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Impearls: HIC 3.15: Mythology

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Mythology   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok sometimes loosely mention Wohpekumeu, “widower across the ocean,” as the one that made things as they are.  But their tales ascribe to him only the institution of a certain limited number of practices.  He was born at Kenek, lived there when not traveling in curiosity or under impulse of amatory desires, and was finally carried to the land across the salt water by the Skate woman, to rejoin the other woge who had departed from this world before.  At Amaikiara in Karok territory he deceived the woman who kept all salmon confined, and liberated the fish for the use of future mankind.  From the sky he stole acorns — a benefit attributed also to Megwomets.  Until he instituted birth, every woman's life was sacrificed in the production of her first and only child.  Everywhere he pursued women, often unsuccessfully; and according as his wooings resulted, he made or marred good fishing places.  Eager for feminine conquest, he attempted to deny or evade his son Kapuloyo, and finally, in order to marry the young man's wife, abandoned him on a high tree and blinded his grandson Kewomer.  Kapuloyo escaped, gathered to himself all the dentalia in the world, and departed downstream; but near the mouth of the river, Wohpekumeu overtook him and recovered enough money to restock the supply for men.

Almost as great a favorite in tales as this tricky and unreliable benefactor of mankind, is Pulekukwerek, “downstream sharp,” so named from the horns on which he sat — a grave, unconquerable character, who smoked tobacco but never ate, passed women by for the sweat house, and by strength and supernatural gifts destroyed monster after monster.  His birth, as his name indicates, was far north on the coast at the end of the world.  With their own devices he put an end to those who crushed people in pretending to split logs, speared them in playing games, and killed them with overstrong tobacco.  He burned blind cannibal women, killed sa'aitl monsters with hot stones, and deprived of his power a dangerously jealous man of Merip.  He drive women from the sweat house that they still frequented.  He stole the boy Night, found the man who could weave the sky, and placed the stars upon it.  When the time came, he retired uncompelled to the far-away land of dentalia and everlasting dances.  All that the Yurok have of respectful admiration in their mythology they lavish on Pulekukwerek.

At times Pelintsiek, “great dentalium,” or some other form of the money shell, appears half divinized in the traditions, and assumes certain of the functions usually ascribed to Wohpekumeu and Pulekukwerek, especially those of a broadly institutory nature.  Sometimes the three appear in conjunction with Ki-wesona-megetotl, “Sky holder.”

Megwomets, a bearded dwarf, carries acorns on his back and is the distributor of vegetal abundance.  He enters into a few myths.

A number of episodes are told of Segep, coyote, but he is less frequently a favorite of invention, even in despicable situations, than among most California tribes, and the only achievement to his credit is the killing of the sun who had caused his children's death.  The raccoon alone was able to lift the luminary back to his place: Tlkelikera, the mole, Wohpekumeu's sister, is more rarely mentioned.  Wertspit, the locust larva, wished death into the world.  Kego'or, the porpoises, lived with most of the foregoing at Kenek until the impending arrival o the human race, when they retired to Sumig, Patrick Point.  Thunder and Earthquake were also inhabitants of Kenek, until the latter was beaten at his favorite game of shinny ball by a young man from the mountain Kewet.  The house sites of many of these great ones of old are still shown at the little town.

The world is believed to float on water.  At the head of the river, in the sky, where the Deerskin dance is danced nightly, are a gigantic white coyote and his yellow mate, the parents of all coyotes on earth.



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