How the Great Chiefs made the Moon and the Sun
A Hopi Legend
Once upon a time, when our people first came up from the villages of the underworld, there was no sun. There was no moon. They saw only dreary darkness and felt the coldness. They looked hard for firewood, but in the darkness they found little.
One day as they stumbled around, they saw a light in the distance. The Chief sent a messenger to see what caused the light. As the messenger approached it, he saw a small field containing corn, beans, squash, watermelons, and other foods. All around the field a great fire was burning. Nearby stood a straight, handsome man wearing around his neck a turquoise necklace of four strands. Turquoise pendants hung from his ears.
"Who are you?" the owner of the field asked the messenger.
"My people and I have come from the cave world below," the messenger replied. "And we suffer from the lack of light and the lack of food."
"My name is Skeleton," said the owner of the field. He showed the stranger the terrible mask he often wore and then gave him some food. "Now return to your people and guide them to my field."
When all the people had arrived, Skeleton began to give them food from his field. They marveled that, although the crops seemed so small, there was enough food for everyone. He gave them ears of corn for roasting; he gave them beans, squashes, and watermelons. The people built fires for themselves and were happy.
Later, Skeleton helped them prepare fields of their own and to make fires around them. There they planted corn and soon harvested a good crop.
"Now we should move on," the people said. "We want to find the place where we will live always."
Away from the fires it was still dark. The Great Chiefs, at a council with Skeleton, decided to make a moon like the one they had enjoyed in the underworld.
They took a piece of well-prepared buffalo hide and cut from it a great circle. They stretched the circle tightly over a wooden hoop and then painted it carefully with white paint. When it was entirely dry, they mixed some black paint and painted, all around its edge, completing the picture of the moon. When all of this was done, they attached a stick to the disk and placed it on a large square of white cloth. Thus they made a symbol of the moon.
Then the Great Chiefs selected one of the young men and bade him to stand on top of the moon symbol. They took up the cloth by its corners and began to swing it back and forth, higher and higher. As they were swinging it, they sang a magic song. Finally, with a mighty heave, they threw the moon disk upward. It continued to fly swiftly, upward and eastward.
As the people watched, they suddenly saw light in the eastern sky. The light became brighter and brighter. Surely something was burning there, they thought. Then something bright with light rose in the east. That was the moon!
Although the moon made it possible for the people to move around with less stumbling, its light was so dim that frequently the workers in the fields would cut up their food plants instead of the weeds. It was so cold that fires had to be kept burning around the fields all the time.
Again the Great Chiefs held a council with Skeleton, and again they decided that something better must be done.
This time, instead of taking a piece of buffalo hide, they took a piece of warm cloth that they themselves had woven while they were still in the underworld. They fashioned this as they had fashioned the disk of buffalo hide, except that this time they painted the face of the circle with a copper-colored paint.
They painted eyes and a mouth on the disk and decorated the forehead with colors that the Great Chiefs decided upon according to their desires. Around the circle, they then wove a ring of corn husks, arranged in a zig zag design. Around the circle of corn husks, they threaded a string of red hair from some animal. To the back of the disk, they fastened a small ring of corn husks. Through that ring they poked a circle of eagle feathers.
To the top of each eagle feather, the old Chief tied a few little red feathers taken from the top of the head of a small bird. On the forehead of the circle, he attached an abalone shell. Then the sun disk was completed.
Again the Great Chiefs chose a young man to stand on top of the disk, which they had placed on a large sheet. As they had done with the moon disk, they raised the cloth by holding its corners. Then they swung the sun disk back and forth, back and forth, again and again. With a mighty thrust, they threw the man and the disk far into the air. It traveled fast into the eastern sky and disappeared.
All the people watched it carefully. In a short time, they saw light in the east as if a great fire were burning. Soon the new sun rose and warmed the Earth with its kindly rays.
Now with the moon to light the Earth at night and the sun to light and warm it by day, all the people decided to pick up their provisions and go on. As they started, the White people took a trail that led them far to the south. The Hopis took one to the north, and the Pueblos took one midway between the two. Thus they wandered on to the places where they were to live.
The Hopis wandered a long time, building houses and planting crops until they reached the mesas where they now live. The ruins of the ancient villages are scattered to the very beginnings of the great river of the canyon-- the Colorado.
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