USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Native American?’
Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Native American Raven Creation Myth

Context:

The informant – BL – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He learned the following creation myth in elementary school, on a field trip that aimed to teach students about the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. He told me this story after I asked him of any folklore he knew growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

Piece:

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we have a very close connection with our Native American roots. We try to preserve their culture, and language, and stories by passing them down, um, to our children. I learned this one when I was in elementary school, on a field trip where we learned about, uh, the native salmon, the native peoples, and our watershed.

This is a story from the Haida people, who inhabited – and still do inhabit – the coastal Pacific Northwest region. And this is the story of how the Raven – Raven, the trickster – brought light to the world.

In the beginning, the world still existed, but in darkness. Raven existed from the beginning of time, he was on of its first creations, but he eventually grew tired of stumbling around in the dark, bumping into things. One day, he stumbled into something that didn’t feel like a piece of nature. It was a sideways log – many of them stacked on top of each other. Knowing it was a house, Raven peered inside the window, where there was light. And he saw an old man and his daughter. The light was emanating from a box in the corner, peeking out from the cracks of it. Realizing that this must be the only source of light in the world, the clever Raven quickly devised a plan. Um.

He took to the air and flew circles over the house for hours, until he saw the old man’s daughter exit to go collect water from the river. And went she went to the river to fill her basket with water, he transformed himself into a pine from an evergreen, which landed in her basket. And when she drank it, he was ingested. Um. When she returned to her house, he again transformed, only this time, into a tiny human in her stomach. There, he bided his time, waiting until, finally, the girl gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

The old man was so overjoyed at having a grandson that he quickly took to the raven, thinking that he was his own. But the boy, um, turned out to be very curious and very eager to learn about new things. He always pestered the old man about what was in the box in the corner…what the light was coming from. But, the old man threatened his grandson to never touch the box, and to never look inside it, as it held great treasure.

But, Raven pestered and pestered, until, finally, the old man gave in. He went over to the box and opened it, and light poured throughout the house, illuminating all. The old man reached into the box, and took out the sun and threw it to the boy to play with. But, as the boy caught it, he transformed back into his raven form, and caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney… there’s a chimney… out into the world where he… released the sun into the world. Um. No no no. So as the old man threw it to him, the boy transformed back into Raven, caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney. He didn’t know how to release it into the world, so he shook it back and forth, little flecks of light flying off, which then became the stars. Eventually, he threw it upwards, where it continued flying, never losing speed. And that’s how we got our sun and stars.

 

Analysis:

As is common with myths, this creation story is likely steeped in the culture of the Native American Haida peoples to whom it belongs, and, therefore, it seems strange to someone not part of this culture. This can be said of the informant, BL, here, who’s personal disconnect from the story was apparent. It was clear from the way he told the story that it was a story with which he was not intimately familiar, but, instead, learned in school when learning about the native people of his hometown. It was clear that he was attempting to recall parts of the story as he told it, occasionally backtracking to correct himself. Either way, the story is a fascinating creation story, and it is interesting to hear a filtered version of this creation myth told from an outsider who had merely grown up learning about this culture.

For further information regarding the Raven as the predominant trickster archetype in Coastal Northwestern America, see David Vogt’s (1996). Raven’s universe. Archaeoastronomy, 12, 38.

Legends
Narrative

Lonnie Lake

Main Piece
Lonnie Lake
Well there is the Lonnie Lake tale. Well, So, there was a horror story they would tell us at YSSC, Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp. There was a story that, this is told to 13-year-old boys, so, there is a lake in Yosemite that is not even on the map. so, like, It was a lake in kind of like the finger lakes area, on the Yosemite side of the national forest whatever boundary, and it was a place apparently so dangerous that they removed it from the map. So not even on the map. So the story goes that there was the spirit this Native American women who was hurt brutally hurt by young braves, and her way of revenge was drowning young boys in the lake. It’s called Lonnie Lake, and that’s where she died, and that’s where her spirit lives, a native American spirit, who drowned boys in the lake. And you’re not supposed to go to Lonney Lake, because if you go in the lake, she drowns you. I was told this by the staff of the camp, so don’t ever go to Lonney Lake and don’t go in, because there will a native American spirit and she will drown you.

Background
Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp is a Christian Adventure camp located near Bass Lake, California, right near Yosemite National Park. The camp includes all sorts of different activities, including lake activities like water skiing and wakeboarding. The campers range in age from 8-16, with the informant recalling a time when he was 13-years-old. The camp is located on Bass Lake, with the story about a different lake named “Lonnie Lake”.

Context
The informant is a 25-year-old man, born and raised in a Christian family in Southern California. The information was collected while inside his family home in Palm Desert, California, on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I thought it was really interesting to hear about this tale, for I had also attended this same camp, but had never heard this tale. I enjoyed how the informant identified this story correctly as a tale, instead of legend or myth, which would have been incorrect. Upon further research, I cannot find any evidence of this “Lonnie Lake”, yet tales involving Native American spirits are common. I wonder about the purpose of creating a cautionary tale about a lake that truly doesn’t exist. I also think it interesting for such a tale to be shared at a Christian camp, for the religion does not endorse ghosts or vengeful ghost-spirits. I think it must be really fun for the participants of the tradition to tell the story and try to scare the campers, but I do not think that the telling of the story has any meaningful link to Native American tradition. Instead, it utilizes the native american tradition in another way.

Legends
Narrative

The Haunted Escanaba, MI Lighthouse

Informant, a screenwriting major, was talking about his screenplay for his class and mentioned it took place in Northern Michigan. The conversation is as follows, the informant is TP, I am PH:

PH: Of course it’s about Michigan [because the informant talks about his home state very often]

TP: If I knew of any other lakeside town with a haunted lighthouse, it’d take place there, but I only know of Escanaba

PH: A haunted lighthouse? Can I write this down for my folklore collection?

TP: Yes

PH: Okay, can you tell me about the haunted lighthouse?

TP: So there’s a famous lighthouse in Escanaba [in Northern Michigan] because people think it’s haunted because when Michigan was founded, the Menominee tribe used to have land in Northern Michigan but we slaughtered them so their official reservation is just in Wisconsin now but the land is still sacred spiritual ground and they built a lighthouse on this sacred ground… I think it was a burial ground

PH: Who is “they”?

TP: I think the Michigan people? The people who slaughtered the tribe… So people say the lighthouse is haunted by the tribal chief from the time and that, like, if you visit the lighthouse you’ll see his spirit and he’ll try to chase you out and that’s pretty much it

Legends
Narrative

The Lover’s Leap

Informant is from Modesto, California, up in the northern part of the state. This is an area that

“So there is a place off of the freeway right by my city called the Lover’s Leap, and it’s like a big cliff area that overlooks the area. According to legends, there was once a young man and a young woman who were part of different warring Native American tribes who fell in love with each other. However, their tribe elders would not let them be together, no matter how much they pleaded and begged, as the clans really hated each other. So, one day, the two lovers came together and decided to run off with each other, but they were discovered by their respective tribes, who went to go and tear them apart. As a result, they ran until they reached the edge of the cliff, and seeing that there would be no way for them to be together as long as their tribes fought, they both made the leap off of the cliff to their deaths, hence the name The Lover’s Leap. It’s a really sad story actually, and it reminds me a lot of Romeo and Juliet.”

Do a lot of people go there?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty cool place just to get a view of the surroundings, and a lot of younger people our age will go there to hang out and sometimes do illegal things though. I think its a neat part of the city’s history and its background.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This story sounds almost exactly like Romeo and Juliet, although within a Native American context, which makes sense because California was inhabited by many different Native American tribes long before anyone else was here. This makes me wonder if the story itself had originated from the Native American peoples themselves, or if it was made up later by people who had known of Romeo and Juliet beforehand, and had adapted it to fit their own surroundings. Either way, it is a fascinating explanation for the name of a location.

Customs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

White Mountain skinwalker

Informant discusses a personal experience she had in Arizona over a decade ago.

SP: I was maybe ten at this point– I think it was probably ten or eleven, and I remember the first thing that freaked me out was my dog growling like crazy at nothing we could see. We were driving from Santa Fe and we crossed the border into Arizona and there’s this mountain chain there called the White Mountains. Super pretty, green, all that. Anyway, we had our dog with us, he was a terrier so pretty small and generally pretty chill, but he started doing this low growl and staring out the window. Almost like he wanted to launch himself out at something.

TK: So what did you see? I remember you telling me about this a while back. An animal, right?

SP: I looked out and there was this tall figure that looked like a mountain lion– some kind of big cat like– umm…it was standing on its hind legs, like a bear might, not natural. Maybe like fifty feet off the road in the woods. Not a bear, for sure.

TK: Did you guys stop or do anything?

SP: I told my parents and they figured it was some kind of illusion. I was reading a book in the backseat like usual and I guess they thought it was my imagination. But I remember being freaked out and the dog wouldn’t stop growling until like five miles later.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a mid-twenties female who grew up traveling with her family frequently and was always interested in myths and legends at a young age, specifically in cryptids (unproven or mythical animals) due to a childhood fascination with shape-shifting animals. She has never seen anything like this since but has heard similar stories of large animals walking on their hind legs in mountainous or rural regions, often chasing or looking at cars.

ANALYSIS: There seems to be a cultural emphasis on shape-shifters that is especially prevalent around communities of Native American tribes, who call them skinwalkers and usually choose not to talk about them at all due to the belief that discussing a thing will give it power and/or summon it (also seen in the Christian idea of summoning demons and, pop-culturally, in the Harry Potter universe as a protective spell against Voldemort– “he who must not be named.”) The skinwalker is often described as an evil person who got too involved in black magic and lost his or her human form, becoming more of a spirit and sometimes known to shift shape (mostly into animal forms) and often chase cars. Skinwalkers usually are described as being larger than average size, if they do appear as an animal they have eerily human mannerisms such as walking on their hind legs, and those who encounter them often report a true feeling of dread. The informant does not know much about this tradition and cannot say for certain much more about the appearance of the creature.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Native Americans and Dreams

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mother tells me about dreams and how Native Americans use them as a way to comfort us in times of trouble or uncertainty.

Mom: Something about us Native Americans is that we really read into dreams.

Me: Yeah, we’ve talked about this.

Mom: Yeah. I think we see it as a connection to our ancestors. For example, … I guess I need to give them backstory on this.

Me: Go ahead. I got 40 pages to fill.

Mom: [laughs] Are you going to put that in your report?

Me: Hell yeah.

Mom: [laughs] Don’t embarrass the family, son.

Me: Go on with the backstory.

Mom: Okay. Well, me and Joey’s dad got married in 1982, and we started trying to have a kid a year or so later, but it just never happened. We kept trying and trying, and we started thinking that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to have kids. It was a really hard time for both me and your dad. I was even told that I only had a ten percent chance of having a child, and then, like a little miracle, I got pregnant with Alyssa [my sister]. I was so thrilled, but I started getting worried. I started having this fear that I was going to die in childbirth. It still happens, a lot of people think it doesn’t. I was really worried, and then about a week before Alyssa was born, I had a dream. I saw my Grandpa Eli, who was this very stoic Indian man. He barely said a word to me, or really anybody, but I loved him very much. And in my dream, I was walking through this… mist? It was cloudy, kind of, like Heaven, and my grandpa was there, and he looked at me and said “Everything will be alright,” and it was.

Me: I have those dreams about Pa sometimes.

Mom: I think we all do. We’re a very spiritual people. But, anyways, your sister was born maybe a week later and everything was fine. I remember when I was in labor I just kept saying “everything will be alright”.

Me: What do you think those dreams mean?

Mom: I think they mean that they’re watching over us. That they’re walking alongside us. It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?

Me: Yeah.

Dreams have always been something my mother and I have bonded over, and I was always able to tell that she really believed that she was connecting to those she loved most. I think my mom is right in thinking they mean something, even if they’re not entirely real. She hears what she wants from who she wants to hear it from, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I’ve still been trying to decide whether my dreams carry any weight, but I do know I’ve been affected by them. She doesn’t put all of her life’s biggest choices in waiting to see what her dreams say: to her, they’re just supplementary, and will happen when you need them to happen.

Legends

Calusa Protective Spell-Tampa

This piece of folklore came from my co-worker, who grew up in Tampa, Florida. Although he did not know much about the history of the Calusa Indians, what he did know was the legend in Tampa that the Calusa Indians cast a spell to keep them safe. Since it seems to be working, many people still believe in the legend. The Calusa Indians lived in the area where my co-worker lived, so the people in his area knew a little more about them, whereas people in other parts of Tampa might not be as familiar with the legend.

“There’s this urban legend in Tampa, where I’m from, about the Calusa Indians who were destroyed by the Seminoles, and it’s a whole history that I don’t know much about. But, there’s a legend that this chief put a spell over the Tampa area protecting it from hurricanes. So, when Hurricane Andrew came through and destroyed all of Florida, it was weird that Tampa was mostly unaffected. In recent history, with Katrina, it was supposed to go directly at Tampa and then a day before it was supposed to make landfall it just veered off towards Louisiana. In the last 20 years all of the really strong hurricanes have been forecasted to go at least somewhat into Tampa and none of them have ever hit Tampa. It’s really weird. We also get the branches of the storms that aren’t bad, so a lot of people believe that the Calusa Indians are protecting.”

Q: Will people say specifically that it’s because of the Calusa Indians?

“I mean, my mom would always say it and there were other people who believed it too…at least a lot of the people I knew would be like ‘oh it’s that old Indian tribe’ or something along those lines”

Contagious
Folk Beliefs

Indian Joe

My roommate grew up in Houston, and she told me a piece of folklore from her time at a Girl Scout camp in Texas. She participated in the production of the folklore while she was at camp, but it is not something she believes is true now.

“I went to this girl scout camp, Camp Agnes Arnold, which is a little bit outside of Houston, kind of in the Conroe area. But we had a marker that everyone assumed was a grave for Indian Joe. And you always had to give the grave a very wide berth on your way back to the cabins, because if you stepped on it, it was going to rain for the rest of the week and your entire week would be spoiled because you stepped on Indian Joe’s grave”

Q: Who told you about Indian Joe?

“I…think it was probably a camp counselor at first. Either that or one of the older girls, because I had been going to that camp since I was eight or something, so I don’t necessarily remember the original source. But I remember I would warn other girls to stay away from Indian Joe’s grave so that we would have nice weather”

Q: Did anyone know who Indian Joe was?

“I want to say… I don’t think it was anything more than the basics. He was an Indian who had settled in the area and it was his land and then he had eventually died and been buried in that area, and it was just one of those things, like, show respect for the Indian grave”

In areas where Native Americans once lived, the foklore seems to come from two things: fear and respect towards the Native Americans. In this example, stepping on the rock will result in something bad (the stereotypical “Indian curse”) but it also seems to stem from a desire to be respectful to the grave, perhaps to make up for the past.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Dream Catchers

“This is from second grade, and we were learning about native Americans in class and–actually it might have been earlier, but, uh, some early elementary school grade, my teachers told me that native Americans made dream catchers. And so we spent one art class making dream catchers, because they told us that if we made them and hung them by our beds we wouldn’t have nightmares anymore. And so I made one and hung it over my bed. It did not work.”

This is a native American tradition, often taught in schools as representative of their beliefs in some way. It’s supposed to be protective, saving the person who has one and hangs it over their bed from having bad dreams. It is also partially belief oriented–my informant did not believe in its abilities, and thus it did not work for him. The dreamcatcher’s main body is a circle, in which are threaded strings in a generally intricate pattern. This web presumably catches the nightmares, keeping them from reaching the person who sleeps beneath it. It is also often decorated, sometimes with feathers hanging down towards the sleeping person.

It occurs fairly frequently in popular culture when one is referencing native Americans. Its protective ability was actually demonstrated (with a few tweaks) in a skit from the television show Saturday Night Live, in episode 13 of season 25. It was used to protect the protagonist against a curse put on him by a homeless man, as long as he hung it above his bed. His protection ended when his wife accidentally knocked it down and broke it.

Myths
Narrative

Cherokee Creation Myth

Adopted by parents of Native American descent, my informant has no Native American “blood” in him but still values the traditions and stories of his family. This is the creation myth his grandpa told him.

“So, basically, all the animals are living in this land in the sky, and it starts to get crowded. So the water beetle gets sent down to swim around in the water and try to find land. And it doesn’t find any at first, but then it swims deeper until it comes against something solid, which is mud. And it brings up to the surface and the mud spreads out, like all across the earth until a third of it is covered. Then there were four strings made to attach the land to the sky. After that, the great buzzard flew down to check if the land was dry. And when it got too close to the land, the flaps of its wings created mountains and valleys. That’s how the world was created.”

My informant, though he doesn’t believe the story, says it’s important to him because it links him to his parents and family, making him feel like he belongs with them because they wanted to share their culture with him, since he is adopted.

I think the story’s interesting because of the way animals existed before humans did. This gives animals a kind of mystical quality and exalts them to an extent. Native American culture does tend to give animals more respect than modern Western culture, so this makes sense. The story also shows how our world is supported by strings, which could be taken to mean existence is fragile.

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