Thursday, March 14, 2013

5 - How the Chumash turned the wayward sun around

Part 5:  The Chumash Origin Stories
One of the things I enjoy most  about studying ancient cultures is the stories explaining how things originated.  The Chumash are no exception.  To conclude this series, I want to share some of those great Chumash stories.
Chumash Sun God

As mentioned before, the Sun is a man who carries a torch and gathers up children as he travels and stuffs them in his head band and an occasional adult, as well.  He lives in a crystal house with his two daughters.  He has two wives, the evening star and the morning star.  When he snuffs out his torch, the sparks form the stars.  In the evening, he throws down the people he has collected and he and his daughters pass the bodies over the fire several times and then eat the people half cooked.  To quench their thirst they drink blood.
Pleiades Constellation

As I have reported in other articles, all Native American cultures seem to have stories about the constellation we call the Pleiades.  In the Chumash story, seven young boys were abandoned by their parents and rescued by Raccoon who taught them to dig roots to eat.  The boys decided to go north and wanted to take Raccoon with them.  They sprinkled goose down on themselves and sang songs and danced around the “temescal’ (sweathouse) for three days and as they did so, they began to rise up higher and higher except for Raccoon who couldn’t fly.  When their mothers saw what was happening, they felt bad for abandoning them and begged them to come back down, but the boys turned into geese and flew away north becoming the seven stars of the Big Dipper.  Their mother’s tried to follow them and became the seven stars of the Pleiades.  That is why when geese cry, they sound like little boys.

Interestingly, there is a second version of the Pleiades.  In this story, there were eight men who decided that they would fare better if they lived together and pooled their various talents.  One was a better hunter, one was a better fisher, one was a good cook, etc.  The plan worked very well and they were happy with the arrangement except for one who just disappeared.  This story is particularly significant to astronomers because the Pleiades was, in fact, once made up of eight bright stars until one of them faded over time. 

Also similar to other cultures, the Chumash believed that there is an upper world, center world (where they lived), and underworld.  The center world was supported by two giant snakes and when we feel the earth move (earthquake) we are feeling the snakes moving.  The upper world is held up by the great eagle who must stand immobile forever.  So, to keep from getting tired he slowly stretches his wings which blocks the moon and causes the phases of the moon.
The Chumash people came from seeds planted by Hutash (in this case "Mother Earth") planted on the channel islands west of the California coast.  Sky Snake saw her creations and decided to pitch in by giving them fire by sending down lightning bolts.  The people were happy, food was bountiful, and they produced many babies.  But as the population grew the happy people also grew noisier.  Hutash and Sky Snake could not sleep they were so noisy.  The next morning, Hutash placed a rainbow connecting the island to a mountain peak on the mainland and told the people that some would have to crossover to live on the mainland.  The people were afraid to cross because the rainbow was so high.  Hutash told them to keep their eye on their destination and they would be alright.  But some did look down and got dizzy from the height and fell into the ocean below.  As they fell, they cried to Hutash to save them.  She felt bad since she had forced them to take the rainbow bridge so as they hit the water she changed them into dolphins.  That is why the Chumash say the dolphins are their brothers.
Game of Tshung-kee similar to Hoop-and-Pole

The water for rivers and streams was provided by the frogs urinating.   Thunder is the sound of the Thunder Brothers playing the Chumash “Hoop-and-Pole” game.  One brother roles a hoop across the ground causing the sound of thunder, the other brother tries to throw a pole (speer) through the rolling hoop.  After a long game, one brother sat to rest forming a deep depression in the ground.  A local villager was incensed by his action and shouted insults while the other villagers were afraid and ran away.  When they looked back,  their friend was gone and there was a lake filling the depression.  They call it Lake Zaca today.

These wonderful and imaginative stories were told for centuries from generation to generation.  It is a shame so few stories survive today.
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
-- Courtney Miller

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