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In the Beginning...

Mukat & Temayawet, by Shannon Mirelez

The following creation story is from the book Aboriginal Society in Southern California, "Palm Springs Cahuilla Creation Myth," by William Duncan Strong, which was told to him by Alejo Patencio in February, 1925.

As told by Alejo Potencio, ceremonial chief, through Jolian Nortes, interpreter, immediately after the biennial mourning ceremony at Palm Springs, February, 1925.203

In the beginning there was nothing but darkness. At times it was lighter but with no moon or stars. One was called tukmiatahat (female) the other tukmiatelka (male). Sounds, humming or thunder, were heard at times. Red, white, blue, and brown colors204 came all twisting to one point in the darkness. These were acting all together-twisting.205 These came together in one point to produce. This ball shook and whirled all together into one substance, which became two embryos wrapped in this placenta.206 This was formed in space and darkness. These were born prematurely, everything stopped for they were stillborn.

Then again all the lights whirled together, joined, and produced. This time the embryos grew fully-the children inside talked to one another. They asked each other, “What are we? We are eskwatkwatwitcem, and estanamawitum,”207 for at that time they did not know themselves. While they were in this sack they rolled back and forth;208 they stretched their arms and knees209 to make a hole210 so they could get out.211 Then they named themselves Mūkat and Temaīyauit.


203 This myth includes the greater number of songs sung at the mourning ceremony. Each sentence given here forms one verse, including much repetition, and the song takes three nights to sing completely. It varies slightly from group to group, and the versions of any two widely separated Cahuilla groups are different in detail though the general motifs are the same. It is a highly impressive and solemn chant, rising at times to rare beauty, but usually sung in a monotonous rising and falling cadence.
204 sel wīl, sel h’eu: red; tēvic wīl, tēvic he’u: white; tūkic heū, tūkic wīl: blue; tesit heū, tesit wīl: brown.
205 tahūhuñ-sūivee.
206 tcemsilayaa: our placenta.

207 Archaic or esoteric. No meaning remembered.
208 manamanatcemayahī.
209 wawalwawal-tcemeyahī.
210 hataniamkavayuul.
211 tūnaltūnal-tcemeyahī.


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