Kuksu – a story of Creation

The below text is presented in a first person perspective for the benefit of the reader, it has been revised from an account listed on pages 1 through 7 of ‘Native American Tales and Legends’, edited by Allan A. Macfarlan, Dover Press 2001. I have also noted an almost identical print of this story in ‘In the beginning: Creation Stories from around the world’, told by Virginia Hamilton, 1988 Virginia Hamilton and Pennyroyal Press Inc. who also claims to hold a copyright. So I have re-imagined the text and re-written it based on the totality of my research and it is fundamentally a different story from the original text(s) (for copyright reasons and due to what appears to be a poor translation as well as the disparate nature of the current cosmology). The body of the text incorporates the key points that represent the significant events although they have been paraphrased. Numbers such as the recurring use of the number four which is significant in Kuksu is retained and the beginning has been changed specifically to incorporate the flood myth which is not mentioned in the Dover Press story. Additional details from Kuksu cosmology have been added because this oral tradition also existed to explain techniques of ritual and ceremony as well as history. My thanks to David Wilson, a retired UC Davis professor and bird watcher over at http://www.uptheroad.org/names-and-true-names for posting a correct translation of Esto-Busin-Yamani, and locating it at the Sutter Buttes, here in California. I have replaced the Dover reference to “earth initiate” which I believe to be part of the poor translation with the Mechoopda Maidu name ‘Kodoyampeh’ or “earth maker” from http://www.mechoopda-nsn.gov/history/ because I believe it is both more useful and accurate. If any details or vernacular used in the following story are grossly inaccurate or offensive to anyone with lineage relating to the people’s practicing the Kuksu faith, please feel free to contact me at tenebris.luxin@gmail.com and I will incorporate/edit the information for accuracy. This is a living document that I will change as new data becomes available.


Come all of you and hear me now, hear the story of our people, who once were one and great but now are many and small. Hear the story of how the earth began and how the first people were formed from mud and how we came to be separate from one another as many tribes.

In the beginning, there was only darkness, darkness and water. There was no sun, no moon, no stars, no land, only an empty sky without any light and a vast, endless body of water. A world existed here before but it was washed away in a flood to be remade again different from how it once was. One day, out of the north, came a boat made from tule, carrying Anosma (turtle) and Peheipe, the one who formed the Kuhma (secret societies). Anosma and Peheipe were not people of this world they were ones who had lived in the last world and escaped the flood to travel to this new one. They followed the current of the water which flowed very quickly, until suddenly, from the sky, Pokelma, a sacred rope made of feathers which glowed with a brilliant light was let down from above and Kodoyampeh, the earth maker, descended into the raft where he tied Pokelma to the bow of the boat and slowly sat down with his legs crossed, facing the others, staring at them, saying nothing. Kodoyampeh‘s body shone golden bright like the sun, radiating light and it was so bright that his face was obscured and could not be seen. Kodoyampeh sat down on the tule and for a long time said nothing, finally Anosma broke the silence. “Where do you come from? You do not look like us, the people of the last world, are you also looking for the next world?” Anosma asked. Kodoyampeh replied with only, “I come from above”.

After four days, Anosma asked Kodoyampeh, “brother, can you make for me some dry land?” as he laughed and waved his arms about, gesturing at the endless waters. Kodoyampeh did not answer him and remained silent where he sat on the bow of the boat. Some time later, Anosma asked Kodoyampeh, “I wonder if there will be any people in this world?”. This time, Kodoyampeh replied, “Yes, I will make them”. Anosma chuckled at this, “well brother, how long until you make them? Will it be here on this boat?”. Kodoyampeh sat for awhile in silence and then stood, “Get me some earth” he said, “and I will make you some land”. Anosma looked at Kodoyampeh in disbelief and then held out his arm to him, “if you will tie your rope to my arm, I will dive for some”. Kodoyampeh tied Pokelma to Anosma‘s left arm. Anosma spoke to both Kodoyampeh and Peheipe, “if the rope is not long enough or I am in trouble, I will jerk the rope and you must pull me up quickly” said Anosma. Kodoyampeh and Peheipe nodded, but just as Anosma went over the side, Peheipe yelled for him to wait. It was too late though, Anosma was gone, he was gone and he did not come back that day, nor did he come back the next day.

Peheipe was worried, he paced back and forth on the raft, “what if he does not return?” asked Peheipe. “He will return” said Kodoyampeh, “Sit” instructed Kodoyampeh, and Peheipe sat, and they waited. They waited there on the raft a long time, for six years they waited and then one day, just like that, Anosma surfaced, he was covered in green muck as he climbed into the raft. “It is all gone, washed away” said Anosma as he examined his hands, “there is just a little left under my nails” he sobbed. Kodoyampeh reached into his left armpit with his right hand and produced an obsidian knife.

Carefully, Kodoyampeh reached down and took Anosma‘s hands and scraped the earth from under each of Anosma‘s nails, putting it into his left hand as he worked. When he was done, Kodoyampeh held a small mound of earth in his left hand, the size of a small pebble. Kodoyampeh took it and rolled it into a round ball and then placed it gently on the stern of the raft, he then resumed his position, sitting cross-legged at the bow, facing the others, silent. Anosma and Peheipe watched the round ball of earth and waited, occasionally they glanced away and then looked back. As they watched it, it did not grow or change its shape but each time they looked away and looked back again, it had grown many times its original size until the fourth time they looked back and the raft was aground, they had come ashore at a place named Tadoiko.

As they stepped from the raft, Anosma asked Kodoyampeh “can you make us some light so that we can see?”. Kodoyampeh pointed to the east, “Look that way” said Kodoyampeh, “I will tell my sister to rise and we will have light”. As Anosma and Peheipe looked to the east, dawn broke the horizon, the sun rose and the first day began. Peheipe and Anosma began shouting in excitement as they were amazed by what they saw. “Which way will it travel?” asked Anosma, “She will rise in the east and set in the west” said Kodoyampeh. As the sun went down and dusk set in, Peheipe cried, “the light is going away!”. Kodoyampeh calmly stood up and said “I will call for my brother” and the moon appeared as the first night began. Anosma and Peheipe were happy and told Kodoyampeh “this is very good!”. Kodoyampeh nodded and then began to call the stars, each by their name and they appeared in the sky as he called them.

The next morning, Kodoyampeh called up an enormous tree at Tadoiko, the tree was called Hukimtsa, it was so large it had twelve different kinds of acorn growing from it. For two days, the three sat beneath the shade of Hukimtsa. After the two days, Kodoyampeh sank into the earth and began creating the world, Anosma and Peheipe ran after him but Kodoyampeh was very fast, all they could see was a ball of fire flashing about under the ground and the water. At sunset, Anosma and Peheipe returned and found Kodoyampeh, sitting with Coyote and his dog Rattlesnake. Coyote had come up out of the ground while they were away, he had spoken to Kodoyampeh and would stay with them. It was said that Coyote could see Kodoyampeh‘s face, but the others still could not.

All five now built huts for themselves to live in at Tadoiko. Kodoyampeh built his hut but the others could not go inside of it. After the huts had been built, Kodoyampeh called the birds from the air, then he made the trees and the animals he made from clay he dug from the bank of the river. First, he made a deer and then after that, the other animals. Anosma watched Kodoyampeh as he made the animals, sometimes he would say “that does not look right, can you make it some other way?”. Some time later, at Esto-Busin- Yamani, the mountain dance lodge which sits in the center, Kodoyampeh and Coyote were there and Kodoyampeh said to Coyote, “come with me, I am going to make the people” and they returned to Tadoiko that afternoon. Kodoyampeh began by taking dark red earth and mixing it with water, he made two figures, a man and a woman. He laid the man on his right side and the woman on his left side within his hut, then he laid down in between them on his back with his arms stretched out. He laid there and sweated all afternoon and all night, Early in the morning, the woman began to tickle his side, he kept very still and did not laugh, after a while, he got up and thrust a piece of pitch wood into the ground and it burst into fire. The two people were very white, so white that no one today is this white. Their eyes were pink and their hair was black, their teeth shone brightly and they were very beautiful.

Kodoyampeh had not finished the people’s hands, Coyote, who had been watching by Kodoyampeh’s invitation, saw this and suggested “they ought to have hands like mine”. Kodoyampeh shook his head, “their hands will be like mine, so that if they are chased by bears they can climb trees to get away”. Kodoyampeh then finished their hands in the same way as his and then pointed to them, “Coyote, this first man is named Kuksu, the woman is of the morning-star, she is known as ‘La Idambulum Kule‘, the morning-star woman”. Coyote saw them and said to Kodoyampeh “that is not so hard, I will make some people also”. “Go ahead”, Kodoyampeh told Coyote, “but do not laugh when the woman tickles your ribs in the morning” he added. Coyote nodded and went off to his hut, he made his own people and did everything as he had seen Kodoyampeh do but then in the morning, when the woman poked him in the ribs, he laughed and when he looked, the people had become still and their eyes were like glass, he had failed. When Kodoyampeh saw the still people he told Coyote, “I told you not to laugh”, but Coyote stood and shouted at Kodoyampeh “I did not laugh”, this was the first lie.

As time passed, the people grew in numbers and flourished as Kodoyampeh had made everything easy for them. No one had to work, fruits were plentiful and easy to obtain and no one ever became sick or died. One night, Kodoyampeh came to see Kuksu, he told Kusku: “Tomorrow morning you must gather everyone and travel to the nearby lake, take everyone with you. I will make you a very old man before you have reached the lake but do not worry”. So in the morning, Kuksu went around and collected everyone and they set off for the nearby lake, as Kuksu walked, he began to age until by the time he reached the lake, he had grown very old. As Kuksu approached the waters, he fell in and sank out sight. After Kuksu disappeared completely, the ground began to shake and the waves began to strike the shore. A great rumbling began under the water like thunder and Kuksu appeared from beneath the water’s surface. Kuksu was young again and the people were amazed. Kodoyampeh appeared and spoke to the people, “If you do as I tell you, everything will be good and easy, when you grow old, come to this lake and go down into the water as Kuksu did, when you come out, you will be young again”. Kodoyampeh finished speaking and then left, in the night, he went back to where he had come from, up above.

For a long time, things were good and easy, the women set out their baskets at night and in the morning they found them full of food for the day. One day, Coyote came to the people and asked them how they were doing. The people told him that they were good, that life was easy and that all they had to do was eat and sleep. Coyote scowled, “This is not a good way to live, I can show you a better way! Before Kodoyampeh made people, we talked and I told him it would be better if things were more difficult but he did not listen! Here, I will show you a better way to spend your time, we will have a burning”. The people did not understand what Coyote meant, but they followed him and he showed them how to play games and the proper time of the moon to have the burning and play the games. Coyote told them to begin the games with a foot race and everyone prepared to run in the race. Kuksu, knowing what was to come, sat in his hut and did not go out with the rest. Anosma, Peheipe and Rattlesnake came to Kuksu and said “what shall we do? Coyote has spoiled everything!”. Kuksu did not reply and Rattlesnake, determined to do something, went out and hid in a hole along the trail the runners would use.

When the race began, Coyote‘s son, who was Coyote‘s only child and very fast, began to lead the other runners. As Coyote‘s son passed Rattlesnake‘s hiding spot, Rattlesnake jumped out and bit Coyote‘s son in the ankle and then hid back in the hole. Coyote‘s son fell and in a minute, the boy was dead. Coyote ran from the race’s finishing point where he had been shouting encouragement to his son and upon arriving at the boy’s body, the other runners mocked him, saying “your son lost and is so ashamed he does not dare to get up!”. Coyote growled at them “No! he is not laying here because he lost! My son is dead!”. This was the first death, the people did not understand, but Coyote did. Coyote began to cry, as they saw him cry, the people began to cry for the first time, although they did not know why they wept. Coyote took his son’s body in his arms and carried it to the lake. Coyote threw his son into the lake, after the body of the son splashed into the water there was no noise, nothing happened. The body of Coyote‘s son drifted in the lake for four days, never leaving the surface, like a log. On the fifth day, Coyote removed the boy’s body and carried it to Kuksu’s hut, begging him to restore his son to life. Kuksu did not answer him, Coyote cried and pleaded, he took all of his beads and brought them to Kuksu, Coyote begged him for five days to heal his son. On the fifth day, Kuksu emerged from his hut with a bearskin and wrapped the boy in it, he dug a hole and placed the bearskin with the boy in the hole and buried it, along with Coyote‘s beads. Kuksu told the people, who were all watching this, “From now on, this is what you must do, now you will die and know death, this will be true until the world is made over”.

A year later, by spring, the people held a burning, in the night everyone suddenly began to speak differently, each man and his wife and children could speak to each other, but to others they could not understand or be understood. Kuksu called all the people together in the morning, he was the only one of the people who could still speak all the languages. Kodoyampeh had come to Kuksu in the night and told him about what was going to happen. Kuksu called each tribe to him by name, he told them how they would cook and speak and hunt and gave them their laws, set a time for their dances and festivals and then sent them off in a different direction from one another after he had told them where to live. Peheipe taught each one their dances and how to craft their masks and feathers. Peheipe taught them which dances to keep secret and which ones could be seen by others, he also taught them how to ask permission from the spirits to use the masks and feathers and how to clean them and care for them. Anosma taught them to build their boat’s with the materials they would find in their new homes and how to catch fish that would be in the waters where they lived.

The warriors were sent north and were called Nisenan and Maidu. The healers were sent west and were called Pomo. The musicians were sent east and called Washo. The dancers were sent south and called Miwok and Yokut. So all the people left, only Kuksu and his wife remained in Tadoiko. As the days went on, Kuksu’s wife left for Esto-Busin-Yamani, Kuksu remained at Tadoiko and entered the Kukinim Kumi (spirit house), walking over to sit on the south side. Coyote’s son was waiting for him there when he entered, seated already on the north side, the door between them in the west. They waited there in the Kukinim Kumi together and talked. Coyote‘s son spoke to Kuksu, “So now all the people will go, soon they will forget Tadoiko, Hukimtsa and they will squabble among each other until the world is re-made”. “No”, said Kuksu, “they will not forget, I will come to them when they dance and teach them of the spirits, Peheipe will teach the dancers their dances and how to pass the knowledge to their children. Anosma will teach them to gather their food and help them build their boats and they will remember until the world is re-made”.

Coyote had searched everywhere for Kuksu, convinced that Kuksu knew a way to bring back his son. When he found Kuksu’s tracks, he followed them to the Kukinim Kumi. Peering inside, Coyote saw Kuksu, sitting with his son, his son was eating food that had been placed out on the north side of the room for him. Coyote tried to go inside, but Kuksu stopped him. “No, you will wait there outside, you have gotten just what you wanted, every man now has troubles, they must work for food and will eventually die and be buried as their family cries for them. This is your fault, you have led the people from Kodoyampeh‘s ways and so blame yourself that you are not welcome inside. Go home, you have seen your son and know he is not gone, that must be enough”. Coyote hung his head and told Kuksu “I will go, but may I share that meal with my son so that we may eat together?”. Kuksu told Coyote “No Coyote, you cannot eat that, your son eats Kukinim Pe (spirit food), only spirits may eat that”. Coyote left the Kukinim Kumi weeping softly to himself, as he passed others while he walked they asked him why he cried and he told them “I saw my son and Kuksu, he would not let me eat with my son, my son is not gone but is now a spirit. Kuksu left food for him in Kukinim Kumi but it is only for the spirits”.

Coyote came to a cliff, still weeping for his son, Coyote threw himself over the edge and died when he struck the ground below. Coyote rose from his body as a spirit, thinking he could now share the meal with his son. Coyote ran back to Kukinim Kumi, but when he arrived, no one was there. Kuksu and Coyote‘s son had gone up above in the same way Kodoyampeh had left the world. There was nothing at all there in Kukinim Kumi but Coyote sat there for a long while and tried to go up above. Finding that he could not travel up above after many times trying, slowly, he stood and then turned and walked away from the Kukinim Kumi. He traveled west, away from Tadoiko, alone.





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