The Tinde (the People) were named Apache (the enemy) by the Pueblo people they raided. The Apaches are related to other Athabascan-speaking peoples such as certain Eskimos and the Navajos. They came to the Southwest relatively late compared to the Pueblo people perhaps as late as 1000 c.e. The Apaches are now divided into five basic groupings, the White Mountain or Western Apaches in eastern Arizona, the Chiricahua in southwestern New Mexico (famous for the great warrior Geronimo), the Jicarilla in northeastern New Mexico, the Mescalero in southeastern New Mexico, and the Lipan in southeastern Texas. Not surprisingly, given the scattering of the tribe and its tendency to break up into still smaller subgroups, there are many Apache creation myths.
The Jicarilla people tell emergence creation stories. These myths have clear connections to the idea of gestation and birth. In one myth, the underworld in which the people begin their existence is a great swelling womb. They enter the world by an opening at the top of a mountain after the waters of the earth have “broken.” Appropriately, the creation myth is of great importance in the puberty ceremonies of Apache girls.
In the beginning the earth was only water and the people, the animals, and plants lived in the dark underworld. The darkness was pleasant to the animals we think of as night animals the owl or the mountain lion, for instance but not to the liking of the people and other day animals. Arguments ensued, and to settle them everyone agreed on a game to determine if there would be light or darkness. The game, still played today by Apache children, involved finding a button by looking through the thin wood of a thimblelike object. The day animals were better at this game and were rewarded with the rising of stars and then of the sun. When the sun got to the top of the underworld, he found a hole and saw the earth on the other side. When he told the people of the world above, they all wanted to go there, so they built four mounds one for each direction and planted them with various fruits and flowers. Both the mounds and the plantings grew until two girls climbed them to pick flowers; all growth then stopped, leaving the mountaintops still far from the hole above.
It took the help of the buffalo to get the people up to the hole. They contributed their long straight horns to be used as a ladder, and it is because of the weight of the climbers that the buffalo’s horns to this day are curved. Before they emerged from the hole the people sent up the moon and sun to provide light and four winds one from each underground mound to blow away the waters that covered everything. After various animals had gone through the hole to test the new world, the people emerged and travelled in each of the four directions until they reached the seas. On these journeys the individual tribes broke off to make their homelands. Only the Jicarilla Apaches stayed behind, constantly circling the hole from which they had come, and eventually the Great Spirit settled them there in what is the center of the world.
Another Jicarilla emergence myth, with creation from chaos and animistic characteristics, gives a prominent role to kachinalike personifications of the basic natural powers. These beings, called Hactcin, existed before creation, when there was only dark, wet chaos the world womb, as it were. Being lonely, the Hactcin created the essential elements of the universe and also created Earth Mother and Sky Father. As for the people, at this time they lived only as potential form in the damp dark underworld, where a figure called Black Hactcin ruled. Black Hactcin was the true creator. He joyfully made animals out of clay and then taught them how to reproduce themselves and what and how to eat. Then he told them to find appropriate places to live, and they did the buffalo went to the plains, certain sheep and goats to the mountains, prairie dogs under the ground, birds to the air and trees, crickets to the grass, frogs and fish to the water, and so forth. Black Hactcin also called down water from the sky, and he invented seeds.
The animals asked him to give them a special companion, one who could take his place in case he ever decided to hide from the world. Black Hactcin agreed and began work on the creation of humankind. The animals helped him by gathering the essential materials pollen, clay, valuable stones, minerals but Black Hactcin made them stay away from him while he worked. After facing the four directions, he made a sketch of his own shape on the ground. Then he used the gifts of the animals to flesh out the various parts of his creation. For instance, red ochre was used for blood, coral for skin, rock for bones, opal for fingernails and teeth, and abalone for the white part of the eyes. Black Hactcin used a dark cloud for the hair, and of course the cloud would later become white. To bring the first man to life, Black Hactcin blew wind into him. Then he raised him up and commanded him to speak and then to laugh, shout, and walk. Black Hactcin also made the man run in a certain pattern, which is why, at a girl’s puberty ceremony today, the girl must run in the same pattern.
First Man lived alone with the animals, and they all spoke the same language. The animals told Black Hactcin that the man needed a personal companion, however, and the creator made him dream of a woman, who was there with him when he woke up. First Man and First Woman were happy. A variation of the Jicarilla creation says that it was the dog that asked the creator for a companion and that it was he who drew the sketch of man with his paw. When the man blossomed into life, he and the dog went off together like best friends.
The Mescalero Apaches emphasize the connection between a girl’s puberty rites and the creation. When a girl menstruates for the first time, a sacred lodge is built for her; the form of the lodge is based on the created universe a circle bisected along the four directions. Of the twelve poles holding up the lodge, the four main ones are the Four Grandfathers who hold up the universe. They are the four directions, the four seasons. The puberty ceremony itself lasts four days and four nights and is, of course, a recreation of the first human in the newly blossomed woman. The ex nihilo creation myth is recited at the.
Once there was only the Great Spirit. He created the world in four days. He made Father Sun, Mother Earth, Old Man Thunder, Boy Lightning, and the animals. Then on the fourth day he made the People, the Tinde. The following is a White Mountain Apache myth of the Four Grandfathers and the sacred lodge. In it the universe itself is the lodge. An animistic
story of the creation from chaos type, this version was told by a very old shaman, or medicine man, named Palmer Valor, on a winter night in 1932. The Apaches, like many other Native Americans, believe that sacred stories must be told only at night and only in the cold months. In the daytime or during warmer months, dangerous beings—snakes, scorpions, lightning—might be able to hear themselves talked about and then might punish both the storytellers and the listeners.
Four people started to work on the earth. When they set it up, the wind blew it off again. It was weak like an old woman. They talked together about the earth among themselves. “What shall we do about this earth, my friends? We don’t know what to do about it.” Then one person said, “Pull it from four different sides.” They did this, and the piece they pulled out on each side they made like a foot. After they did this the earth stood all right. Then on the east side of the earth they put big black cane, covered with black metal thorns. On the south side of the earth they put big blue cane covered with blue metal thorns. Then on the west side of the earth they put big yellow cane covered with yellow metal thorns. Then on the north side of the earth they put big white cane covered with white metal thorns.