Cahuilla Creation Story

With all their geographical proximity to the Yuma and Mohave, the Desert Cahuilla partake essentially of the native civilization of the Shoshonean coastal tribes of southern California.

Birth of Mukat and Tamaioit 1

In the beginning, there was no earth or sky or anything or anybody only a dense darkness in space. This darkness seemed alive. Something like lightnings seemed to pass through it and meet each other once in a while. Two substances which looked like the white of an egg came from these lightnings. They lay side by side in the stomach of the darkness, which resembled a spider web. These substances disappeared. They were then produced again, and again they disappeared. This was called the mis carriage of the darkness. The third time they appeared, they remained, hanging there in this web in the darkness. The substances began to grow and soon were two very large eggs. When they began to hatch, they broke at the top first. Two heads came out, then shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes then the shell was all gone. Two boys had emerged Mukat and Tamaioit. They were grown men from the first, and could talk right away. As they lay there, both at the same time heard a noise like a bee buzzing. It was the song of their mother Darkness.

Attempt to create light. Mukat said he was the first to hear the song, but Tamaioit declared that he was. They argued about this, because the first one to hear it would be considered the older, and each desired this honor.

As they lay there, they seemed to be old enough to think. Mukat suggested that they make light that they might see. Tamaioit said, “You think you are the older, now carry out your ideas.” So they began creating things. Mukat reached into his mouth and took from his heart:

  1. a cricket, Shilim shilim;
  2. Papavonot, another insect;
  3. a black and white lizard, Takmeyatineyawet
  4. a person, Whatwhatwet.

Mukat and Tamaioit decided to turn all these new creatures loose and let them drive away the darkness. Since Mukat had made them, they had almost as much power as he. Lizard tried to swallow the darkness but was not successful. Finally, all of them together man aged to drive east part of the darkness and then there was a little light. But when they returned to Mukat and Tamaioit, the darkness they had driven away rushed back and they could not drive it away again.

Mukat and Tamaioit then said they should have something to smoke to remove the darkness, just as medicine men smoke now to remove disease.

Making tobacco. They therefore planned to make tobacco. Mukat took black tobacco from his heart and Tamaioit brought forth a lighter colored tobacco. Next, they needed some way to smoke it, so they each brought forth another substance from the heart. Mukat’s was dark, Tamaioit’s was light. With this they made pipes. There were no holes in these pipes, so they each pulled out a whisker and pierced holes in the pipes. Mukat then took a coal of fire from his heart to light the tobacco with. Now they were ready to smoke. Mukat filled his pipe first, held it up in the air, and inhaled.

He then decided to play a trick on Tamaioit, so he handed his pipe to him and said, I am holding it up high, but he held it low, and in the dark, Tamaioit could not see it. However, Tamaioit was always suspicious of Mukat, so he reached low instead of high, as Mukat expected him to do, and seized the pipe. Tamaioit then got his pipe ready to smoke, held it out to Mukat and said, I am holding it low, and really held it that way. Mukat, thinking the same trick was being played on him, reached high and of course missed it. Therefore, Tamaioit claimed he was the wiser, because he could not be fooled.

Creation of the earth. They next took a substance from their hearts to make a huyanachet (rod). As usual, Mukat made a black one and Tamaioit a white one. These were to be the roots of the earth. When they tried to stand them up, they found a support was neces sary, so they made snakes to twine around them. Even this was not enough, so they made spiders which crawled to the top of the rods and made a web from there to the corners of the darkness.

The huyanachet were then firm. Mukat and Tamaioit climbed up to the top but had to rest several times. When they reached the top, though it was dark, they could see that something like a mist or smoke was rising up from below. Mukat asked Tamaioit what it was, and he answered, “I have always told you that I am the older, but you say you are. How does it happen you do not know that that is our afterbirth coming up behind us, and that it causes all sickness and disease. Mukat then made a song about it he never seemed to know things first, but he always thought about creating things before Tamaioit did.

While up on the top, Mukat now thought about creating earth, so suggested it to Tamaioit. Tamaioit said, “I have always told you I am the older, but you say you are. So just go ahead with your ideas and don’t consult me.” But he consented to help. Mukat sang his song, then both shook all over, and soon a substance poured out of their mouths, ran down the poles, and spread all over, even reaching to the top of the huyanachet.

This substance was very soft at first; in order to make it solid they created whirlwinds to dry it, and brush to make it firm. They also made many kinds of insects of various sizes for this same purpose. Many of these insects have since then been used by shamans, who take them and let them bite a person who has a pain, and that person is then cured. The whirlwinds which they took were of two kinds: teniosha, which is the worse, and tukiaiel. These whirlwinds live in ant holes, and when a fire is placed in these holes the whirlwinds whistle in their anger. They are dangerous, for they often steal souls.

After Mukat and Tamaioit made the earth, they made the ocean to hold the earth in one place. They made creatures and weeds to live in the ocean. The sky they made of metal so that it would be strong enough to stay up high and not fall. In this sky they put stars to make more light.

Creation of people. Now that the earth was solid and ready to walk upon, Mukat asked what they should do next. Tamaioit said, “You say you are the older, so go ahead with your ideas.” Mukat said that he thought it was now time to create people, for they needed someone to talk to and play with.

This they did, Mukat making dark people and Tamaioit light people. As he made them, Tamaioit placed his people in a circle around him. When his circle was nearly completed, Mukat had only enough to go halfway around him. Mukat wondered how Tamaioit could make them so fast, so he made Sun, in order to see. Sun was too hot to hold and slipped away from him and went east; so there was not very much light yet.

Mukat told Tamaioit about the escape of Sun and asked him what they had better do about it. Tamaioit said, “You insist that you are older than I if you are, it is strange that you have to ask me what to do all the time.” However, he consented to help, and the two of them created Moon. Moon was a woman and was very bright and beautiful and white. After she was created, Mukat could see Tamaioit’s people, for there was more light. He did not like the people at all.

Tamaioit’s people were exactly alike on both sides. They had faces on both sides, toes pointing in both directions, breasts both in front and in back. All the fingers and toes were webbed.

Mukat said, “No wonder you could make them so fast, they don’t look good at all. You should make them right look at mine. A quarrel followed. Tamaioit said, “My people do not have to turn around to see behind them, nor will mine drop things through their fingers as yours will.” Mukat said, “Mine can close their fingers when they wish to hold things.” Tamaioit said that people should live always; or, if there was death, the person should return to life the next day and be young; or else people should remain young always. Mukat said it would never do not to die, for the world would get over crowded and there would not be enough food for all. Tamaioit said they could make both more food and more room to live in. Mukat said it was intended that people should die, for after-birth’s blood was meant to bring disease into the world and thus cause death.

They then said that they must create doctors to take care of the people. They had created an old wood far north and a mermaid under the water. The wood and the mermaid were the ones chosen to give power to the doctors. 2 They created a very short man in the north, Keketumnamtum, who was to be a medicine man and give power to the people through their dreams of North Wind or Rain. After obtaining this power, they would be able to create wind or rain.

This world is a man. Rain was created and sent to the sky. Rain is a man and makes things grow. North Wind is a man and makes things dry up.

Mukat and Tamaioit tried to decide when things should grow and ripen. First they said it should take fifty menyil (moons), but later they decided that it should be four menyil, and thus it is today.

They quarreled continually about which people had been made the proper way, and as to whether there should be death or not. Finally Tamaioit got angry and said that since his suggestions did not seem to amount to anything here, he would go to another world and take his people. He said that, if he went down into the ground, the world would turn over; Mukat said he would prevent that.

Tamaioit then sang his song and sank into the earth, taking all of his people. In his hurry he forgot Palm, Coyote, Duck, and Moon. Earth and Sky wanted to follow him, but Mukat knelt on the earth and held his hand up to the sky; by doing this, he prevented their going. There are now five stars in the sky where his fingers rested.

As Tamaioit went into the ground, there was a tremendous rumbling and earthquake. Mountains arose at this time and the water in the ocean shook so that it overflowed and caused the rivers and streams we now have. The sky became bent and curved. Because of this, the sun seems to stop at noon when it gets to the highest point. While the sun is making it light for us here, it is dark in the world below when we see it go over the horizon in the evening, it is beginning to get light there and dark here.

Mukat took the people Tamaioit forgot and made them into the right shape, but he forgot the duck’s feet; so they are still webbed.

While Mukat and Tamaioit were creating people, Mukat created a place in the east for the spirits of the dead to go to. He pulled out a whisker and pointed it east. This made a road. At the end of this road was a gate. Montakwet, a man who never dies, guards this gate. Just beyond this gate are two large hills constantly moving apart and then together. As they move apart, an opening is left through which the spirits may enter.

If the spirit has been wicked during its lifetime, it is caught between these moving hills and crushed; it then becomes a rock, bat, or butterfly. If it has lived a good life, it gets through this opening safely and passes into the regions beyond, known as Telmekish.

Because this road over which the spirits travel is toward the east, one must never lie with his head in that direction while sleeping; death might result. It is well enough to do this when old, for an old person can live only a short while longer anyway.

Life of Mukat and his people. Mukat and his people lived in one big house. Animals were human then. They were all very happy here. Moon taught the people many games and they loved her very much. Every morning she took her people far away to the water, and here they played all day long, returning to Mukat’s house late in the evening.

She taught them how to make things. Cat’s cradle was one of the games she taught them. It was a game played by making figures by means of string twined around the fingers. There were many figures they had to know. Later when they died and went to Telmekish, they had to know how to make these figures and tell Montakwet, the guardian. If they could not do this, they were not admitted.

Moon taught them that they would be getting married after a while, and explained to them what this meant. She said they would have children; that they must name their children and have songs for them. She said these children should be instructed in the right way to live that the old people were the best instructors.

Rattlesnake was the only one that remained at home all day with Mukat. He stayed at the door of Mukat’s house all day long. When the people returned at night, there was one man among them who always danced on and around the snake. This was To, the funny man whom they all loved he was very tiny. To made fun of Rattle snake and made his head flat, by dancing on him; it is still flat. Rattlesnake complained to Mukat and asked him what to do.

At this time Rattlesnake was not poisonous, for he had no teeth. Mukat decided that Rattlesnake should have teeth. He tried many ways of making them for him, but none succeeded until he pulled some of his whiskers out and used them for teeth. He then made the teeth poisonous and told Rattlesnake to bite To when To came home that night and danced on him, and then he must run away to the rocks so that no one could find him. Accordingly, when the people returned that night, very happy as usual, To began dancing on Rattlesnake, but Rattlesnake bit him and then ran away. Rattlesnake was the first to leave the big house and not return.

Moon was very beautiful. One night Mukat seemed to notice this for the first time, and desired her as his wife. He did not tell her, but she knew it, and it made her feel very sad, for he was her father. She decided to leave, and told her people. She told them that there were a great many games she had not yet taught them, but that it was now too late. She said she would never die or have diseases as other people had, for Tamaioit had helped to create her. She told the women how to care for themselves during menstruation and pregnancy they must not eat salt, meat, or fat, or drink cold water. She showed them certain herbs to use if they became ill.

That night she left and got beetles and ants to crawl over her tracks so that no one would follow her. Everyone felt very badly and tried to find her. Coyote went to the water where they always bathed to look for her. He saw her reflection in the water and thought it was she. He jumped in after her but couldn’t find her. When he climbed out and looked in again, he was sure he saw her and again he jumped in, with the same result. As he came out this time, Moon, who had gone to the sky, spat on him. He looked up to see where the spit had come from, and he saw her. He begged her to return but she would not talk, only smiled. He then returned to the others to tell them where their beloved playmate and teacher had gone. He felt very sad, so he hung his head as he said, “Here she is, here she is.” The people looked down where he was looking, but of course could not see. Finally someone happened to look up and there saw Moon in the sky. She seemed very far away and they all wept. Each night, for a long time, she went higher up, until she was where we now see her. 3

Soon Mukat decided he wanted to have a little more fun with his people. For several days he thought about it. Then one day Sun rose out of the east. As soon as it was fully light, the people all talked in different languages and could not understand each other. Sun made them hot and many ran in search of shade. Many turned into trees or animals or birds. This probably was meant to happen from the beginning. Those that looked for water and found water, turned into sea animals. Those that looked for shade turned into trees. The people who stayed with Mukat remained human.

Mukat taught them how to make bows and arrows just what kind of material to use, how to dry it, and how to make arrowheads out of rock. When the people put them down, after making them, the arrows made a queer noise. It frightened the people and they would not touch them. Mukat had showed them how to use these arrows and had promised that the arrows would not hurt them, but they were afraid when they heard this sound. One among them, Takwich, picked up an arrow, and said, “Why be afraid of this? It will not hurt you.” He put one right through his stomach and then pulled it out and it left no opening. When they saw this, the others were afraid no longer.

Mukat lined them up on two sides and they shot at each other, as he had shown them how to do. The dust became very thick, so they stopped, and then they saw that several of their number were dead. They wept, for they could not bring them to life. Mukat told them not to worry; that the dead would return.

At night the people heard them return, but it was only their spirits. These spirits could not find their abiding place they had hunted in all directions. Finally they thought of Tamaioit. They started down into the earth to find him. Tamaioit heard them coming and stopped them before they got there. He told them that he was sorry for them, that he had wanted the people to live always, but that he saw now why Mukat had made them as he did. It was so there would be sorrow in the world. Tamaioit said that, since they were not his people, he could do nothing for them. He said his people were all happy and he did not want any other kind down there. However, he could tell them something that might bring them back to life. They should go to the water and smear mud all over them selves and twine brush around their bodies. They did as he advised them, but it did no good.

The spirits then returned to Mukat and asked him where to go. He told them about Telmekish and that there was no sickness or sorrow there. He said this world was just to raise children in Telmekish, the next world, would last forever.

At the time Sun came the people turned different colors. The Negroes are those who stayed close to Sun. “White people ran farther away than anyone else. Indians went only a short distance, so they are brown.

Death of Mukat. Mukat had now done three things which made his people very angry. He had made Rattlesnake bite one of them, had insulted Moon, which made her leave and had given the people bows and arrows and let them kill each other, after promising them no harm should come to them. So they decided to kill Mukat, but did not know how to do it. They asked Bear and Puma to do so but they refused, saying it would be better for someone to bewitch his spirit.

Now Mukat lived right in the middle of his big house and was never seen to leave there. They were anxious to find out what he did at night. For this purpose, they appointed the white lizard, that runs up mesquite trees, to get on top of the house and watch from above at night. Nobody saw Lizard go up. This is what he saw. Mukat smoked until the smoke was very thick and all the people were asleep he then went outside to defecate. Lizard heard the excrement drop three times. Mukat then returned to the house.

Next day, Lizard told the people what he had seen. They then decided how they would kill Mukat. They put small animals under the log to catch his droppings, but they were unable to do so. Frog said he would try. That night, when Mukat went outside as usual to defecate, Frog caught the droppings in his mouth. Mukat did not hear anything drop as he usually did, so he put his cane down, to find out what was the matter. In feeling around, he struck frog on the back; the marks can still be seen on Frog’s back.

Right away, Mukat knew that something was wrong, for he felt very ill and weak he felt as though his soul had left him. However, he pretended that he did know what caused his illness and asked many questions concerning it.

Shamans pretended to help him, but they did not really try, for they wanted him to die. He asked his people to get North “Wind to come and cure him. They sent Swallow to tell North Wind that his Creator wanted his help. North Wind said he would come in the afternoon and for them to turn the Creator around with his head to the north. When the wind came, he blew dust all over Mukat. It seemed to help drive away the fever for awhile, but Mukat could not endure the dust in his eyes and ears. He wanted something to eat, so he sent Crow to get piyatam (something like snails). Crow found plenty, but just stayed there and would not bring them to Mukat. Mukat next sent Dove to the mountains for pine nuts and Dove really brought some back. He wanted meat and sent Hawk after it, but Hawk never returned. Mukat said his people had forsaken him and he was very sad. He asked his people, the Locusts, to sing to him and cheer him up. This helped him for a time, but soon he tired and asked them to stop. He was anxious to die now; he said death was so slow in coming.

All the time Mukat was ill, Coyote stayed right by his side. He watched him every minute and ate all of his expectorations and excretions. Mukat was afraid of Coyote he was afraid Coyote would eat his body when he died. Because of this, he asked his people to send Coyote far away to get fire to light his pyre, for he felt that death was very near. Coyote did not want to go, but they told him it was his duty to do so, since he was the fastest runner.

Mukat kept wondering in what moon he would die, and repeated the names of the moons over and over. He sang all the time, knowing he was dying. This was to send his spirit to Telmekish. This is the reason people sing now when one of their number is dying. Soon he could not move, and then he died. The people dug a hole in the ground and placed his body in it. Animals with big claws dug this hole. The Quail carried the wood for the fire, on their heads, to the pit. Fly then made fire by rubbing small pieces of wood between his feet he has been rubbing his feet together in this manner ever since. When the fire was lighted, the people gathered round it.

During this time, Coyote was on his way for the fire, but kept looking back constantly. Soon he saw the smoke and knew that they were burning Mukat. He ran back as fast as he could. As he drew near, he pushed his way through the crowd, and jumped over several. All of the body had burned, except a small piece of the heart, which is always the last to burn. Coyote jumped for it, and as he landed on it, it splashed blood. He then ran to the mountains. The blood stains can still be seen there.

The people all wanted to kill Coyote when he ran off with Mukat’s heart, but they could not run fast enough to catch him.

Conclusion. Before Mukat died, he told his people they should hold a fiesta once a year, in memory of their dead. He said they should make an effigy of each one who had died and with these they should dance. This fiesta was to be held in the winter, when they had time. He further explained that it would take six nights that during the singing of the songs which he had taught them, all should sit quietly on the ground, around the fire. One man must be appointed as the leader of the singing. He promised them that during the fiesta the spirits of the dead would return for the last time and would know just what was going on. All of the facts concerning Mukat and Tamaioit must be kept secret anyone telling them would either die or become very ill.

They planned to make a fiesta for Mukat, as he had told them to do, but they did not invite Coyote. He found out about it, however, and came. By that time, the people were no longer angry at him. When he returned he was very thin.

All were sad after Mukat died. Coyote said, “Let’s live in a different house and burn this one, so as not to think about Mukat so much.” This they decided to do.

When they were ready to hold the fiesta, Coyote told them he knew what to make effigies of, and offered to go to the end of the world to get it. Misvut (a seaweed) was what he got. It grew far under the water. It had probably been made in the beginning for this purpose. After Coyote made the body out of this, he made the eyes out of shells and decorated the body with feathers. Then they held a fiesta and Coyote was Net (chief). They have been doing this ever since, when a person dies.

In the new house the people now lived in, Coyote became one of the pillars ( ?). However, they did not like that, so they made a roof of him. Before that, Coyote sang a great deal he divided the songs into Mukat or Wildcat songs, and Tamaioit or Coyote songs. Because of this, the Wildcat people sing Mukat songs, and the Coyote people sing Tamaioit songs. During the time that Mukat and Tamaioit were in the stomach of the darkness, they had decided that Mukat would be a Tukut (wildcat person), Tamaioit an Isil (coyote person).

During that first fiesta, the Isil people wanted some more misvut. When they went to get it, the water bubbled and made a queer noise. It was talking to them, but they could not understand it at first. Soon they understood that Misvut was asking them what they wanted. They told him they wanted the big stone, sharvovoshal, which was to pound things on, more misvut, and a pipe made of rock. The misvut was always kept rolled up and had a stone pipe in it. Net had given a feast in order to get this pipe, for Mukat had told them that this was necessary. This pipe is used only at fiestas and can be obtained only after the Net has given a feast.

As soon as the new home that Coyote had suggested was built, the people scattered. When they got tired of wandering some turned into trees and deer. A few went out at midnight and therefore became dark-skinned. Some went in the daylight and so were white. Some went early in the morning and are brown-skinned.

After Mukat died, Crow returned to where he had been burned, fell down into the pit, and thus became black. Buzzard also did this, and his head has been bald ever since. The white-spotted hawk fell in and became a mottled color.

One day, Buzzard saw a lot of queer looking things growing out of the pit where Mukat’s body had been burned. He told the people about them. These things were different kinds of vegetables, but they had never heard of such things, and did not know what to do with them. They decided to send Palmechewet, the man who never slept, to Mukat to ask him what they were for.

Palmechewet started out to find Mukat, and as he was going through the brush and mountains, he constantly prayed to Mukat to guide him to his abode. Finally he heard Mukat but could not see him. Mukat said, “Those things are to eat. You killed me before I had a chance to teach you about them. Tobacco is for the old people to smoke. The melons grow from my skull pumpkins from my stomach; corn from my teeth. 4 Return to my people and tell them that all of these things are good.” Palmechewet returned to the people and repeated these words. They had never eaten vegetables before.Citations:

  1. The only previously recorded information on the Cahuilla origin story is the outline given by E. W. Gifford, Univ. Calif. Publ. Am. Arch. Ethn., xiv, 188, 189, 1918. T. T. Waterman has summarized and analyzed most of the literature on the origin myths of the southern California Indians in the American Anthropologist, u.s., xi, 41-55, 1909.[]
  2. This statement is not clear, but it is as clear as my interpreter could make it.[]
  3. Formerly, the Cahuilla would not look at the full moon, for fear of disease. If they ate during an eclipse, they were likely to eat a moon spirit. Whoever died during an eclipse was thought to have eaten one of these moon spirits.[]
  4. These are the characteristic plants of native agriculture. The Cahuilla have never been reported as having farmed before the advent of the Spaniards, but the neighboring Yuman tribes on the Colorado River grew these plants, except perhaps melons.[]

Cahuilla, Religion,

Hooper, Lucile. The Cahuilla Indians. Berkeley, California: University Of California Press. 1920.

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