The Story Of Nahvahchoo
Category: STORIES OF THE FOURTH NIGHT
Source: Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights
Ee-ee-toy was once wandering along when he found some moss that had
been left there ever since the flood, and he stood and looked at it,
wondering how he could make it into a human being.
And while he watched it the sun breathed on it, and it became not a
man, but a turtle.
And he wandered on again and found some driftwood, and while he stood
wondering how to make it into a human being, the sun breathed on it,
and it became a man, but he could not see its face, which was covered
as with a mask.
And the turtle and the masked man, thus created, went westward,
and came to a Blue Vahahkkee, and they went in and staid all night.
In the morning, when the sun rose, they were frightened at the blue
beams that shone thru the vahahkkee, and they left.
And after going a little way they came to a Black Road, and Black
Birds flew over them to keep them from being seen.
And they came to a Black Night. In that night was a Black Bow, which
stretched as if it were going to shoot them, so that they were afraid
to lie down all night.
And the next day they came to a Blue Road, and a flock of Blue Birds
flew over them, and all around, striking them.
After a while they came to a Blue Night, and in the night was a Blue
Bow, which stretched itself threateningly at them, as the Black Bow
had done the night before.
And they could not sleep for fear that night, either; and the next day
they came to a White Road, and a flock of White Birds followed them,
And they came to a White Night, and in that night was a White Bow,
which threatened them as the others had done, so that again they
could not sleep.
And the next day they had a similar experience, only it was a Yellow
Road, with Yellow Birds, and a Yellow Night with a Yellow Bow.
The next day there was no danger any more, and they went on and came
to a mountain, Co-so-vah-taw-up-kih, or Twisted Neck Mountain, and
there the Nahvahchoo (masked man), having run ahead, left the turtle
behind, and when evening came sat down and waited for the turtle
to come up. But the turtle was too far behind, and when night came
stopped where he was, and made a fire, and made corn and pumpkins,
and roasted the corn and set the pumpkins around the fire, as the
Indians do, to scorch them before putting them in the ashes.
And Nahvahchoo heard the popping sound of the cooking, and came running
back, and tried to steal a piece of the fire to have one of his own,
but the turtle would not let him. And so the Nahvahchoo went off and
made a fire of his own, and corn and pumpkins of his own, and cooked
them as the turtle had done.
In the morning, after they had feasted on the pumpkin and corn, the
turtle, Wee-hee-kee-nee, sank down and went under the earth to the
ocean, and made that his home, and Nahvahchoo sank down and went in
the same direction, but not so far, coming up on the sea shore.
And Nahvahchoo went along the sea-shore, toward the east, till he came
to a great deal of driftwood, and many flowers, and handled all these,
and got their strength, and made his home in the east.
One day Nahvahchoo heard the earth shaking, and ran out of his house
to try and find where the shaking came from, and he went south and
did not feel it, and went west and felt it a little, and went north
and felt it more. And so he ran back and put on his mask, and took
his bow, and went north. And the first time he stopped and listened
he heard it somewhat, and the next time he heard it more, and the
third time still more, and the fourth time he came to where many
people were singing the song Wah-hee-hee-vee, and dancing the dance
Vee-pee-nim, in which the dancers wear gourd masks, on their faces,
pierced full of little holes to let the light thru.
And they were dancing, too, the dance Kawk-spahk-kum, in which the
dancers wear a cloth mask, like Nahvahchoo, with a little gourd,
full of holes, over the mouth-hole, to sing thru.
And they were dancing also the dance Tawt-a-kum, in which the dancer
wears a bonnet of cloth, and a mask like Nahvahchoo does.
And the people sitting around in these dances had little rods which
they rubbed upon notched sticks, in time to the singing and the
At first Nahvahchoo was greatly excited by all this dancing, for all
these people seemed to do nothing else but sing and dance, and make
the rods and notched sticks and stand them up in bunches; but after
a few days he began to think of game, for he was a great hunter,
and he went out and found the tracks of a deer.
And measuring these with his arrow he laughed, covering his mouth with
his hand, and said: "This deer will not run very fast, I could catch
him myself." For a deer that measures a good way between his tracks
is long-bodied, and cannot run fast, while a deer that measures short
between tracks has a short body, and jumps quicker.
And he followed the deer, which heard him coming, and began to run,
and when Nahvahchoo saw by its tracks that it was running, he ran, too,
and getting on a hill saw the dust of its running away off; and he ran
after it, and when he came to the next hill it was close, and he ran
down, and killed it, and took it back to the singers, and they fell
ravenously upon it and ate it all up, not leaving him even the bones.
Nahvahchoo sat off a little way and watched them, and one of their
speakers addressed him, and said: "We know you, who you are. You
are a great doctor, and a great hunter, and a great farmer, and a
powerful man every way. And maybe you expected us to join in your
hunt and help you carry the game. But we want you to join us, and
become a singer, and you will have plenty of corn and beans to eat,
and you will find that such food will last, while, as you see, the
game, when you bring it in, lasts but a little while."
So Nahvahchoo staid with them and became a singer, and after a
while the people told him to go to a certain vahahkkee, and said:
"You will find something there with which you will be pleased. And
then go to the opposite one, and you will find that with which you
will be still more pleased.
And one of these vahahkkees was called See-pook (Red-bird) Vahahkkee
and the other was named Wah-choo-kook-kee (Oriole) Vahahkkee.--But
tho they told him to go to these they did not allow him to do so, but
one day he slipped away, when they were not looking, and opened one,
and saw in it many wonderful things, clouds forming and sprinkling
all the time; and in the other it was the same.
And one was covered with red flowers, and the other with yellow
flowers, and where they came together the mingling of red and yellow
was very pretty.
At the door of each vahahkkee was a corn-mill. And he stole one of
these and went west. But after a while he stopped and said: "I wonder
what is going to happen, for the east is all green and the west is
of the same color."
But he ran on, and the clouds came over him, and it began to sprinkle,
and then to rain, and then the water began to run, and get deeper
and deeper, and he said: "This is happening to me because I stole
this mill, but I am not going to let it go, I am going to keep it."
And he ran on and came to where he had separated from Weeheekeenee,
and went on and over Cosovahtawupkih, the Twisted Neck Mountain.
And on that mountain he felt rather faint, and put his hand in his
pouch and found a root and chewed it, the root Cheek-kuh-pool-tak,
and breathed it out, and it stopped raining.
And he went on to the Quojata Mountain, and sat there and took a smoke;
and then on to Ahn-naykum; and then to Odchee, where he left the mill;
and then to Kee-ahk Toe-ahk, where he also rested and took a smoke;
and then he went home.
And when Nahvahchoo arrived home he made a speech:
"Where shall we hear the talk that will make us drunk and dizzy with
the flowers of eloquence?
There was near the water the driftwood lying, and from above the sun
breathed down and a being was made.
And it was the beautiful daybreak that I took and wiped its face with,
and the remains of darkness that I painted its face with.
And there were all kinds of bird's feathers that I made a feather
And there were joining wasps that came and flapped on the bonnet.
And there were many butterflies that flapped their wings upon the
bonnet, upon its feathers.
And it was from the rainbow that I made its bow, and from the Milky
Way that I made its arrow.
From a red skin it was that I made its saw-suh-buh, to cover its arm
for the bow-string not to injure it.
And it was a red kuess-kote that I made and put in its hair to
And it was the gray fog that I fastened in its shoulders for its
And the strong wind it was that I used for its girdle, around its
In the middle of the earth lay a square water moss, and the sun
breathed on it and it turned into a creature, a turtle.
And from there the Driftwood-Being went west with it.
From there they went westward and watched the sun rise in the Blue
Vahahkkee, and were frightened, and returned.
From there they came to a Black Road, and Black Birds followed them,
and to a Black Night wherein a Black Bow frightened them.
And from there they came to a Blue Road, with Blue Birds following,
and to a Blue Night with a Blue Bow to frighten them.
And from there they came to a White Road with White Birds following,
and a White Night with a White Bow to threaten them.
And the next day it was a Yellow Road and Yellow Birds, and after
that a Yellow Night and a Yellow Bow.
And there was a square water full of ice, and he went around it
And there he found Seepook Vahahkkee, with its red flowers, and
Wahchookookkee Vahahkkee with its yellow flowers, and there he got
the everlasting corn-mill, and went westward and strengthened himself
And as he went westward there came a wind which felt good and
refreshed him, and pleasant clouds that sprinkled him with water,
and then there was rain, and the rattling of running water, and he
went on his road rejoicing.
And he reached the Twisted Neck Mountain, and there he felt faint a
little, and took from his pouch the root Cheekkuhpooltak, and chewed
it, and breathed it out, and was refreshed and went on.
And he refreshed himself four times and went on, and found Tonedum
Vahahkkee, the Vahahkkee of Light, and there he gave his power to
the people who were gathered together, and said: 'My relatives, I
want you to think of this, that our country will be more beautiful
and produce more, because you know our country will not hereafter be
what it has been'."
And he made another speech:
"It was after the creation of the earth, and there was a mud vahahkkee,
and inside of it lay a piece of wood burning at one end, and by it
stood a cane-tube pipe, smoking, and we inhaled the smoke, and then
we saw things clearer and talked about them.
In the West there was a Black Mocking Bird, and from him I asked
power, and he brought the news and spread it over all the earth,
and to every hill and every mountain and every tree, that the earth
would stand still, but it did not, it still moved.
(And you, Black Mocking Bird, take back your Black Winds, and your
Black Clouds, and stay where you are, and your relatives may sometimes
come to you for power.)
And in the South there was a Blue Mocking Bird, and I asked it for
power, and it stretched the news over all the earth, and over every
hill and every mountain, and to every tree, that the earth stood still,
but it did not, it still moved.
In the East was a Mocking Bird of Light, and I asked it for power,
and it stretched the news over all the earth, and to every hill,
mountain and tree, that the earth stood still, but it still moved.
And Above there was darkness, where lived the Feather Nested Doctor,
who is famous for his power, and I asked him for power, and he spread
the news, as the others had done, but the earth still moved.
And in the North lived a Yellow Spider, and I asked him for power,
and he stretched his news, and made his web, and tied the earth up
with it, and made a fringe like a blanket fringe at each corner,
and laid his arrows over it.
The fringe at the West corner he made black, and covered it with
the Black Vahahkkee to hold it down; and he put the blue fringe at
the South corner, and over it the Blue Vahahkkee to hold it down,
and he put the black arrows over the Black Vahahkkee, and the blue
arrows over the Blue Vahahkkee.
And in the East he put the Vahahkkee of Light over the fringe and
the arrows of light over it.
And after all this was done the earth stood still.
And after this is done you are carried away like a child, and are
set down facing the East, and your heart comes out towards it, and
can be seen going up and down till it reaches it.
And over the land your seed shall spring up and grow, and have good
stalks and many flowers, and have good wide leaves and heads of
And after the seed is ripe they will take it and put it away and
grind it with sunbeams, and the boys and girls shall eat and be happy,
and all the old men and women shall eat it and lengthen their lives."
NOTES ON THE STORY OF NAHVAHCHOO
The story of Nahvahchoo was celebrated till lately among the Pimas by
dancing games, resembling those described in this story, the players
wearing masks and gourds, and rattling notched sticks, one of them
impersonating Nahvahchoo himself.
In the reference to the earth's moving, in one of the speeches, one
might suspect a glimpse of true astronomical knowledge, but this is
likely only a poetic figure.
The "everlasting corn will" reminds a little of the old folk-lore
tale of the everlasting salt mill whose continuous grinding makes
the ocean salt.
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