I finally started looking into local history after years of saying I was going to start writing about legends of the California desert for this blog (what can I say? DesertOracle.com has had it pretty well covered.). I thought it only fair that I start with the people whose ancestral land is now my home, rather than some silent movie-era Hollywood scandal, but material about the original inhabitants of the Coachella Valley is not easy to find. I settled on the seminal The Cahuilla Indians by Harry C. James as my starting point. It was published in 1960, with all of the problematic language one might expect from something from seventy years ago, but I was still moved by the book and its depiction of the legends, life, and suffering of these people whose ancestors still call this place home. Considering it was published and distributed by one of the local tribes, I figured it must have some amount of imprimatur from them, and will be using it as my source for discussing what might be one of the more interesting creation myths I have ever read.
The Cahuilla creation myth starts out with a void, as any good creation myth should, but a void carrying strange sounds, like the sounds of singing, and occasionally a rumbling that would drown out the singing. Two masses formed out of the void, male and female, and the colors red, white, blue, and brown. The colors aggregated into a great female and male form, and they tried to conceive, but the first two attempts ended unsuccessfully. The third attempt, pierced by a lightning bolt, succeeded in birthing the twin creators of the world, Tamaoit and Mukat.
The twins fought for awhile over who was the older of the two, and their contest resulted in the creation of the world, with Mukat, the black twin, always getting the edge on Tamaoit the white twin. The two created poles that combined to form the world, using snakes, rocks, and spiders from their chests to weave the Axis Mundi together, and pulling astral bodies from their chests- Mukat pulling the sun from himself to light their pipes. Their afterbirth formed a miasma containing all disease and woe that their creations would suffer. They created animal helpers (spiders and ants being pulled from them prior to ‘creation’ per se), Coyote from Tamaoit and the Horned Owl from Mukat, that assisted in creation.
Not seeing well in the darkness (where the sun went, not sure.. hey it’s myth), Mukat pulled the Moon Maiden, Man-El, from his chest, and she illuminated how misshapen were the creations of Tamaoit. After a scolding from his brother, Tamaoit sang a song and went beneath the Earth in a cataclysm, taking much of creation with him. Mukat managed to hold creation together, and finished making man. The sun decided to show back up, and burned man according to how far North or South he had chosen to live.
So much to unpack here from a Western perspective, twin symbolism, the colors that could correspond to fire, air, water, and earth, black and white poles, Axis Mundi, the void, but I will leave that for later. Just wanted to crack open a little local legend for now.. and maybe leave a little tobacco for Mukat and Tamaoit.