Back to Inquiry Set

4.2a.1 When the world ended: How hummingbird got fire; how people were made: Rumsien Ohlone stories

This is part of a creation story from the Rumsien (also spelled Rumsen) Ohlone people from the Monterey area. This creation story was passed down from generation to generation through stories told aloud, and finally written down.
Yamane, Linda
1995
Pamphlet
Yamane, Linda. When the World Ended, How Hummingbird Got Fire, How People were Made. Rumsien Ohlone Stories, Oyate Press, Berkeley, 1995.

Excerpt from When the World Ended, How Hummingbird Got Fire, How People were Made: Rumsien Ohlone Stories:

“After the world flooded, it was a lonely place. Eagle, Hummingbird, Crow, Raven and Hawk talked together, trying to decide how to make new people. They made a little man, a little woman, a little deer — all the things they wanted — out of clay. ‘Good,’ said Eagle, ‘but what are we going to do so that these people can speak or move around or anything? Do you know anything,’ he asked Crow, ‘that can make these people move?’ They colored their hair dark … and the figures began to move a little. Then they made their eyes of little white-and-black rocks. ‘Well then,’ said Eagle, ‘in three days their eyes will begin to move.’ And so it happened that the figures began to move and talk, everyone [was] happy and contented.”

This is part of a creation story from the Rumsien (also spelled Rumsen) Ohlone people from the Monterey area. Native people have lived in California for thousands of years. Their creation stories tell of the beginning of time and of their people. Native people in California had, and still have, very diverse cultures, languages, and traditions. Native people spoke over 160 different language dialects and adapted to the resources available in the natural environment around them. This creation story was passed down from generation to generation through stories told aloud, and finally written down. What stands out to you about this story? How would you describe the relationship between the Rumsien people and the animals?

A note from the author, Linda Yamane: In the old times, this story was very long and very beautiful, and it took a long time to tell. Today we only know part of the story, but we know that we were made from the earth. We were made from the earth and when we die we go back to the earth.

Many creation stories from various Native communities date their existence on the land to the beginning of time from time immemorial. The Ohlone have sacred beliefs that connect them with the natural world and spirit world. More specifically, songs, ceremonies, dances, stories, and other activities connect Native people to the world around them, their ancestors, and can help improve their chances for success in health, love, hunting and more. The Ohlone danced, sang, fasted from eating, and constructed prayer sticks rising from the ground that they decorated with gifts to the spirit world. There were powerful people, known as medicine people or shaman, among the Ohlone. These men and women had special powers from their contact with the spirit world. Shaman were people to be both respected and feared. They could bring benefits like healing illnesses, or they could cause harm to people who violated social norms.

 

Students should consider the role of this creation story, and others like it, in communicating the beginning of the world, and the relationship Native people have with the spirit world. Teachers may be able to find short excerpts of creation stories from Native communities in their area to provide students with more localized examples as well. Many official tribal websites include information about their tribe’s history and culture. Many Native Californian communities also have created short videos that depict aspects of their creation stories that are available on the internet.  

 

Note: Ohlone is a general term for the Native culture group (shared cultural characteristics and language family) that extends from the central coast north to San Francisco. However, multiple languages and dialects existed within this region. Cultural expressions such as songs, dances, and creation stories varied among different Ohlone communities. Native people identified then, as now,  more with their local community than with the broader culture grouping that anthropologists created to help classify people in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Note: The transcribed text and the text that accompanies the image do not align verbatim. The author, Linda Yamane, approved this excerpt in order to give a broad context in a relatively short reading passage.
"So they brought a lot. They went and brought back a lot and they began making little figures. They made a little man, a little woman, a little deer — all the things they wanted. Everything they made the same way, with clay, and there the figures lay."