The myth was an integral part of the daily life of the American Indian. These stories were handed down from one generation to the next. They were the foundation for the many various ceremonies that were held. They included stories about the origin of the world, and also its components, living and non-living. These people believed that good things would happen to them if they believed in the humanness of all things living and non-living. Originally their stories would be enhanced by miming and theatrics. The Indian played the part of the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth and water. But eventually the theatrics waned and the stories became more elaborate and most likely changed through the centuries of storytelling.
The Indians of South America and Mexico lived in very large communities of people, often totaling several thousand inhabitants. Their myths were very developed stories and preserved through the generations. The Native American Indian, however, did not live in such large communities. Their tribes were scattered an over the continent and did not form any one large civilization. As a result, their mythologies were not as well developed as the Mexican or South American Indian’s mythologies. The beliefs were the same among the tribes although the stories themselves differed by the characters that they used (4). The myths that will follow deal with creation, earth, the moon, corn, the first man and woman, the first horses and death. They come from different parts of the North American continent. All have been summarized from the sources given. Each myth will be followed by discussion questions which can be elaborated upon depending on the academic level of the students.
After the class learns about the philosophy of the Native American Indian they will listen to a different myth read to them every day. The unit win open with two creation myths from two different parts of the country. The first myth from the Northeast woodland area goes as follows.
CREATION OF THE WORLD
THE EARTH ON TURTLE’S BACK
NORTHEAST WOODLANDS - ONONDAGA TRIBE
In the beginning of the earth there was no land, just water. Birds and animals were just swimming around never having any land to rest upon. Skyland was way above this and in Skyland there was a Great Tree that was loaded with seeds. It was a very beautiful tree. It had only four large white roots that pointed north, south, east, and west. And from the branches of this beautiful Great Tree grew beautiful flowers and many kinds of fruit.
In the Skyland lived a young pregnant girl and her husband, who was the Chief of Skyland. The wife had a dream one night that the Great Tree became uprooted. Her husband, upon hearing the story wanted the tree uprooted. He felt that the dream was very powerful and should come true. After his helpers were unsuccessful at uprooting the tree he tried. Finally and with great effort the Great Tree tore away from the Sky and left a big hole in the Sky. The pregnant wife bent down to see what was through the hole. All she saw was glimmering water. She stretched and stretched, holding on to one of the branches. She lost her balance and fell through the hole.
The animals and birds saw her coming down and knew they had to help her. They noticed that she didn’t have webbed feet and wouldn’t be able to swim. There was also no earth for her to land on. So the animals, knowing that there was earth somewhere under the water decided to bring the earth up. The Duck, the Beaver and the Loon all tried but they were not able to do it. It was the tiny Muskrat, who swam so deep that he felt as though his lungs were going to burst, that brought up the earth. Two Swans had flown up to the pregnant wife and let her rest between their large wings while the other animals searched for someplace to put the Earth. A Great Turtle from the depths of the water, seeing the problem swam up and let the tiny Muskrat land on his back. The Earth grew and grew and then the two Swans let the wife rest on the Great Turtle’s back. When the wife landed on the Earth, she opened her hand and gently the seeds from the Great Tree fell to the ground. And from those seeds grew the tress and the grass. Life on Earth had now begun (5).
The following questions could be used for discussion.
Why do you think the King’s wife looked through the hole in the sky? (Curiosity).
When the animals and birds saw the girl coming down they knew they had to help her because she had a disability and couldn’t swim. What was the disability? (She didn’t have webbed feet). How could you help a person with disabilities? 3. How does this myth teach us about cooperation? (Everyone worked together to solve a problem).
The next myth comes from the Navajo Indians in the Southwest area. This is a different view of the creation of the earth from the Onondaga Indians. While the Onondaga saw the world being created from a hole in the sky, the Navajos saw it being created from a hole below. This myth is as follows.