there were sick persons. When they are alone the spirit gets
into their home, grapples with the sick person, kills him, and sucks his blood.
; Colo-colo (basilisk) was born from a cock's egg, and causes fever and death, by drawing off
the victim's saliva.
i Pihuechenyi is a vampire which sucks the blood of Indians
" at night in the forest, and is represented as a winged snake.
Hell did not exist for the Araucanians. They merely believed that after death they assumed a
corporeal but invisible form, and departed to another world which evil spirits could not enter. The
Araucanians had no priestly caste, but there were fortune-tellers
j and sorcerers who possessed great influence among them. There is a
; tradition among the Araucanians of Chile that there was once a flood which very few Indians
escaped. The survivors rook refuge
. on a high mountain called Thegtheg (the thundering or the glittering;
1 which had three peaks and the ability to float on water. The flood was the result of a volcanic
eruption accompanied by a violent earthquake1; and whenever, there is an earthquake the natives
rush to the high mountains. They are afraid that after the earthquake the
t sea may again drown the world. On these occasions each person takes plenty of provisions, and
in addition a wooden bowl to protect the head in case the Thegtheg should be carried up to the
sun by the waters of the flood which was threatened.
THE GUARANI TUPIANS OR TUPINAMBAS OF BRAZIL
The Tupi mythology includes a series of civilising and creator heroes. The first of these heroes was
Monan (ancient, old) who was the creator of mankind, and then destroyed the world with flood
and fire; after whom came Maire-Monan (the transformer) who is often confused with his
predecessor. He had the power of changing men and animals into other forms in order to punish
them for their sins. He taught the Tupinambas the arts of governing and of cultivating the earth. A
myth relates that he aroused the anger of men by his metamorphoses, so that they decided to kill
him. For that end they arranged a festival during which Maire-Monan had to jump over three
He jumped the first but fainted above the second and was burned up. His bursting produced
thunder, while' the flames became lightning. Then he was carried up to heaven, where he became
There was another hero, Maira-ata, who was thought to be a great wizard able to predict the
future with the help of spirits. He holds a very important place in Brazilian mythology because he
was the father of the mythical twins Ariconte and Tamendonare who caused the flood. They were
mortal enemies these brothers, but were not by the same father. In a Tupinamba myth one was
supposed to be the son of Maira-ata and the other of a mere mortal called Sarigoys. The mother of
the twins, abandoned by Maira-ata, set out to look for him, guided by his child whom she carried
in her womb. One day she came to the home of Sarigoys who offered his hospitality, and
afterwards gave her another child. The mother went on her way until she came to a village where
she fell a victim to the cruelty of the Indians, who cut her to pieces and ate her. The twins were
rescued by a woman who brought them up. When they were men they decided they must avenge
their mother, and with this in view they persuaded the murderers to accompany them to an
island, under pretence of gathering fruit. While the Indians were on the island the brothers caused
a storm which submerged them, after which they were changed into tigers. Having satisfied their
wish for vengeance the twins then went to look for their father, whom they found in a village
where he had become a wizard. He was very happy to see them, but before recognising them as
his sons he put them through certain tests.
The first was shooting with bow and arrows, but the twins'
arrows did not reach their targets but remained up in the air. The second test was to pass three
times through the stone Itha-Irapi, whose two halves dashed rapidly together. The son of Sarigoys
went first, but was crushed. His brother picked up the fragments of his body and restored it to its
former shape. They both were then able to pass through.
But Maira-ata was not satisfied with these tests, and insisted on a third. He told the twin brothers
to go and steal the bait used by Agnen to catch the fish Alain which is the food of the dead. Once
more the son of Sarigoys tried first to pass the test, and was torn to pieces by Agnen, but brought
back to life by his brother. They tried again, and this time managed to steal the bait which they
brought to Maira-ata, who then recognised them as his sons.
Among the Tupinambas there was another very important power, considered by the Indians as
the demon of thunder and lightning, under the name Tupan. He was a kind of demon who
received no worship and no prayers. He is represented as a short thick-set man with wavy hair.
He was the youngest son of the civilising hero Nanderevusu and his wife Nandecy, for whom
Tupan had a great affection. It is by order of his mother that Tupan leaves his home in the west to
visit her in the east. Each journey causes a storm, and the noise of thunder comes from the hollow
seat he uses as a boat to cross the sky. Two attendant birds take their place in his canoe, and are
considered by the Indians as heralds of storms, which only stop when Tupan has reached his
The Tupinambas thought they were surrounded by multitudes of spirits and genii. Among them
was the Yurupari (demon) of the Tupians in the north, who haunts empty houses and places
where the dead are buried. By the word Yurupari the Indians also meant the whole collections of
demons or spirits of the wilds, whose malice made them dangerous.
Among the Tupians of the Amazon, Yurupari is a spirit of the forest, a kind of ogre, or god,
according to the tribe.
Another greatly dreaded genius of the Tupinambas' mythology was named Agnen, mentioned
above in the myth of the twin brothers, with whom he often did battle, and whose victim he was,
but not until he had devoured one of them.
These evil genii were present at the start of creation. Although different from men, they are also
The most famous among the demons was Kurupira. He was a gnome of the forests and the
protector of game, but ill disposed towards human beings. He is represented as a little man
walking with his feet turned back. The Indians made offerings to this genius to appease his anger.
In the list of names of demons must be mentioned Macachera, the spirit of roads, considered by
the Potiguara Indians as a messenger bringing good news, but by the Tupinambas as an enemy of
human health. The Igpupiara were the genii of rivers who lived under water and killed the
Indians. And there were the Baetata (will-o'th'-wisps).
Among the spirits benevolent to men were the Apoiaueue who made the rain fall when it was
needed, and faithfully reported to Gotf what happened on earth. The Tupinambas believed that
after death the soul, An, goes to paradise, whose entrance is more or less accessible according to
the soul's merits. This paradise is named the 'Land without Evil', and it is the home of the
Ancestor, the civilising hero Maira. According to the myth of'Land without Evil', Maira lives in the
middle of a vast plain covered with flowers, and near his house is a large village whose
inhabitants live in happiness. When they grow old, they don't die but become young again. There
is no need to cultivate the fields, for crops grow there naturally. According to some, the 'Land
without Evil' lies to the east, but according to others, to the west. At the time when they were
discovered, the Indians of Brazil in the region of Rio de Janeiro had a legend of the world flood, as
'A certain great wizard named Sommay, also known as Maira-ata, had two sons, named
Tamendonare and Ariconte (the two twin brothers). The first-named had a wife, and was a good
husband and father, but his brother Ariconte was just the opposite. He thought of nothing but
fighting, and his one object was to engage the neighbouring peoples in contests, and to thwart his
brother's justice and kindness.. One day Ariconte came back from a fight, and showed his brother
the bleeding arm of an enemy's body, and taunted him with these haughty words: "Get out of
here, you coward! I'll take your wife and children, for you are not strong
enough to defend them!" The good brother was distressed by such arrogance, and replied
sarcastically: "If you are as brave as you boast, why didn't you bring the whole body of your
enemy?" In a rage Ariconte threw the arm at his brother's door, and instantly the whole village
was taken up into heaven, while the two brothers remained on earth. Seeing this, Tamendonare,
either from amazement or anger, stamped on the earth so violently that a vast fountain gushed up
higher than the mountains, as high as the clouds, and it went on flowing until the whole earth was
submerged. Seeing the danger, the two brothers and their wives climbed up the highest mountain,
and tried to save themselves by clinging to trees. Tamendonare and his wife climbed a tree called
pindora, and the other brother with his wife climbed the tree geniper. While they were poised
there Ariconte picked a fruit and gave it to his wife, saying: "Break it and drop a piece." By the
sound of its meeting with the water they knew it was still high, and so waited.'
The Indians thought that all mankind died in this flood except the twin brothers and their wives,
and that from the two couples came two different peoples, the Tonnasseares otherwise called the
Tupinambas, and the Tonnaitz-Hoyanas also known as the Tominus, tribes which like the two
brothers never stop quarrelling.
The Caryan tribe of Amazon Indians also have a legend of the flood: 'One day the Caryans were
hunting wild pigs. They drove the animals into their dens, and killed each pig as it appeared. As
they dug into the ground they came on a squirrel, then on a tapir, and then on a white squirrel.
Then they found a human foot. In their terror they went for a powerful sorcerer called Anatina,
who managed to dig up the man, calling out: "I'm Anatina! Bring me tobacco!" The Caryans did
not understand him, and brought him flowers and fruits, which the sorcerer refused, pointing to a
man who was smoking. The Caryans then understood, and brought him tobacco. He smoked until
he fell down senseless on the ground. They took him to their village, and there he awoke and
began to sing and dance. But his behaviour and language frightened the
Caryans and they ran away. Anatina was greatly annoyed, and ran after them carrying a lot of
calabashes full of water. He shouted to the Caryans to stop, but they did not, and in his wrath he
broke one of the calabashes against the ground. The water at once began j to rise, but the Caryans
continued to run. Then he broke a second calabash, and another and another, and the water rose
so high that the land was flooded, and only the mountains at the mouth of the Tapirapis rose
above the flood. The Caryans took refuge on the two peaks of this mountain. Anatina then called
to the fish, and asked them to throw the men into the sea. Several tried, but could not succeed. At
last the bicudo (a fish with a long jaw looking like a beak) managed to climb the opposite slope of
the mountain, and taking the Caryans in the rear, hurled them into the water. A big lagoon marks
the place where they fell. Only a few Indians remained on the peaks, and only came down when
the flood was over."
Such is the mass of the chief legends in American mythology, and the reader will have noticed the
similarities so easy to detect between this mythology and classical mythology, as well as with the
chief traditions of the Hebrews.
Does this mean that Humanity was once upon a time reduced to a little group of individuals who
later spread over the earth, bringing with them their legends which they altered through the
centuries in accordance with new climates and new habits? Or, as seems more probable, are all
these legends a confused account of great events on a planetary scale which were beheld in terror
simultaneously by the men scattered everywhere over the world?
Looking over these cults and beliefs, we might make further instructive and curious comparisons.
It would be the same for the Arts which grew up round them. The pyramids are one example.
Another would be the ornaments to monuments, where we find details common to the Greeks, the
Egyptians and the Hindus.
Our observations must be limited to these superficial suggestions, but study of them would be
productive, and permit a deeper knowledge of the past of Humanity, still so vague to us.
THE PANTHEON OF OCEANIA
Complexity of the pantheon of Oceania
If, as is usually the case, mythology is taken to mean the genealogy, history and powers of gods,
demi-gods and heroes, whose lives are imagined to resemble those of human beings, in short the
pantheon of any given people, then it is very hard to give a brief general view of this pantheon for
Oceania. It is quite possible to extract from travellers' books a long list of divinities, for instance in
Polynesia Tangaroa, Tane, Rongo, Tu, and a host of other deities, some of whom turn up in a more
or less large number of islands or archipelagos, either with the same name in variants of dialect,
such as Tangaroa, Kanaloa, Taaroa, or with more or less synonymous names, or with approximate
or even identical attributes. Thus, the chief Polynesian god, Tangaroa, is found in Micronesia
under the more abstract name of Tabu-eriki (the sacred chief), in the anonymous thunder god of
Ponape, the invisible god of the Ratak islands, the blind god of Bigar. The Polynesian god Rongo
or Lono occurs in the Carolines, not only with the related names of Rongala (Fais island) and Morogrog,
but also with common features, notably those of being driven from heaven, to name one
example, and for another of bringing fire to mankind.
But numerous differences are mingled with these resemblances. Sometimes, in the different
islands of an archipelago, in the different districts of an island, even in a single tribe according to
different individuals, the same god is endowed with different attributes, or unites in himself the
attributes which elsewhere belong to different gods. Thus the Ngendei of the Fiji islands is the
supporter of the world, so that when he moves he causes earthquakes; but at the same time he is
the divinity of good harvests or of sterility, the revealer of fire, and king of the land of the dead
like the Polynesian Mahiuki, the creator of the gods, the world and mankind, like the Polynesian
Tangaroa, and, in addition, of cultivated crops which he showed mankind how to grow; he is also
the author of a flood, a part attributed to different gods in Polynesia: Tawhaki, god of clouds and
thunder in New Zealand; Tangaroa, Ru, god of the east wind, and Ruahatu a sea god in Tahiti;
Hina, the Moon, in Hawaii. It also happens that in different regions different forms are attributed
to the same god, or that when the god is represented in human form the sex is different.
On the other hand different gods in different populations receive the same attributes. Thus, the
creation of the world is usually attributed to Tangaroa in Polynesia, but to Laulaati in Lifu island
(Loyalty islands), to two deities, Tamakaia and Maui-Tikitiki (the latter of Polynesian origin), in
Efate (New Hebrides), to Nobu in Eromanga (New Hebrides), to a prophet called by different
names such as the unique, the old man, the man rejuvenated, or to his son Konori, in Geelvink Bay
(New Guinea), and sometimes to Ngendei, sometimes to Ove in the Fiji islands. Again in the Fiji
the origin of mankind is either attributed to Ngendei, who, according to some myths brought men
forth by hatching out an egg similar to the world-egg of the Polynesian Tangaroa, or to several
goddesses, particularly to Tuli, the daughter of Tangaroa, looked upon as the creatress of the
world in the Samoan islands.
To introduce some order into this confusion, the best way, in our opinion, is to leave the names of
the gods to one side, as well as their individuality as constituted by a collection of variable
characteristics in the beliefs of different populations, often indeed within the same population, and
to arrange them according to characteristics isolated by abstraction. Divinities, giving that word
the very wide meaning of supernatural beings who always were or have become different from
mankind, may be separated from one another by their nature or essence, which may be considered
from the three standpoints of visible appearance, of attributes or functions, and of origin.
Physical appearance of divinities. Although as supernatural powers the divinities are of an
essentially spiritual nature, this immaterial essence, as is the case with the human soul, is
accompanied by appearances perceptible to the senses, and especially by visual form. Sometimes
the divinities are thought of as possessing this form in themselves, so to speak, although human
beings never see it; sometimes they may appear under this form in certain circumstances or to
certain particularly favoured individuals; and sometimes, having no material form of themselves
they borrow that of material beings or objects, in which they dwell or are incarnated in a more or
less enduring way. It seems they can change not only by entering material beings of different
forms; but also by changing their own forms; as is the case notably in the rather numerous legends
'Beauty and the Beast' type, to be met with in Indonesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. These forms,
not only the borrowed ones but those which are intrinsic, are very varied. There are
anthropomorphic divinities, male or female, like most of the great gods of Polynesia | or the
protecting spirits of Dorei (New Guinea). Others are animals of all kinds and sizes: sharks, chiefly
for the different sea gods (Tahiti, Fiji), sea-snakes, spider-crabs, crocodiles, snakes, eels (New
Zealand), lizards (an incarnation of Tangaroa in Samoa), mice, frogs, flies, butterflies,
grasshoppers, birds, especially the tropic-bird (above all the avian manifestations of Tahiti, and
Tangaroa throughout Polynesia). The protecting spirit of the New Zealand prince Tinirau and his
descendants was a divinity in the shape of a whale. In New Caledonia, Kabo Mandalat, the female
demon who causes elephantiasis, is a gigantic hermit crab, with legs as big as coconut trees, living
in the shell of an enormous Delium-melanostoma. In the Fiji islands there are some divinities
which live in stones, but some, such as Ngendei's mother, are thought of as having really been
stones. Divinities can also appear as meteors (thus in Torres Strait shooting stars were evil spirits,
children of the stars, and in Fiji a comet is the child of Ngendei), and as sparks and sorts of
vapour, a form often taken by souls of the dead at night. Other divinities have the forms of
fantastic beings. In New Zealand some are a sort of monster. The Ngendei of Fiji is half snake and
half rock. Rati-mbati-ndua, the god of hell in various parts of Fiji, is a man with only one tooth
(which is the meaning of his name) with which he devours the dead, while instead of arms he has
wings with which he can fly through space like a burning meteor. Other divinities had wooden
hands, eight eyes (a symbol of wisdom or clairvoyance), eight hands (symbol of dexterity), two
bodies, twenty-four stomachs. Others again were hairy men of wood (New Zealand), ogres or
other kinds of giant (Torres Strait, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Cook islands), or on the contrary
were dwarfs, or men with white skin (such as the Pura of New Britain and Ruk island, the souls
in the Banks islands, the earliest ancestors in New Zealand) recognised by the islanders in the
first European travellers.
Attributes of divinities. Divinities may also be classified according to their attributes or functions,
in other words according to that part of Nature in which they are interested and over which they
preside. The idea of a providence regulating the whole universe, even when limited by the narrow
horizon which for primitive people forms the limits of the world, if not wholly absent seems at
least very little spread in Oceania, except perhaps in the esoteric doctrines of some colleges of
priests, in New Zealand for instance. In general each divinity has a limited scope, rules over only a
part of Nature, where it habitually lives. There are superintending divinities, which are also
sometimes creative, of the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars (for instance, the Morning star in
Dorei), the clouds, the winds, the rain, the sea, the earth, men, animals, and plants. Alongside
these divinities of the great divisions of Nature, who might be called the great gods, exists a host
of secondary divinities, attached to a limited area, an island, a part of the soil, a mountain, a
volcano, a valley, a ravine, a watercourse, or a spring. Sometimes every tree and every stone has
its particular divinity, which might equally well be called a spirit.
But whether their domain is large or small, some of these divinities play only a theoretical part,
they serve merely to explain the existence and the properties of such and such a part of Nature, or
such and such a known fact of actual experience. We shall come upon them again when dealing
with mythology properly so called. Others have an incomparably more important interest for
human beings since their influence is not exerted solely over Nature, but whether through its
intermediary or directly on the destiny of mankind may be either profitable or harmful to them.
They subdivide themselves according to the extent of the human group in whose life they play a
part, or, with whom, so to speak, they are concerned. Some are interested only in one person,
others in a family, or a tribe, others again in a situation, an occupation, or a profession. Thus there
are special divinities for war (Tu throughout the whole of Polynesia) and peace, for the fertility of
the soil or the success of the plantations, for different industries or crafts (the building of houses
and especially of roofs or of canoes, the weaving of nets, fishing, sailing), for healing, for
household chores, for women and women's work (Hina the Moon, in Polynesia), for the
physiology special to their sex (thus, in Hawaii Kapo was the divinity and at the same time the
instrument of fertility and abortion), for marriage, for the arts (singing, dancing, dramatic art,
tattooning), for games (among others, cock-fighting and surf riding). There were even divinities
for thieves and for the different vices, even to love affairs of inverts. This division of labour among
the divinities, if one may so put it, reached its maximum in Tahiti. For the sea alone there were
thirteen divinities, each with special functions, and the pantheon included three hundred and
sixty divinities with well-defined spheres.
Origin of divinities
From the point of view of their origin the divinities may be divided into two great categories,
those who were never human beings, although they may have their form, and who make up the
gods properly so called, and those who lived in a more or less distant past not only in the form but
in the condition of men, whom we call spirits of the dead. The gods in their turn are eternal or,
more precisely, original beings, causa sui as the metaphysicians say, who have always existed, and
have no parents; or they may be the descendants of such. The earliest human beings were either
begotten or created, fashioned by a god of one kind or the other. Among the ancestral spirits we
may distinguish between those of ordinary dead persons who have no divine function except
among their own descendants whose sole ancestors they are, and those of the dead who are
especially famous for the deeds they did in their lifetime or for the benefits which humanity owes
them; and these are the heroes, the type of whom may be found in the Polynesian Maui. Among
his great deeds the most famous are that he brought up certain islands from the depths of the sea
by fishing for them, that he compelled the sun to move more slowly, that he brought down fire to
earth, and then, according to a tradition known only in New Zealand, that he attempted -
unsuccessfully and at the cost of his own life - to make men immortal by penetrating the body of
the great lady of darkness, Hine-nui-te-po.
Spirits of the dead
The spirits or ghosts correspond only partly with our current ideas about the souls of the dead.
During life the body is linked with a different substance, which is a sort of double which is distinct
in substance and is sometimes (New Caledonia), identified with its reflection. The soul detaches
itself from the body momentarily during sleep, but completely at death, except in exceptional
cases of resurrection. This separation of soul and body which results in the death of the body, does
not cause the death of the soul, which continues to exist for all men, or according to the belief of
some populations, exists only as a privilege for people of high rank. Moreover this survival is not
necessarily permanent, and after a more or less lengthy series of partial deaths which, so to speak,
are provisional survivals, may terminate in total annihilation (New Zealand). However this may
be, the soul parted from the corpse retains an independent existence, imagined on the lines of that
of the living and linked with a different but analogous body.
This survival of the soul may remain in the neighborhood of its earthly dwelling and especially its
burial-place, or in another world, sometimes alternately (New Caledonia), but generally and in a
manner which is hard for us to conceive, simultaneously.
Souls reach the next world only after a long journey, which is made up of two parts, one on the
earth, and the other from the earth to the next world. During this journey the soul retains the
possibility of recovering earthly life. Without knowing it, the soul had a choice between two lines
of conduct generally at the end of the journey on earth, for instance to stand on one or other of two
neighbouring rocks, on one or other of the branches or roots of a tree; but sometimes on arriving in
the next world, for example by eating or not eating the food placed before it. One of these lines of
conduct made return to life impossible. From the time of leaving the body up till the time when it
not only reached but was received into the next world, the soul was exposed to all sorts of dangers
- evil powers, which are divinities properly so called, demons, or souls of other dead persons,
tried in various ways to capture, kill or eat it.
The ideas about the position of the next world are very varied. Most often it is placed in the west,
but sometimes it is situated on earth, sometimes under the earth or the sea (hell in the
etymological sense), and sometimes above it, that is in the sky. To some extent it is not impossible
to bring these different views into unity. The west is the point where the sun passes from the sky
under the earth
or under the sea, and thus is in a way the place of intersection of the heavenly and earthly worlds.
Moreover, in islands of small area the horizon, which is identified with the utmost limit of the
earth, is on the sea. The general idea seems to be simply that the soul leaves the precincts of the
living for another world, whose difference from the earthly world is specified in a loose way. The
tribes of New Caledonia who situate the infernal world in the north-east, consider that point as the
utmost limit of the earth. Other reasons contributed to fixing the direction in which souls dwell.
Thus, in Polynesia generally, by going west the souls were moving towards the land where the
ancestors had lived, which seems to correspond to a historical reality.
The ideas about the number of resting places of souls are as different as those about their situation.
Although the belief was not general, where it existed, for instance in the north of New Guinea,
people admitted that every being or object had a soul just like men, and that these different souls
went to an afterworld, either one common to all, or one reserved for special types of beings. For
instance, in Tahiti there was an afterworld of pigs, in Rewa (Fiji islands) there was an afterworld of
coconuts governed by a special
divinity to which they departed from all parts of the archipelago as soon as they had been eaten.
Human souls had sometimes one, sometimes a number of afterworlds. Thus, not to mention the
various heavenly worlds open to certain privileged souls, there were four infernal worlds in the
Marquesas and ten in New Zealand.
Each of these afterworlds was ruled by a divinity who sometimes had no other function, while his
name sometimes expressed both the afterworld he governed and the state of the souls in it, and
sometimes had other occupations besides that of ruler of the dead. For instance, the divinity
usually considered throughout Polynesia as the head of the afterworld was Miru, but in Hawaii
she shared that function with Hakea; in the Fiji islands it was either Lothia (Lakemba), who turns
up at Lifu (Loyalty islands) under the name of Locha, or it was Rati-mbati-ndua, the Lord with
one tooth, or else the supreme god Ngendei. In New Zealand it was either Ngahue or Tawhaki
who was also the thunder god, or it was the Great Lady of the shadows, Hine-nui-te-po, who
sometimes ruled all the other worlds, sometimes only the four upper levels where the state of the
souls was less agreeable, while the next three levels were ruled by Rohe, and the last three by the
goddess Miru. At Tahiti the head of the afterworld reserved for the Areoi was Urutaetae; Hiro was
at one and the same time head of the Areoi afterworld and of the afterworld of those who did not
belong to the fraternity; in addition the god Oro presided over both afterworlds, and the divine
bird Lota over that reserved for common people.
The different residences allotted to souls usually differed only in their conditions and, broadly, in
the happiness of all those dwelling there; while according to other beliefs these variations were
combined in a single residence; thus, at Raratonga there was a difference between the residence of
the happy souls and that of the unhappy. This difference in conditions, which often amounted
solely to a difference of food supply, had nothing in common with our idea of retribution after
death; as a rule moral considerations had nothing to do with the matter. The state of each
individual after his death depended on what he had possessed in his lifetime, on his power, his
wealth, and the rites or sacrifices carried out for him by those who survived him - in a word, in
one form or another, on his mana. For some tribes of New Caledonia his condition depended
solely on his seniority as a soul arriving in the land of the dead.
The posthumous life of souls was in general merely a repetition of life on earth in another world.
Generally speaking, it did not include any tortures or special privations; and sometimes it even
seems as if in the next world all the souls without distinction enjoy the conditions reserved on
earth for the privileged, with abundance and every kind of pleasure. In spite of the wide diversity
of beliefs, they seem in agreement in recognising that whatever pleasures life after death may have
in itself, so to speak, still it is not worth life on this earth, and dying is a great misfortune.
As a rule those souls which have reached the next world are not visible to ordinary mortals, but
only to men gifted with a special clairvoyance. Those souls which for one reason or another have
not reached the land of the dead, or who return from it, may be perceived by anybody, usually at
night but sometimes by day. Sometimes they retain the physical appearance of the living in the
form of a ghost, and sometimes they appear in the form of sparks or different animals.
As the souls of the dead should normally go to the other world, those who remained on earth
were either miserable or vindictive; and if they managed to acquire superior powers they became
evil spirits, greatly dreaded demons. Besides, even those souls which , reached the other world
regretted their life on earth. Even if the survivors had carried out all the funeral rites due and
necessary to them, they still envied the living. The dead then were terrifying even to those whom
they had loved in their lifetime. And yet it is unquestionably the fact that at the same time the
ancestral spirits were looked on as tutelary powers, protecting spirits, from whom might be
expected advice, help, protection, and favours of all kinds, quite as many, if not more, than might
be expected from the more or less indifferent divinities, properly so called.
It is very hard to discover any rational explanation of this contradiction, which must be the result
of sentimental considerations, or, as they say, of affective logic. However, it is a plausible
hypothesis that the ancestral spirits could not be looked on as endlessly hostile powers, since their
actions had not prevented the family and tribal
life from continuing and even prospering, and so eventually they must have got rid of the
malevolent feelings natural to them at the time when they had just been deprived of life. Perhaps
as they became used to their life after death, they began to lose their memory and regret for their
former state on earth and their envy of the survivors, and came to think only of their common
stock. And as a matter of fact the protectors were not as a rule those recently dead, but the more or
less far-off ancestors.
Confusion of the pantheon of Oceania
If the classification here presented of divinities or supernatural powers satisfies the tendencies of
the logical mind, we must hasten to add that the beliefs of Oceania, like those of most primitive or
savage peoples, show hardly any regard for accuracy and precision. The Graeco-Roman pantheon
is scarcely known to us except through literary works and works of art, which present them in a
finished form which these works themselves helped them to assume from times of antiquity, but
the pantheon of Oceania comes to us as folklore, in the turmoil of life. In every community of the
South Seas the original traditions have been supplanted or combined with or continue to exist side
by side with beliefs which have either been brought in from abroad or invented by individual
natives. Consequently the different gods who have names of their own have borrowed from one
another some of their outstanding features as well as a part or the whole of their legendary
history, and in addition at different times and places they have been placed in different categories,
and the categories themselves have been more or less mixed up.
From a host of examples we may take, in the Marianas, Pountan, the night breeze, looked upon as
a man of great inventiveness who for a long time lived in empty space before the existence of
and earth - so at one and the same time he is a god and a hero. The two principal divinities of the
New Hebrides, Tangaroa and Quat, are alternately or sometimes simultaneously looked upon as
gods, demi-gods, heroes or mere spirits. In Ruk island and in New Britain, Nabaeo was at one
time looked upon as a good spirit, but later became mainly evil. Pura, who began as a god,
probably of the sky, came down to the rank of a simple hero; and the Marsaba of Ruk island who
seems to have been originally god of the underworld is now only an evil spirit or vulgar demon.
In New Zealand Tangaroa is not the supreme god, but one among other great gods, who shared in
the creation but was not the sole creator. In Polynesia many of the great gods, and according to
some Tahiti legends even Tangaroa, have been looked on as merely defied men.
In Tahiti, the oramatua, whose name means the ancestors, are no longer distinguished from other
spirits. While in Tahiti and different parts of Polynesia, the atua, the gods, were distinguished by
their name from the varua, the spirits, in Tanna (New Hebrides) spirits and gods are known by the
same name, aremha, for the gods have dropped out of use or are thought of only as spirits. It is the
same in New Guinea and in Balade (New Caledonia) though, on the other hand, in Ndeni (Santa
Cruz islands) the ancestors have been raised to the rank of gods.
Throughout Polynesia the word tiki means both the protecting spirits and their idols, especially
the little figures in green stone which the Maoris of New Zealand wore round their necks. But the
function of protecting spirits is sometimes attributed to the gods properly so called, sometimes to
Tangaroa or one of his children, or again to such and such a god to whom humanity owes the
things most necessary to existence, such as light and food (vegetables and fish), or again to the
souls of the ancestors, or to the first man who at one and the same time was a man and the
descendant or creation of a god, or finally to some especially notable hero such as Maui, associated
with the sun owing to certain details in his story.
Similarly the many sacred statues of Melanesia, especially the korwar of western New Guinea are
not properly speaking idols, since the worship offered these images is actually not addressed to
them but to the supernatural powers dwelling in them, and according to the definite statements of
the natives they represent protecting spirits which are essentially the souls of ancestors. In many
cases these spirits have been raised to the rank of deities, or on the contrary they are old gods who
have fallen in rank, as may be seen from the animal form of their representations, or, when they
are anthropomorphic, from their large mouths or long teeth for eating souls. In Micronesia,
particularly the Marianas, the cult of ancestors has replaced that of the gods.
THE GREAT MYTHS OF OCEANIA
An examination of the pantheon, in our opinion, does not, properly speaking, constitute
mythology, which according to etymology is the study of myths. A myth is not just any sort of
legend, not even a legend in which superhuman personages take part, but an explanatory legend,
meant to give the cause or origin of such and such a fact of actual experience. While legends are
the primitive form of novels and history, mychs are the original and living form of philosophy.
While studying the mythology of Oceania we shall not enquire whether the myths to be found in
such and such an area, island or archipelago are native creations or importations. We shall limit
ourselves to demonstrating, with reference to each of the main categories of empirical realities, the
main types of mythical explanation invented in Oceania, quoting only the clearest examples. We
shall have more than once to disentangle the various themes combined in a complex legend, and,
which is more regrettable; shall be forced to pass over many a picturesque detail in silence. We
resign ourselves to this, desirous above all to work scientifically and not in a literary way, less
concerned with local colour than with the universal and constant aspiration of humanity to
achieve the illusion of understanding.
What we must point out among the various peoples of Oceania is not the mere absence of myths
concerning such and such a reality, which might be due to lack of information in us, but the
deliberate refusal to give it a mythical explanation, because this thing has always existed, never
had a beginning.
Thus among the mountain tribes in the north of Luzon, in
Minahassa, in the Palau islands and Western Carolines, all over Melanesia, in certain tales of New
Zealand and the Chatham islands, the upper or heavenly world and the terrestrial world are
thought to have existed for ever. It is the same in Australia, where the native populations of the
north and east seem in addition to have believed generally that there have always been men, and
that from the very beginning the animals always had their present characteristics. Similarly, in
many legends we shall turn up, the earth is supposed to come out of the sea or to have been
formed from materials brought from the sky to the sea, but the sea is thought of as having always
If in so many cases the mythical explanation takes for granted heaven and earth and sea as
originally existing, beyond which it is not necessary to go, in others the myth sets out to explain
their existence. These myths of the origin of the universe as a whole, or cosmonogy myths in the
strict sense, may be divided into two main types. The first is creationist, and familiar to us from
the mythology of the Judaeo-Christian religions. It was thought to exist among the tribes of southeast
Australia, but the assertion of the earliest observers (most of them missionaries) that these
peoples believed everything had been created in the beginning by a deity, seems to be a false
generalisation; and it is probable that the natives used this explanation only to account for certain
peculiarities of the land, such as mountains, rocks and rivers. In the central Carolines, there was in
the beginning a goddess, Lukelong, who created the heavens and then the earth. In the Gilbert
Islands heaven and earth were made by Naruau and his daughter Kobine. According to a legend
of the Society Islands the heavenly god Taatoa embraced a rock, foundation of all things, and so
produced the earth and the sea. A very detailed myth comes from the island of Nauru. In the
beginning there was nothing but the sea, and above soared the Old-Spider. One day the Old-
Spider found a giant clam, took it up, and tried to find if this object had any opening, but could
find none. She tapped on it, and as it sounded hollow, she decided it was empty. By repeating a
charm, she opened the two shells and slipped inside. She could see nothing, because the sun and
moon did not then exist; and then, she could not stand up because there was not enough room in
the shellfish. Constantly hunting about she at last found a snail. To endow it with power she
placed it under her arm, lay down and slept for three days. Then she let it free, and still hunting
about she found another snail bigger than the first one, and treated it in the same way. Then she
said to the first snail: 'Can you open this room a little, so that we can sit down?' The snail said it
could, and opened the shell a little. Old-Spider then took the snail, placed it in the west of the
shell, and made it into the moon. Then there was a little light, which allowed Old-Spider to see a
big worm. At her request he opened the shell a little wider, and from the body of the worm flowed
a salted sweat which collected in the lower half-shell and became the sea. Then he raised the
upper half-shell very high, and it became the sky. Rigi, the worm, exhausted by this great effort,
then died. Old-Spider then made the sun from the second snail, and placed it beside the lower
half-shell, which became the earth.
Belief in a creator god is to be met with in the Society Islands and in the doctrines of the New
Zealand priests. In north-west Borneo two birds flew above the primeval sea, dived into it, and
brought up two kinds of egg, from which they made heaven and earth.
In the second category of these cosmogony myths the gods are far from being the creators of the
universe, and are only one of its elements with the same origin as all the others, that is to say a sort
of Nothing which is the germ of all things. The rudimentary form of this conception occurs in
Nias. In the beginning there was a thick fog, which condensed and became a being without speech
or movement or head or arms or legs. This being in turn gave birth to another, which died, but a
tree sprouted from its heart. Gods and men emerged from its buds. Similarly in the Society Islands
- during the primeval darkness Ta'aroa existed in an egg, from which he afterwards emerged. The
same theme, more fully developed, is found in various parts of Polynesia. In the beginning was
Po, a void without light, heat, sound, form and movement. From this sort of chaos, or more
precisely from this undifferentiated substance imperceptible by the senses, there gradually
and sound, a waxing light, heat and damp, matter and form, and finally father Heaven and
mother Earth, parents of the gods, men, and Nature. This conception is at one and the same time
evolutionist, since it looks on the universe as the result of progressive development, and
genealogical, inasmuch as each phase of the development is personified in a being descended
from the one before. Let us take a comparatively simple example from the Ngaitahu of the
southern island of New Zealand. Po begat Light, who begat Day-light, who begat enduring Light,
who begat Without-possession, who begat Unpleasant, who begat Wobbly, who begat No-parents,
who begat Damp, who married Huge Light and begat Raki (the sky). Similarly in the Marquesas
Islands, the primeval void started a swelling, a whirling, a vague growth, a boiling, a swallowing;
there came out an infinite number of supports or posts, the big and the little, the long and the
short, the hooked and the curved, and above all there emerged the solid Foundation, space and
light and innumerable rocks.
The cosmogony of Hawaii has a variation of the evolutionary theme, according to which the
shadowy void from which all things emerged was simply the wreck of a preceding world. A
similar idea is found in Samoa. The origin of the universe was a genealogical series of rocks, first
of all the rocks on high and the land rocks (meaning, in short, heaven and earth) from which there
emerged an octopus whose children were fire and water. A violent struggle occurred between
their descendants in which victory went to water - the world was destroyed by flood, and later recreated
Perhaps it is not altogether useless to point out plainly that in concrete reality these various
cosmogony myths are not so sharply opposed as they are in the abstract types in which we have
classified them. They are sometimes combinations of those types, whose boundaries moreover
cannot have been as clear in the minds of the natives as they are in ours.
For instance, according to a legend of the Marquesas, Atea (Light), derived by evolution and not
by creation from Ta'aroa (Darkness), created heaven and earth, and moreover gave birth to a host
of deities as children of marriage with Atanua (Dawn). Owing to the lack of additional definitions
it is often impossible to discover whether the production of some constituent of the universe by its
creator, who is usually more or less anthropomorphic, is an emanation, a creation by means of
inert matter, or a procreation through union with a divinity of the opposite sex.
The sea is an element of their environment which is especially important to islanders. For this
reason perhaps in many parts of Indonesia, in Micronesia, on the northern borders of Melanesia,
in western and central Polynesia, the existence of the sea is accepted as a primeval fact for which
no explanation is sought. In the beginning there was a vast sea over which sailed a god (Society
Islands, Marquesas), or a god soared above it (Samoa) or it was covered by skies inhabited by one
or several deities (Society Islands, Tonga).
Still, there are in existence myths which attempt to explain the origin of the sea. One type makes it
derive from a divine origin it was the result of Ta'aroa's sweat in his efforts at creation (Nauru,
western and central Polynesia), it came from the breakage of the ink sac in the primeval octopus
(Samoa), it came from the amniotic fluid of a miscarriage of Atanua, daughter of the heavenly god,
According to another version, the sea came later than the earth, and at first it was only a little bit
of salt water which somebody kept shut up and hidden. Others tried to get it from him, but when
they lifted the lid the water flowed out and caused a flood (Baining in New Britain, Samoa). This is
one of the forms of the flood legend, but we need not trouble with the others, which are not
strictly speaking myths, but simply accounts of more or less historical events.
The existence of the sky is usually taken as a primordial fact, just as with the sea. But in the Ralik
group of the Marshall islands we find the following legend. When the deity Loa had created the
world, the plants and the animals, a sea-gull flew up and formed the dome of the sky as a spider
weaves its web.
If myths about the origin of the sky are very rare, there exists on the contrary a host of them
to.explain one of its most obvious
physical properties, namely, its distance from the earth, or in other words the fact that it stays in
the air without support. According to these beliefs, the sky was originally close to the earth
(central Celebes, east Indonesia), so close that it stood on the leaves of certain plants, which owed
their flattened shape to its weight (various archipelagoes in Polynesia), and only later was it lifted
to its present position. In the legends of the Philippines, of various parts of Indonesia and
Micronesia, of Efate (New Hebrides), the sky withdrew. In various archipelagoes of central
Polynesia, in Samoa, in Hawaii, the lifting up of the sky is attributed to the hero Maui, who
offered to carry out this feat if a woman gave him a drink of water from her gourd. Legends of
central Polynesia, and especially of Samoa, show a transition towards another idea, according to
which the separation of heaven and earth is a cosmic event, the act of such and such a god or
several gods. This belief, far more widespread than the former, occurs over a large area. The
personification of sky and earth, which is to be found
throughout eastern Indonesia, is particularly developed in New Zealand, where it gives the myth
a most poetical form. Rangi, the Sky, in love with Papa, the Earth, who was beneath him, came
down to her in the time of primeval darkness and immobility. Their close embrace crushed the
host of gods to whom they had given birth, and all the beings placed between them; nothing could
ripen or bear fruit. To escape this awkward situation, the gods determined to separate the Sky
from the Earth. In one version the Sky himself urges his children to break their union. Once the
separation was achieved, light spread over the terrestrial world.
Sun and Moon
Among various groups of Indonesia, and in the Society Islands and Hawaii, we find the mere
assertion, with no details, that the Sun and Moon were created. Elsewhere they are looked upon as
the children of a deity or of the first men or as formed from some of their parts. Thus, according to
the Kavan of central Borneo, the Moon at least is one of the descendants of the armless
and legless being who came from the sword handle and spindle which fell from heaven. In the
Gilbert Islands, the Sun and Moon, like the sea, are the children of the first man and the first
woman, created by Na Reau. Although when he left them he had forbidden them to have children,
they had three. Informed of their disobedience by his great messenger, the eel, Na Reau picked
up-his great club and went to the island where he had left them. In terror they threw themselves at
his feet, begging him not to kill them. 'Our children', they said, 'are very useful to us. The Sun
enables us to see clearly, and, when he is resting, the Moon takes his place; and the sea feeds us
with its fish.' Convinced by this plea Na Reau departed without harming them. In Minahassa
(Celebes) Sun, Moon and stars were formed from the body of a heavenly girl. In Nias, Sun and
Moon were formed from the eyes of the armless and legless being, from whose heart sprang the
tree with the buds which were the origin of men and gods. In Mangaia (Cook Islands) they are
Vatea's eyes. In the Society Islands, in Samoa, and in New Zealand they are usually thought of as
the children of Heaven who were later placed in the sky as eyes. In Queensland, the Sun (a
woman) was made by the Moon, with two legs like men, but with a great number of arms which
may be seen stretching out like rays when the Sun rises or sets.
Other myths doubtless inspired by the rising of the Sun and Moon looked upon them as beings
who had passed from the earth to the sky. They may be classified into two types, according to
whether these beings are things or men. In the Palau Islands the two primitive deities made the
Sun and Moon by cutting two stones with an adze and then throwing them into the sky. In the
Admiralty Islands, the two first inhabitants of the earth, after planting trees and creating edible
plants, made two mushrooms and threw them into the sky - the one thrown by the man became
the Moon, and the other thrown by the woman became the Sun. In Woodlark Island the only
person at first to possess fire was an old woman. In vain her son scolded her for not wanting to
share it. So he stole it from her, and gave it to .the remainder of mankind. In her rage the old
woman took the fire she had left, divided it into two parts and threw them into the sky - the larger
became the Sun, the smaller the Moon. According to certain tribes in south-east Australia the Sun
came from an emu's egg thrown into the sky. For instance, among the Euahlayi, at a time when
there was no Sun but only the Moon and the stars, a man quarrelled with his friend the emu, ran
to its nest, took one of its large eggs and threw it in the sky as hard as he could, and there it broke
against a pile of wood kindling which at once caught fire. This greatly astonished the inhabitants
of the earth, accustomed to semi-darkness, and almost blinded them. Such is the origin of the Sun.
According to the Arunta of central Australia the Moon in the mythical period was the property~of
a man of the Opossum totem. Another man stole it. The man was unable to catch the thief and
shouted to the Moon to get into the sky, which it did.
At Aneityum (New Hebrides) the Sun and Moon are considered as husband and wife. They first
lived on the earth, somewhere in the east, but later the Sun climbed into the sky, telling the Moon
to follow him, and she obeyed him. According to the Arunta and the tribes related to them, the
Sun is a woman who emerged from the ground, like many of the primitive ancestral totems, and
later went up into the sky carrying a torch. According to the Warramunga of northern Australia
the Moon emerged from the ground in the form of a man (male). One day he met a woman, called
to her, and they sat down to talk. A fire caused by the carelessness of two hawks surrounded
them, and the woman was seriously burned. The Moon then cut one of his veins and poured
blood on the woman, who was thus restored to life. They then both went up into the sky.
According to shore-dwellers in Princess Charlotte's Bay (Queensland), two brothers were one day
looking for honey, and one of them having put his arm into a hole in a tree, found he could not get
it out. His brother came to his aid, but everyone else he asked, except the Moon, refused. The
Moon (who was a man) climbed the tree, put his head rnto the hollow and sneezed violently, so
that the sudden pressure of air enabled the prisoner to withdraw his arm. To avenge himself on
those who had refused to help him, the man set light to the bush to burn them; but first of all he
looked after the Moon's safety by moving him to different places, and at last into the sky, so that
he could escape the fire.
Myths dealing with the alternation of day and night may be attached to Sun myths. They are
divided into two classes, according
to whether the myth explains the origin of the night, day having existed since the beginning, or,
inversely, if it explains the origin of day, night having alone existed at first. The first type is
characteristic of Melanesia, and may be found alongside the other in Australia.
In the Banks Islands, after Qat had formed men, pigs, trees and rocks, the daylight was endless.
His brothers told him it was very disagreeable. So Qat took a pig, and went to buy the night-time
from Night, who lived in another country. Night blackened his eyebrows, taught him how to sleep
and how to make the dawn. Qat returned to his brothers, bringing with him a rooster and other
birds to announce the dawn. He told his brothers to make beds of coconut leaves. Then for the first
time they saw the Sun descending in the west, and they shouted to Qat that the Sun was going
out. 'It will soon have gone entirely,' he said, and if you see a change on the face of the world, that
will be the night.' Then he brought up night, and they said: 'What's this coming from the sea and
covering the sky?" 'It's night,' he replied. 'Sit down on either side of your house, and when you feel
something in your eyes, lie down and stay quiet.' It was quite dark, and their eyes began to blink.
'Qat, Qat! What is it? Are we dying ?' 'Shut your eyes,' he said, 'that's right. Now sleep.' When
night had lasted long enough, the rooster began to crow and the birds to twitter. Qat picked up a
piece of red obsidian and cut the night, and the light which had been covered by darkness shone
out again, and Qat's brothers woke up. According to the Sulka of New Britain, a man named
Emakong brought night as well as fire back from his journey in the underworld of the snake-men.
They gave him a parcel containing the night, the crickets which announce night, and the birds
which announce the dawn. A simpler legend of certain tribes in Victoria states that in the
beginning the Sun never set, but as human beings were weary of perpetual day (that is of not
being able to sleep) the creating deity at last ordered the Sun to set.
Alongside these myths of the origin of night, Australia also furnishes the opposite myths of the
origin of day. According to the tribes of the south-east, when the emu's egg thrown into the sky
had given birth to the Sun by setting fire to a pile of kindling wood the heavenly deity, seeing the
advantages of this fire for the world, decided to make it burn every day, and thus it has always
been ever since. Every night he and his servants get together a pile of wood to make the daylight
next morning. According to the Aruntas and their kindred in central Australia, the woman who
climbed into the sky and became the Sun, comes down to earth every morning, and climbs back
into the sky at night. In some areas they say that there are several suns which take turns to go up
into the sky. According to the Narrinyeri of South Australia, the Sun is a woman who goes every
night to visit the land of the dead. When she returns to earth, men ask her to remain with them,
but she can stay only a moment, since she must be ready for her journey next day. In return for the
favours she granted to such and such a man, she received as a gift a red kangaroo skin, and that is
why when she arrives in the morning she is dressed in red. In this last myth we may detect the
regret that the day is not long enough for all the daily tasks. The same feeling is expressed in the
legends of New Zealand and Hawaii about the deeds of the hero Maui, who succeeded in
delaying the Sun's motion
Some myths while explaining the origin of the Moon also account for the fact that its light is paler
than the Sun's. According to a legend from Papua, a man digging a deep hole one day came on a
small bright object. He picked it up, but the object began to grow bigger, and then slipping out of
his hands rose up in the sky and became the Moon. The light of the Moon would have been
brighter if it had stayed in the ground until it was born naturally, but as it was taken up
prematurely, the light it gives is weak. In the Cook Islands, Vatea and Tonga-iti (or in one version,
Tangaroa) were arguing about the origin of Papa's first child, each of them claiming to be the
father. To pacify them, the child was cut into two pieces, and each received one of them. Vatea
took the upper half which was his, and threw it into the sky, where it became the Sun. Tonga-ili at
first kept on earth the lower part which had been allotted to him; but later, in imitation of Vatea he
threw it also into the sky, arid it became the Moon. But as it had lost its blood and had begun to
decay, it shone with a paler light. In the Marquesas, the fact that the Moon is not so bright as the
Sun is explained in different places by two opposite adjectives: black (dark) and white (pale). In
the first case the blackness was caused because the deity who created the
Moon could not restrain his longing to eat porpoise, the skin of which is black. In the second case,
the whiteness came from the fact that its mother Hanua when pregnant longed to eat coconut, the
pulp of which is white.
The spots on the moon have also given rise to mythical explanations. In the Trust Territory of New
Guinea the Moon at first was hidden by an old woman in a pitcher. Some boys noticed it and
creeping up stealthily opened the pitcher. The Moon came out and rose into the sky, and the spots
are the marks of the boys' hands as they tried to hold it back. In the Cook Islands the Moon (there
thought of as male) fell in love with a pretty daughter of the blind Kui, came down to earth and
eloped with her. To this day in the Moon you can see the girl with her heaps of leaves for the oven
and her tongs to settle the embers. She is always at work making tapa (bark cloth) which may be
seen in the Moon, as well as the stones to hold down the tapa when she spreads it out to bleach.
According to a New Zealand story, Rona one night went out by moonlight to get water from a
stream, but when she got there the Moon disappeared behind a cloud so that Rona stumbled over
stones and roots. In her annoyance she insulted the Moon which was so annoyed that it came
down to earth, seized Rona and carried her off with her water gourd, her basket and the tree to
which she clung. You can see them all in the Moon to this day.
The phases of the Moon are explained in another Maori myth. Rona, who in this case is male, went
to the Moon (also male) in pursuit of his wife. He and the Moon spend their lives eating each
other, and that is why the Moori diminishes. Then they both regain strength and vigour by
bathing in the live waters of Tane - after which they begin their struggle again. According to an
Arunta myth, in the beginning a man of the Opossum totem died and was buried, but some time
later came back to earth in the form of a child. On reaching adult age he died a second time and
went up to heaven, where he became the Moon; since then the Moon dies and is reborn
periodically. According to the Wongibon of New South Wales, the Moon is an old man who before
going up to heaven hurt his back by falling otfa rock, so that he walks bowed down. That is why
the Moon has a bowed back each month when it appears.
I Stars. In the Maori account of the separation of Heaven and Earth, Tane, after separating his
parents, busied himself with clothing and
: adorning them. Seeing that his father, Heaven, was naked, Tane
! began by painting him red. But that was not enough, so he took the j stars from the Mat of terror
and from the Mat of sacred support. ' He set these stars in the sky during the daytime and they did
not make much of a show, but at night the sky became splendid. In the Marquesas, large stars are
the children of the Sun and Moon, and have multiplied among themselves like ants. According to
the Mandayas of Mindanao the Sun and the Moon were married, had several children, and lived
together happily for a long time. But at length they quarrelled, and the Moon deserted her
husband. After the separation of their parents, the children died. The Moon gathered up their
bodies, cut them into little pieces, and threw them into space. Those she threw into the air stayed
in the sky and became stars. In Torres Straits the constellation of the Eagle is an ogress, and the
constellation of the Dolphin a man who killed her.
In the districts of the north-west of Victoria, alpha and beta of the Centaur are two heroes, the
Brambrambult brothers, who went to jf heaven after achieving various deeds. Their mother Dok
became alpha of the Cross. According to the Narrinyeri of Encounter Bay (South Australia),
Nepelle's two wives deserted him for Wyungare. To escape the vengeance of the indignant
husband, they all three went up to heaven and became stars which may be seen to-day. The
Euahlay of New South Wales have a similar legend. In Easter Island a husband tried to prevent his
wife from bathing with another man, and she fled to heaven where she became a star. Her
husband followed her, holding one of their children in each hand, and the three became Orion's
Belt. But the wife would not accept them,
. and stayed in another part of the sky.
Atmospherk phenomena. In New Zealand various atmospheric phenomena are looked upon as
manifestations of the grief felt by 4J Heaven and Earth at their separation. In one version this
explanation is presented in the form of the farewells uttered by the pair at the moment of leaving
one another. Raki (Heaven) says to Papa (Earth): 'Papa, stay here. This is what will be a sign of my
you. In the eighth month I shall shed tears on you.' And these tears of Heaven weeping on the
earth are the dew. Raki also said: 'Dear wife, stay where you are. In the winter time I shall sigh for
you.' and that is the origin of ice. Then Papa spoke these farewell words to Raki: 'Go, dear
husband, and in summer I shall lament for you, and the sighs of her loving heart rising up to
heaven are the mists. In the Cook Islands, thunder is attributed to the daughter of Kui carried off
by the Moon. In her new home she is always engaged in making tapa, which she holds down with
stones when she spreads it out to bleach. From time to time she takes off the stones, and throws
them away; the resulting noise is thunder.
The Earth. Most of the legends dealing with the origin of the earth make it come out of the sea, but
they have variants which contradict one another. Generally speaking the production of the earth
includes two succeeding moments - first the production of the solid earth and then of the
vegetable world; but since these two productions have the same creator we may consider them
together. Sometimes the earth simply came out of the sea (New Zealand), or from a rock which
existed in the sea (Minahassa); or, again, a deity, sometimes a snake (Admiralty Islands) floating
on the sea creates the earth there (Ralik group of the Marshall Islands). According to a legend of
Nauru, the earth was separated from the sea by a butterfly, Rigi. Sometimes the earth is formed
from matter thrown down or sent down from heaven by a deity: a rock (Kayan of Borneo, Samoa),
the chips of the heavenly Carpenter (Tonga), sand either scattered on the sea (Yap in the Carolines,
Dairi and Karo Battak of Sumatra) or on the head of a snake swimming in the sea (Toba Batak,
south-east Borneo). Owing to constant identification of gods dwelling in heaven with birds, the
god who throws a rock into the sea is sometimes replaced by a bird who drops an egg (Hawaii).
The Kayan of Borneo have special stories about the origin of the vegetable world. According to
one of them, the surface of the rock thrown on to the original sea eventually collected mud which
bred worms. Digging down into the rock they made sand which eventually covered the world of
rock. According to another story, a lichen fell from heaven and stayed on the rock. Then came a
worm whose excrements formed the first earth.
A very widespread myth considers that the islands in which it is accepted, and sometimes the
neighbouring islands, were fished out of the sea. As a rule the fishing up is attributed to a deity
(Gilbert Islands, New Hebrides, Futuna, Union Islands, some Polynesian archipelagoes).
According to a legend of Samoa, Tangaloa caused this archipelago to be fished up by two of his
servants as a refuge for two men who were the only survivors of the flood. The coastal tribes of the
Gazelle peninsula (New Britain) attribute this feat to two brothers, who are at one and the same
time the first men and civilising heroes. A similar legend may be found in the southern New
Hebrides. In Hawaii, in Tonga, in New Zealand, the fishing up of the earth is one of the
achievements of the hero Maui. The archipelagoes are explained either because the different
islands were pulled up at different times (Aniwa, New Hebrides; Marquesas), or because an earth
fished up whole broke into several pieces at the moment when it emerged (Hawaii).
Certain peculiarities of the land also were explained by myths, especially the unevenness of the
ground. According to the Kayan of Borneo the valleys were hollowed out by a crab which fell
from heaven and tore up the earth with its pincers. In the north-west of Borneo, when the two
birds made heaven and earth from the two eggs they took out of the sea, the dimensions of the
earth were larger than those of the sky. To adjust this, they crushed in the earth, and this caused
the foldings which made mountains and valleys. In New Zealand, when the isle had been drawn
up like a fish by Maui with the help of his brothers, they contrary to Maui's instructions began to
cut up the fish. The valleys are the cuts made by their knives.
In Hawaii a certain fountain is the swimming pool which the son of a former chief made for his
sister in the cave where they took refuge to escape from the persecutions of their step-mother.
There are tribes in Victoria who explain their lakes in the same way as we have found the sea
explained - the water which its owner kept shut up burst out as soon as there was an attempt to
In various Battak tribes of Sumatra, earthquakes are linked with cosmogony myths. Under various
forms, all more or less
determined, the idea is that the creation of the world was a disadvantage for a being already in
existence, who reacted with a violent agitation which destroyed the earth. The creator took the
necessary steps to prevent another destruction, but the agitation | continues, and that is the
cause of earthquakes.
Living beings. The mythical explanations of the origin of living beings seem to be rarer in the case
of animals than of plants. In New Zealand plants and trees are looked upon as ornaments placed
on the Earth either by her husband the Sky or by her son Tane, after the separation of the couple.
According to some accounts, Tane first planted the trees with their roots in the air, but he found
that this did not look well, and therefore planted the roots in the ground in the way they have
always grown since. This curious detail must be compared with a theme which is to be found in
Borneo and Yap (Carolines), for instance, of a big tree which hangs from the sky with its branches
downward, and so provides men with a means of communication between earth and heaven.
In general, plant life is more or less explicitly credited with the utilitarian task of making the world
habitable by giving shade or fruits. Sometimes the earliest dwellers on earth, who are usually of
divine origin, are the creators of vegetation (Admiralty Islands, west Carolines) or go to another
land to find their seeds (Minahassa), sometimes a deity creates them (Ralik group of the Marshall
Islands, Marquesas), or sends or brings from heaven either the full-grown plants (central
Carolines, Samoa), or their seeds (southeast Borneo, Tonga). According to the Kayan of central
Borneo, there fell from the Sun the wooden handle of a sword, which took root and became a tall
tree, and from the Moon a vine which grew up the tree. In the Marquesas a considerable number
of trees were originally in the underworld. For instance the mei, the breadfruit tree. Pukuha Kaha
went down into hell and returned to heaven after he had fastened a hook in the mei, and by
gradually pulling he succeeded in bringing it up. The first mei was planted by Opimea in Atikota
Bay. Another god, Tamaa, was the guardian of the coconut tree in hell. Mataia gave his daughter
to Tamaa who came to live in Taihoe Bay and there planted the tree.
As to animals - in New Zealand we find the story of an old man and an old woman, who came
from an egg which a bird dropped on the primeval sea, and got into a canoe with a boy who
brought a dog and a girl who brought a pig, and so came to New Zealand. According to notion
widely spread in Indonesia (Borneo, Philippines), the different species of animals are derived from
the pieces of a being who varies and is cut up for different reasons in different areas. The Kayan of
Borneo thought they were derived from the leaves and branches of a miraculous tree which in the
beginning fell from heaven to earth. Some myths attribute to animals an origin like that of
vegetation. For instance in the Ralik group of the Marshall Islands the deity Loa with the magic of
the word created first the solid earth, then the world of vegetation, then the plants and then the
birds. In Hawaii by gradual evolution all living forms, of vegetation as well as of animals, came
from a shadowy chaos. First came the zoophytes and the corals, followed by worms and molluscs,
parallel with the algae followed by reeds. When the mud caused by the decomposition of earlier
living things raised the earth above the sea, there appeared plants with leaves, insects and birds.
Then the sea produced the highest types, such as jellyfish, and whales, which monstrous creatures
crawled on earth. Later appeared the food plants; in the fifth period, the pig; and in the sixth, mice
on earth and porpoises in the sea. Then after a seventh period which saw the development of a
series of abstract psychological qualities which were later embodied in mankind, there appeared
women, men, and some of the great gods. Samoa also shows a conception of an evolutionary
succession of vegetative life, but it is less clear.
The object of other myths is to explain, not the origin of living things as a whole, but the special
characteristics of such and such a species. They are rather rare in the case of vegetation. Here is
one about yams from Omba (New Hebrides). A wild yam insulted a kite, which seized it, flew up
with it, and then let it drop. Another kite picked it up and dropped it again. The yam broke into
two pieces which the kites shared. That is why some yams are good and some bad.
Myths concerning animals are uncommon in Indonesia and Polynesia, more usual in Melanesia,
and are abundant in Australia,
particularly in the east and south. Here are some instances. According to a tribe in Victoria, black
swans are men who took refuge on a mountain during a flood, and turned into black swans at the
moment when the water reached their feet. According to another tribe on the east coast of
Australia, the pelican which was then entirely black, wanted to fight some men against whom he
had vowed vengeance. To put himself on a war footing he began by painting himself white with
pipe-clay. When he was half painted another pelican came along and, not recognising this particoloured
creature, killed it. Since that time pelicans are half-black and half-white. In a legend of
Papua the turtle was caught eating the bananas and sugar-canes belonging to Binama, the
rhinoceros-bird, was brought to the bird's house and tied to a stake, ready to be killed and eaten.
The birds went off hunting to complete the preparations for the feast, and the turtle was left alone
with Binama's children, whom he persuaded to untie him so that they could all play together. He
decked himself with Binama's jewellery and put a large wooden bowl on his back, which amused
the children: When the turtle heard the others coming back, he fled and hid in the sea. They ran
after him, throwing stones which smashed the jewels, but did the turtle no harm and did not break
the bowl. Ever since then the turtle carries Binama's bowl on its back. According to a tribe in South
Australia, the turtle originally had venomous fangs which were not essential for its safety since it
could take refuge in water; but the snake had no fangs, and so no means of defence. The turtle
gave its fangs to the snake, and received a snake's head in exchange. The red markings on the
plumage of birds are attributed to fire. The red on top of the water-rail's head is due to the fact
that Maui rubbed its head with a burning brand to punish it for having deceived him as to the
way fire is produced (Hawaii). The red feathers in a wren's tail are because when he found fire in
heaven he wanted to keep it to himself and hid it under his tail (Queensland). The Wongi-bons of
New South Wales have a legend of the same kind about the black cockatoo and the sparrow hawk.
The calls of certain birds have also been given mythical explanations. According to some tribes in
south-east Australia when the heavenly deity had arranged for the daily return of light, he
decided first of all that the evening star should be the announcer of the imminent sunrise. But he
saw this would not be enough, for people who were asleep would not see the star, and therefore
he gave orders to a bird at every dawn when the evening star grew faint, to give a call like a laugh
(the gourgourgahgah or kukuburra) which would awaken the world and announce that the sun
was about to shine. An Australian legend explains the call and the thin red feet of the curlew. The
curlew was originally a hawk. He was sent by the women of his tribe to hunt emus, but finding
none he brought back as pretended results of his hunting pieces of meat cut from his own feet. His
deception was discovered, and he became a curlew. Ever since then the curlew has had thin red
feet and spends the night calling: 'Bou-you-gwai-gwai', which means 'O my poor red feet!'
A frequent type of myth explains at one and the same time the characteristics of two animals,
those of the first being the result of a trick played on it by the second, and those of the second
coming from the vengeance of the first. Such are the stories of the dog and the wallaby in the
Gazelle peninsula (New Britain), of the kangaroo and the wombat (Victoria) the rat and the rail
(Banks Islands), the emu and the bustard (New South Wales). Here, for instance, is a legend of the
Euahlayis of New South Wales. Once upon a time the crow was white. One day the crane caught a
lot of fish, and the crow asked for some, but the crane kept saying: 'Wait until they're cooked.'
While the crane's back was turned he tried to steal some, but the crane saw him and threw a fish
into his eyes. Blinded by this the crow fell on to the burnt grass rolling over in agony, and when he
got up his eyes were'white and his whole body black, as they are now. The crow waited his time to
be avenged. One day the crane was asleep with its mouth open, and the crow stuck a fish-bone in
the root of its tongue. When it woke up the crane tried to spit out the fish-bone but failed, and ever
since then it can say nothing but 'gah-rah-gah'.
Other stories of the same kind deal not with the appearance of animals but with their habits - for
instance, this one from Queensland. Once upon a time the fish-hawk poisoned a stretch of water
with roots, and then went to sleep while waiting for the poisoned fish to come to the surface.
Meanwhile a pheasant came along and seeing the fish killed them with spears. In return the hawk
pheasant's spears at the very top of a lofty tree. Eventually the pheasant discovered them, but
being too lazy to climb so far up, he caused a flood which swept the fish-hawk out to sea. Ever
since then the fish-hawk lives on coasts, and the pheasant keeps looking for his spears on the tops
of the highest trees.
Mankind. Although the myths concerning the origins of mankind are extremely varied in their
details, they can be reduced to a limited number of essential themes. The problem is to explain the
presence on earth of living beings of human form and different sexes, who beget children in the
normal way. Generally speaking, the myths only attempt to explain the origin of the groups in
which they circulate, either ignoring or taking no interest in the rest of mankind. However, the
Igorots of the Philippines, the natives of the Gilbert Islands, some tribes of the Northern Territory
in Australia have an explanation of the origin of other human beings beside themselves. In some
exceptional cases, mankind is thought to have derived from several couples (Baining of New
Britain, Banks Islands), but the vast majority of legends derive them from a single original couple.
Sometimes the myth merely explains the origin of one of the two individuals of the couple, either
the male or the female, merely adding in some cases that one met the other (Battak of Sumatra,
Minahassa, western Carolines, New Hebrides, Marquesas, Cook Islands, various tribes of
Northern Australia), but usually it explains, and in the same way, the origin of both individuals, of
The first of these explanations is that of creation or manufacture from pre-existing matter by a
deity. Sometimes they are satisfied by saying that the first men were created (Palau Islands, southeast
Australia), but more often they give precise details of the method of creation and first of all of
the matter employed.
The first men were made from grass according to the Ata of Mindanao, with two rushes according
to the Igorot of Luzon, with the dirt on skin elsewhere in the Philippines, with excrement in
Borneo, and also among the tribes at the northern and southern extremities of Australia. They
were carved from stones (Toradjas of Celebes) or from the trunk of a tree (Admiralty and Banks
Islands). According to different tribes of Borneo the creating gods made several successive
attempts with different materials. But by far the most frequent explanation is that men were
modelled from clay (Dairi Battak of Sumatra, Halmahera, Minahassa, Bagobos of Mindanao, New
Hebrides, New Zealand, Society Islands, Marquesas, and Australian tribes near Melbourne).
After forming human beings, the god gives them life in various ways. Sometimes it is by
incantation (Dairi Battak of Sumatra, Admiralty Islands), sometimes the god breathes in the vital
principle, considered to be either his own breath (New Hebrides, Hawaii, New Zealand,
Australian tribes in the neighbourhood of Melbourne) or the wind (Nias), or a fluid or liquid the
god goes to heaven to find (south-east Borneo, Halmahera). In Minahassa when the god wanted to
give life to his creatures he blew powdered ginger into their ears and over their heads; according
to the Bogobo of Mindanao he spat on them; at Sumba and according to the Bilan of Mindanao he
whipped them. These explanations were doubtless suggested by human methods of trying to
revive a person who has fainted. Another method, which might be called psychological revulsion,
is laughter. According to the Narrinyeri of Encounter Bay (South Australia) the creator of the first
men formed them from excrement and then tickled them to make them laugh and to give them
life. In the Banks Islands, the god danced and played on a drum before his still inanimate
creations. Although in other cases, for instance among the Australia tribes in the neighbourhood
of Melbourne, the god's dance is only an expression of his satisfaction with his work, it may here
have the object of causing laughter, unless indeed it is a magical process, like incantation.
A curious variant on the creation theme is that where a male deity creates only a woman, and by
his union with her becomes the ancestor of mankind (Admiralty Islands, Bougainville in the
Solomons, Society Islands, New Zealand).
Legends of this kind form the transition to another type, where the first men came from a
heavenly couple (Indonesia, Marquesas, Hawaii, Tahiti), and in some of these myths it is
expressly stated that the ancestors of mankind were gods who came down to earth from heaven
(Toba Battak, Kei Islands, Simbang in New Guinea, Hawaii, Kaitish, Northern Australia).
In some cases a goddess who comes down to earth becomes pregnant in some unusual way
(Nomoi and elsewhere in the central Carolines, Mortlock), or children come out of her eyes and
one ofher arms (Nomoi). This birth of the first men by a sort of budding makes one of the
transitions to the type of myth in which they are derived from trees, particularly widespread in
Indonesia, and which may be also found in New Britain, in the Solomon Islands, at Niue, and in
an Australian tribe of Victoria. According to the Kayan of Borneo, the first men were born from
the union of a tree which came from heaven and a vine which embraced it.
Various legends derive the first men from birds' eggs (Mandaya in Mindanao, Admiralty Islands,
Torres Straits, Fiji, Easter Island) or from turtles (Admiralty Island). The myths of the Admiralty
Islands furnish a curious anticipation of the modern theory of mutations - a turtle or a dove laid at
the same time several eggs, some of which produced animals of the same species, and the others
produced men. Elsewhere the first men were produced not from eggs, properly so called, laid by
living things, but from objects shaped like eggs, in earth (South-east Borneo) or from foam shaped
like an egg by the waves which broke against a rock (Minahassa). In Formosa they came from a
The first men were derived from a clot of blood, according to a belief especially widespread in
Melanesia, and also to be found in Mindanao, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, and the Chatham
Islands. The first men are believed to have come out of the ground, in the Watubela and the Kei
Islands of eastern Indonesia, and among the Elema of Papua. According to various Australian
tribes, the ancestral totems of the different clans emerged from the ground sometimes in animal
and sometimes in human form. In Samoa and Tonga, the first men came from a decaying worm,
whose origin is itself variously explained. Elsewhere we find the belief that men did not originally
have human form. According to a legend of the Society Islands, at first they were like balls on
which arms and legs developed later. Similarly, according to various Australian tribes, the Arunta
for example, and in Tasmania, the first men were 'inapertwa', beings of a rounded shape with only
the rudiments of limbs, lacking mouths, eyes and ears, afterwards formed into normal men by
deities or supernatural beings.
Various myths explain the difference of the sexes by a different origin for men and women. In the
creationist myths they were formed by different deities or from different material. Thus, in the
Palau Islands, the first man was created by the god, and the first woman by the goddess who
formed the primeval couple. According to a legend of the Banks Islands, the first man was
moulded in clay, and the first woman woven in basket-work; and among some of the Queensland
tribes man was made from stone and woman from box-wood. A tribe in Victoria believe that the
two first men were made out of clay by the god Pundgel, and the two first women were
subsequently discovered at the bottom of a lake by his brother (or son) Pillyan.
In some of the Melanesian legends which deal with the origin of mankind, not as a creation but as
a begetting or a metamorphosis, men and women were derived from different sources. For
instance, among the Elemas of Papua the first man was born of the soil, and the first woman from
a tree. According to the Baining of New Britain, the sun and the moon were at first the only beings
in existence, and their children were stones and birds. The stones became men, and the birds
became women, who inter-married and begat the first Baining. According to a legend of the
Gazelle peninsula, the deity created the first two men, one of whom in his turn made I the first
two women from two coconuts.
I There is also a mythical explanation of certain anthropological I peculiarities. For instance, the
Bilan of Mindanao explain in their I way the depression of the nose just above the nostrils. The
first -; deity who manufactured men made the nose with the nostrils . turning upwards, and
insisted on keeping it that way, although I another god pointed out that in this way the race of
men would be I suffocated by the rain beating into their noses. So, when the first ; deity had his
back turned, the other grasped the nose and turned it I round into its present position - the
hollows to be seen on either j side are the marks of his fingers.
J Other legends attempt to account for differences of race. In New
™ Britain the difference between the dark-skinned Papuans and the
lighter-skinned Melanesians is explained by the difference in colour
of the coconuts which became the two first women. Among the
Australian tribes in the neighbourhood of Melbourne the differences between the race with
straight hair and the race with curly hair goes back to the first two men, to each of whom the
creator gave one of these two kinds of hair.
Death. According to a belief spread through several areas of Oceania, mankind in the beginning
was not mortal, or at least was not destined to be so, and only became mortal later. Man in his
primitive condition is likened either to objects which do not die, such as stones
(Baining of New Britain, Palau Islands), or trees and plants which spring up again after they are
cut down (south-east Borneo, Palau Islands), or to beings whose death is only temporary and is
followed by resurrection, like the moon which is reborn with each new moon (western Carolines,
Arunta), crabs, and especially snakes which are reborn after changing their skins (Baining, Banks
Islands, New Hebrides). As resurrection consists in the dead man rising from the grave, purely
temporary death is compared to the property of the husk which rises to the surface when thrown
into the water, while
stones stay at the bottom (Australian tribes in New South Wales). To explain the origin of death,
they say in the New Hebrides that in the beginning men changed their skins like snakes. They
became mortal either because they failed to change their skins, or because when they had thrown
off the old skin it was injured or destroyed by children at play. In Tana 'the old woman' became
mortal because she washed herself, not in the river, but in the sea. In one type of fairly widespread
legend, two divine or at any rate supernatural beings argue as to whether men should be mortal or
not, and the second opinion is accepted (Carolines, Ambrym, New Zealand, Tahiti). In a variant
from the western Carolines the sentence of an evil spirit which makes death inevitable happens
only after a period during which men went to sleep and awoke with the moon. According to
another version, the deity who created men went or sent somebody to find the vital principle,
breath or liquid which would ensure men immortality as well as life; but in the meantime human
beings were brought to life by another god or power, and so received only a precarious life (southeast
Borneo, Toradja of Celebes). In the Banks Islands one deity created the first men, and then
another tried to create some, but failed, and that is why men are mortal. In other myths the reason
for death is failure, either by stupidity or negligence, to observe a precaution which would have
resulted in the resurrection (western Carolines, New Britain, Banks Islands). Among the Dusun of
North Borneo and the Baining of New Britain, men are mortal because they would not listen to the
deity who showed the way to be immortal. According to the Arunta, death occurs because the
people who were present when a dead man returned to life fled in terror, although he urged them
not to do so. In the Admiralty Islands and in New South Wales, death is the punishment for a lack
of graciousness, or of ingratitude. A legend of New Zealand makes the hero Maui try to bring
mankind immortality by going down into the underworld, personified by some as 'the great Lady
of night'; but he failed and lost his own life in the attempt.
Fire. The myths of various regions, and especially of New Guinea and Australia, allude
specifically to a primitive state of mankind when fire was unknown, and when food was simply
warmed in the sun's rays. The simplest if not the most practical way of getting fire is to obtain it
from someone who already has it. In some myths the owner of fire from whom it is borrowed by
mankind, produces it or contains it in his body (Nauru, New Guinea, Torres Straits). It is a deity in
New Zealand, the Chatham Islands and Marquesas; a snake in the Admiralty Islands and in
Queensland; a euro, a sort of kangaroo, among the Arunta.
The possessor of fire, the area in which he lives, and the person who obtains it, all vary greatly. A
tribe in Victoria believe it was brought down from heaven by a man, a Queensland story says by a
wren. It came from the lower world (New Britain, New Guinea, various archipelagoes in
Polynesia), and was brought up by Maui (New Zealand). Among the Sulka of New Britain a man
called Emakong brought it from the land of the snake-men who lived at the bottom of a river, into
which the man had dived to look for a precious stone he had dropped. Elsewhere fire was brought
from another part of the world, usually by an animal after various unsuccessful attempts (Igorot of
the Philippines, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, Torres Strait). In other myths the possessor of
fire was a neighbour who kept it jealously; it was an old woman (Woodlark Island, Massim
district, Papua), two women named Kangaroo-Rat and Bronze-winged Pigeon (New South
Wales), the Bandicoot (Australian tribes, probably in Victoria). Sometimes the fire is stolen from its
possessor by a trick, sometimes by force, sometimes by both together, as it was stolen by Maui
from the water-rails in the Hawaii legend. Sometimes it is frankly given by its owner - a snake in
the Admiralty Islands, snake-men in New Britain. In a New Zealand story the infernal deity of fire
several times gives it to Maui in a friendly way, and only gets angry at repeated demands.
Borrowed fire must be most carefully preserved. In various legends people who had obtained it in
that way allowed it to go out (central Celebes, Queensland, tribe in the neighourhood of
Social facts. There are some myths which relate to social customs or institutions, first of all to the
Melanesian institution of dividing a tribe into two exogamous classes. At Omba (New Hebrides),
each of the two classes originated with one of two daughters of the first woman who quarrelled -
and here we meet descent traced through the female, which is one of the characteristics of this
ethnological type. A legend of the Gazelle peninsula attributes this social division to a difference
of race. One of the two first men asked the other to give him two light-coloured coconuts to make
into two women. He gave one light and one dark, and each became a woman of corresponding
colour. Then the first brother said to the other: 'If all mankind had had a light skin, it would have
been immortal; but owing to your folly one group will descend from the light woman, and
another group from the dark woman. Men with light skin must marry dark women, and men with
dark skin light women.'
In Vao (New Hebrides) the custom of having separate fires for the men and the women is
explained as follows. The first man and the first woman came out of a fruit which split in two
when it fell from a tree on to a raised root. A bamboo rubbed by the wind against a dry branch
produced fire, which the man kept going with brushwood. The woman, noticing the fire, looked
over the root and asked what it was. The man said it was fire, and gave her some. Since then men
and women have always had separate fires.
In Polynesia the practice of tattooing, which in all probability was anciently a magical charm, was
revealed to men by the gods who invented it. The contrasts of light and shadow to be seen in the
sky, the clouds, and the moon, must have been interpreted as tattooings of the corresponding
deities. In New Zealand, the modern spiral tattooing which replaced the old tattooing imitated
from basket-work, was brought back by Mata-ora after his journey to the underworld to look for
his wife, Niwa-Reka.
In Australia many of the myths about the ancestors of mankind are especially concerned to
explain how they came to teach certain customs and ceremonies to the peoples they met on their
travels. A legend of Victoria gives the explanation of a taboo. The totemic 'bear' became an orphan
while he was still young. The people in whose keeping he had been left took no care of him and
often when they went hunting left him in the camp without even water to drink. One day they
forgot to hang their water bottles out of his reach, and for once he was able to drink his fill. To
avenge himself for previous ill treatment, he took all the water bottles and hung them on a tree.
Then collecting the water of the streams he put it into other bottles which he hung on a tree, then
climbed to its top, and made it grow until it was very tall. When the others returned, tired out, and
thirsty from the hunt all day, they looked for their water bottles and could not find them. When
they went to the river, it had run dry. Finally they noticed the little bear with all the water-bottles
on top of the tree, and asked him if he had any water. 'Oh yes', he said, 'but you shan't have any,
because you left me thirsty so often.' Several times they tried to climb the tree to take the water by
force, but when they got a little way up the bear dropped water on them, which made them lose
hold, so that they fell and were killed. In the end two sons of Pundjel came to their help. Unlike
those who went before they climbed up in a spiral, so that when the bear threw down water it
missed them. At last they succeeded in reaching the top, and the bear seeing that he was going to
be captured, began to shout. Paying no attention to him, they beat him until all his bones were
broken, and then threw him down. But instead of dying he changed into a real bear, and climbed
up another tree. Then Pundjel's two sons came down and cut down the tree where the water
bottles had been placed, and all the water in them went back to the rivers, which ever since have
always contained water for people to use. Then Pundjel's two sons told everybody that henceforth
they should never break a bear's bones when they killed one, and never flay him before they
cooked him. So that is why unto this day the bear still lives in trees and still calls out when a man
climbs a tree where he is. And he stays near water so that he can take it out of the streams if ever
the order about not breaking his bones is transgressed.
This summary of the chief myths of Oceania shows that the problem of the origins of various
types of beings or facts is stated in the same way as in the philosophies of which civilised societies
are so proud. On the one hand as on the other, the hope is to understand origins by imagining
them on the lines of this or that phenomenon observed in ordinary experience.
In Black Africa religion has nowhere reached a definitive form. Everywhere we find the worship
of the forces of Nature personified -sun, moon, sky, mountains, rivers. But the undisciplined
native imagination prevented the religion of Nature from expanding into poetic myths like those
of India or Greece. The Negroes are quite ready to accept a supreme god who, as some of them
think, created the first man and the first woman, while others think he created all things visible
The religion of Nature is more highly developed in north-east Africa than fetishism, and as you go
south fetishism gradually passess into idolatry.
Among the African sorcery is very powerful. Every medical treament has all the characteristics of
exorcism, since magic remains secret while religion is open to all. Amulets and gri-gris are the
usual manifestations of magic among the Africans. The object of those talismans is to protect their
owner against disease, wounds, thieves and murderers, or to increase his wealth - in brief, to
procure him everything profitable.
The African native thinks that the world and everything in it must be obedient to sorcerers,
magicians who have the power of commanding the elements. This belief is bound up with another
- the continuing existence of the soul after death. Magicians are able to call on souls to aid their
powers. The souls of the dead often transmigrate into the bodies of animals, or may even be
reincarnated in plants, when the natives think themselves bound to such by a close link of kinship.
Thus the Zulus refrain from killing certain species of snakes which they think are the spirits of
Africans attribute a spirit to every animate and inanimate object, and these spirits are the
emanations of deities. Moreover, they are distinct from another, for there are spirits of natural
phenomena and spirits of the ancestors.
Each family performs a regular cult to its ancestors. They represent demi-gods or the legendary
heroes to whom they attribute magnificent exploits. Their lives end up by becoming legends.
Owing to the different kinds of ethnic groups occupying African territory and also to the low level
at which the religious conceptions of the different peoples have usually become stabilised, it is
impossible to undertake a regular exposition of African mythology. We shall have to limit
ourselves to gleaning a few traditions or legends of a mythical nature among the various groups,
without blinking the fact that such a method is inevitably incomplete and imperfect.
j SOUTH-EASTERN GROUP
Madagascar. The Negroes of Madagascar believe in a supreme god, about whom are the razanes,
the souls of the ancestors, and also in an evil spirit whom they call angatch.
For the Malagasy the souls of their ancestors are the intermediaries between the deities and
human beings. The natives have a profound cult for them and make sacrifices to them. Among
Malagasy spirits we must note those of fishing, hunting, agriculture, and war. The souls of chiefs
transmigrate into the bodies of crocodiles, and those of the people into lynxes. There are idols in
which the natives believe as they do in amulets. The Malagasy credit Rabefihaza with the origins
of hunting, fishing with rod and line, and the invention of all snares.
i A legend of south-west Madagascar deals with the origins of death and rain among the
Malagasy, and at the same time explains the appearance of mankind on earth.
'Once upon a time Ndriananahary (God) sent down to earth
his son Ataokoloinona (Watcr-a-Strange-Thing) to look into everything and advise on the
possibility of creating living beings. At his father's order Ataokoloinona left the sky, and came
down to the globe of the world. But, they say, it was so insufferably hot on earth that
Ataokoloinona could not live there, and plunged into the depths of the ground to find a little
coolness. He never appeared again.
'Ndriananahary waited a long time for his son to return. Extremely uneasy at not seeing him
return at the time agreed, he sent servants to look for Ataokoloinona. They were men, who came
down to earth, and each of them went a different way to try to find the missing person. But all
their searching was fruitless.
'Ndriananahary's servants were wretched, for the earth was almost uninhabitable, it was so dry
and hot, so arid and bare, and for lack of rain not one plant could grow on this barren soil.
'Seeing the uselessness of their efforts, men from time to time sent one of their number to inform
Ndriananahary of the failure of their search, and to ask for fresh instructions.
'Numbers of them were thus despatched to the Creator, but unluckily not one returned to earth.
They are the Dead. To this day messengers are still sent to Heaven since Ataokoloinona has not
yet been found, and no reply from Ndriananahary has yet reached the earth, where the first men
settled down and have multiplied. They don't know what to do should they go on looking?
Should they give up? Alas, not one of the messengers has returned to give up information on this
point. And yet we still keep sending them, and the unsuccessful search continues.
'For this reason it is said that the dead never return to earth. To reward mankind for their
persistence in looking for his son. Ndriananahary sent raia to cool the earth and to allow his
servants to cultivate the plants they need for food.
'Such is the origin of fruitful rain.'
Another legend from the south of Madagascar shows how a man's fate comes from God:
Once upon a time, they say, there lived four men who could not agree, and each of them exerted
himself in his own way.
One always carried an assegai, and went in pursuit of every living thing he saw. killing those he
could catch, eating them or leaving them that was his affair.
Another set snares for birds and animals. He killed some of those he caught so as to read omens in
their entrails, and he kept the others to use at night as hunting gods that was his affair.
On the other hand, another of these four men was attracted by any shining object, mica, iron,
silver, fruit, anything of the sort. and when he saw it took up his abode there for the rest of the
clay -that was his affair.
And the fourth always carried a piece of iron to cultivate the earth.
Such were the circumstances of these four men.
As they could never agree, after some time they decided to make their way to God for him to
arrange their fates and enable them to agree. So they set out, and they came to God. and it so
happened that it was Friday, and God was pounding his rice. They told him their errand, and God
said: 'Yes. but today I'm pounding rice and haven't time.' Then he gave a handful to each of them
saying: 'Take this and keep it carefully, and on Monday I'll come to see you.' They said good-bye
and went away, each with his rice in his hand. Then they made for the desert, separated, and each
man went to his dwelling.
Soon after they had separated the man with the assegai saw a wild dog and went after it. and in
the pursuit he forgot about the rice and dropped it, One of the others happened to come to the
edge of a ravine cut out by a torrent. Seeing the glitter of something white, he put down his rice
and started to climb down, but it happened that his liamba brushed away the rice from the edge of
the ravine. and the torrent carried it away so that he lost it.
The bird-trapper went out at night, having heard the screech of an owl, and he went after it after
putting down his rice outside his hut. On his way back he decided to put the rice into his salaka,
but the rice had already been blown away by the wind and he could not find it. The fourth man
came to a marshy place and began to dig: putting his rice into his lamba, he left it on a large clod
of earth. When he had finished digging the wind overturned the lamba and with surprise he saw
his rice scattered. He picked it up grain by grain and recovered about a quarter of it, so that at one
and the same time he was pleased and sad, for if he had regained some of it the greater part was
lost for he considered as lost the rice which fell on the moist earth.
On Monday God arrived, called the four men together, and asked what had happened to the rice
he had given them, and each told his tale. God replied: 'Do you see that you can't change the fate
which God has given you? The fighting man is a fighting man. and that is the race of warriors. The
sorcerer is a sorcerer, and that is the race of sorcerers. The trader is a trader, and that is the race of
traders. And you, worker of the earth, you will be the race of workers of the earth, and of you I
make the principle (i.e. the source) of the food of all the others. God follows men in the evil they
do to lead them to the good. You tised to disagree because of your different circumstances, for
which you could see no reason. Henceforth, this is how yoti will arrange your behaviour." Thus
spoke God. And thereafter each of the men had his lot. which he loved.
The Negroes of Mozambique believe in the power of fetishes and amulets. But they recognise
some deities, among them Tib who, they think, is the god of the sky as well as a deity of thunder
and rain. They also believe in survival after death, if we may judge by their funeral rites, especially
the offering of food at graves, and again by the custom which used to be observed by the
Uanyamuezis, that when a chief died three living slaves were buried in his grave to keep him
company in the next world.
Many of these natives worship the sun and moon. A cosmogony myth of the Zambezi explains the
spots on the moon: 'Formerly the moon was very pale and did not shine, and was jealous of the
sun with its glittering feathers of light. She took advantage of a moment when the sun was looking
at the other side of the earth, and stole some of his feathers of fire to adorn herself. But the sun
found it out.
believed to have taken up its dwelling mere, us presence ucmg me tausc u
i and in his anger splashed the moon with mud which remains stuck to it for all eternity. Ever
since then the moon is bent on vengeance. Every ten years she surprises the sun when he is off
guard, and cunningly spatters him with mud in his turn. Then the sun shows large spots and for
some hours cannot shine, so that the whoje earth is sad, and men and animals are greatly afraid,
for they love the sun.' This myth indicates how the natives noticed eclipses and the various natural
phenomena which result.
In the same Zambezi region there are traces of a myth which suggests that of the Greek giants
attacking heaven. In this case men tried to kill the sun, Nyambe, by climbing up to it, but their
temerity was severely punished.
The Macouas and the Banayis believe in a supreme being whom they call Muluku, and place in
opposition an evil genius called ; Minepa. They have a myth of the creation of the first man and "
'In the beginning Muluku made two holes in the earth, and from one came a man, from the other a
woman. God gave them land to cultivate, a pick, an axe, a pot, a plate and millet. He told them to
cultivate the ground, to sow it with millet, to build a dwelling, and to cook their food in it. Instead
of carrying out Muluku's advice, they ate the millet raw, broke the plates, put dirt in the pot, and
then went and hid in the woods. Seeing that he had been disobeyed God called up the monkey
and the she-monkey, and gave them the same tools and advice. They worked, cooked, and ate the
millet. And God was well pleased. So he cut off the tails of the monkey and the she-monkey, and
fastened them to the man and woman, saying to the monkeys: "Be men!" and to the humans: "Be
monkeys!"' i In the northern part of south-east Africa, the Masai form an ethnic group which some
ethnologists believe is related to the Semites. Like the Hebrews of old, the Masai call themselves
God's chosen people, and their religious beliefs differ considerably from
those of the neighbouring peoples. They worship a single god, 'Ng ai, the creator of the universe.
This word 'creator' applies to the inhabited world, for the Masai, like all the other Africans, believe
the earth has always existed. 'In the beginning,' they say, 'there was only one man on earth, named
Kintu. The daughter of Heaven saw him and fell in love with him, and persuaded her father to let
him be her husband. Kintu was invited to Heaven, and thanks to the magic powers of the
daughter of Heaven, succeeded in passing the tests the great god imposed on him, and then
returned to earth with his divine wife, whose dowry included the domestic animals and useful
plants. They would have been perfectly happy, but for a blunder on the part of Kintu. In taking
leave of the newly wedded couple the great god had warned them not to retrace their steps. He
feared on their behalf the anger of one his sons, Death, who had not been told of the marriage, and
consequently had been absent.
'On the way, Kintu noticed that he had forgotten the corn for his chickens, and in spite of his
wife's entreaties he went back to Heaven, where the god of Death was at that moment. He
followed the man's steps, took his place near his dwelling, and killed all the children of Kintu and
the daughter of Heaven. In vain they entreated the great god, who in the end, however, sent one
of his sons to expel Death. But he was more nimble than his adversary, escaped all his devices,
and established himself as henceforth the lord of the earth.'
Another tradition which circulates among the Masai, gives a different account of the origin of
death. The great god wished to protect the race of men, and advised Le-eyo, his favourite, to say
when a child died: 'Man dies and returns; the moon dies and does not return.' Soon after a child
died, but as it was not one of his own, Le-eyo did not trouble to utter the formula. He did not
remember it until misfortune struck him in the person of one of his own sons. But the great god
told him when it was too late, and ever since then men have been subject to the law of Death.
Among the Masai the spirit of evil is represented by the demon 'Nenaunir, who is also the god of
the storm. The rainbow is also an evil power. One day he took it into his head to swallow the
world. Luckily the Masai warriors attacked him with their arrows, and forced him to restore his
Beside every Masai, 'Ng ai places a guardian angel who defends him against all dangers, and at
the hour of death carries off his soul to the next world. The Masai believe in a future life, with
rewards and punishments according to one's deserts. The wicked are doomed to wander for ever
in an arid desert, while the virtuous enjoy eternal peace in vast meadows giving pasture to
innumerable herds. However, it sometimes happens that the souls of the dead are reincarnated in
certain snakes, which in consequence must not be killed.
The Bushmen, who appear to be related to the Hottentots, hold mythological and religious beliefs
which are closely linked with their dances. Still, their use of amulets shows that they have a notion
of supernatural forces and spirits. Among the Bushmen magic is founded on the belief that the
world is peopled with invisible beings which can be seen only by the sorcerers. Among magical
practices we will mention the method used by the Bushmen to cause rain. They light large fires
which give off a black cloud whose colour resembles that of the rain-bearing clouds. The
mythology of the Bushmen is marked by the part played in it by animals, who are supposed to
beable to speak. Thus, the lion could speak by putting his tail in his mouth. In a neighbouring tribe
of Bushmen who live in Hereroland, there exists a creation myth. It includes a sort of Yggdrasil
tree, the tree from which men were born, and it is called 'Omumbo-rombon-ga'. Cattle also came
from it. The Bushman deity is Cagn, creator of all things. The natives do not know where he lives,
but the antelopes do. He has a wife: 'Coti'. Savages do not know how they came into the world,
such things being known only to the initiated. (As with the Greeks, the Bushmen had secret
societies for the conservation of beliefs and myths.) Cagn had two sons, 'Cogaz' and 'Gewi'. The
three of them were great chiefs. Coti gave birth to a fawn, and since she insisted on knowing the
character of her offspring and what its future would be, she made use of
various sorceries. This myth relates to the origin of antelopes and their wildness. Cagn's relatives
arrived and hunted the first eland too soon, which explains its timorous nature. One of Cagn's
daughters married the snakes who were also men; they became subjects.
According to the Bushmen, Cagn's strength lay in one of his teeth, ) This suggests Samson, whose
strength lay in his hair. Birds were his messengers, and told him all that was going on about him.
Cagn could change his sandals into dogs, and set them on his enemies. The monkeys who had
been men made fun of him, and he exiled them with curses to distant places.
He had the power to assume the form of an animal, such as the antelope. One day the thorns
which once had been men attacked Cagn and killed him, and then the ants ate him. Not long
afterwards his bones joined up again, and he returned to life.
Among the Bushmen of the western provinces, Cagn bears the name 'I Kaggen', a name which is
identified with that of the praying mantis. I Kaggen's wife is 'Hyrax' (Hyrax capensis) and their
adopted daughter is the porcupine, daughter of 'II Khwaihemm' (eat-all). She swallowed the
whole world of beings and then vomited up her victims alive. I Kaggen had a similar fate. )
The Bushmen pray to the sun, the moon and the stars. The moon belongs to the praying mantis,
who made it out of an old shoe!
The natives also pray to the chameleon, which has the power to bring rain.
In the southern group, the Hottentots or Khoi-Khoi, a pastoral people, are on a higher level than
their neighbours the Bushmen. The Hottentots had a cult of large stones, calling at the same time
on a supernatural personage named Heitsi-Eibib. Like their Bushmen neighbours the Hottentots
worshipped the praying mantis. The religion of the Hottentots seems to have consisted solely in
magic and the cult devoted to souls of the dead by songs and dances. ^ Heitsi-Eibib is more like a
hero or a dead sorcerer, willing to aid f the living. He had the power which is common to all
sorcerers of being able to assume the form of any animal he wished. According ; to one myth he
was born of a cow, and according to another of a | virgin who ate a certain herb. <
He did not create the animals, but he gave them their charac- i teristics with his curses. i
They say that once the lion lived in trees like the birds, and it was owing to Heitsi-Eibib's curse
that he came down and stayed on the ground. Heitsi-Eibib also cursed the hare, which escaped by
Among the Hottentots, Heitsi-Eibib's personality occurs again in the cult rendered him under the
name of 'Tsui-Goab'. His enemy is a spirit by the name of 'Gaunab' who created the rainbow. The
natives worship a pile of stones under which they think he is buried.
In addition to these legendary personages we must note the water spirits, a sort of red men with
white hair; while the moon and the constellations are also worshipped.
Unlike the Hottentots, the Zulus are not very religious, but they do, like them, believe in the
supernatural powers which are the prerogative of sorcerers.
According to one myth of the origin of the world, men emerged from a bed of reeds called
'uthlanga'. The first man was Unkulun-kulu (the Very Old) who taught men their knowledge of
the arts, the laws of marriage etc.
The Zulus have a myth about death, where Unkulunkulu plays the part of the supreme being.
One day Unkulunkulu said to the chameleon: 'Go, and say
"Men shall not die!"' The chameleon started off, but he went very slowly, and stopped to eat the
fruit of a mulberry. Others say he climbed a tree to warm himself in the sun, and went fast asleep.
Meanwhile Unkulunkulu changed his mind, and sent a lizard after the chameleon telling him to
deliver to men a message very different from the first one. The lizard set out, passed the lazy
chameleon, and reached men first. He gave them the god's message, saying: 'Men shall die!' Then
he returned to Unkulunkulu.
Soon after he had gone the chameleon arrived among men with his message of immortality. But
men replied that the lizard had already been with them, bringing an exactly opposite, message.
'We can't believe you,' they said. 'The lizard said, "Men shall die!"' And ever since no man has
This legend may be found among other Bantu tribes, such as the Bechuana, the Basuto and the
Baronga. But the natives have no worship of Unkulunkulu. Among them live the iniangas,
magicians who have the power of making rain.
The iniangas also have the gift of being able to discover thieves and spell-binders. The sorcerers
communicate with the spirits by whistling. The rain-makers are known by the name of 'sky shep-
3 herds'. They look after the clouds as of the cows of a herd, and I prevent them from bursting
over the land worked by the tribe.
The Zulus think that clouds and lightning are just like living i creatures.
THE CONGO GROUP
The people of Angola are idolaters. They believe that their
fetishes - muquixis, little roughly carved statuettes of wood - can
protect them from evil spells and make them happy. In addition
• to this belief, the natives of Angola think that the sorcerers can
; cause the death of one among them. The crow of a cock or the
, barking of a dog in the night are both the signs of a death. The
people of Angola believe in a supreme being named Zambi, who
lives in the sky. He is considered as the supreme judge after death.
A myth of Lower Congo about the deluge says that long ago the
sun met the moon and threw mud at it, which made it less bright.
When this meeting happened there was a flood, and men then put
, their milk sticks behind their backs and were changed into monkeys.
' The present race of men is a recent creation. Some natives say
that during this flood men were changed into monkeys and women
into lizards. In another myth the flood is supposed to have been
caused during the formation of lake Dilolo, when a whole village
perished with its inhabitants and domestic animals.
In the Congo group, the Fan or Pahouin profess a belief in the immortality of man in his bodily
appearance. According to them, a man does not die, he is killed either by supernatural powers or
by an accident. And the accident is usually attributed to an evil spirit or to an evil spell cast on the
victim. When such cases happen the sorcerers take out the viscera from the corpse to find out
whether j the deceased was poisoned or whether someone 'ate his soul'. According to the Fan
belief, the man or woman who ate the soul of the dead person will in turn fall ill and confess his
Among the Fan the oldest traditions make mention of a single god, Nzame, whose name may be
found very little altered among most of the Bantus.
This god is a vague being, he is invisible, and no image can be made of him.
According to a Pahouin myth, God formerly lived in the centre of Africa with his three sons, the
White, the Black and the gorilla. He was very rich, with numerous wives and children. Men lived
happily near God. But after the disobedience of the Negroes and the gorillas, God retired to the
West coast, taking with him his white (son and all his wealth. The gorilla went off to the recesses
of the forest, and the Negroes were left to poverty and ignorance. So they are irresistibly attracted
to the West which holds God, his white son, and his wealth. Apart from this conception of God,
the real religion of the Pahouin is an animistic religion, the religion of spirits.
Spirits are ranged in two categories - the good and the bad. The worship of the Fan goes mainly to
the latter, for all misfortunes come from them, and they must be placated by sacrifices of animals
or by invocations to fetishes.
Spirits wander in space, leading a life with no other interests than terrifying the living, doing them
harm, and taking vengeance on the beings who caused their death. They kill the living, and eat
After death the soul does not approach God. Either it is reincarnated in the body of a crocodile or
a snake, etc., or it dwells among trees, rocks, rapids, the tops of hills or mountains, which then
become sacred. Mountain vertigo is explained by the presence of a spirit. The Pahouin think that
souls are ruled by a very ugly, very wicked king, who can condemn a spirit to the supreme
punishment of a second death. His name is Ngworekara. According to a native, spirits have very
long hair scattered on their skulls, their eyes are asymmetrical, their gaze shame-faced, their ears
are full of dirt and drooping, they have long noses, their mouths are like elephants' trunks, and
they eat stinking ants, nitotol. Dances are arranged to frighten away the spirits. The Pahouin have
idols which they paint red; most of them are female, but they attach less importance to them than
to fetishes. As with most black tribes, fetishism has a very important place in Fan beliefs. The Bieri
plays the biggest part among these fetishes. He is invoked in hunting and in war. Before praying
to him, the native feeds him.
Here is the Pahouin explanation of the creation of man: 'God created man with clay, first in the
shape of a lizard which he put
in a pond and left there for seven days, after which he ordered him out. A man came out of the
pond instead of a lizard.' The Yaunde of the Cameroons say that Zamba (God) created the earth
and then came down to it, and had four sons: N'Kokon the learned, Otukut the idiot, Ngi the
gorilla and Wo the chimpanzee. Zamba taught the Yaunde how to avoid troubles, and allotted
duties to each one.
Among the Ubangui there is also belief in fetishes. If the native returns unsuccessful from hunting,
he thinks his bad luck is due to an evil spell cast on him.
Diseases and death are never attributed to natural causes, they are the work of an evil spirit's
vengeance. The fetish-doctors have considerable influence and practise as specialists. A native
going out to hunt goes first of'all to the fetish-doctor of hunting, who gives a fetish or a charm.
There are fetish-doctors for whirlwinds, for alligators, for panthers, and for pregnant women.
Among the Kakar, a tribe of the Likuala region, there exists the 'man-panther' fetish-doctor. He is
especially consulted to detect the committer of a crime or misdemeanour.
The Bomitaba, neighbours of the Kakar, also believe in spirits and in the immortality of the soul.
When a native dies his Mokadi (spirit) wanders beside the family river where the spirits of his
ancestors and relatives are already established. The Mokadi has power over men, to punish the
living who caused his death. The fetish-doctors are also specialists among the Bomitaba, as they
are with the other natives. There is even a fetish-doctor who receives communications from the
dead in his dreams.
The Bomitaba have a cosmogony myth about the moon and its creation:
'Once upon a time there were two suns, the one we have and the moon. It was very tiresome for
mankind, which being constantly in heat and light could not rest comfortably. One day one of the
suns suggested to the other that they should bathe, and pretended to jump in a river; the other
threw itself in and was quenched. Since that time there is only one sun, and though the moon
lights men it no longer warms them.'
Among the Upotos of the Congo there is a myth relating why the immortality intended for men
was given to the moon: One day Lihanza (God) summoned before him the inhabitants of the
moon and of the earth. The first immediately answered the call, and Liban/a said to the moon: 'As
a reward for coming at my summons, you shall not die, except for two days each month, and then
only to rest, after which you will re-appear brighter than ever.' When the earth's inhabitants
arrived much later, Li ban/a was angry and said to them: 'You did not come at my summons, and
to punish you. you shall die one day, and never live again except to come to me!'
The Bambula of the Congo have a myth which says that men wanted to know what the moon is.
They set a long pole in the ground, and a man climbed up it holding a second pole which he tied
to the first. A third pole was added to the second, and so on. When this "tower of Babel' had
reached a considerable height, it collapsed, bringing down with it the whole population working
at its construction who thus perished, victims of their curiosity.
A legend about the origin of death is to be found among the Negroes on the shores of lake Kivu.
After creating the first human beings, God told them they would never die. And so it was. In time
men became very numerous, and Death tried to pick a quarrel with them, but God was on the
watch and Death went under ground. One day God was not there, and Death sei/ed a victim. A
grave was dug, and she was buried in it. Some days later the earth on the grave began to rise as if
the dead person was returning to life. The dead person was an old woman, who had left several
children and daughters-in-law. She was about to rise from the dead, when one of her daughtersin-
law noticed it. She ran olf for boiling water which she poured on her mother-in-law's grave.
Then, making a pestle she kept beating the ground saying: 'Die! What is dead should stay dead!'
Next day, the earth began to rise again, and she went on hitting it, saying: 'What is dead should
stay dead!' And the mother-in-law who was returning to life, then died. And then God returned to
the earth, and found that one woman was absent. He was told that she was dead. Seeing that
Death had caused it, he said to the survivors: 'Stay here and remain in your dwellings, for I am
going to pursue Death so that it makes no more victims.' They obeyed, and God went to look for
Death. One day he discovered it, but it tried to escape and fled away at top speed. Just then an old
out of her hut to hide in the bush. She came face to face with Death who said: 'Hide me, and I'll
reward you.' The old woman, who was not very bright, lifted to her armpits the skin which
clothed her, Death slipped beneath and entered her belly.
At that moment God arrived, saw the old woman, and asked her if she had not seen Death go by.
Before she had time to utter a word God threw himself on her saying: 'What use is she since she
can have no more children? The best thing is to kill her, take Death out, and then kill it.' God had
barely finished killing the old woman, when a young woman came out of her hut and surprised
God cutting the old woman's throat. Death instantly fled from the old woman's body and hid in
the young woman's. Seeing this God said: 'Well! Since they keep thwarting my efforts, let them
take the consequences and die!'
In the Congo group are the Mundangs who lived beside the river 'Mayo-Kebbi'. They recognise
three gods: Massim Biambe the creator, the omnipotent immaterial God; Phebele, the male god;
and Mebeli, the female god.
Phebele and Mebeli had a child, Man, to whom Massim-Biambe gave a soul (tchi), breathing, and
the breath of life. The Mundang thinks that animals have souls just as men have. Every time a
living thing dies, its soul goes down a deep hole. Then the soul enters the body of a woman or of a
female animal to create another being; but men's souls can only create men, and animals' souls
beings of the same species.
God's ministers are the fetishes. Among them is one so constructed that a man can slip into it and
make it move. This would suggest that the Mundangs have a demon.
The Bushongo, who live in Belgian Congo, to the east of Kisi and Loango, worship a god Bumba,
who, so they say, created the universe by vomiting forth the sun, moon, stars and eight species 'of
animals from which the others are derived. According to the traditions of this same people,
heaven and earth at first lived united like husband and wife; but one day heaven went off in
displeasure, and from that moment dates the separation of heavenly and terrestrial elements.
THE NILOTIC GROUP
Fetishism seems to dominate in this group as it does in the foregoing groups. The natives believe
in metempsychosis and have a respectful cult of snakes. Among the Shilluk of the White Nile we
find a creation legend, in which they explain the different colours I of the human race by the
choice of colours of the clay from which they were formed.
Juok was the god who created all men on earth. In the land of the Whites he found white earth or
sand, and made it into men of the same colour. Then he came to Egypt where he made brown men
from the Nile mud, and then to the Shilluk and created the Black from black earth. Then Juok said:
'I shall make man, but he must run and walk, so I shall give him two long legs like those of
flamingoes.' That done, he said: 'Man must be able to cultivate millet, so I shall give him two arms
- one to use the hoe and the other to pull up weeds.' Then he said: 'I shall give man two eyes to see
with.' And so he did. Then he said: 'I shall give him a mouth to eat his millet.' And then he gave
him a tongue and ears so that he could shout, dance, sing, speak, and listen to noises and
speeches. Thus man was made perfect.
^ In Uganda the Nandi have a story which attributes death to a dog's bad temper. The dog had
been told to bring men the news of their immortality, but thought he was not received with all the
respect due to a divine messenger. So by way of revenge he changed the tale and condemned men
to death, saying: 'All men will die like the moon, but you will not be re-born like the moon unless
you give me food and drink.' Men laughed him to scorn and gave him drink on a stool. The dog
was furious at not being looked upon as a man, and said: 'All men shall die - only the moon shall
The following tale belongs to the same part of Uganda. The Sun
and the Moon one day agreed to kill all their children. The Sun
carried out his part, but the Moon changed its mind and spared its
descendants. So the Sun has no children, but those of the Moon
(are innumerable - the stars.
The Gallas have this myth about the origin of death. One day God sent a bird to men to tell them:
'You shall be immortal, and when you are old and feeble, all you have to do to be young again
is to strip off your skins.' To show that the message was authentic God gave the bird a crest as a
sign of its divine message. The bird set out, but on the way came upon a snake which was feeding
on carrion. The bird looked longingly at the carrion, and said to the snake: 'Give me a little of that
meat, and I'll tell you God's message.' 'It's of no interest to me,' said the snake, and went on eating.
But the crested bird urged it to listen so much that the snake gave way. The bird then said: 'When
men grow old they will die, but when you are old you'll change your skin and regain your youth.'
To punish the bird for having so treacherously altered his message, God afflicted him with a
disease so painful that he utters his lamentations, perched on the top of a tree.
SUDAN AND VOLTA GROUPS
In the Sudan group most the Mandinga have become Mohammedans, but still retain their old
animistic beliefs. Like the Senufo, they believe in a certain number of evil spirits, to which they
must make sacrifices. They also believe in amulets and gri-gris. The same beliefs may be found
among the Negroes of the Volta group, the Mossi, the Gurusi and the Bobo.
The Negroes of this group pay great attention to the cult of the dead. Among the Senufo, when an
old person dies, his death is attributed to the will of the 'Master of all spirits,' while among the
neighbouring tribes it is supposed to have been caused by malevolent supernatural powers.
Among the Mossi the earth is thought to be a great moralist and avenging deity who is angered by
crime. Thus, among the Bobo, a murderer had to make expiatory sacrifices to the earth which had
been angered at seeing human blood shed. The sacrifices were carried out by a priest whose title
was 'Chief of the Earth'.
The Gurmantshi of the Volta group are almost all fetishists, like most of the Mossi, Takamba and
Bariba, who are their neighbours.
There is much superstition among them and a gross abuse of fetishism. Everything unexplained or
inexplicable is referred to the idea of God. The native communicates with God through spirits as
intermediaries, some of which have vast power which extends over the entire land. They have
familiar spirits who protect the family's fields, and whose favour is obtained by making offerings.
Each clan possesses its own gri-gri, the Suanu (Maneater) which the natives put above their doors
to prevent the evil spirits from entering the house. The 'Man-eater' is the spirit of a man who died
suddenly. Before undertaking anything of importance, the Gurmantshi consult the spirits through
the sorcerers who are able to predict the future.
South of the Niger, the Menkiera offer sacrifices to rocks and stones which are the dwelling places
of spirits, who exert their activity either for good or ill.
GUINEA AND SENEGAMBIA GROUPS
Among the Agni of Indene and Sanwi, religion derives fundamentally from animism and appears
as a polytheism which has assimilated Mohammedan influence, and, since the end of the 15th
century, Christian influences. The result of these influences was to modify the attributes as well as
the powers of the chief deities. Such is the case with Nvamia, the supreme god, placed by the
Blacks above all other gods since they came under Mohammedan influence.
Originally in fact Nyamia was in no way superior to Asia, the goddess of the earth, nor to Asia-
Bussu, god of the bush, nor to Pan, son of the earth and of cultivation, but was equal to these
He represented the god of the sky, or the spirit of the sky, of the atmosphere, that is, the god of
storms, rain, clouds, lightning etc.
Alongside these deities of the first rank were Evua, the sun, who received sacrifices and a worship
similar to that given by the Blacks of the Volta group, the Mossi, the Gurusi, etc., and Kaka-Guia, a
bull-headed god whose duty is to bring the souls of the dead to the supreme god, Nyamia. He in
turn communicates with the living through spirits attached to such and such a place, which
protect such and such a village.
These spirits are represented by different objects or fetishes possessing their protective power.
In exchange for the fetish's protection, its possessor or its representative is supposed to carry out
the rites and ceremonies more or
less reserved for the spirit invoked.
Thus, Guruhi, a terrible god, exacts sacrifices on his altars from his believers, has the power to
poison people and to torture those suspected of sorcery, and he gives his followers a greater
power than that of the great chiefs themselves.
He is represented as a stool supporting an iron ball which is supposed to have fallen from heaven.
This god must not be looked upon by women, children or the uninitiated, under pain of the most
severe punishment. In addition to these spirits, there are a certain number of deities derived from
the tribes adjoining the Agni which have been incorporated into their belief.
First, we have Famien, who comes from Kitabo, and is represented as a rock-cave. Like Guruhi he
exacts sacrifices from his believers. In exchange he takes care of the sick, drives away evil
sorcerers, makes women fertile, etc. He has no particular dwelling, but stays with his owner, who
thus becomes his fetish-doctor. The person who becomes the owner of Famien receives as a fetish
a bag containing two knives, one of which is Famien, while the other is meant to make. sacrifices
to the gods, as well as two kolas, the deity's favourite fruit.
Another spirit called Nampa is made material by means of three balls made of roots and pounded
leaves. He also is forbidden to women, children and the uninitiated.
Sunguin, like the preceding, is a foreigner. His materialisation includes a vase of black clay, a ball
also in clay, and a roughly carved doll.
Sakarabru, the most important of these deities, is also alien to the Agni. Once upon a time he was
the very powerful god of the village of Yacasse. In the hut reserved for fetishes at the entrance to
the village, the walls are decorated with paintings of coiled snakes and alligators. A collection of
wreaths, dried seeds, eggshells and bones is enclosed within. That is the den of Sakarabru, the
demon of darkness. He is represented as a ball made of grains of maize. Like other spirits, he
administers justice and is a healer. Moreover, he appears during the changes of season and
renewals of the moon. At such times an actor impersonates the god, and dances a wild round.
Sakarabru is a just god, but also a terrible and bloodthirsty one and much feared.
In the religion of the Agni we come on the cult of water, of streams, rivers, brooks, rivulets etc., a
cult which originally required human sacrifices. In addition to these cults we must mention those
relating to caves, rocks, hills and trees, as well as to certain sacred animals,
such as the leopard, the elephant, the snake, etc. The cult of the dead is particularly devoted to the
double (eoume) of the deceased, which must be appeased. Like the other peoples of West Africa,
the Agnis believe in the survival of a spiritual principle after death. The person who dies in a
conspicuous way is afterwards re-incarnated in the womb of another woman of his tribe.
The dead are represented by little clay statuettes.
Before going on to the next group, we must mention an Ashanti legend which seems to show that
the supreme god, Nyamia, had originally only a limited power, since this legend demonstrates
that he could do nothing to change the social condition of anyone, because it is fixed by fate.
'A servant of the king of the Kumasi had a plantation which he visited every day. All the way
there and during his work he complained of his lot and his poverty. One day he was lamenting as
usual when he saw a large copper basin on a chain come down from heaven containing a white
child with big ears. He recognised a Nyamia ama, a son of heaven, who said to him: "My father
Nyamia sent me to look for you."
The heavenly child made the man sit down beside him and the people of heaven hauled them up.
The journey lasted a long time. At last they reached a door, which opened for the son of heaven.
The man found himself in a large village, filled with a great many people who were talking, and in
the midst of this space an old man dressed in a fine lion-cloth was seated on a throne of gold. He
beckoned to the king of the Kumasi's servant to come forward, and said to him: "You are always
complaining that I have made you one of the unfortunate. It isn't my fault. This village is occupied
by the families of all men on earth - choose the dwelling you would like to stay in."
'God gave him a guide, and 'the man explored the village which was very large. He saw splendid
houses occupied by people who did no work and had many servants. He saw wretched huts
where the poor carried on the same occupations as poor human beings. In one of the houses he
saw his parents and said to the guide: "There's my house." They returned to Nyamia, who said:
"Look at your courtyard, you can see you have nothing, and you know that the child of poor
parents can never become rich. If he gains some wealth, the money slips through his fingers.
However, I am giving you a present. Here are two sacks, a large and a small, one of which is for
you and the other for your master. You will not open yours until you have delivered my present
to the king of the Kumasi." ' 'The child came for the man and took him back to earth. On the way
the servant thought to himself: "Nobody knows that God has given me two sacks. I'll hide the big
one and give my master the little one.
'When he got back to the plantation, the son of heaven left the man and went back to his father.
The man then dug a hole and hid the big sack in it. He went to Kumasi where the king greeted
him with joy, for he had thought the man was lost. The servant told his story, and handed over the
little sack. The master opened it, and found it full of gold dust. In great joy the man who had been
to heaven said to himself: "I'm rich." He ran to his field, dug up the big sack, and found it full of
, 'Thus was verified the word of God - the poor man can never become rich.'
The religion of the people of Dahomey includes a fetishist cult. Mahou or Mao is the superior
being, the good spirit. The Rainbow Snake, servant of Thunder, is also considered as a beneficent
spirit. Thunder, who dwells in the clouds, is a dreaded spirit, whom the natives try to placate with
offerings made by fetish-doctors.
The sea is a power surrounded by a large family - the splashing of the water, sirens, the python.
Alongside these spirits there are personal spirits who are particularly venerated. Such for the
people of Dahomey are Legba and Fa.
Similar ideas may be found among the Baramba. With them the Wokolo is a little devil who must
be avoided if you don't want to receive his treacherous arrows. Wokolo likes trees and the banks
of streams. The Baramba have a special cult for trees, sacrifice domestic animals to them and
smear the blood of the victims on the trunks, while praying to the spirit dwelling there.
The tribes speaking the Ewe language, who live in Togo, think that to this day God still makes
human beings out of clay. When he wants to make a good man he uses good clay, and for a
wicked man he uses bad clay. In the beginning God made a man and set him on earth, and then a
woman. The two looked at each other, and burst out laughing. After which they wandered over
The same natives of Togo have a myth about death.
One day men sent a dog to God to ask that they might be reborn after death. The dog went off to
carry his message. On the way he felt hungry, and went into a house where a man was boiling
magical herbs. Meanwhile the frog had started off to tell God that men preferred not to live again.
Nobody had told him to take this message. The dog who was watching the soup on the boil saw
the frog go past, but thought: 'When I've had something to eat I can soon catch him up.' However,
the frog arrived first and gave its message to God, and then along came the dog who explained his
mission. God was extremely embarrassed and said to the dog: 'Really, I can't understand these
two messages, but as the frog got here first, I shall grant its request.' And that is why men die, and
never return to life.
In the Senegambia group, the 'Serers', who divide the Uolofs of the north from those of the south,
are a very superstitious and fetish-ridden people. They believe in metempsychosis and are afraid
of sorcerers, who are supposed to cause death. The Serers are primitive men, and have a
superstitious belief for every natural force. They believe in one god, Rock-Sene, who shows his
anger by thunder and lightning, and his kindness by rain and good harvests.
The Serers worship the spirits of the ancestors and the family spirits which they think live in
baobabs or near burial places. The natives give offerings to them since after God they are the
masters of good and evil. They have a cosmogony legend of the sun and moon. 'One day, the
Sun's mother and the Moon's mother were bathing naked in a little waterfall. The Sun turned his
back so as not to see his mother naked, but the Moon looked very keenly at her mother. After the
bath the Sun was called by his mother who said: "My son, you have always respected me, may
God bless you! You did not look at me in the waterfall; and as you turned your eyes away from
me I pray God that he will allow no living being to look steadily at you." The Moon was called in
turn by her mother, who said: "Daughter, you did not respect me in the waterfall, and you stared
at me as if I were some bright object, so I want everyone to be able to look at you without ever
tiring his eyes." '