Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians

Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians

by Edward Morris Opler

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Classic study of myths relating to creation, agriculture and rain, hunting rituals, coyote cycle, monstrous enemy stories, many more.  See more details below


Classic study of myths relating to creation, agriculture and rain, hunting rituals, coyote cycle, monstrous enemy stories, many more.

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Dover Publications
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Native American Series
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5.44(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.87(d)

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Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians

By Morris Edward Opler

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14576-1





In the beginning nothing was here where the world now stands; there was no ground, no earth,—nothing but Darkness, Water, and Cyclone. There were no people living. Only the Hactcin existed. It was a lonely place. There were no fishes, no living things.

All the Hactcin were here from the beginning. They had the material out of which everything was created. They made the world first, the earth, the underworld, and then they made the sky. They made Earth in the form of a living woman and called her Mother. They made Sky in the form of a man and called him Father. He faces downward, and the woman faces up. He is our father and the woman is our mother.

In the beginning there were all kinds of Hactcin living in the underworld, in the place from which the emergence started. The mountains had a Hactcin, the different kinds of fruit each had one, everything had a Hactcin.

It was then that the Jicarilla Apache dwelt under the earth. Where they were there was no light, nothing but darkness. Everything was perfectly spiritual and holy, just like a Hactcin.

Everything there was as in a dream. The people were not real; they were not flesh and blood. They were like the shadows of things at first.

The most powerful Hactcin down there was Black Hactcin. The Hactcin were all there already but in the darkness Black Hactcin was the leader. It was there, before anything else was made, that Black Hactcin made all the animals.

We dwelt for many years there. It was not a few minutes or a few days. But we do not know how long it was.

This is how animals and men first came to be made. Black Hactcin first tried to make an animal. He made it with four legs of clay and put a tail on it. He looked at it. He said, "It looks rather peculiar." Then he spoke to the mud image. "Let me see how you are going to walk with those four feet." That is why little children always like to play with clay images. Then it began to walk.

"That's pretty good," said Black Hactcin. "I think I can use you in a beneficial way."

He spoke to the image. "You have no help; you are all alone. I think I will make it so that you will have others from your body."

Then all sorts of animals came out from that same body. Black Hactcin had the power; he could do anything.

Now there were all kinds of animals. Black Hactcin stood and looked. He laughed to see all those different kinds of animals; he just couldn't help it when he saw those animals with all their different habits. That is why people laugh today at the habits of animals. They see a hog and laugh at it, saying, "See that dirty animal lying in the mud." All animals were there, some with horns, like the deer and elk, some with big horns like the mountain sheep. All were present. But at that time all those animals could speak, and they spoke the Jicarilla Apache language.

And those animals spoke to Black Hactcin. Each one came to speak to him. They asked him many questions. Each asked him what he should eat and where he should go to live, and questions of that order.

The Hactcin spoke to them. He divided all foods among them. To the horse, sheep, and cow he gave grass. "That is what you shall eat," he said. To some he gave brush, to some pine needles. Some he told to eat certain kinds of leaves but no grass.

"Now you can spread over the country," he told them. "Go to your appointed places and then come back and tell me where you want to stay all your lives."

He sent some to the mountains, some to the desert, and some to the plains. That is why you find the animals in different places now. The animals went out and chose their places then. So you find the bear in the mountains and other animals in different kinds of country.

Hactcin said, "It is well. It looks well to see you in the places you have chosen."

So all the animals were set apart.

Then Black Hactcin held out his hand and asked for water to come to his hand. A drop of rain fell into his palm. He mixed it with earth and it became mud. Then he fashioned a bird from the mud. He made the head, body, wings, and two legs.

He spoke in the same way to the image he had made. "Let me see how you are going to use those wings to fly," he said. He didn't know whether he would like it. Then the mud turned to a bird. It flew around. Black Hactcin liked it. "Oh, that is fine!" he said. He enjoyed seeing the difference between this one and the ones with four legs.

"I think you need companions and someone to help you. By yourself alone you will never be satisfied. From your body there will come others with wings."

When Hactcin said this the bird became lonesome. He flew to the east, south, west, and north and came back saying, "I can find no one to help me."

The Hactcin took the bird and whirled it around rapidly in a clockwise direction. The bird grew dizzy, and, as one does when he is dizzy, this bird saw many images around. He saw all kinds of birds there: eagles, hawks, and small birds too. He could hardly believe his sight, but when he was himself again, there were really all kinds of birds there. And because Black Hactcin turned the bird around and made him dizzy, birds now circle when they rise in the air.

All different birds were there now. Birds like the air, dwell high, and seldom light on the ground because that drop of water which became the mud from which the first bird was made fell from the sky.

Then the birds came to Black Hactcin. "What shall we eat? Where shall we dwell? Where shall we rest?" they asked.

He sent them all in different directions. "Find the place you like best and tell me about it," he said.

The birds flew in all directions. All came back. Each one told of the place it liked.

"That is all right," Black Hactcin told each of them. "You may have that place for your home."

Then they asked about food. Black Hactcin held his hand up to the east, south, west, and north in turn, and because he had so much power, all kinds of seeds fell into his hand. He scattered the seeds before them. The birds were going to pick them up.

"All right, now pick them up," he said.

The birds went to do it, but the seeds turned to worms, grasshoppers, and all insects. The Hactcin was trying to tease them. They couldn't catch them at first.

Then Black Hactcin said, "Oh, it's hard work to catch those flies and grasshoppers. You can do it though."

Then they all chased the grasshoppers and other insects around. That is why many birds today use the insects for food and chase the grasshoppers around.

At the time when Black Hactcin threw the seeds down he said to Turkey, "You must be the one who takes charge of all these seeds." That is why Turkey has control of the crops now. That is why some of these Indians and the white people too use the turkey at Thanksgiving. The white people put the turkey in the middle of the table and have the fruits and vegetables all around it. The Indians use the turkey feathers too. When they plant a crop they put one turkey feather in each corner of the field. The turkey is striped just like corn. The head is like the corn tassel. Every part of the turkey's body stands for some part of the corn plant.

There was a river nearby. "You must drink from that river," Black Hactcin told them. The birds thought that was a beautiful place.

"Now I'm going to make something to scare you," Black Hactcin said. He was always teasing them.

He picked up some moss and began to roll it between his hands. Then he threw it into the water. And it became frogs, fish, and all that live in the water. That is why, often, when the birds come to drink at the water, something sticks its nose out of the water and frightens them and they jump back. Sometimes even humans are frightened in this way.

While the birds were flying around some of their feathers fell out and into the water, and these turned to water birds such as the duck, heron, sandhill crane, and others.

Now the birds and animals had everything, food and a place to stay and rest.

Black Hactcin started to make more images of animals and birds. The ones who were already made called a council and came together. The birds and animals were together at this council, for they all spoke the same language in those days.

"Now what are we going to do?" they asked Black Hactcin. "We need a companion, we need man."

"What do you mean ?" asked Black Hactcin. "Why do you need another companion?"

The birds and animals said, "You are not going to be with us all the time; you will go elsewhere some of the time."

"I guess that's true. Perhaps some day I'll go away to a place where no one will see me."

So all the birds and animals gathered all different objects: pollen, specular iron ore, water scum, all kinds of pollen, from corn, tule, and the trees. They put these all together. They added red ochre, white clay, white stone, jet, turqouise, red stone, Mexican opal, abalone, and assorted valuable stones. They put all these before Black Hactcin.

He told them, "You must stay a little distance from me. I don't want you to see what I make."

He stood to the east, then to the south, then to the west, then to the north. He traced an outline of a figure on the ground, making it just like his own body, for the Hactcin was shaped just as we are today. He traced the outline with pollen. The other objects and the precious stones he placed around on the inside, and they became the flesh and bones. The veins were of turquoise, the blood of red ochre, the skin of coral, the bones of white rock, the fingernails were of Mexican opal, the pupil of the eye of jet, the whites of the eyes of abalone, the marrow in the bones of white clay, and the teeth, too, were of Mexican opal. He took a dark cloud and out of it fashioned the hair. It becomes a white cloud when you are old.

This was a man which Black Hactcin was making. And now the man came to life. He was lying down, face downward, with his arms outstretched. The birds tried to look but could not make out what it was.

"Do not look," said Black Hactcin.

Then the man braced himself up, leaning on his arms which were outstretched.

"Don't look," said Hactcin to the birds, who were very much excited now.

It was because the animals were so eager to see what Black Hactcin was making that people are so curious today, just as you were eager to know this story.

"Sit up," commanded Black Hactcin to the man, and he was sitting up now. This was the third time Black Hactcin had spoken to him.

Then Black Hactcin went over to him and facing him, picked him up. Now Hactcin tried to teach him to speak.

"Speak to me, speak, speak, speak." Black Hactcin said it four times. Then the man spoke.

Then Black Hactcin said to him four times, "Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh," and the man laughed.

"Shout, shout, shout, shout," and the man did so.

Now Black Hactcin was teaching him to walk. "Step forward," he said and made him step with his right foot first, then with his left, then right, and then left again. Now the man could walk.

Then Black Hactcin said, "Run," and made him run four times in a clockwise arc. That is why they have to run at the girl's puberty rite just like that.

When the birds saw what Black Hactcin had made they sang and chirped as though it were early morning. That is why, when the girl who has come of age runs at the time of her puberty ceremony, an old woman stands there and makes that noise in her ear.

Now the man could talk and he understood what the birds were singing and what Black Hactcin was saying, for all had one language then. The man was the only human being living; he was by himself.

The birds and the animals thought it was not good that he should be by himself and they all came together and spoke to Black Hactcin.

Black Hactcin asked the birds and animals for some lice. "Who has lice ? You must bring some to me."

They brought some. Black Hactcin put some on the man's head. He scratched and scratched. Then his eyes became heavy and he went to sleep. He was dreaming and dreaming. He dreamt that someone, a girl, was sitting beside him.

He woke up. The dream had come true. A woman was there. He spoke to his wife and she answered. He laughed and she laughed too.

He said, "Let us both get up."

They both arose.

"Let's walk," he told her. "Right, left, right, left." He led her for four steps.

"Run!" he said, and they both ran.

Now another person was there. The birds sang and chirped. They wanted to make pleasant music for them so they wouldn't become lonesome.

The names of these first two were Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman.


In the beginning the dog was just like a Hactcin in appearance. This was because the Hactcin made everything. He was listless, however, and didn't do anything.

And Hactcin noticed this and spoke to him. He said, "Why don't you do something? Why don't you work?"

"I don't care to work. I'm too lazy. I'd better turn to the form of a dog I guess. Let my hands be round."

At first his hands were like ours, but he didn't use them and just stayed home so they became round.

When Hactcin made the dog in his present shape he took some of the yellow from the afterglow of the sunset and put it above each eye. And he took some of the white of the morning glow and put it on each paw. This was a sign that the dog would protect people.

And so today in the girl's ceremony, the girl has yellow ochre on her face and the boy who dances with her has white paint over his face.

Hactcin spoke to the dog and asked, "Where are you going to stay now?"

"Oh, you can make some people so I will have companions."

Hactcin asked, "What is the idea you have in mind? I never thought you would say a thing like that."

So the Hactcin lay down at a smooth place. He said to the dog, "Now draw a line around my feet and body. Trace my outline with your paw." So the Hactcin lay with his face down and his arms outstretched, and the dog drew his outline.

Then both got up. Hactcin said to the dog, "Go a little further on and do not look back yet."

The dog went on for a short distance.

"Now you can turn and look."

Dog looked back. "Someone is lying where you were, Grandfather," he said.

Hactcin said, "Face the other way and walk off again."

Dog did so.

"Now turn around."

The dog did so.

Someone was arising from the ground, bracing himself with his hands and knees.

"Grandfather," said Dog, "someone is on his hands and knees at the place where you were lying."

Hactcin said, "Turn and walk away again."

Dog did so. Then he was told to look once more. When he looked he saw a man sitting up.

"Grandfather, someone is sitting up!" he cried. There were surprise and happiness in his voice.

But Hactcin only said, "Turn once more and walk away."

He did so again.

"Turn around now and look," he was told.

He did so and cried out in astonishment and delight, "My grandfather, he is sitting up and moving around!"

Then Hactcin said, "Now come. We will go and see him."

They came to the man. He was sitting facing the east. Hactcin first faced him from the east. Then he went to the south, the west, and the north of him and then faced him again from the east. Then Hactcin went around to this man's back, and after motioning four times lifted him to his feet. Then he went around his body clockwise and returned in front of him at the east again.

Then Hactcin addressed the man. "You must watch me. I am going to take four steps, moving my right foot first. As I do it you must do it too."

Hactcin did walk this way and the man followed.

"Now," said Hactcin, "let's run," and with Hactcin leading, the two ran. They ran to the east and back again in a clockwise manner. That is why they run like that in the girl's puberty rite. They came back to the starting place.

Then Hactcin shouted into the ear of the man four times, twice from the right side and twice from the left and asked, "Did you hear that?" Because of this the old woman shouts into the ear of the girl in the puberty rite four times from the right side, so that the girl will have good hearing always.

But the man could not yet speak. Hactcin stood before him. Four times he said to the man, "Talk, talk, talk, talk," and then the man spoke. "Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh," he said, and the fourth time the man laughed. "Now shout, shout, shout, shout," Hactcin told him, and the fourth time it was said the man shouted.

"Now you are ready to live around here."

The dog was very happy. He jumped at the man and ran back and forth just as dogs do now when they are glad to see you.

The dog was very happy, but the man, with no one but the dog to talk to, soon grew lonesome.

He told Hactcin the cause of his sadness and Hactcin thought about it. Finally Hactcin resolved to make a woman for him. So he told the man to lie down on the ground, face downward with arms and legs extended. The man did so. Then Hactcin traced his outline on the ground and bade him rise. Then Hactcin had the man do exactly what he had had the dog do when he had been making the man. He had the man face the other way and walk to the east four times while the figure he had drawn successively rose to its knees, sat up, and moved. Then Hactcin lifted this figure in the same manner and taught it to speak, hear, laugh, shout, and walk and run. Then Hactcin was satisfied and sent Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman off together.


Excerpted from Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians by Morris Edward Opler. Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

A professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, Morris Edward Opler is an authority on the Apaches. In his introduction Scott Rushforth considers Opler's work as well as the history of the tribe.

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