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Nuwä 'Earth Diver' creation story

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

This is a traditional Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) story that was told for centuries to explain the origins of the world. It was collected by a Berkeley anthropologist named Theodore McCown, who in the summer of 1929 spent three months studying Nuwä elders in the mountains of eastern Kern County.

Among the people that McCown interviewed was Raphael Girado, who would later become the father of Luther, Betty and Lucille Girado, who were instrumental in documentation and the teaching of the Nuwä language.

This is the creation story that Raphael Girado told McCown.

"In the old times there was water all over the world. There was no land at all. The animals and birds were living up in the sky. Coyote sent them down one by one to bring up dirt from the bottom of the ocean. All of them tried but couldn't get any dirt. It was too far down. Coyote tried but he only got halfway down. He nearly drowned and had to come back up.

Finally a little black bird, Potok (American Coot), who lived in the water, dove down. He stayed down all day, and the other animals thought he was dead. Coyote said "No, he isn't dead." At length the little bird came up. Coyote asked him, "Did you get any dirt?" He said, "Only a little." He scraped the dirt from underneath his fingernails and toenails, and put it on a flat coiled tray. It made only a very little pile.

The animals left it there and it grew bigger every day. Coyote said "Good! Pretty soon we'll have a world. It kept getting bigger and soon covered all the water. It took a year for the dirt to grow into the Earth. Then the animals came down out of the sky and lived on the land.

There were no trees or plants. The planter was Cho'ikizh (Cho-EEK-iszh), the Western Scrub Jay, but no one knew where he got the plants to start things growing. He still plants pinyon and acorn trees to this day."

– Rafael Girado