Manataka American Indian Council

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Emerging into the Upper World - Acoma

This 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 light.

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."

Next 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 season."

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 you."

When 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 first."

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 appropriate time.

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.