Emerging into the Upper World - Acoma
legend reflects the matrilineal society of the Western Pueblos; Ia'tik, the
All-Mother, herself makes the gods she wishes to believe in.
In the beginning two female human beings were born. There was land already, but
no one knows how long it had existed. The two girls were born underground at a
place called Cipapu. There was no light, but as they grew up they became aware
of each other through touch. Being in the dark, they grew slowly. When they had
reached adulthood, a spirit, Tsitctinako, spoke to them and gave them
nourishment. Slowly they began to think for themselves.
One day they asked the spirit to appear to them and say whether it was male or
female. But Tsitctinako replied only that it was not allowed to meet them. The
women asked the spirit why they had to live in the dark without knowing each
other by name. It told them that they were under the earth (nuk'timi), and that
they must be patient until everything was ready for them to go up into the
During the long time that they waited, Tsitctinako taught them their language.
One day the sisters found two baskets full of presents: seeds of all kinds, and
little images of many animals. Tsitctinako told them that the baskets had been
sent by their father, whose name was Utc'tsiti, and that he wanted them to take
his gifts up into the light. Tsitctinako said, "You have
the seeds of four types of trees. Plant them; you will use the trees to climb
up." Because the sisters could not see, they felt each object in their baskets
and asked, "Is this it?" and Tsitctinako answered yes or no. In that way they
identified the four seeds and then buried them in their underground world.
All sprouted, but the trees grew very slowly in the dark. The women themselves
slept for a long time, and whenever they woke, they felt the trees to find out
how tall they were. A certain pine grew faster than the others, and after a very
long while it pushed a hole through the earth and let in a little light.
However, the hole was not large enough for the women to pass through. With
Tsitctinako's help they found the image of an animal called Dyu'p (badger) in
their baskets. Commanding the badger to come alive, the sisters asked him to
climb the tree and dig around the edges of the hole. They warned him not to go
out in the light, so he climbed up, enlarged the hole, and returned directly.
Thanking him, they said, "As a reward, you will come up with us into the light
and live in happiness."
Tstctinako helped them sort through the baskets until they found Tawai'nu (the
locust). They gave him life, asked him to smooth the hole by plastering it, and
warned him not to go into the light. But the locust, having smoothed the hole,
was curious and slipped out to look around before he returned. Three times the
women asked him if he had gone out, and three times the locust said no. When
they asked him a fourth time, he admitted that he had. "What is it like?" they
asked him. "It's just tsi'iti, laid out flat," he replied. "From now on," they
said, "you will be known as Tsi'k'a. You may come up with us, but for your
disobedience you will be allowed to see the light for only a short time. Your
home will be in the ground. You will soon die, but you will be reborn each
A shaft of light now reached into the place where the two sisters lived. "It is
time for you to go out," Tsitctinako said. "When you come to the top, wait for
the sun to rise. That direction is called ha'nami, east. Pray to the sun with
pollen and sacred cornmeal, which you will find in your baskets. Thank it for
bringing you to the light. Ask for long life and happiness, and for success in
the purpose for which you were created."
Tsitctinako taught them the prayers to say and
the creation song to sing. Then the humans, followed by the badger and the
locust, climbed the pine tree. Stepping out into the light, the sisters put down
their baskets and for the first time saw what they contained.
Gradually the sky grew lighter, and finally the sun came up. As they faced it
their eyes hurt, for they were not accustomed to strong light. Before they began
to pray, Tsitctinako told them that their right side, the side their best arm
was on, would be known as south, and the left north. At their backs was west,
the direction in which the sun would go down.
Underground they had already learned the direction
nuk'um, down. (Later they asked where their father was, and Tsitctinako said, "Tyunami
-- four skies above.") As they waited to pray to the sun, the girl on the right
moved her best hand and was named Ia'tik, which means "Bringing to life." "Now
name your sister," Tsitctinako told her. Ia'tik was perplexed at first, but then
she noticed that her sister's basket was fuller than her own. So she called her
sister Nao'tsiti -- "More of everything in the basket." They prayed and sang the
creation song, and for the first time they asked Tsitctinako why they had been
created. The spirit replied, "It was not I but your father, Utc'tsiti, who made
you. He made the world, the sun, the sky, and many other things, but he is not
yet satisfied. For this reason he has made you in his image. You will rule over
the world and create the things he has given you in the baskets."
"And who are you?" they asked Tsitctinako. "And why don't you become visible to
us so that we can see you and live together?"
"I am female like you," the spirit replied. "But I don't know how to live like a
human being. Your father has sent me to teach you, and I will always look after
it became dark at the end of the first day, the sisters were frightened. They
thought that Tsitctinako had betrayed them, but she explained, "This is the way
it will always be. The sun will go down and a new sun will come up in the east
tomorrow. Rest and sleep while it is dark."
So the sisters slept, and the next day the sun rose. Happy to feel it's warmth,
they prayed to it as they had been taught. Tsitctinako asked Nao'tsiti which
clan she wished to belong to. Nao'tsiti said, "I see the sun; my clan will be
the Sun clan." The spirit asked Ia'tik what clan she wanted. Ia'tik had noticed
that her basket contained the seed from which the sacred meal was made, and she
said, "My clan will be Ya'ka-Hano, the Red Corn clan."
The sun was too bright for Ia'tik; it hurt her eyes. She tilted her head
sideways so that her hair hung as a sunscreen, producing a reddish shade on her
face. "The sun has not appeared for you," Tsitctinako observed. "See how it
shines on Nao'tsiti, and how white she looks." Hastily Ia'tik also bared her
face to the sun. But it did not make her as white as Nao'tsiti, and
Ia'tik's mind was slowed down, while Nao'tsiti's was made quick. Even so, both
always remembered to do everything Tsitctinako taught them.
"From now on," Tsitctinako told the sisters, "you will rule in every direction,
north, west, south, and east. Bring everything in your baskets to life for
Utc'tsiti has created you to help him complete the world. Now is the time to
plant the seeds." So far the sisters had not eaten food, and they did not
understand what the seeds in their baskets were for. "First plant the corn, and
when it grows, it will produce a part that you can eat," Tsitctinako said.
Highly interested, the two women watched the growing corn every day. The spirit
showed them where the pollen formed so that they could continue to offer pollen
and cornmeal every morning to the sun. And they always did, though sometimes
Nao'tsiti was a little lazy. After a while the corn turned hard and ripe. Ia'tik
carefully picked two ears without hurting the plant; Nao'tsiti yanked two off,
and Ia'tik told her to handle it more gently.
Tsitctinako had said that the corn must be cooked, but the sisters did not
understand what "cooked" meant until a red light dropped from the sky that
evening. Explaining that it was fire, the spirit taught them to scoop some of
the flames up on a flat rock and feed them with branches from the pine tree.
Following Tsitctinako's directions, they roasted the corn and seasoned it with
salt from their baskets. Nao'tsiti grabbed some and ate it, exclaiming how good
it was. Then she gave a piece to Ia'tik, and so it was that the two women had
their first meal. "You have been fasting for a long time, and your gathering has
nourished you," the spirit told them. "Now you will eat in order to live." The
sisters learned to give life to their salt by praying to the earth, whereupon
salt appeared in each of the four directions.
Then Tsitctinako taught them their first song for creating an animal -- a mouse.
When they had sung it, they said, "Come to life, mouse," and their mouse image
breathed. "Go and increase," they told it, and it ran away and soon bred many
offspring. Tsitctinako showed them how to take one back, kill it, and roast it
with the corn and salt. They prayed to their father and offered him little
pieces of the meal before they ate. There was not much food on the mouse, but
they thought it was good. Looking into their baskets for larger animals to eat,
the women found images of a rat, a mole, and a prairie dog.
"Before you give life to them," Tsitctinako said, "you must plant grass for
their food." The sisters took grass seed and scattered it north, west, south,
and east -- and grass immediately covered the ground. Then they gave life to the
animals, telling each its name as they began to breathe. Before commanding them
to run away and increase, they told the three creatures to live in the ground,
because there was no shade on earth.
"Now we are going to make the mountains," Tsitctinako said, and showed them how
to throw a certain stone from the basket toward the north while speaking certain
words. There a large mountain arose. They did the same in the other directions,
and mountains appeared all around them.
"Now that you have the mountains," the spirit said, "you must clothe them with
growing things." From the trees they had planted underground the sisters took
seeds which they scattered in all the directions. "These will be tall trees,"
Tsitctinako said, "and large enough to form the logs you will use to build
houses." There were many seeds left in their baskets. The women planted the
food-yielding trees -- pinon, cedar, oak, and walnut -- with the prayer, "Grow
on this mountain and yield fruit for food. Your places are in the mountains. You
will grow and be useful."
They planted other seeds, such as pumpkin, squash, and beans, that Tsitctinako
said would be important to them. As these crops ripened, she showed them which
parts to eat. The sisters too were growing, and they needed more food. They
began to bring the larger animals to life: first rabbits, jackrabbits, antelope,
and water deer; then deer, elk, mountain sheep, and buffalo. They told the
buffalo to live in the plains, the elk and deer in the mountains, and the sheep
on the very high mountain slopes. They ate their meat and enjoyed the new
tastes, and always they prayed to their father before they began a meal.
The sisters made mountain lions, wolves, wildcats, and bears -- strong beasts
that hunted the same game the humans used. They made birds -- eagles and hawks,
which hunted small game, and little birds whose bright colors beautified the
country. They made the wild turkey, and told it not to fly. They told the
smaller birds to eat various seeds on the mountains and plains. Tsitctinako
pointed out that there were still fish, snakes, and turtles to be created, and
the sisters gave life to all these and tried them for food. They found that some
were good to eat and others were not, but whenever they ate they prayed first to
their father. So it happened that many animals came alive in the world.
Ia'tik was always ready to use her seeds and images, but Nao'tsiti was selfish
about the things in her basket. Now Nao'tsiti had many left, and she said she
wanted a chance to give life to more of her images.
"I am the elder," Ia'tik replied. "You are younger than I."
"Is that true?" Nao'tsiti said. "I thought we were created at the same time.
Let's put it to the test: tomorrow let's see for which of us the sun rises
Ia'tik agreed to the test, but she was afraid that her sister would get the
better of her in some way. She went to a white bird she knew called co'eka (the
magpie) and asked it to fly quickly into the east and use it's wings to shade
the sun from Nao'tsiti. The magpie flew fast and far, for Ia'tik had told it not
to stop. But it began to feel hungry, and when it passed over a lion's kill, it
could not resist landing. The carcass, a deer, had a hole in its side. The bird
put its head into the gash to eat the intestines, and then flew on without
noticing that its white feathers were soiled and bloody. The magpie did reach
the east before the sun had risen. It spread its wings on the sun's left side,
creating shade over Nao'tsiti. In this way it happened that the sun struck
Ia'tik first, and Nao'tsiti was very angry. Ia'tik whispered to the magpie that
it must never tell. Then she saw it's filthy plumage and said, "Because you
stopped and ate, from this day on you will eat carrion, and your feathers will
be spotted instead of white."
Both sisters were now having selfish thoughts. Nao'tsiti was full of plans to
outwit Ia'tik, but Ia'tik watched her and anticipated everything. Nao'tsiti saw
that Ia'tik was not happy; Ia'tik noticed that Nao'tsiti wandered off alone.
Tsitctinako had told them that their father forbade them to think about having
children. She promised that other humans would be born to them at the
But now Nao'tsiti met a snake who said, "Why are you sad? If you bore a child in
your likeness, you wouldn't have to be lonely just because you and your sister
don't get along."
"What can I do?" Nao'tsiti asked.
"Go to the rainbow; he will show you."
Soon afterward Nao'tsiti was sitting alone on a rock when it rained. It was so
hot that the rain cracked on the ground, and she lay on her back to receive the
drops. As the water dripped into her, the rainbow did his work and she conceived
without knowing it. Ia'tik noticed that her sister was growing very fat, and
after a time Nao'tsiti bore two children, both boys.
Very angry, Tsitctinako came to them. "Why have you disobeyed your father?" she
said. "For your sin, he is taking me away. You are alone now."
Tsitctinako left them, but instead of feeling sorry, the two sisters found that
they were happier. It turned out that Nao'tsiti disliked one of her children, so
Ia'tik took him and brought him up. The two women still did not get along, but
they were so busy with the children that it hardly mattered When the children
were almost grown, Nao'tsiti said to her sister, "We aren't really happy
together. Let's divide what remains in our baskets and separate. I still have
many things, though they require a lot of work."
Nao'tsiti pulled out sheep and cows, seeds for wheat and vegetables, and many
metals. But Ia'tik refused them, saying they would be too difficult to take care
of. Nao'tsiti looked again in her basket and found something written. She
offered it, but Ia'tik did not want the gift of writing either.
"You should have taken some of the things I offered." Nao'tsiti said. "In a long
time we will meet again, and then you will desire my possessions. We'll still be
sisters, but I'll have the better of you again."
Taking the boy she had brought up, Nao'tsiti disappeared into the east. Ia'tik
said to the other boy, "We will continue to live here with everything our father
has given us."
The years passed, and Tia'muni, as she called him, grew up to become her
husband. Ia'tik bore him a girl who was entered into the clan of her sister, the
Sun clan. After the fourth day of the baby's birth, Ia'tik put some pollen and
sacred cornmeal into it's hands and took it to pray to the sun And with the many
children that Ia'tik bore afterwards, she followed this same ritual that she
herself had been taught when she came up into the light. Ia'tik's children lived
together and began to increase. Their mother ruled over them, for she had her
own power now that Tsitctinako was gone.
But Ia'tik wished to create some other rulers, so she made the spirits of the
seasons by taking earth from her baskets and giving it life. First she made the
spirit of winter, which she told, "You will live in the north mountain and give
life to everything in the wintertime." Next she created the spirit of spring and
sent him to the west mountain. The spirit of summer she sent to the south
mountain and the spirt of autumn to the east mountain. These four spirits were
ugly, not at all like the children she had borne. She taught each one what to
do: winter was to bring snow, spring would warm up the world, summer would heat
the world, and autumn would dislike the smell of plants and fruits and work to
destroy them. And Ia'tik taught her children how to pray to these spirits for
moisture, warmth, ripening, and frost.
Taking dirt from her basket, Ia'tik next gave life to the gods. The first one
she created she named Tsitenuts. "You are very handsome," she said, "but I will
give you a mask that makes you different from us humans." She fashioned it from
buffalo skin, coloured it with different kinds of earth, and decorated it with
feathers. Around Tsitenuts' neck she hung a wildcat skin, and she painted his
body. She gave him a skirt, a belt, and moccasins, put cords on each wrist, and
painted buffalo skins on his arms. On his calves she bound spruce branches. "You
see that I have created many other gods," she told him. "I appoint you their
ruler; you will initiate the others." She gave him weeds of the soapwood plant
for the initiation and then spoke to them all: "From now on, wear the costumes I
have made for you. You are rain gods, created to call the rain when you dance
before my people. They will worship you for all time."
And after she had instructed each of the gods and given each his costume and a
prayer, she told them that they would have a sacred chamber in each of the four
mountains. And so everything was as it should be.
* Based on a legend reported by C. Daryll Forde in 1930,
and on various oral accounts
The Hopis tell this as the tale of the Bahana, the lost White Brother, replacing
the sisters with brothers throughout. This version from Acoma shows Spanish
influence in the mention of "sin," a concept unknown on this continent until
after Columbus; the role of the snake in tempting Nao'tsiti may also be coloured
by knowledge of the Bible.
From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.