Distant Time: A Possible Typological Literary Universal

(revised July 17, 2017)

Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, University of Oregon, Eugene 

Argument and Evidence

Literature began tens of thousands of years ago as tales told aloud by hunter-gatherers. Consequently, the search for literary universals properly begins with oral narrative, the form that storytelling has taken for most of its existence (Scalise Sugiyama, 2017). The distinction between oral and written literature is a non-trivial one: there are fundamental stylistic differences between these narrative media (Tedlock 1971; Ong 1982; Collins 2016). Similarly, there are pronounced generic (Scalise Sugiyama, forthcoming) and thematic (Scalise Sugiyama 2011) differences between forager and modern storytelling. Thus, due to the emphasis on written literature in the Western canon and academe, many typological universals specific to oral narrative and/or forager storytelling may have been overlooked.

One such candidate is the widespread belief across forager, forager-horticulturalist, and forager-herder (heretofore referred to as “forager”) societies in an epoch referred to variously as “Distant Time” (Nelson 1983), “Myth Time” (de Laguna 1995), the “myth” (Jacobs 1959:ix) or “mythic” age (Liebenberg 2016:167), or the time “When the Animals Were People” (Laird & Laird 1976:147). As Vansina (1985) observes, oral cultures are characterized by two kinds of remembered past, the recent past and the distant past, the latter being the age of creation when the world was populated by supernatural beings, and humans as we know them today did not exist (see Appendix I, below). The distant past is “so remote that its realities are not those of today, and are not to be believed or judged in the ordinary terms of the present” (de Laguna 1995:76). For example, a Yãnomamö narrator observes that “in primeval times all the honeys were easily accessible and would call out their names,” making them easy to find (Wilbert & Simoneau 1990:204). The essence of the Distant Time concept is that, deep in the past, the world was different than it is today and events occurred that are no longer possible. The San, for example, tell stories about the Early Race, a people who lived long ago when the physical laws of the present world did not apply (Lewis-Williams 2000:207). Similarly, the aboriginal people of Australia tell stories of the Dreamtime, “a time, long ago, well before the memories of the older living people, when Australia was transformed from a featureless plain by the activities of a great number of ancestral beings” who were “larger than life and gifted with superhuman magical powers” (Tonkinson 1978:15). The concept of Distant Time is present among foraging peoples across all of Murdock’s (1967) world geographical regions except the Circum-Mediterranean (Table 1)—the only region that lacks extant hunter-gatherer populations. A probable analogue in this region, however, is the “once upon a time” world of European fairy tales, Celtic legends, Norse mythology, and similar traditions: like forager literature, these stories were originally transmitted orally, and transpire in a vague era long ago when magical things happened.


Culture Cluster Culture Group Geo Region Distant Time Animals Like People Human/Animal Transformation Story Categories
2 San, Ju/’hoansi, !Kung Africa x x x x
155 Chukchi, Koryak E Eurasia x x x
157 Ainu E Eurasia x x
229 Arnhem Land Pacific x x x
230 Mardudjara Pacific x x
233 Barrow Point Aborigines Pacific x x x
237 Mimika Pacific x x x
277 Siberian Yupik N Am x x x x
278 Interior Eskimo N Am x x x x
279 Copper Eskimo N Am x x
280 Cree N Am x x
284 Kaska, Tahltan N Am x x x
286 Koyukon (Dena/Ten’a) N Am x x x
287 Tanaina (Dena’ina) N Am x x x x
290 Bella Coola N Am x x
292 Twana N Am x x x
293 Tillamook N Am x x
295 Wiyot, Yurok-Karok, Hupa N Am x x
297 Maidu N Am x x
298 Coast Yuki N Am x x x
299 Yokuts, W. Mono, Miwok N Am x x x x
301 Chumash N Am x x
304 Paiute, Shoshoni N Am x x
305 Chemehuevi N Am x x x
306 Walapai N Am x
308 Klamath-Modoc N Am x x x
309 Nez Percé, Klikitat N Am x x x x
310 Coeur d’Alene, Salish N Am x x x
311 Thompson N Am x x x
312 Kutenai N Am x x
314 Teton-Dakota N Am x x
315 Crow N Am x x x
316 Kiowa N Am x x x
319 Winnebago N Am x x
320 Menomini N Am x
327 Lipan, Chiricahua N Am x x x
364 Yãnomamö S Am x x x
390 Yamana (Yaghan) S Am x x
394 Makka S Am x x x
396 Chamacoco, Ayoreo S Am x x x
n = 40 All Clusters Combined 37 (93%) 33 (83%) 16 (40%) 22 (55%)

Table 1: Evidence of the Distant Time Belief Complex in Forager, Forager-Horticulturalist, and Forager-Herder Societies, by Culture Cluster. Table represents data collected incidentally in the course of conducting other research, and is presented as evidence that more systematic study is warranted. The geographic regions, culture clusters and culture groups are derived from Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas. The North American bias is a by-product of historical circumstance and the language constraints of the investigator. Early Western anthropological study of foragers focused extensively on North American groups, which are consequently over-represented in the Atlas. This bias was likely reinforced by the author’s reliance on English translations.


Many foraging peoples categorize their stories according to whether they are set during Distant Time or the recent past (Table 1). For example, the Teton-Dakota Sioux divide their stories into those that are true and those that are “not to be believed,” the latter of which “are a sort of hang-over . . . from a very, very remote past, from a different age, even from a different order of beings from ourselves” (Deloria 1932: ix). Similarly, the San distinguish between n≠ wasi (“stories”) and n≠ wasi o n!osimasi (“stories of the old people”). The former include hunting stories and historical accounts, while the latter are “without exception set in that long ago time when God walked upon the earth, when animals were still people, and when many strange things occurred which do not occur in the world today” (Biesele 1976:306). Other names for these stories are n≠ wasi o n//ahamasi or “stories of long ago,” and n≠ wasi o k x’aishemasi or “stories of the beginning” (Biesele 1976:306). The Cree make a similar distinction between tipâcimôwin (historical accounts and personal experiences) and âtalôhkân (sacred legends and myths). Ậtalôhkân are set long ago “when things were still in a state of flux in the world” and “before the world jellied down to the way it is today” (Ellis 1995:xix-xx).

One way in which Distant Time typically differs from present time is that the boundary between humans and other life forms is fluid (Table 1). This is expressed in slightly different ways across cultures, but the basic idea is that “animals were like people” (Erdoes & Ortiz 1998:12) or “animals were people and people were animals” (Reichard 1947:14). For example, the ancestral beings of the Dreamtime “are generally conceived of as simultaneously part animal, part human, and endowed with characteristics of both” (Tonkinson 1978:15). The Yamana origin myth corpus is set during a “protohuman” era, during which “primeval ancestors . . . migrated to what became known as Yamana country from a distant place in the East. They came on foot, as anthropomorph or zoomorph beings, and, after their various earthly adventures, ascended into the sky or stayed on earth in animal form” (Wilbert & Gusinde 1977:10-11). Similarly, the !Kung believed that “the animals were all people in the beginning. All stories dealing with animals, therefore, have them acting much like human beings, though they already possess traits that will characterise them when they become animals” (Biesele 1993:21). Along these same lines, the Mono Lake Paiute believed that “long ago, all the animals were people and lived in tribes as men do” (Steward 1936:429).

A common corollary of this belief is that, in the Distant Time, animals and humans could understand one another. For example, the Koyukon believed that, “In the beginning. . . . all the birds and animals were like men. All were talking” (de Laguna 1995:121), and the Bella Coola believed that long ago “man was able to understand the speech and actions of the birds, the mammals, and the fish” (McIlwraith 1948:385). Likewise, the Klamath and Modoc believed that the primeval denizens of their world were anthropomorphic beings who “walked and spoke like men” (Stern 1956:141). Another common belief is that animals could turn into people at will, and vice versa (Table 1). This belief is reflected in Salish tales, where “in any story, a mythological character may change his appearance and his personality, so that at any point he seems human and at another point an animal” (Clark 1966:25). Similarly, in the tales of the Nunamiut and other peoples of the far north, when animals “‘push back their hoods,’ they either assume human form or become able to talk with humans” (Ingstad & Bergsland 1987:51). The converse is also true: humans can transform themselves into animals. For example, a Tanaina story tells of two women who “wrapped brown-bear skins around themselves” to turn into grizzlies, later “pushed back their hoods” to resume human form, and finally “pulled their hoods back down. . . [and] turned back into brown bears” (Tenenbaum & McGary 1987:29-31).

Another component of the Distant Time complex is the belief that, at some point in the past, the world was transformed into its current state. This is often referred to as the transformation period, or simply the Transformation. During this era of world change, an ancestral being or beings traveled throughout the land and, in the course of their daily activities, created land formations, deposited resources, and made other modifications that characterize the physical environment of the present time (e.g., Napaljarri & Cataldi 1994:xvii). For example, the Klikitat “recognized a ‘former world’ when all living things were persons, which was followed by a ‘Great Change,’ resulting in the present world. Myths from the former world, including the events of the Transformation, are wat’i’t’ac; stories from the latter days are txa’nat, ‘happenings’ or ‘customs’” (Ramsey 1977: xxiv). Known as transformers, these characters and story cycles based on their adventures are common across forager oral tradition, and are another possible typological universal (Scalise Sugiyama, forthcoming).

Future Research

The claim being made here is that across foraging cultures we see: (1) a belief that in primordial times the world was different from the world of today; (2) predictable patterns in the components of this belief complex; and (3) a story category rooted in this belief complex. The fact that the data in Table 1 and Appendix I were collected incidentally in the course of conducting other, unrelated research suggests that this phenomenon is sufficiently widespread to warrant more extensive, systematic investigation.

The early anthropologists and linguists who collected forager myths and tales did not as a rule identify the belief complexes that informed them; thus, information about the Distant Time belief is typically mentioned only in passing. Due to gaps in the ethnographic record, then, it is impossible to determine whether the Distant Time belief is an absolute universal. However, in many cases the belief in Distant Time can be inferred from the stories themselves, as in a Chamacoco story that begins, “Long ago the toucan was human” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:156). Thus, it should be possible to determine whether the Distant Time belief complex is a statistical universal by conducting a cross-cultural survey using a representative sample of forager story corpora (see, e.g., Scalise Sugiyama 2014).


Appendix 1: Cross-Cultural Evidence of the Distant Time Belief Complex

in Forager, Forager-Horticulturalist, and Forager-Herder Societies

The passages aggregated in this appendix evince one or more of the following: (1) a belief in a Distant Time when the world was different than it is today and events occurred that are no longer possible; (2) a belief that, during the Distant Time, animals were like people; (3) a belief that, during the Distant Time, people could turn into animals and/or vice versa; and (4) a cultural distinction made between stories of the Distant Time and stories of the recent past. Evidence is presented by culture cluster (Murdock 1967), and in some cases is drawn from multiple cultures within that cluster. Not all clusters contain evidence of all four facets of the Distant Time belief complex (see Table 1). This is likely due to the preliminary nature of this study; the absence of a trait in the appendix should therefore not be interpreted as definitive evidence of its absence in the culture or culture cluster in question.

2 Bushmen

The San distinguish between n≠ wasi (“stories”) and n≠ wasi o n!osimasi (“stories of the old people”). The former include hunting stories and historical accounts, while the latter are “without exception set in that long ago time when God walked upon the earth, when animals were still people, and when many strange things occurred which do not occur in the world today” (Biesele 1976:306). Other names for these stories are n≠ wasi o n//ahamasi or “stories of long ago,” and n≠ wasi o k x’aishemasi or “stories of the beginning” (Biesele 1976:306).

The !Kung believed that “the animals were all people in the beginning. All stories dealing with animals, therefore, have them acting much like human beings, though they already possess traits that will characterise them when they become animals” (Biesele 1993:21).

“Though Bushman oral literature contains a number of other forms, folktales are the most frequently performed. The Ju/’hoansi call these . . . ‘stories of the old people’. They are all set in a long-ago time when the trickster walked upon the earth, when animals ‘were people’, and when many bizarre things occurred which do not occur in the world today” (Biesele 1993:17).

“Their old people tell the Ju/’hoansi of today that when the world first began, the animals were people, with people’s names. Then Kaoxa, through the agency of his servant the kori bustard, changed all the people into the different animals by branding markings on them with fire” (Biesele 1993:122).

“The Naron say, in olden times the trees were people, and the animals were people, and one day Hife bade them be animals and trees” (Bleek 2011:26).

155 Paleo-Siberians

“Chukchee story-tellers usually class their stories in three distinct groups” (Bogoras 1920:581). Stories from the first group are referred to as “tidings from the time of first creation” and include creation myths and stories of deities. The second group, “genuine tales,” includes “stories about the adventures of shamans” and stories “containing very realistic descriptions of every-day life, without any trace of the imaginative element. Animal tales and fables are usually classed with this group” (Bogoras 1902:581). The third group, “hostile tidings,” comprises “stories of wars with various neighboring tribes” (Bogoras 1902:581). “The reason for the distinctions between these groups of tales is founded on the belief that they happened in different periods. The first group is considered to be anterior to all others, and to have some ‘from the limit (of the time) of the first creation’ (tot-tómwa-tágnêpu). The second group comes ‘from the limits of story-time’ (lŭ’ mñıl-tágnêpu). The third group comes ‘from the limit of the quarrelling-time (a qalılát-tágnêpu), which is considered to be quite recent” (Bogoras 1902:582).

Koryak: “the Raven myth . . . on the Asiatic side, is not less prominent than on the American side. . . . The character of the Raven is essentially the same as on the American side. He is the transformer, but not the creator, of the world. He brings light and fresh water, and teaches the human race the ways of earthly life, from copulation to the making of nets. At the same time he is the common, laughing-stock, foolish and dirty, perpetrator of many misdeeds, and the object of various tricks. In several episodes of the myth his supernatural qualities are more or less skillfully blended with his ordinary features and faculties as a real bird, eating carrion and always hungry. . . . Some of the American episodes of the Raven tale appear on Asiatic soil; others are peculiar to Asia, though similar to the rest in character and composition. Many of them are common to most of the Asiatic Bering sea tribes. Among the Chukchee, notwithstanding the large number of Raven stories, they do not appear to be very prominent among the whole mass of traditions, since a large part of their folklore bears resemblance to that of the Eskimo. . . . Among the Koryak, on the contrary, the Raven myth has a much greater importance. . . . He is the transformer of the world, the ancestor of mankind, the teacher of various pursuits, who, after making mankind fit to support themselves, goes away to another country or else turns into stone” (Bogoras 1902:636-638).

157 Ainu

“the concept of time is ideologically differentiated in Ainu world view into two categories: the category of the mythical time (the divine time) and that of the historical time (the human time). The former signifies the time when Ainu-moshir [the Human World] was integrated with heavenly Kamui-moshir [the Divine World], and the latter is the time after the two worlds were separated. (Yamada 2001:38).

“The motif of oina, which symbolizes the return of the culture hero Oina Kamui to heaven, represents the termination of the participation of heavenly deities in the Human World (Ainu-moshir) on earth after its creation. The return of the culture hero to heaven signifies the separation of the Human World from the heavenly Divine World, which had been united, and the end of the mythical era” (Yamada 2001:188-189).

“An ear of millet was pounded. In six tubs it was moved to the sacred place. After two or three days, the Gods desired to partake of it. The odour filled the whole house. So when it was strained and was ready to drink and all was ready, a host of gods were invited to drink—the male Owl; the male Jay and the male Crow; the male Eagle and the male Ousel; and the male Black kite were brought in. . . . [They] were drinking at the height of the feast, when the male Jay danced and . . . gllided out of sight from the house; and carrying an acorn in its beak he entered the house and put it into the tub; the wine being bettered the Gods rejoiced. And then, the male Crow danced and went outside from sight. And holding a lump of filth entered and put it into a tub. And so the wine being spoiled there was a great uproar—and now the male Crow being in danger of getting killed the guests were afraid and asked the male Woodpecker to intervene, but the male Woodpecker said: “You made wine but you did not invite me to partake. Even though there be a quarrlel I will not help you. So listen to me.” So he said. So . . . they appealed to the male Snipe who replied saying: “You made wine but did not invite me to partake, even though there be a quarrel I will not help you”; so he said. The male Snipe having so spoken made haste and entered his own house. And so from very olden times crows have been killed” (Batchelor 1924:25-28).

229 Northwest Australia

Arnhem Land: Most “Australian aboriginal creation beliefs. . . . have in common accounts of a period dim beyond memory called the Dreamtime or wongar time, during which spirit beings appeared and created the earth. These creator spirits had the form of animals, birds, and fish, but people did not yet exist. The Dreamtime period ended when some of these spirit beings turned themselves into human form and their descendants began to populate the earth. The creator spirits are eternal, they live now as in the beginning and will continue to exist forever” (Allen 1975:42).

230 Central Australia

Mardudjara: “a time, long ago, well before the memories of the older living people, when Australia was transformed from a featureless plain by the activities of a great number of ancestral beings” who were “larger than life and gifted with superhuman magical powers.” These beings “are generally conceived of as simultaneously part animal, part human, and endowed with characteristics of both” (Tonkinson 1978:15).

233 Northeast Australia

The indigenous people of Barrow Point distinguish between stories “about times past when things happened to distant but traceable kinsmen” and stories “from a much earlier era when animals walked, hunted, talked, and ate like human beings, and when the present conditions of life were established” (Haviland & Hart 1998:26).

237 West Papuans

Mimika/Asmat: “the Asmat people divide the past into two periods of which one embraces the other. The ultimate past includes the most recent past as well as the distant past. The mediate past is the interval of time between and begins with yesterday and goes as far back as the generations still alive can recall from their own experience” (Offenberg & Pouwer 2002:22). They make a distinction “between stories about the primal time of the culture heroes and stories about the historical time of the ancestors. The historical period covers in their idea only three generations: parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents. Anything preceding the ancestors is seen as amoko, primal time or mythological time” (Offenberg & Pouwer 2002:24).

Mimika/Asmat: “It is remarkable that creation stories about the origin of earth are lacking in the Asmat and Mimika. The world exists and that is experienced as a simple fact. Parts of the world are described and ascribed: how the moon appeared in the heavens, where the sago palm grew first, how rivers came into being. . . . There is no mention of a creator or a Supreme Being and gods are not mentioned, only culture heroes. These seem to be a kind of superior beings, amokowe, who act as human beings but possess extraordinary gifts and strengths. With a gesture of the hand they make a tree or river appear and often they have a human being or an animal as mother. Metamorphosis is a regular occurrence: the dividing line between humans, animals and plants is flexible. There is no ranking order of creatures although some people are ‘better’ than others because of their behavior or talents. . . . But a human being who becomes a tree is not downgraded and a tree that becomes a human is not given a higher ranking order. Culture heroes, departed ancestors and living humans interact frequently” (Offenberg & Pouwer 22-23).

Mimika/Asmat: “the storyteller Warsekomen distinguished tarei atakam, a story about olden times about one’s own ancestors from je atakam, stories which are not about one’s own ancestors. . . . The category tarei atakam can be seen as history . . . while the category je atakam stands for mysterious stories. . . . When the story is about culture heroes the Asmat call these myths je atakam. . . . Pouwer adds that the same holds for the Mimika. For them the amoko-kwere are stories about the culture heroes and the stories about the ancestors are called tata-kwere” (Offenberg & Pouwer 2002:23).

Mimika: “In the evening the old woman. . . . dived into the water and began to turn into a turtle. She grabbed a piece of wood and pierced her nose. Now she looked more like a turtle. She waved what was left of her arms and legs. . . . Her daughter appeared. The old woman cried. . . . ’Your husband has chopped off my arms, legs and ears. . . . I have become a sea turtle so that my grandchildren will be able to eat me.’ A little later she cried, ‘Daughter . . . give me a shove eastwards. Then I will go to Potaway and stay there’” (Offenberg & Pouwer 2002:235-236).

277 Western Eskimo (Yupik)

Note: Although not inherently derogatory, the name “Eskimo” is now widely regarded as pejorative by indigenous peoples. It has been retained here and below to prevent confusion: it is the name used in the texts cited and, in the absence of other identifying information, there is often no obvious alternative.

The Yupik recognize three different types of tales: “unipagan (the story of true happenings), unipamsyuk (news), and unipak (new things). All three terms are derived from the basic verb unipa (to tell, to narrate)” (Dolitsky 2000:vii).

“Many tales about animals go back to ancient totemic myths and myths about cultural heroes. The heroes of the tale are animals, birds, and insects always occupied with the search for food. Similar to people, they conduct their housekeeping, have hunting gear, reindeer, boats, human-like dwellings, and clothing” (Dolitsky 2000:viii).

“The totemic concepts of the aborigines of the Chukchi and Kamchatka Peninsulas about animal ancestors of man . . . find reflection in their narrative traditions. Later the animal ‘personages’ of the tales . . . change into human beings” (Dolitsky 2000:89).

“The woman cautiously took the kukhlyanka, began to put it on and did so without effort. She looked at herself and saw that she had turned into a fox. She tried to walk, she could not; her muzzle was resting on the floor. . . . She tried once, she tried twice—to no avail; she fell on her side and overturned upside-down. The small woman taught her: you have to walk slightly sideways, hold your tail level with the body, don’t lower it, don’t turn it up. . . . She sat among the boulders until night came. When it got completely dark she took off the fox hide and hid it among the boulders. She became a woman again and walked down to the village” (Dolitsky 2000:33).

278 Interior Eskimo

Alaskan Eskimo, Colville River: “The world was not always the same as it is now. Nor were the game animals. Our first ancestors hunted big game which exist no longer. The birds too have changed, for there are memories of their once being heavy and snow fliers. It was in the time when people walked on their hands. Everything is different now, the world, the game, and the people” (Rasmussen 1952:151).

Alaskan Eskimo: “again and again they [myths] describe the times when animals could turn into men and often lived as animals” (Rasmussen 1952:37).

Alaskan Eskimo: “The first human beings on the earth were partly animals, partly humans. They could turn themselves into which they liked, animal or man. From these original ‘dwellers of the earth’ descend the land game” (Rasmussen 1952:118).

Alaskan Eskimo, Colville River: “Once upon a time two ravens, man and wife, had a little house high up on an ivnaq (cliff). In those days the ravens would sometimes be human beings, at other times ravens. Thus all animals might change their form, habits and customs” (Rasmussen 1952:167).

Alaskan Eskimo, Utorqaq River: a story tells of the “girl Alarana and her brother who were eaten by wolves and afterward became caribou.” After Alarana and her brother are transformed into caribou by a she-wolf, they and their herd are pursued by a group of hunters. Alarana visits the hunters’ camp in the evening because “she longed for human speech, and . . . human company. She felt a desire to visit them, so she and her brother ran into the forest and threw off their outer fur. On the ground lay two wet caribou skins, but brother and sister were again human beings, and thuswise they visited the settlement” (Rasmussen 1952:178).

Alaskan Eskimo (Noatak and Kotzebue regions): “the mother drew the large skin over her and sang a magic song. The skin immediately laid itself about her body and she herself became a brown bear. The children were afraid and began to cry: ‘Mother, mother, you look like a brown bear. Mother, mother, we are so afraid of you!’ Then the mother took the fur off and became a woman again, saying, ‘That is how it must be. We shall all look like brown bears’, and she tried the cub skins on the children and made magic over them, so that they became brown bears too” (Rasmussen 1952:186).

The “Iñupiat differentiated between legends (unipkaat) and historical chronicles (uqaluktuat). The former were ancient tales that were thought to be true, while the latter were authentic incidents only a few generations old or less” (Burch 2005:50).

In Nunamiut stories, when animals “‘push back their hoods,’ they either assume human form or become able to talk with humans” (Ingstad & Bergsland 1987:51).

Tikerarmiut: “Two kinds of tales, one called Oqaluktoq, the other Unipqok, communicated all the native theories about the world and its people from one generation of Tikerarmiut to the next. Oqaluktoq comprised authentic incidents, perhaps two or three generations old, which related native experiences with the pack ice, the currents, the winds, the animals hunted, and the methods by which unusual situations were resolved. Related as they were by the old men in the qalegis, these narratives were tantamount to instruction of the young men and boys in the mores of the tribe, in social behavior, in the meeting of practical day-to-day situations, and in the methods of contending with the natural world about them. These instructions from members of the family and, particularly, from the namesakes who acted as mentors constituted the practical education of Tikerarmiut youths. . . . The Unipqok, on the other hand, were the very ancient tales which the Tikerarmiut thought were true, tales which had been passed on from one generation to the next for perhaps centuries. Related as the experiences of very remote ancestors and mythical beings, they explained the nature of animals and men, and the world they lived in. They served as the intellectual bridge between the mundane and the supernatural worlds. They justified, explained, and set a precedent for beliefs and customary patterns of behavior. An unusual circumstance, a conflict of opinions, or a special difficulty demanded the recitation of either of the two types of tales to determine the course of action to be followed. Together they constituted a kind of moral and legal code for the tribe” (Rainey 1947:269).

Tikerarmiut: “So far as I know, no Unipqok tale explains the original creation of the world and men. In the beginning there were people, a strange kind of people who walked on their hands and lived in a world with no daylight. . . . To these people, snow was blubber. . . . They had no name. One time an old woman modeled a little image of a man with a bird’s bill on his forehead from the gummy drippings of a seal oil lamp. After she had placed the image near the wall of her house and slept for a time she found a man seated there. . . . This man . . . walked on his feet; when he spoke, his voice was like that of a raven” (Rainey 1947:269).

Tikerarmiut: “Returning to the village of the people who walked on their hands, Raven-man transformed them so that they walked on their feet; he changed the snow from blubber to drinking water. . . . Tulugak [Raven-man] finally went off towards the south, intending to travel all over the earth and the sky ‘fixing people up’” (Rainey 1947:269-270).

279 Central & Eastern Eskimo

The Copper Eskimo believed that, “In former times animals in human form were very common. Then they lived just like men as long as they were in human form. . . . In olden times, too, everybody could easily turn into animals, and until quite recently shamans have had the same powers” (Rasmussen 1932:35).

280 Cree-Montagnais

The Cree make a distinction between tipâcimôwin (historical accounts and personal experiences) and âtalôhkân (sacred legends and myths). Ậtalôhkân are set long ago “when things were still in a state of flux in the world” and “before the world jellied down to the way it is today” (Ellis 1995:xix-xx).

284 Carrier-Nahani

Kaska: “A long time ago, when all the animals were people, Beaver was a great transformer” (Teit 1917:429).

Kaska: “Rabbit-Man was very clever. He was a shaman and next in power to Beaver. He had two brothers and a sister. The latter was married to Bear-Man, and the two brothers lived with them. Rabbit lived alone in another place. Bear became angry because his young brothers-in-law were lazy, and he made up his mind to starve them. He made them always camp behind himself and his wife, in a different place, and gave them raw liver. Rabbit-Man knew that his brothers had no fire and no good food to eat” (Teit 1917:467).

Tahltan (Tagish): “Long time ago, animals were all people. That was before they had light. One time they were all out fishing. Fox and Bear were fishing there—they talk like a person. Crow comes up. . . . He can’t die, that Crow, can’t get killed. . . . He turns himself into a little [piece of] dirt—puts himself right there [in the water]. . . . That lady comes to get water. Just like a dish, that pot [she carries]. He goes into that pot, goes in like a little dirt. . . . That girl started to drink the water and she swallowed him down!” (Cruikshank 1990:179-180).

Tahltan (Tagish): “A middle-aged man and his wife and daughter camped one place. . . . because they were too old to travel around. She’s quite a young girl, that daughter. Whenever she went out, a dog sits in the doorway. . . . Finally, they moved someplace. . . . But that dog doesn’t go with them. ‘Go back and get my dog,’ that father says to the girl. The girl goes almost close to the camp. Just near the camp, a pretty young fellow meets her. ‘Marry me. Stay with me,’ he says to her. . . . The next morning, they go hunting. They kill moose. . . . Another time, he went to hunt caribou. She heard a dog bark. . . . She looked and saw her father’s dog. . . . One night she wakes up. Here her husband is gone! She hears a dog chewing something. She waits a while, looks around. She sees her father’s dog across the fire, chewing bones. . . . She hears the dog shake. Soon her husband comes in again, all clean. . . . That night, she throws bones out again—pretends she falls asleep. He tries to move around, to check if she’s asleep. She pretends to be asleep. He went outside. Then he came back in inside—a dog! He started chewing. She sneaked up quiet. . . . She clubbed him to death. . . . Finally, she traveled out, back to her father and mother. She found she’s going to have a baby. She had eight puppies that time. What’s she going to do?” (Cruikshank 1990:103-104).

286 Lower Yukon

The Koyukon concept of Myth Time refers to a period “so remote that its realities are not those of today, and are not to be believed or judged in the ordinary terms of the present. That was when all Animals were Men, with the power of human speech” (de Laguna 1995:76).

The Koyukon believed that, “In the beginning. . . . All the birds and animals were like men. All were talking” (de Laguna 1995:121).

287 South Central Alaska

Tanaina (Dena’ina):”a large group of traditional stories called sukdu. . . . The Dena’ina regard these stories as descriptions of the way the world was and of events that occurred before the world became the way it is today; in this ancient time, all animals were people. . . . sometimes characters like Raven and Lynx and Wolverine act the way they would in animal form, and sometimes they do things in human form; in those days, // they had the ability to be either animal or human” (Tenenbaum & McGary 1987:6-7). They recognize another story type; these stories “are not, strictly speaking, sukdu. They are, rather, historical accounts of events that occurred in the wars with the neighboring Yupik Eskimos” (Tenenbaum & McGary 1987:7).

290 Kwakiutl-Bella Coola

Bella Coola: The Bella Coola believed that long ago “man was able to understand the speech and actions of the birds, the mammals, and the fish” (McIlwraith 1948:385).

292 Coast Salish

The Twana distinguished between tales set before the “turning over” or world change, and those set after it. Stories that take place before the world change “have their setting in a prehuman period, the sa ‘bu. . . . The people of the sa ‘bu are animals, or at least they bear animal names and have some of the attributes of animals. Yet they are more or less human in personality and motivations. Informants consistently refer to the sa’ bu period as ‘when the animals were people,’ but also as ‘when the people were animals’” (Elmendorf 1993:lii).

293 Chinook

“The stories in the Tillamook literature were classified by the natives as belonging to one or the other of three successive time levels. The earliest is the myth age. The next is the era of transformation, when South Wind made the world over as it is known today. The third is the period of true happenings—or rather the era of relatively recent history from the point of view of the Tillamooks, because all the stories describe what these people believe truly occurred” (Jacobs & Jacobs 1990:ix).

Tillamook: “The Myth Era per se, represented by myth-narratives disclosing a time when the world (meaning the specific homeland of the people) is ‘raw,’ unfinished, in some respects chaotic, populated by freaks and monsters as well as the prototypes of the people-to-come, who as yet lack the rituals, customs, and know-how of civilized life” (Ramsey 1990:xxi).

295 Northwest California

“One of the most fundamental characteristics of the mythological beliefs of these three tribes [Wiyot, Yurok-Karok, Hupa] is the idea of a former distinct race, conceived of as very human in nature although endowed with supernatural powers, who inhabited the world before the coming of men, and then either left the inhabited world to become spirits or turned into animals. This race is the Kixûnai of the Hupa. In a general way this previous race is held responsible by the Indians for everything now existing in the world, and it is often stated that all the characters in myths were members of it. . . . The most prominent characters in the several mythologies are one or more culture-heroes, of whom the Hupa Yimantuwiñyai, ‘Lost-across-the-ocean,’ by another name ‘Old-man-over-across,’ is a typical illustration. . . . The Yurok and Karok characters that correspond to him are called ‘Widower-across-the-water’” (Kroeber 1905:87).

297 Maidu-Wintun

Maidu: “Some of the stories . . . take place in a time that clearly predates the advent of Indian people; in these stories the actors are predominantly animals, plants, or objects with human or humanlike characteristics and occasional human beings who are not identified as flora, fauna, or objects. Other stories involve humans–that is, Indian people–but may also involve nonhuman people, such as Pitch Woman” (Seaburg 2007:40).

298 Pomo-Yuki

Coast Yuki: “Myths (alwisa) were called ‘night stories.’ To relate them in the daytime, or to even think about them, would give the narrator a humpback. Moreover, winter was the season for telling them. . . . Coast Yuki women, as well as men, told ‘night stories.’ At the conclusion of a story the raconteur touched his belly and his forehead with his right palm and said, ‘Winen nen, winen tok.’ I could not learn the exact meaning of this expression. It referred to the story being finished. . . . One informant said that if he missed telling any detail of the story, he or I would become ill. On one occasion when there was a call for me in the middle of a story, he insisted on finishing instead of postponing it. The events told in night stories occurred before the appearance of the present race. The characters of the stories constituted the prehuman race, which the Coast Yuki believed preceded them” (Gifford 1937:116).

Coast Yuki: “All the birds were the first people [not the mammals, but all the birds we see now, even gull, cormorant, and turkey vulture]. There was to be a big shinny game. They started playing the game. People from all over the country came to play the game” (Gifford 1937:119).

299 Miwok-Yokuts

Yokuts and Western Mono: “With few exceptions the stories collected are myths in the sense which Boas has defined. They are concerned with persons and events of an era before the appearance of man, when birds, animals, insects, and even plants, were active denizens of this world. . . . Of tales which are believed to record recent historical events, Newman obtained two, one the narrative of an actual war between several tribal groups (which is not included here)” (Gayton & Newman 1940:8-9).

Miwok: “The mythology of the Indians of California goes back much farther than our mythology: it goes back to the time of the First People—curious beings who inhabited the country for a long period before man was created.” Their myths tell of “the doings of the First People. . . . [and] of the transformation of the First People into animals and other objects of nature” (Merriam 1910:17). The Miwok believed in the “existence of a First People, beings who differed materially from the present Indians, and who, immediately before the present Indians were created, were transformed into animals, trees, rocks, and in some cases into stars and other celestial bodies or forces—for even Sah’-win-ne the Hail, and Nuk’-kah the Rain were First People” (Merriam 1910:18). They also believed in the “preexistence of Coyote-man . . . a divinity of unknown origin” as well as “other divinities, notably Wek’-wek the Falcon, grandson and companion of Coyote-man, Mol’-luk the Condor, father of Wek’-wek, and Pe-ta’-le the Lizard, who, according to several tribes, assisted Coyote-man in the creation of Indian people.” They also believed in the “possession of supernatural powers or magic by Coyote-man, Wek’-wek, and others of the early divinities, enabling them to perform miracles” (Merriam 1910:18).

Miwok: “The names of individual personages among the First People were carried on to the animals, objects, or forces which these people became at the time of their final transformation, and are still borne by them. Hence in the accompanying stories the names of the various animals and objects should not be understood as referring to them as they exist today but to their remote ancestors among the First People. Whatever their original form—and the Indian conception seems to picture them as half human—the distinctive attributes of the First People were in the main handed down to the animals and objects they finally became” (Merriam 1910:23).

Miwok: “In addition to the Ancient Myths or First People stories, which relate to the early history of the world, the Mewan tribes have numerous beliefs concerning the present and the very recent past” (Merriam 1910:207).

301 Southwest California

Chumash: “When animals were still people, there was a fiesta at Zaca and all the quail were invited” (Blackburn 1975:228). “Long ago, when the animals were people, Coyote got to worrying about his poverty, and one day he said to himself, ‘I’m going to travel around and see what I can find’” (Blackburn 1975:229). “This is not a story, it’s an incident that happened long ago, when animals were people” (Blackburn 1975:245).

304 Central Great Basin

Mono Lake Paiute (“Tu’kini”): “Long ago, all the animals were people and lived in tribes as men do” (Steward 1936:429).

Shoshoni: “Once all the animals were people” (Steward 1936:434).

305 Southern Paiute

Chemehuevi: “A myth is tɨwiinyapɨ, deriving from tɨwiinyagah, tells a myth, narrates an ancient tale. . . . This root and its derivatives may be used only of events or beings belonging to pre-human times, When the Animals Were People. Tɨwiinyagah is not applied to the narration of exploits or adventures taking place in the world as it is at present, no matter how remote in time or drenched with magic these events may be. . . . The characters in the myths are Narɨwiinyapɨwɨ, Immortal Ones, Everlasting Ones, literally, Self-Mythologizing Ones” (Laird & Laird 1976:147).

306 Plateau Yumans

Walapai: “Coyote . . . and Wolf . . . were sitting in their house talking over the naming of the different animals. At this time these animals were men” (Kniffen et al. 1935:250).

308 Lutuami

Klamath/Modoc: “myths depict a time long past, before humans like those of today existed, when the world was populated by anthropomorphized animals who ‘walked and spoke like men’” (Sobel & Bettles 2000:290, citing Stern 1956:141).

“The Klamath distinguish myths from other narratives by referring to a myth as ‘s’ as’ apg’ lis’ meaning ‘a telling’ or ‘a tale’” (Sobel & Bettles 2000:290, citing Stern 1956:141).

309 Sahaptin

Nez Percé: “‘When the world was young’—so old Indians often began their tales—human beings and animals and birds all spoke the same language. . . . Because of this close relationship between the Indian and nature, it is not surprising that most of this tales were about animals and birds. Rather, they are about the ‘animal people’ or ‘animal persons,’ as English-speaking Indians refer to them today. These mythological beings lived on the earth when it was young, ‘when people had not come out yet.’ They had many of the characteristics of their smaller descendants in today’s world. Yet they could reason and talk, and they lived as the people telling the tales lived. In any story, a mythological character may change his appearance and his personality, so that at any point he seems human and at another point an animal” (Clark 1966:25).

The Klikitat “recognized a ‘former world’ when all living things were persons, which was followed by a ‘Great Change,’ resulting in the present world. Myths from the former world, including the events of the Transformation, are wat’i’t’ac; stories from the latter days are txa’nat, ‘happenings’ or ‘customs’” (Ramsey 1977: xxiv, footnote 8).

310 Interior Salish

Coeur d’Alene: “Teit in his short presentation of free translations gives a good cross-section of the types of [Coeur d’Alene] narrative. In this collection there are thirty-eight myths, that is, accounts of things as they happened before the world was as it is now; two tales or accounts of happenings in the historical period; and ten narratives of actual historical encounters which were remembered by living people or which happened not less than a hundred years ago” (Reichard 1947:5-6).

In Coeur d’Alene myth, “animals were people and people were animals. There was little differentiation, and animals had the good or bad characteristics which we now ascribe to people in addition to the characteristics now possessed by the animals themselves” (Reichard 1947:14).

Salish: “Long, long ago when the world was young, Old Man in the Sky drained off the earth which he had made. When he had it crowded down into the big salt holes, the land became dry. About the same time, Old Man Coyote became lonely and so went up into the Sky Land to talk to Old Man. Old Man questioned him. ‘Why are you unhappy and crying? Have I not made the much land for you to run about on? Are not Beaver, Otter, Bear, and Buffalo on the land to keep you company? [. . . ] Why do you come up here so often, just to talk?’ Old Coyote sat down and cried many more tears. Old Man became very cross and began to scold. ‘Foolish old Coyote, you must not drop so much water upon the land. Have I not worked many days to dry it? Soon you will have it all covered with water again. What is the trouble with you? What more do you want to make you happy?’ ‘I am very lonely because I have no one to talk to,’ Coyote answered. “Beaver, Otter, Bear, and Buffalo are busy with their families. They do not have time to visit with me. I want a people of my own, so that I may watch over them’” (Clark 1966:73).

311 Northern Plateau

Thompson: “At one time, very long ago, the earth was very different from what it is at present. There were no trees, and many kinds of bushes and plants were wanting; neither was there any salmon or other fish, nor any berries. The people who lived during this age were called spêtā’kl. They were mostly animals, who, nevertheless, had human form. They were gifted in magic; and their children used to reach maturity in a few months. There were among them many cannibals, and many mysterious persons. After a time certain men successively appeared on the earth, travelling here and there, working wonders, changing and modifying the existing order of things. Gradually many of the spêtā’kl who were bad were shorn of their powers, driven out of the country, or were transformed into birds, fishes, animals, and trees” (Teit 1898:19).

312 Kutenai

“Long ago, when the animals were the people of the world, a chief asked, ‘Who will be the Sun?’ All the animal people talked among themselves and decided that Raven should be the Sun. The chief agreed and told him what he should do. When Raven started on his journey, it became dark. Next morning the people watched for him to come up. But he was not bright enough, and the whole day was like evening. When Raven returned, the people said to him, ‘We do not want you for the Sun. You made everything black.’ [. . . ] The animal people held another council and talked the matter over again. Coyote said to them, ‘Let me be the Sun’” (Clark 1966:142).

314 Northeast Plains

The Teton-Dakota divide their stories into those that are true and those that are “not to be believed,” the latter of which “are a sort of hang-over . . . from a very, very remote past, from a different age, even from a different order of beings from ourselves” (Deloria 1932:ix).

315 Upper Missouri

“The Crow divided their tales into two principal groups corresponding roughly to what we should call myths and traditions. The latter are called . . . ‘something-tell-true’ and are supposed to be based on the direct experience of the Crow Indian. . . . The mythic tales are designated by a term slightly varying in form but always lacking the evidential suffix and presenting the stem for ‘to tell’ in reduplicated form” (Lowie 1918:13).

Crow: “In the old days wolves and coyotes had bows and arrows” (Lowie 1918:25).

316 Southern Plains

Kiowa: “Among older people, men and women, there are still many delightful story tellers, and there are old men who . . . will remark conversationally that ‘long time ago Dog he talk Kiowa’” (Parsons 1929:x).

“The widespread concept of animal-human transformation is common to Kiowa and Pueblos” (Parsons 1929:xv).

“Split Boys is undoubtedly a myth or ritual tale, ‘a true story,’ as the Kiowa put it, in distinction to the pulhæitekya, lie or joke story” (Parsons 1929:xvii).

“This young woman and her sister and a band of girls went down to the creek. After they got there, her sister proposed that they play a game of bear, one to act as the bear and the others to go near the den and pick some berries, and the bear would chase them until he caught one of them. . . . The woman with the bear hide played the part of the bear. She told her little sister to run back to the camp and hide. . . . The young woman placed the bearskin on her back in order to become a real bear. On the second and third trial of the skin on her back, she turned part bear. On the fourth trial she was all bear. She ran after the girls and caught them and killed them” (Parsons 1929:10).

319 Prairie Siouans

“Like most American Indian tribes, the Winnebago divided their prose narratives into two types: those that dealt with a past that was irretrievably gone and which belonged to the realm of things no longer possible or attainable by man or spirits; and those which dealt with the present workaday world. The first is called waikan, what-is-sacred, and the second worak, what-is-recounted” (Radin 1956:118).

320 Central Algonkians

“The folklore of the Menomini may be divided into five classes, four of which are recognized by the Indians themselves. First, are the sacred myths of Ma’nabus as the culture hero, which have to do principally with the cosmogony, and the origin of the medicine lodge; second, the minor myths of Man’nabus as trickster; third, fairy tales, so considered by the Indians, which relate the doings of imaginary heroes, somewhat after the manner of our own fairy tales; and fourth, ‘true stories,’ which are not always true by any means, being tales of the warpath, the chase, in love, supernatural adventures, dreams, conjuring, and exploits of animals and persons. The fifth class of narratives, which the Menomini seem to regard in the same light as fairy tales, is a small series of stories which are of undoubted European origin” (Skinner & Satterlee 1915:223).

Menomini: “True stories” are “for the most part, not sacred” and “range from simple narratives of daily life to supernatural experiences. The former are droll, exciting, or explanations of natural phenomena, as the case may be. They are told in public at any time when a propos, but generally around the fire in the evening” (Skinner & Satterlee 1915:235).

327 Apache

Lipan Apache: In the course of relating the Lipan story of the emergence of humans, one of Opler’s informants explained in an aside: “Here is the beginning. First there is nothing. Then there are tree people, then little animals, then humans. I don’t know when the great change came, when the animals lost their power of speech and became animals. It happened many years ago. I was not there nor was anyone who is living today” (Opler 1940:14).

Lipan Apache: “My father said that before a man can be a chief, he has to know all about the chief’s ways in the time when the birds and animals spoke. He has to know how they acted, he has to know all these stories of the chiefs among the animals and birds. Before he talks a great deal or gives orders he should know all about these stories and study them well” (Opler 1940:8).

Lipan Apache: Before narrating a Coyote story, a Lipan informant noted that, “In the beginning the trees and animals and grass used to talk. At that time Codi [Coyote] was going around” (Opler 1940:106).

Chiricahua Apache: “A close correspondence between the activities of the [animal] protagonists of the stories and the [Chiricahua] cultural round is almost predicated by the nature of Chiricahua ideology, for the birds, insects, and Coyote are thought to have been ‘people’ at one time, and mankind is but following in the footsteps of those who have gone before” (Opler 1942:ix).

364 Yąnomamö

“The Yanomami envision a universe consisting of four superimposed and disk-like tiers: two sky levels, the earth, and the underworld” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1990:10). In the distant past, “a cataclysmic event took place, when the cosmic plains each slipped one level: the upper sky fell on the lower sky, the lower sky fell on the earth, and the earth fell on the plain of the underworld. A new sky formed at the level where the uppermost sky had been before the slipping of the cosmic plains occurred. All the mountains and the forests of the earth were pushed into the world below, and only a few survivors of the ancient generation remained on earth, that is, on top of the fallen sky that now occupies the level at which the old earth had been. Under the impact of the falling sky the ancient people who were pushed from the earth into the underworld turned into cannibalistic spirits. The few that escaped from falling off the earth tunneled their way upward through the sky layer that had fallen on top of them. They dispersed throughout the new mountains and forests, propagated, and began to prepare gardens. However, these ancient people used to kill and eat each other; they were ignorant of proper human conduct and ignored the correct endocannibalistic funeral rites and practices. Eventually, they turned into animals of // this earth. . . . The Yanomami who presently live on this earth are a new race of people who were brought into this world by a demiurge called Omamë (Õmaw̓, Omao, Omaue, Omawỳ, Tohorá). . . . After propping up the sky to keep it from falling again, he created the present world and the modern Yanomami” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1990:10-11).

“That is how the people were long ago. They used to turn into animals, and simply did not know at all the way to behave. Those ancestors were Yanomam, as we are. They were not animals; they did not have wings! They were transforming because in those days the whole forest was transforming. All the ancestors kept turning into animals, and those ancestors are here now! Today we eat those ancestors from the early times, when we Yanomam did not exist! They are animals: toucans, spider monkeys, armadillos, tapirs, giant anteaters, and jaguars. . . . I know, and that is why I am saying it. They were Yanomam, and turned into animals. That is how it was” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1990:285).

“Tapir was sitting in a tree where he was trying to hide, along with Three-Toed Sloth. They were hiding for no reason, just not to be seen and eaten. . . . Three-Toed Sloth kept incessantly placing kahuusihi leaves all around him and never seemed to think he was sufficiently invisible….In fact, Three-Toed Sloth wanted to make Tapir climb down so that he himself would be alone hiding in that tree. . . . Exasperated, Tapir descended. . . . As he left he had said to his son-in-law [Antshrike]: ‘When you think that I’m well hidden, start following my trail!’ As agreed, Antshrike set out to search for his father-in-law. . . . Suddenly his father-in-law frightened him by noisily scampering off in the thicket just in front of him. . . . Antshrike set off after him . . . and shot him with an arrow. . . . Since then Antshrike mourns his father-in-law, lamenting: “Shoabe! Be be be!” That is why the call of this bird is constantly heard in the forest” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1990:306-308).

390 Yamana (Yaghan)

The Yamana origin myth “tells of a protohuman gyneocratic era when women had supremacy over men. The primeval ancestors, among them Sun (senior and junior), Moon, and Rainbow, migrated to what became // known as Yamana country from a distant place in the East. They came on foot, as anthropomorph or zoomorph beings, and, after their various earthly adventures, ascended into the sky or stayed on earth in animal form” (Wilbert & Gusinde 1977:10-11).

394 Mataco

Makka: “The etiological narratives of Makka cosmogony go back to primordial times when birds still had human form. . . . crested birds came into existence at a time when people, like Flycatcher, had birds’ names but human bodies” (Wilbert et al. 1991:6-7).

Makka: “Birds living today, all of them, were once (in times long since past) turned into men like us, just as we are today. We, all the Makka, were created in those ancient times” (Wilbert et al. 1991:19).

396 Zamuco

“Chamacoco lore distinguishes between two major mythological ages. A primeval epoch extends from the very dawn of world history // to the appearance of the axnábsero gods. A second age, that of the ancestors, reaches from the annihilation of the axnábsero to just two or three generations before present times. The initial sections of the narrative corpus pertain in large part to the oldest mythical epoch at the beginning of which the sky and the earth still occupied places in the reverse order of their present positions. Once the now existing state had been established, the two worlds remained connected by means of a tree. . . .  It served the ancient ones as a ladder by which to reach the paradisiacal upper world where honey collected at the outside of tree trunks rather than within their interior hollows and where game was inexhaustibly plentiful. To punish her fellow beings for the cruelty of denying her food and torturing her children, a helpless widow transformed herself into a rodent-like insect, destroyed the world tree, and brought the time of carefree abundance to an end. In different contexts, it is a slighted shaman or a bat personage who causes the tree to fall. . . . After the collapse of the world tree, the people, mostly men, who had been hunting and gathering in the sky, were unable to return to earth. They were marooned there forever, and can be seen at night as stars. On earth, hunting and food collecting have become arduous tasks. Game is less abundant and honey difficult to collect from inside the trunks of trees” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:11-12).

Chamacoco: “Death suffered in primordial mythic times was only temporary. Those who died were dressed in funeral clothing, and left behind in the settlement for the vultures. But the next day they revived and rejoined their fellows” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:13).

Chamacoco: “At such early times . . . Carancho changed his form from hawk to man quite frequently” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:13).

“The hawk, who was also a Chamacoco, saw smoke on the horizon and wanted to bring fire” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:177). “Long ago the toucan was human” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:156). “Long ago the cavy [south American rodent sp.] was a girl” (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987:184).

Ayoreo: “Heaven and earth, say the Ayoreo, were created by a personified sun-god, the creator-transformer who later was to populate the earth with animals created from the transformed Ayoreo ancestors. . . . At first Sky and Earth lived amicably together on earth. Then Sky began to object to the way he was dirtied and abused by the people living on top of him, and so he traveled upward, taking with him some of the heavenly bodies now seen above the earth. All of these, in addition to the sun, are consistently referred to in the mythology as transformed human beings. . . . After angering Sun through their disobedience, the ancestors one by one approach him and ask to be transformed into specific animals or trees, each with its own characteristics and colors. The present-day Ayoreo are the descendants of those people who chose to remain human” (Wilbert et al. 1989:17-18).

Ayoreo: “Sky and Earth were once human. Sky was very beautiful. He said to Earth: ‘I don’t want my body to have any defect. I shall look for a place to live.’ When Sky came back after having been gone for four days he told Earth: ‘Beautiful child, I am back. I have found a place where I can go and live.’ Then Sky left with the stars. They were very happy to leave with Sky. Those who remained with Earth were also happy to have remained with Earth. Since then there has been a transformation of people and trees. It was at that time that everything changed” (Wilbert et al. 1989:29-30).

Ayoreo: “In the beginning all the animals were Ayoreo and could talk. Then they lost the power of speech. There are two reasons for this. Some swallowed embers, drank boiling water, and burned their throats when they went into the fire of the nightjar. Others, when they were transformed into animals, ate food that was so bad, raw, and decomposed that they lost the power of speech” (Wilbert et al. 1989:108).


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