Pima Stories of the Beginning of the World

The Akimel O’odhamn, or Pima, live along the Gila and Salt Rivers in the desert of central Arizona and are close relations of the Tohono O’odham (formerly known as the Papago), who occupy lands in the mostly riverless desert to the south of them.   (N6AmA 23)

The Story of the Creation

“There was only a Person, Juh-wert-a-Mah-kai (The Doctor of the Earth).”  He created the world from greasy earth out of the perspiration moah-haht-tack on his chest.  This image is interesting: it’s a little repellent, being out of perspiration, but completely plausible that a desert people would not be revolted by sweat.  It’s a natural byproduct of living in the desert and it’s a source of invaluable moisture, repulsive or not.

First up for creation is ants, then white ants to work and enlarge the earth (caps sic), then a Person, “out of the shadow if his eyes, to assist him, to be like him, and to help him in creating trees and human beings and everything that was to be on the earth” (25).  This new being is called Noo-ee, or “the Buzzard.”

Human beings are created again from Juhwertamakhai’s chest, “two little dolls,” (25), after He has created the sun and water and seeds.  These people “increased” until the earth is filled, and while the first parents were around, everything was perfect and there was no sickness or death.  People did not grow old, so there were more and more of them as time wore on.  But, as happens, when the earth was filled, “there was nothing to eat, so they killed and ate each other,” (25).

Juhwetamahkai started over, killing all these first humans, and made two more, these eventually growing old, but their children grew old at the same rate, and their children when still babies, so He had to start again.  This attempt’s vice was smoking, first when old, then when younger, down to babies in their cradles.  So He had to start again.  Then, finally, He created the earth as it is now.  Note the difference here between the Christian creation/destruction story: more of a blame is given to the deity, not the subjects.

The first two Persons are soon joined by a third from the North, called Seer-uh-huh or Ee-ee-toy.  Seeurhuh insists upon this name, which means “older brother,” though the first two claim to be older, eventually giving in “because he insisted so strongly, and just to please him,” (27).

The Story of the Flood

Seerhuh fist impresses Juhwertamahkai with “wonderful things,” before it is implied that he breaks away: “And after doing many marvelous things he, too, made a man,” (27).  He tells this man to go forth and marry women that please him, and when the man does, a young woman becomes frightened of him marrying her.  Her father, Vahk-lohv Mahkai or “South Doctor,” assures her there is no reason to be afraid, “for there was happiness for a woman in marriage and the mothering of childred,” (27)—very status quo.

Meanwhile the Persons prepare for a flood that Juhwerta Mahkai warns is coming, and Seerhuh (here called Ee-ee-toy again) becomes envious of Juhwerta, wanting to acquire more fame.

The young girl is married by the young man and her father helps her change him into a young woman and change her—the original, scared young girl—into a young man.  For… some reason.  And Juhwerta warns the people of the flood, singing:

My poor people,
Who will see
Who will see
This water which moisten the earth!    (29)

As the Persons float in their prepared defenses, non-chosen people retreat up the mountains, a powerful doctor making four successive marks on the mountain sides, where he claims the water will rise no higher, though of course it always does and they must flee higher (30).  The doctor turns them all to stone as the water rises higher by striking his “doctor stone” (mah-kai-haw-teh) and we hear no more from normal people in the rest of the myth.

After the flood, the Persons convene to make dolls of people and animals out of the clay left by the damp from the flood.  Ee-ee-toy makes the ones he considers the best, and throws the others, each with unique abnormalities like webbing between fingers, into the water where they become specialized animals, and be breaks Juhwerta’s to pieces.

Angry, Juhwerta begins to sink into the ground, leaving behind the “waste & excretion of his skin.  And that is how there is sickness & death among us,” (33).  As the footnote points out, this is especially interesting as Juhwerta’s bodily products were used for creation, not destruction, in “The Story of the Creation.”

The myth ends by separating the Pima (Aw-aw-tum) who told the story, from the Apache (Aw-up), claiming the new head-Person has chosen the Pima as the “Good People.”

It’s important to note that this was a verbal myth, not set to paper until J. W. Lloyd tracked down Thin Leather, a Pima elder, to record for posterity.  It’s very basic and gives some sense of morality—we can see a lot of in-fighting amongst the Person-deities, as well as selfishness and martyrdom—, and their concept of family and sexual hierarchy, as well as the common features of a creation myth: explaining the origins of physical features common to that area, animals, important rituals and necessary customs, etc.


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