Life of Mukat and His People
Preliminary painting of the Creation Story by Eric Grohe, which will be used in the rotunda of the new Museum
© Eric Grohe, 2013
Mukat and his people lived in one big house. Animals were human then. They were all very happy here. Moon taught the people many games and they loved her very much. Every morning she took her people far away to the water, and here they played all day long, returning to Mukat’s house late in the evening.
She taught them how to make things. “Cat’s cradle” was one of the games she taught them. It was a game played by making figures by means of string twined around the fingers. There were many figures they had to know. Later when they died and went to Telmekish, they had to know how to make these figures and tell Montakwet, the guardian. If they could not do this, they were not admitted.
Moon taught them that they would be getting married after a while, and explained to them what this meant. She said they would have children; that they must name their children and have songs for them. She said these children should be instructed in the right way to live; that the old people were the best instructors.
Rattlesnake was the only one that remained at home all day with Mukat. He stayed at the door of Mukat’s house all day long. When the people returned at night, there was one man among them who always danced on and around the snake. This was To, the funny man whom they all loved; he was very tiny. To made fun of Rattlesnake and made his head flat, by dancing on him; it is still flat. Rattlesnake complained to Mukat and asked him what to do.
At this time Rattlesnake was not poisonous, for he had no teeth. Mukat decided that Rattlesnake should have teeth. He tried many ways of making them for him, but none succeeded until he pulled some of his whiskers out and used them for teeth. He then made the teeth poisonous and told Rattlesnake to bite To when To came home that night and danced on him, and then he must run away to the rocks so that no one could find him. Accordingly, when the people returned that night, very happy as usual, To began dancing on Rattlesnake, but Rattlesnake bit him and then ran away. Rattlesnake was the first to leave the big house and not return.
Moon was very beautiful. One night Mukat seemed to notice this for the first time, and desired her as his wife. He did not tell her, but she knew it, and it made her feel very sad, for he was her father. She decided to leave, and told her people. She told them that there were a great many games she had not yet taught them, but that it was now too late. She said she would never die or have diseases as other people had, for Tamaioit had helped to create her. She told the women how to care for themselves during menstruation and pregnancy; they must not eat salt, meat, or fat, or drink cold water. She showed them certain herbs to use if they became ill.
That night she left and got beetles and ants to crawl over her tracks so that no one would follow her. Everyone felt very badly and tried to find her. Coyote went to the water where they always bathed to look for her. He saw her reflection in the water and thought it was she. He jumped in after her but couldn’t find her. When he climbed out and looked in again, he was sure he saw her and again he jumped in, with the same result. As he came out this time, Moon, who had gone to the sky, spat on him. He looked up to see where the spit had come from, and he saw her. He begged her to return but she would not talk, only smiled. He then returned to the others to tell them where their beloved playmate and teacher had gone. He felt very sad, so he hung his head as he said, “Here she is, here she is.” The people looked down where he was looking, but of course could not see. Finally someone happened to look up and there saw Moon in the sky. She seemed very far away and they all wept. Each night, for a long time, she went higher up, until she was where we now see her.3
Soon Mukat decided he want for have a little more fun with his people. For several days he thought about it. Then one day Sun rose out of the east. As soon as it was fully light, the people all talked in different languages and could not understand each other. Sun made them hot and many ran in search of shade. Many turned into trees or animals or birds. This probably was meant to happen from the beginning. Those that looked for water and found water, turned into sea animals. Those that looked for shade turned into trees. The people who stayed with Mukat remained human.
Mukat taught them how to make bows and arrows; just what kind of material to use, how to dry it, and how to make arrowheads out of rock. When the people put them down, after making them, the arrows made a queer noise. It frightened the people and they would not touch them. Mukat had showed them how to use these arrows and had promised that the arrows would not hurt them, but they were afraid when they heard this sound. One among them, Takwich, picked up an arrow, and said, “Why be afraid of this? It will not hurt you.” He put one right through his stomach and then pulled it out and it left no opening. When they saw this, the others were afraid no longer.
Mukat lined them up on two sides and they shot at each other, as he had shown them how to do. The dust became very thick, so they stopped, and then they saw that several of their number were dead. They wept, for they could not bring them to life. Mukat told them not to worry; that the dead would return.
At night the people heard them return, but it was only their spirits. These spirits could not find their abiding place; they had hunted in all directions. Finally they thought of Tamaioit. They started down into the earth to find him. Tamaioit heard them coming and stopped them before they got there. He told them that he was sorry for them, that he had wanted the people to live always, but that he saw now why Mukat had made them as he did. It was so there would be sorrow in the world. Tamaioit said that, since they were not his people, he could do nothing for them. He said his people were all happy and he did not want any other kind down there. However, he could tell them something that might bring them back to life. They should go to the water and smear mud all over themselves and twine brush around their bodies. They did as he advised them, but it did no good.
The spirits then returned to Mukat and asked him where to go. He told them about Telmekish and that there was no sickness or sorrow there. He said this world was just to raise children in; Telmekish, the next world, would last forever.
At the time Sun came the people turned different colors. The Negroes are those who stayed close to Sun. White people ran farther away than anyone else. Indians went only a short distance, so they are brown.
3Formerly, the Cahuilla would not look at the full moon, for fear of disease. If they ate during an eclipse, they were likely to eat a “moon spirit.” Whoever died during an eclipse was thought to have eaten one of these moon spirits.