Creation of the world

Yakima teepee
  • Yakima teepee

In the beginning of the world, all was water. Whee-me-me-ow-ah, the Great Chief Above, lived up in the sky all alone. When he decided to make the world, he went down to the shallow places in the water and began to throw up great handfuls of mud that became land. He piled some of the mud so high that it froze hard and made the mountains. When the rain came, it turned into ice and snow on top of the high mountains. Some of the mud was hardened into rocks. Since that time the rocks have not changed – they have only become harder. The Great Chief Above made trees grow on the earth, and also roots and berries. He made a man out of a ball of mud and told him to take fish from the waters, and deer and other game from the forests. When the man became lonely, the Great Chief Above made a woman to be his companion and taught her how to dress skins, how to find bark and roots, and how to make baskets out of them.

— from “Creation of the Yakima World,” in American Indian Myths and Legends (Pantheon 1984), Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz

Whee-me-me-ow-ah or the Great Chief Above is the creator god in the mythology of the Yakima (or Yakama) people of the Pacific Northwest. In this version, reported by ethnologist Ella E. Clark (1896–1998), the Great Chief Above bestows on humanity the traditional division of labor between men and women.

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