Indian Creation Myths
The Day 1
The Crow, who now reigns from the top of the totem of the
Haida nation, was the grandson of the Great Holy Chief who made the world.
When the crow cried, asking for the moon that hung from
the wall of logs, his grandfather gave it to him. The crow threw it at the
sky through the chimney hole; and again he cried, claiming the stars. When
he got them, he distributed them around the moon.
Then he cried and kicked and screamed until his grandfather
gave him the wrought wooden box in which he kept the light of day. The Great
Holy Chief forbade him to take the box out of the house. He had decided
that the world would live in darkness.
The crow played with the box, pretending to be inattentive,
but observing from the corner of his eye the guardians who were watching
Taking advantage of a moment of carelessness, he escaped
with the box in his beak. The tip of his beak broke as he passed through
the chimney and his feathers were burnt, and stayed black forever.
The crow arrived at the islands off the coast of Canada.
He heard human voices and asked for food. They refused him. He threatened
to break open the wooden box:
“If the day escapes, which I hold here, the sky will
never be turned off,” he warned. No one will be able to sleep, or keep secrets,
and it will be known who are people, who is a bird and who is a beast of
They laughed. The crow broke the box and the light erupted
in the universe.
The Night 2
The sun never stopped shining and the Cashinahua Indians didn’t
know the sweetness of rest.
Needing peace, exhausted by so much light, they asked
the mouse to lend them the night.
It became dark, but the mouse’s night only lasted long
enough to eat and smoke a while in front of the fire. Dawn arrived just
as the Indians got comfortable in their hammocks.
Then they tried the night of the tapir. With the night
of the tapir they were able to sleep soundly and enjoyed the long rest so
long desired. But when they woke up so much time had passed that the underbrush
of the forest had invaded their crops and squashed their homes.
After much seeking, they kept the night of the armadillo.
They took it as a loan and never returned it. The armadillo, dispossessed
of the night, sleeps during the day.
The Stars 3
By playing the flute, love is declared or the return of the hunters
is announced. With the sound of the flute the Waiwai Indians invite their
guests. For the Tukanos the flute weeps; and for the Kalinas it speaks,
because it’s the trumpet that yells.
On the banks of the Rio Negro the flute assures the
power of the men. The sacred flutes are hidden, and the woman who shows
herself there deserves to die.
In very ancient times, when the women possessed the
sacred flutes, the men hauled the wood and the water and prepared the mandioca
The men relate how the sun was indignant to see that
the women reigned in the world. The sun came down to the forest and made a
virgin pregnant by squeezing the juices of leaves between her legs. Thus was
Jurupari stole the sacred flutes and gave them to the
men. He taught them how to hide them and defend them and to celebrate sacred
rituals without women. Also, he told them the secrets they were to transmit
to the ears of their sons.
When Jurapari’s mother found the hiding place of the
sacred flutes, he condemned her to die; and he made the stars in the sky from
The Milky Way 4
The worm, no bigger that a pinky, ate the hearts of birds.
His father was the best hunter of the Mosetenes people.
The worm grew. Soon he was as big as an arm. He demanded
more and more hearts. The hunter spent the whole day in the forest killing
for his son.
When the serpent no longer fit in the hut, there were
no birds left in the forest. The father, with well-aimed arrows, offered
him jaguar hearts.
The serpent devoured and grew. There were already no
jaguars left in the forest.
“I want human hearts,” the serpent said.
The hunter left his village and neighboring areas without
people until one day, in a distant village, they surprised him on the branch
of a tree and killed him.
Tormented by hunger and nostalgia, the serpent went
looking for him.
He wound his body around the guilty village so nobody
could escape. The villagers shot all their arrows at that gigantic ring
which had put them under siege. Meanwhile the serpent never ceased to grow.
No one was saved. The serpent rescued its father’s body
and grew upwards.
There he is seen, undulating, bristling with luminous
arrows, passing through the night.
1. Gridley, Marion E., The Story of the
Haida, New York, 1972
2. D’ans, André Marcel, La verdadera Biblia
de las cashinahua, Lima, 1975
3. Harris, Olivia, and Kate Young, Antropología
y feminismo, Barcelona, 1979
4. Péret, Benjamín, Anthologie des mythes,
légendes et contes populaires d’Amérique, Paris, 1960
All of these myths were compiled by
Eduardo Galeano in his book: Memoria del fuego - 1, Buenos Aires,
Translated, from the Spanish, by
Frank Thomas Smith