How do you think the Cheyenne felt about nature and their relationship to it?

Reader’s Guide

Background The Cheyenne, a Native American people, have inhabited the North American continent for centuries. During the seventeenth century, the Cheyenne migrated from the Great Lakes region to the central plains. Their life on the plains was firmly linked with nature in general-and with the buffalo in particular. They came to depend upon the buffalo for their livelihood, and they made use of virtually every part of the animal: its flesh, its hide, and even its bones. Many Cheyenne religious rituals, such as the Sun Dance, were designed to ensure the abun- dance of buffalo.

This Cheyenne myth is in many ways a “typical” creation story. It contains several common motifs, or recurring story features. Of spe- cial interest is the “earth-diver” motif. In this motif, a god sends a bird or animal to the depths of the ocean to bring back a bit of soil from which the entire earth can be created. This motif occurs among a variety of Native American peoples, but it occurs in remote parts of the world as well, such as Siberia. The turtle, too, is a recurring figure in the mythologies of many lands, from North America to China and India.

Oral Response Many cultures view the earth as a female figure. The ancient Greeks, for example, personified the earth as a goddess called Gaia. The an- cient Sumerians worshiped Ki, or Urash, the earth goddess. Today we often speak of “Mother Earth” and “the Earth Mother.” As a class, discuss the feminine qualities of the earth. You may wish to record the class’s ideas in the form of a word cluster on the chalkboard.

Literary Focus An origin myth is a story that explains how something began. Origin myths provide explanations for mysteries that early peoples wanted to understand: why there are seasons, why we have day and night, why the moon has phases. Virtually every culture has an origin myth that explains the greatest mystery of all: the creation of the world.

How THE WORLD WAS MADE A Cheyenne Myth

retold by



Do any of the details in this Cheyenne creation myth remind you of other stories you are familiar with?

In the beginning there was nothing, and Ma- heo, the All Spirit. lived in the void. He looked around him, but there was nothing to see. He listened, but there was nothing to hear. There was only Maheo, alone in nothingness.

Because of the greatness of his Power, Maheo was not lonesome. His being was a Universe. But as he moved through the endless time of nothingness, it seemed to Maheo that his Power should be put to use. What good is Power, Maheo asked himself. if it is not used to make a world and people to live in it?

With his Power, Maheo created a great water. like a lake. but salty. Out of this salty water, Maheo knew, he could bring all life that ever was to be. The lake itself was life, if Maheo so commanded it. In the darkness of nothingness, Maheo could feel the cool- ness of the water and taste on his lips the tang of the salt.

“There should be water beings,” Maheo told his Power. And so it was. First the fish, swimming in the deep water, and then the mussels and snails and crawfish, lying on the sand and mud Maheo had formed so his lake should have a bottom.

Let us also create something that lives on the water, Maheo thought to his Power.

And so it was. For now there were snow geese, and mallards and teal and coots and terns and loons living and swimming about on the water’s surface. Maheo could hear the splashing of their feet and the flapping of their wings in the darkness.

I should like to see the things that have been created, Maheo decided.

And, again, so it was. Light began to grow and spread, first white and bleached in the east, then golden and strong till it filled the middle of the sky and extended all around the horizon. Maheo watched the light. and he saw the birds and fishes. and the shellfish lying on the bottom of the lake as the light showed them to him.

How beautiful it all is, Maheo thought in his heart.

Then the snow goose paddled over to where she thought Maheo was, in the space above the lake. “I do not see You,but I know that You exist,” the goose began. “I do not know where You are, but I know You must be everywhere. Listen to me. Maheo. This is good water that You have made, on which we live. Butbirds are not like fish. Sometimes

we get tired swimming. Sometimes we would like to get out of the water.”

“Then fly,” said Maheo, and he waved his arms, and all the water birds flew, skittering along the surface of the lake until they had speed enough to rise in the air. The skies were darkened with them.

“How beautiful their wings are in the light,” Maheo said to his Power, as the birds wheeled and turned, and became living pat- terns against the sky.

The loon was the first to drop back to the surface of the lake. “Maheo,” he said,looking around, for he knew that Maheo was all about him, “Youhave made us sky and light

to fly in, and You have made us water to swim in. It sounds ungrateful to want some- thing else, yet still we do. When we are tired of swimming and tired of flying, we should like a dry solid place where we could walk and rest. Give us a place to build our nests, please, Maheo.”

“So be it,” answered Maheo, “but to make such a place I must have your help, all of you. By myself, I have made four things: the water, the light. the sky air, and the peoples of the water. Now I must have help if I am to create more, for my Power will only let me make four things by myself.”

“Tell us how we can help You,” said all

,’- eo stretched out his hand and beck- ~. “Let the biggest and the swiftest try _ =- d land first,” he said, and the snow g~ e came to him.

~ am ready to try,” the snow goose said, “– – she drove herself along the water until =e hite wake behind her grew and grew ::: 2. sharp white point that drove her up

– the air as the feathers drive an arrow. -re flew high into the sky, until she was

a dark spot against the clearness of the -0 . Then the goose turned, and down she

ged, faster than any arrow, and dived the water. She pierced the surface with

:::erbeak as if it were the point of a spear. he snow goose was gone a long time.

~eo counted to four four hundred times ore she rose to the surface of the water

and lay there floating, her beak half open as e gasped for air. “What have you brought us?”Maheo asked

er. and the snow goose sighed sadly. and answered, “Nothing. I brought nothing back.”

Then the loon tried, and after him. the mallard. Each in turn rose until he was a speck against the light, and turned and dived with the speed of a flashing arrow into the water. And each in turn rose wearily, and wearily answered, “Nothing,” when Maheo asked him what he had brought.

At last there came the little coot, paddling across the surface of the water very quietly, dipping his head sometimes to catch a tiny fish, and shaking the water beads from his scalp lock whenever he rose.

“Maheo,” the little coot said softly, “when I put my head beneath the water, it seems to me that I see something there, far below. Perhaps I can swim down to it-I don’t know. I can’t fly or dive like my sisters and

brothers. All I can do is swim, but I will swim down the best I know how, and go as deep as I can. May I try, please, Mabeo?”

“Little brother,” said Maheo, “no man can do more than his best, and I have asked for the help of all the water peoples. Certainly you shall try. Perhaps swimming will be bet- ter than diving, after all. Try, little brother, and see what you can do.”

“Hah-ho'” the little coot said. “Thank you, Maheo,” and he put his head under the water and swam down and down and down and down. until he was out of sight.

An American coot. I:’i Why is it significant that such a humble V creature plays such a large role in the creation of the world?

The coot was gone a long, long, long, long time. Then Maheo and the other birds could see a little dark spot beneath the water’s surface, slowly rising toward them. It seemed as if they would never see the coot himself, but at last the spot began to have a shape. Still it rose and rose, and at last

The box turtle. I:’lCheyenne culture is firmly linked with V nature. How is this demonstrated in the myth?

Maheo and the water peoples could surely see who it was. The little coot was swimming up from the bottom of the salty lake.

When the coot reached the surface. he stretched his closed beak upward into the light. but he did not open it.

“Give me what you have brought,” Maheo said. and the coot let his beak fall open, so a little ball of mud could fall from his tongue into Maheo’s hand. for when Maheo wanted to, he could become like a man.

“Go, little brother,” Maheo said. “Thank you. and may what you have brought always protect you.”

And so it was and so it is, for the coot’s flesh still tastes of mud, and neither man nor animal will eat a coot unless there is nothing else to eat.

Maheo rolled the ball of mud between the palms of his hands. and it began to grow larger. until there was almost too much mud for Maheo to hold. He looked around for a place to put the mud. but there was nothing but water or air anywhere around him.

“Come and help me again, water peoples,” Maheo called. “I must put this mud some- where. One of you must let me place it on his back.”

All the fish and all the other water creatures came swim- ming to Maheo. and he ;y:”v

“tried to find the right ;;>0 ~

one to carry the mud. ! The mussels and snails g and crawfish were too g small. although they ~ all had solid backs, 8 and they lived too deep in the water for the mud to rest on them. The fish were too narrow, and their back fins stuck up

through the mud and cut it to pieces. Finally only one water person was left.

“Grandmother Turtle,” Maheo asked, “do you think that you can help me?”

”I’m very old and very slow, but I will try,” the turtle answered. She swam over to Maheo. and he piled the mud on her rounded back. until he had made a hill. Under Maheo’s hands. the hill grew and spread and flattened out, until the Grandmother Turtle was hidden from sight.

“So be it.” Maheo said once again. “Let the earth be known as our Grandmother. and let the Grandmother who carries the earth be the only being who is at home beneath the water, or within the earth. or above the ground; the only one who can go anywhere by swimming or by walking as she chooses.”

And so it was. and so it is. Grandmother Turtle and all her descendants must walk very slowly. for they carry the whole weight of the whole world and all its peoples on their backs.

Now there was earth as well as water, but the earth was barren. And Maheo said to his Power. “Our Grandmother Earth is like a woman; she should be fruitful. Let her begin

to bear life. Help me~ my Power.” When Maheo said that. trees and grass sprang up to be-

come the’ Grandmother’s hair. The flowers became her bright ornaments. and the fruits and the seeds we~e the gifts that the earth offered back to Maheo.

The birds came to rest on her hands when they were tired, and the fish came close to her sides. Maheo looked at the Earth

===.:.:::::l and he thought she was very beauti- -…e most beautiful thing he had made

:.::=: should not be alone, Maheo thought. – :r -e give her something of myself. so she

w that Iam near her and that Ilove

(- eo reached into his right side, and _~~ out a rib bone. He breathed on the ::-= and laid it softly on the bosom of the ~-=. oman. The bone moved and stirred,

right and walked. The first man had be.

:::e is alone with the Grandmother Earth as ::::::.ewas alone with the void,” said Maheo. – -= not good for anyone to be alone.” So – …__ fashioned a human woman from his

~- …; ,and set her with the man. Then there ::::.-e twO persons on the Grandmother Earth,

6.ildren and Maheo’s. They were happy -.=::’ • er, and Maheo was happy as he

– ‘ ed them.

After a year, in the springtime, the first child was born. As the years passed, there were other children. They went their ways, and founded many tribes.

From time to time, after that, Maheo real- ized that his people walking on the earth had certain needs. At those times, Maheo, with the help of his Power, created animals to feed and care for the people. He gave them deer for clothing and food, porcupines to make their ornaments, the swift antelopes on the open plains, and the prairie dogs that burrowed in the earth.

At last Maheo thought to his Power, Why, one animal can take the place of all the others put together, and then he made the buffalo.

Maheo is still with us. He is everywhere, watching all his people, and all the creation he has made. Maheo is all good and all life; he is the creator, the guardian, and the teacher. We are all here because of Mabeo.

–rst Thoughts – – image is a picture created by words. , a was your favorite image in this myth?

entifying Facts hy does Maheo need the animals’

elp in order to complete the creation? 2. hat is Grandmother Turtle’s role in

e creation? 3. hy does Maheo decide to create a hu-

man being? Describe how the first peo- ple are created.

hat is the last thing Maheo creates?

Interpreting Meanings 1. An origin myth explains the beginnings

of things. What beginnings, or origins, does this myth explain?

2. How would you characterize Maheo? What is his attitude toward his crea- tions, including the earth and its inhabit- ants? Give three specific examples from the myth to support }Lourviews.

3. In this myth, all of the animals work to- gether to help Maheo create the world. What does this suggest about the Chey- ennes’ view of nature?

4. How is the earth compared to a woman

How the World Was Made 1 5

in this myth? Find the descriptive lan- guage that characterizes the earth as feminine.

Applying Meanings Think about Maheo’s question, “What good is Power … if it is not used to make a world and people to live in it?” What do you think is the proper use of power? Ex- plain your thoughts.

Creative Writing Response Writing a Poem Based on a Myth. “How the World Was Made” is full of vivid im- agery, or language that appeals to the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Try writing your favorite part of this myth in the form of a poem, using some of the same imagery that occurs in the prose version. Your poem does not have to rhyme. If you wish, you may change the emphasis of the poem, telling the creation story from the point of view of one of the animals, such as Grandmother Turtle. Ex- change your first-draft poem with a class- mate for revision ideas. Then read your completed poem aloud to the class.

Critical Writing Response Making Inferences. Myths and folktales represent a culture’s traditions, values, and attitudes. Although this myth does not directly tell you about the Cheyenne peo- ple, you can make inferences, or educated guesses, about some of their attitudes and basic values concerning nature. How do you think the Cheyenne felt about nature and their relationship to it? Using the fol- lowing chart as a starting point, write a two- or three-paragraph essay about the Cheyenne view of nature as illustrated by the myth.

Example Evidence from Myth Inference

Maheo’s reactions to his creations

The role of animals in the creation of the world

In the conclusion of your essay, describe how the Cheyenne view of nature is similar to or different from the view of nature held in your own time and culture.

Language and Vocabulary Native American Words in the English Language When European settlers first began colo- nizing North America, they found many places and things that they had no English names for. Native American languages sup- plied these names, and many American Eng- lish words are direct “loans” from Native American languages. Below is a list of just a few of these words. Use a breakdictionary to find the words’ contemporary meanings and the Native American language from which each word was borrowed. 1. raccoon 6. moose 2. wigwam 7. pecan 3. hogan 8. hominy 4. coyote 9. chipmunk 5. toboggan 10. bayou