previous chapter
Conclusion— Mythologies
next section


By "mythology," I mean "a collection of texts, organized by one person, stating the origins of the things of this earth." I think that few would dispute the three phrases that constitute this definition, but some may object that the definition fails to distinguish mythology from history and, relatedly, fails to exclude the secular from the province of myth. My defense is simple. In the first place, the Pima-Papago mythology that we have dealt with intends to be historical, and our problem is to understand how it is so, that is, how it is preoccupied with Pima history and yet makes almost no reference to Pima and white relations. Second, except for a feeling conveyed by the narrative that what happens is happening for the first time, I find little that seems sacred in the sense of perfect or blessed in the mythology, while there is a good deal that is frightful and earthy. This feeling of origins seems essential, but I would as willingly call it magical as sacred, the magic of first times. Thus does the mythology approach but not embrace sacredness, as a matter of narrative feeling or tone.

I will now comment briefly on the relevance of the rest of the definition to the Smith-Allison text and, finally, on the relation of the text to the current production of literature by and about Native Americans.

"Collection of texts." The issue here is whether this mythology is one text or whether it is an anthology, or a conglomerate. Smith gave it as one text, and as noted in my introduction, the story and part divisions and titles were supplied by me. It is not difficult to see how it is one text. The events have a temporal order; the mythology is a linear chronicle. Still, years are not counted, the story is silent about the European period, and one character, Siuuhu, is in


action through practically the entire narrative. Frankly, although I call the whole narrative The Hohokam Chronicles, the whole could equally be called The Deeds of Siuuhu The subjects come together, as we know, because Siuuhu created and terminated the Hohokam. We also understand that most of the recalled origins of things fall into the Hohokam period, which makes a double impression, that the Pima-Papago who lived by and with all those things are culturally quite like the Hohokam and that the period of origins and therefore the formative time of the universe was very short, within a young-into-middle-aged mangod's time span.

In my view, there is a definite progression through the events of the mythology as a whole, and this progression gives the depth of the work. The pre-Hohokam period was a time of Genesis-like man-god creations (including acts by God himself), the Hohokam period saw the origin of human families in which man-gods could not participate, and the Hohokam conquest period was really the aftermath of that incompatibility. The conquest was the coming of the Pima-Papago, but it was also the expulsion, or the occasion for the departure from human affairs, of the god Siuuhu. On this reading, the Hohokam conquest is a literary device or, let us say, a mythic truth. It was motivated by a need to separate humanity from god.

"Organized by one person." Throughout Native North America, if anyone knew one myth, that person was bound to know others, meaning, I think, that the proper unit for mythological study, whether as history, imaginative literature, or theology, is not the single myth but the full set or corpus of one person's tales. Thus I would also define mythology as "all of the tales that one person tells, in the order that he or she tells them." Now, that definition certainly applies to the Pima-Papago. They had the idea that mythologies could and should be told by single narrators during the longest four nights of the year, in December. And as we saw in Smith-Allison and also in Thin Leather, the only other Pima-Papago mythologist whose entire work was recorded, the mythology gains integrity through association with Siuuhu. Nearly every story involves him in some way, even though one could imagine the story with a male char-


acter other than him. I suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule in Native American myth collections. More commonly, there are complete shifts of characters between major myths, and the overall order, if any, is chronological and/or thematic but not as in this case also biographical, the biography of a god.

Really, there are three questions: What is the totality of myth stories or myth types extant among a people image To what extent are these stories brought into order by individual narrators image And to what extent do these individual synthetic works duplicate or replicate each other image I do not know the answers to these questions, and I am not aware that anyone does. And if they point to a new field of study, the key to it is the concept of the single narrator, multimyth mythology. Through it, the concept of author comes into Native American myth studies. Mythology is not only the study of myths but also the creation of meaning and order between and within them.

Finally, we must note that the time of these native mythological authors may have—seems to have—passed. We need not grieve over this, if we can understand the time as a phase. Literary and cultural production have not ceased among Indians, nor has religion, nor has the potential for interest in the work of the past authors. Indeed, if the last fresh mythological syntheses have been made, those works can be viewed as Scripture or masterpieces, or both. A piece of Native American literary history, the age of mythology making, comes into view. American civilization needs to know this piece because that civilization was not only a negative force but also a stimulus and ingredient for many of the mythologies.

There is an almost perfect cleavage between what Indians have written in the last thirty years and the subject matter of the mythologies. The mythologies are silent about post-Europe, that is, about the white colonial or invasion era; and the new writing is silent in its novels, poems, and essays about the pre-European era. I do not mean totally silent, but I mean voiced from today and reaching back with wishful thoughts to pre-Europe. The Smith-Allison mythology, as we saw it, is voiced from pre-Europe, and it reaches up to now. This is why the songs are


so wonderful: their "I's" are Hohokam. The "I's" in the current writing, not inappropriately, are of today, the essayist's "I," the same as I use.

If Smith and Allison seem to be unusual Indian literary persons to readers of today, that is the reason. They were late practicers of a mythological tradition that sought its inspiration solely in pre-European events. Their counterparts were the archaeologists such as Hayden who, if I understand them correctly, would love to know Hohokam events with the precision contained in but not provable outside of the mythology. If creation in that mythological tradition is now past, let it be. It was a great age.


previous chapter
Conclusion— Mythologies
next section