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Impearls: HIC 6.2.9: Beliefs

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Beliefs   by A. L. Kroeber

Wiyot mythology is of interest because it consists of the usual northwestern ideas to which a strange element has been added which can only have come from central California, through the Athabascan groups to the south.  The narrative formulas by which the Hupa and Yurok believed they existed were in full force.  Gatswokwire or Rakshuatlaketl is the exact equivalent of the Yurok Wohpekumeu.  He wandered over the earth satisfying an unquenchable erotic impulse, but also did good.  He obtained for the world the salmon that were jealously hidden away by their owner; he made children to be born without killing their mothers.  He instituted dances and many other human practices, the formulas necessary for which go back to his actions.  Sometimes his amativeness brought him into trouble, as when the Skate woman lay on the beach to attract him and carried him across the ocean; but he was never permanently vanquished.

With Gudatrigakwitl, “above old man,” we encounter a conception of which there is no trace among the Yurok.  He existed before the earth, he made it, made the first man Chkekowik or Wat the haliotis, made all human beings, animals, acorns, boats, string, other utensils, the weather, even dances.  He used no materials and no tools.  He merely thought, or joined and spread apart his hands, and things were.  He lives now and will exist as long as the world.

It is possible that this deity has been given increased prominence by the modern generation of Wiyot if the Ghost dance of 1872 reached them, but he is introduced into too many ideas that are ancient and general in northwestern belief to allow his being ascribed in any large measure to that new and passing doctrine.  Moreover, the concept of a supreme god and outright creator is found among many Californian tribes: the southern Athabascans, the Yuki, the Wintun, the Maidu.

Another peculiarity of Wiyot mythology is its fondness for animal characters.  This is a generic Californian rather than a central Californian trait; but it is a deviation from the specialized northwestern type of myth as revealed in its extreme Yurok or Hupa form.

The story of the origin of death shows northwestern and central motives.  Spinagaralu, locust larva, or sand cricket, was responsible.  According to one account he disputed with and prevailed over Above old man, who had intended people to be reborn or regenerated 10 times.  In another tale, more distinctly central Californian, Spinagaralu refuses to let Frog's dead child come back to life.  When his own perishes, he wishes to restore the old order, but Frog is now obdurate.

It is clear that the Wiyot are northwesterners; wholly so in institutions and material accomplishments, but with some first traces of the much wider spread central Californian culture appearing in their religion.



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