The Diné, or Navajo, creation story says there were four worlds before this, the Glittering World. For the present-day Diné this is a world of glittering technology and influences from outside the sacred land entrusted to them by the Holy People. From the Glittering World conveys in vivid language how a contemporary Diné writer experiences this world as a mingling of the profoundly traditional with the sometimes jarringly, sometimes alluringly new.
"Throughout the book, Morris’s command of a crisp unpretentious prose is most impressive…His style is so low-key that he hardly seems to be trying to be ’artistic,’ yet the cumulative effect of these pieces is quite powerful. For Morris’s beautiful descriptions of the remote Navajo reservation this book deserves to be on the shelf of anyone tracking the literature of the Southwest."-Western American Literature
"Beginning with the Navajo creation story and ending with the summation of everything in between, Morris shows an incredible agility in jumping from truth to myth, from now to then, and from what is to what might have been."-The Sunday Oklahoman
"In From the Glittering World, Irvin Morris has woven a wondrous and sometimes terrifying weave of stories centered in the Navajo experience. . . . Irvin Morris’ strong style, his vivid imagery, his deft handling of complex structures, and his deep knowledge of Navajo tradition combine to produce a work as powerful and enduring as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller and N. Scott Momaday’s The Names. With From the Glittering World, Irvin Morris has joined the ranks of great contemporary authors."-Telluride Times-Journal
About the Author
Irvin Morris, a member of the Tobaahi clan of the Navajo Nation, is Professor of American Indian Studies and English at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Read an Excerpt
From the Glittering World
A Navajo Story
By Irvin Morris
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 1997 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
Into the Glittering World
Alk'idáá' jiní. It happened a long time ago, they say. In the beginning there was only darkness, with sky above and water below. Then by some mysterious and holy means, sky and water came together. When they touched, that's when everything began. That was the First World, which was like an island floating in a sea of mist. It was red in color and it was an ancient place. There were no people living there, only Nílch'i Dine'é, who existed in spiritual form. They could travel like the wind. There were also Hashch'ééh Dine'é, the Holy People, whose form and beauty we have inherited. There was no sun or moon, and there were no stars. The only source of light was the sky, which comprised four sacred colors and glowed with a different hue and lit the world from a different direction according to the time of day. When the eastern sky glowed white, it was considered dawn, and the Nílch'i Dine'é would awaken and began to stir in preparation for the day. When the southern sky glowed blue, it was considered day, and the Nílch'i Dine'é went about their daily activities. When the western sky was yellow, it was considered evening, and the Nílch'i Dine'é put away their work and amusements. When the northern sky turned black, it was considered night, and the Nílch'i Dine'é lay down and went to sleep. At the center of that First World, there was a place called Tóbilhaask'id where water welled up out of the ground in a great fountain, which was the source of three rivers flowing toward the east, south, and west. No river flowed toward the north, the direction of death and darkness. There were twelve groups of Nílch'i Dine'e dwelling in twelve places in that First World, with four groups living in each of the three directions. No one lived to the north. These Nílch'i Dine'é had lived there from the very beginning. They were called ants, dragonflies, beetles, bats, and locusts, but they were spiritual beings, not insects or animals. The waters surrounding their world were inhabited by four powerful guardians, Tééholtsódii (the Water Monster) to the east, Dééhtsoh dootl'izh (Blue Heron) to the south, Ch'al (Frog) to the west, and li'ni'dzil ligai (White Mountain Thunder) to the north. These spiritual beings had lived peacefully and amicably in that world for a long time; but after a while trouble arose, and it was because of adultery. The First World was a holy place, and the immoral behavior of the Nílch'i Dine'é angered the water guardians, who did not like what they saw. They did not like the deceit, jealousy, and turmoil that resulted from the debauchery. "Do you not like living here?" the guardians scolded. "Do you not value this place? If you cannot behave properly, then you must leave." Three times they were warned by the guardians, but the Nílch'i Dine'é did not listen. When they corrupted themselves a fourth time, li'ni'dzil ligaii, the guardian being from the north, who hadn't spoken before, said, "Because you do not listen, you must depart at once!" But the Nílch'i Dine'é were lost in their wickedness and did not heed. Seeing this, the guardians were outraged and turned their backs on them; they refused to listen to excuses or pleas for forgiveness. The Nílch'i Dine'é had to be punished. One morning they saw something on the horizon. It looked like a ring of snowy mountains surrounding them, an unbroken wall of white higher and wider than they could fly across. When it came closer, they saw what it was. The water guardians had sent a great flood. Frightened, the Nílch'i Dine'é soared into the air and flew in circles until they reached the sky, but then they discovered that it was smooth and solid. They tried to break through the rigid surface, but they could not even make a scratch. Just as they were ready to give up in despair, a strange blue head emerged from the sky. "Go to the east," it said. The Nílch'i Dine'é went to the east and flew through the narrow opening into a blue world, the Second World. There they looked around and saw that the land was barren and flat. They did not see anyone living nearby. Scouts were sent out to see if there were others like themselves further out, but after two days they returned saying they could find no one. But then, one morning, a small group of blue beings appeared. The Nílch'i Dine'é saw that these blue beings were like themselves—with legs, feet, bodies, and wings like theirs—and they realized that they could understand their language. The blue beings, who were Swallows, welcomed the newcomers and addressed them as kinsmen. They promised to be friends and allies forever, but before long one of the Nílch'i Dine'é took liberties with the head Swallow's wife. That treachery was quickly discovered, and bad feelings immediately arose. "Traitors!" the Swallows cried. "We took you in as friends and relatives, and this is how you repay us? Could this be why you were asked to leave the lower world?" The Swallows demanded that they leave immediately, and once again the Nílch'i Dine'é took flight. Once again they encountered a solid sky and could not find an entrance. Just when they were about to give up, a white head mysteriously appeared. "Go to the south," it said. There the locusts led them into the Third World, which was white, through a crooked opening. Again scouts were sent out, and again they found nothing. But in time they discovered that this world was inhabited by Grasshoppers. The Nílch'i Dine'é begged the Grasshoppers to let them stay. As before, the hosts addressed the Nílch'i Dine'é as friends and kin and mingled with them. All went well for a while, but then one of the Nílch'i Dine'é grew weak and committed adultery with the wife of a Grasshopper. The Grasshoppers were incensed and told the Nílch'i Dine'é to leave. This time, when they encountered the impenetrable sky, a red head materialized. "Go to the west," it said. When they entered into the Fourth World through a winding entrance hole in the west, they saw that it was black and white. No one greeted them. The land appeared empty. But they saw four great snow-capped mountains in the distance: one to the east, another to the south, a third to the west, and the fourth to the north. The scouts were dispatched to see if anyone lived on those mountains, but they failed to reach the first three. When they went to the northern mountain, however, they returned with fascinating news. A strange group of beings lived there, dwelling in holes in the ground. These were Kiis'áanii, the Pueblo peoples, who were living in pit-houses. The Nílch'i Dine'é immediately set out to greet the inhabitants of this new land, who welcomed them and prepared a feast of corn, squash, pumpkins, and beans. This time, the Nílch'i Dine'é resolved to behave themselves. And true to their word, they conducted themselves well, and their days passed uneventfully. Then one day a voice was heard calling from the east. Three times the voice called, each time coming closer. Upon the fourth call, four mysterious beings appeared. They were Holy People: White Body, who is called Hashch'éélti'í (Talking God); Blue Body, known as Tóneinilii (Water Sprinkler); Yellow Body, called Hasch'éélitsoi (Calling God); and Black Body, referred to as Hashch'é lizhin (Fire God). These Holy People did not speak, but they tried to communicate with motions and gestures. However, the Nílch'i Dine'é did not understand them. Thus the Holy People appeared, four times over four days. On the fourth day, when the Nílch'i Dine'é still could not understand the signs, Black Body finally spoke: "We want to make more people, but in forms that are more pleasing to us," he said. "You have bodies like us, but you also have the teeth, feet, and claws of insects and four-leggeds. And you smell bad. But first, you must purify yourselves before we return." And so the Nílch'i Dine'é washed themselves and dried their limbs with sacred cornmeal, white for men and yellow for women. On the twelfth day the deities returned, bringing with them two buckskins and two ears of corn. Blue Body and Black Body carried two buckskins, one of which they laid on the ground. Yellow Body carried two perfect ears of corn, white and yellow, and laid them on the buckskin. The second buckskin was placed over the corn and the Nílch'i Dine'é were told to stand back, and the sacred wind entered between the buckskins. As the wind blew, Mirage People appeared and walked around the buckskins. On the fourth turn, the ears of corn moved. When the buckskin was lifted, a man and woman lay where the ears of corn had been. The white ear had been turned into a man and the yellow ear had been turned into a woman. These were Altsé Hastiin and Altsé Asdzáán, First Man and First Woman. These were the first real people, five-fingered beings, and they were made in the image of the Holy People. The Holy People then instructed these new people to build a shelter. First Man and First Woman entered the shelter and thus became husband and wife. First Man was given a rock crystal—the symbol of clear thought—to burn for fire, and First Woman was given turquoise—which represents the power of speech—to burn. In four days a pair of twins were born to them, and these first children were Nádleeh, those who have the spirit of both male and female. Only the first pair were like that. In four days another pair of twins were born, and so on. In all, five pairs of twins were born to them. Ibur days after the birth of the last pair of twins, the Holy People took First Man and First Woman away to the east, to the sacred mountains where they dwelt. There, First Man and First Woman remained for four days. When they returned, the Holy People then took all their children to the east and kept them for four days too. It is during this time that they all received instructions from the Holy People. They learned how to live a good life and to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their divine origins. But because the Holy People were capable of good and evil, they also learned about the terrible secrets of witchcraft as well. After they returned, First Man and First Woman were occasionally seen wearing masks resembling Hashch'éhooghan and Hashch'éélti'í. While thus attired they were holy and they prayed for good things for the people: long life, ample rain, and abundant harvests. Those ceremonies were passed on to bless and protect future generations; the prayers, songs, and rituals have not changed from that time. When it came time to marry, the children of First Man and First Woman joined with the Kiis'áanii and the children of the Mirage People and others. In four days, children were born to these couples, and in four days those descendants bore offspring also. Soon the land was populated with the growing progeny of First Man and First Woman. They planted great fields of corn and other crops. They also built an earthen dam, and the Nádleeh were appointed to be its guardians; while they watched over the dam they created beautiful and useful things, pottery and basketry, and the people praised these inventions. For eight years they lived in comfort and peace. Their days passed uneventfully. Then one day, they saw a strange thing: they saw the sky reach down, while at the same time the earth rose up to meet it. From the point of their union sprang two beings now known as Coyote and Badger, the children of the sky. Their arrival portended both good and bad things for the people. The people prospered for many years, but one day First Woman and First Man had an argument. First Man was a great hunter and provided much food, but First Woman made an ungrateful remark that insulted and greatly angered First Man. He left her and went to the other side of the fire and remained there all night. In the morning First Man called together all the men and told them about First Woman's insult. "Let's teach the women a lesson," he said. "We shall gather our tools and belongings and move away. They'll learn they can't get along without us after all." The men agreed and gathered up their tools and all the things they had made. First Man, recalling the industriousness of the Nádleeh, invited them to come along, and they brought their grinding stones, baskets, cooking utensils, and other useful implements. The men crossed the river and quickly set up a new camp, They cut brush and built new shelters and hunted. When they were hungry, the Nádleeh cooked for them. Across the river, the planted fields they had left behind were ripening. Soon the women harvested corn and other crops and made ready for the winter. Their harvest was abundant and they ate well. They pitied the men, who had to do without fresh corn, squash, and beans. In the evenings, they came down to the river and called to the men and taunted them. "How are you getting along over there? Do you remember the taste of roasted corn?" The men had brought seeds with them, but since it was so late in the season, they had not planted. That winter they ate mostly cakes and mush made from the cornmeal that the Nádleeh had brought along. The following spring, however, the men planted fields larger than those planted by the women. And this time, without the men's help in the fields, the women's harvest was not as plentiful as before. That winter they did not taunt the men. By the fourth year, the men could not eat all the food they grew, and most of it was left in the fields. The women, however, began to run short of food and soon were facing starvation. They had also begun to miss the company of men. The more brazen used objects such as cacti and smooth stones to satisfy themselves, and some say the monsters that later plagued the people were the result of that practice. In time, First Man realized that they could not live apart forever. He realized that the people were in danger of dying out if they did not reproduce. One evening he called to First Woman and they talked about this. They decided that unless they became one people again they would disappear. So the women crossed the river on rafts and joined the men again, and there was great rejoicing and feasting. However, it was soon discovered that three women were missing, a woman and her two daughters. The people thought they had drowned, but they had been captured instead by the Water Monster, Tééholtsódii. The people called to the Holy People for help, and White Body and Blue Body appeared with two shells. They set these shells on the water and caused them to spin, and the water underneath the spinnning shell opened up to reveal the four-chambered dwelling where the monster lived. Accompanied by Coyote, a man and woman descended to the dwelling and searched the chambers—first the one to the east, which was a room of dark waters; then the one to the south, which was made of blue waters; then the one to the west, which was made of yellow waters—and found nothing. Then they entered the north chamber, which was the one made of waters of all colors, and saw the women in there with Tééholtsódii. They also saw the children of Water Monster scampering about. The rescue party reclaimed the women and left, but unbeknownst to them Coyote stole one of the Water Monster's children and tucked it under his robe. When they returned, they were greeted joyously and the people feasted again. The following morning, however, the people noticed something disturbing. They saw many animals running past as if fleeing something. All day this went on, and by the third day the commotion had greatly increased. On the morning of the fourth day, they noticed a white light shining up from the horizon. They sent Locust to investigate and he returned with startling news. The strange light was coming from a wall of water that was converging on them from all sides. The people fled to a nearby hill and thought about what they should do. They cried and proclaimed that this was surely their doom. Then one of the people suggested they plant the seed of a tree so they might climb on it and escape the danger. Squirrel produced two seeds, juniper and piñon, and planted them. The seeds sprouted and grew quickly, but the trees soon began to branch out and flattened into squat shapes. Then Weasel produced two seeds also, pine and spruce, and planted them. The seeds grew into tall trees, but they soon tapered into points and stopped growing. The people wailed in despair. But then someone called out that two people were approaching, an old man and a young man. These men went directly to the summit and did not speak but sat down facing east, the young man first and the old man behind him. The old man then produced seven buckskin bags and spoke: "I have gathered soil from the seven sacred mountains in these bundles and I shall give them to you, but I cannot help you further." The people turned to the young man and he said, "I will help you, but you must not watch what I do." So the people left him and waited at a distance. When the young man finally called them, they saw that he had spread out the contents of the bags of soil and planted in it thirty-two reeds with thirty-two joints. He began to sing, and as he did the reeds began to grow, sending roots deep into the earth. The thirty-two reeds fused into one great reed, which soon towered into the sky. The young man told them to enter a hole that appeared on the east side of the reed. As the floodwaters crashed together outside, the hole closed up and sealed tightly. The reed commenced to grow quickly, lifting the people above the rising water. The Holy People accompanied them. When the reed had reached the sky, Black Body secured the reed against the sky with a plume from his headdress. This sky was solid and there was no opening in its surface, so Locust, who was good at making holes, began to scratch and dig. Eventually he broke through, and the people rejoiced. Turkey was the last to climb out, and his white-tipped tail feathers remain to this day as a reminder of their escape. One by one, the people climbed out of the giant reed into this, the Fifth World, the Glittéring World.
Excerpted from From the Glittering World by Irvin Morris. Copyright © 1997 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsT'áá lá í (One). Into the Glittering World,
Naaki (Two). Child of the Glittering World,
Táá' (Three). Travels in the Glittering World,
Díí' (Four). From the Glittering World,