Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

Week 13: Native American Tales - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Sun's Course and the Hard Earth

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

These stories continue the account of creation by the spider, Sussistinnako, and the great mother Utset.

The Course of the Sun (Sia, New Mexico)

Sussistinnako, the spider, said to the sun, "My son, you will ascend and pass over the world above. You will go from north to south. Return and tell me what you think of it."

The sun said, on his return, "Mother, I did as you bade me, and I did not like the road."

Spider told him to ascend and pass over the world from west to the east. On his return, the sun said, "It may be good for some, mother, but I did not like it."

Spider said, "You will again ascend and pass over the straight road from the east to the west. Return and tell me what you think of it."

That night the sun said, "I am much contented. I like that road much."

Sussistinnako said, "My son, you will ascend each day and pass over the world from east to west."

Upon each day's journey the sun stops midway from the east to the centre of the world to eat his breakfast. In the centre he stops to eat his dinner. Halfway from the centre to the west he stops to eat his supper. He never fails to eat these three meals each day, and always stops at the same points.

The sun wears a shirt of dressed deerskin, with leggings of the same reaching to his thighs. The shirt and leggings are fringed. His moccasins are also of deerskin and embroidered in yellow, red, and turkis beads. He wears a kilt of deerskin, having a snake painted upon it. He carries a bow and arrows, the quiver being of cougar skin, hanging over his shoulder, and he holds his bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right. He always wears the mask which protects him from the sight of the people of Ha-arts.

At the top of the mask is an eagle plume with parrot plumes; an eagle plume is at each side, and one at the bottom of the mask. The hair around the head and face is red like fire, and when it moves and shakes people cannot look closely at the mask. It is not intended that they should observe closely, else they would know that instead of seeing the sun they see only his mask.

The moon came to the upper world with the sun and he also wears a mask.

Each night the sun passes by the house of Sussistinnako, the spider, who asks him, "How are my children above? How many have died to-day? How many have been born to-day?" The sun lingers only long enough to answer his questions. He then passes on to his house in the east.

The Earth-Hardening After the Flood (Sia, New Mexico)

After the flood, the Sia returned to Ha-arts, the earth. They came through an opening in the far north. After they had remained at their first village a year, they wished to pass on, but the earth was very moist and Utset was puzzled how to harden it.

Utset called Cougar. She said, "Have you any medicine to harden the road so that we may pass over it?" Cougar replied, "I will try, mother." But after going a short distance over the road, he sank to his shoulders in the wet earth. He returned much afraid and told Utset that he could go no farther.

Then she sent for Bear. She said, "Have you any medicine to harden the road?" Bear started out, but he sank to his shoulders, and returned saying, "I can do nothing."

Then Utset called Badger, and he tried. She called Shrew, and he failed. She called Wolf, and he failed.

Then Utset returned to the lower world and asked Sussistinnako what she could do to harden the earth so that her people might travel over it. He asked, "Have you no medicine to make the earth firm? Have you asked Cougar and Wolf, Bear and Badger and Wolf to use their medicines to harden the earth?"

Utset said, "I have tried all these."

Then Sussistinnako said, "Others will understand." He told her to have a woman of the Kapina (spider) clan try to harden the earth.

When the woman arrived, Utset said, "My mother, Sussistinnako tells me the Kapina society understand how to harden the earth."

The woman said, "I do not know how to make the earth hard."

Three times Utset asked the woman about hardening the earth, and three times the woman said, "I do not know." The fourth time the woman said, "Well, I guess I know. I will try."

So she called together the members of the Spider society, the Kapina, and said, "Our mother, Sussistinnako, bids us work for her and harden the earth so that the people may pass over it." The spider woman first made a road of fine cotton which she produced from her own body, and suspended it a few feet above the earth. Then she told the people they could travel on that. But the people were afraid to trust themselves to such a frail road.

Then Utset said, "I wish a man and not a woman of the Spider society to work for me."

Then he came. He threw out a charm of wood, latticed so it could be expanded or contracted. When it was extended it reached to the middle of the earth. He threw it to the south, to the east, and to the west; then he threw it toward the people in the north.

So the earth was made firm that the people might travel upon it.

Soon after Utset said, "I will soon leave you. I will, return to the home from which I came."

Then she selected a man of the Corn clan. She said to him, "You will be known as Ti-amoni (arch-ruler). You will be to my people as myself. You will pass with them over the straight road. I give to you all my wisdom, my thoughts, my heart, and all. I fill your mind with my mind."

He replied: "It is well, mother. I will do as you say."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what does the Sun look like? what course does he travel?
  • how were they able to make the earth hard after the flood?
  • who did Utset appoint as ruler when she left the people?

Source: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest. Compiled and Edited by Katharine Berry Judson. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1912. Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM