Since the death of the creator-god, Mukat, is an essential part of the tale, the myth sets the tradition of how the death of any person will be handled; and in doing this, the story creates a sacred place for itself in Cahuilla social tradition. In this tradition, the dead person is cremated and mourned, immediately, but all those who died within a year's time are honored at the end of the year in the Cahuilla's annual celebration-for-the-dead, nukil. At this celebration (lasting one week) the whole creation story is re-told through a cycle of songs, performed in a sacred way so that the lessons of their creation and their relationship with the dead creator-god are renewed. (Bean, 1972; ch. 8)
The celebration of this ritual requires the "big house," as a gathering place for villagers, and the "sacred bundle," containing the ritual materials necessary for this ceremony, as well as a great deal of ritualized charity. It became increasingly difficult for the Cahuilla to maintain these things and, hence, to experience this ceremonial renewal of their heritage. Indeed, it is now extinct, the last celebration having occured in the 1930s. What this means, of course, is that there has been no renewal of the Cahuilla cultural identity since that time --- roughly four generations.
This is a long story so I will only sketch portions of it in very brief fashion here. A good version of it can be found in Kroeber and Hooper's Studies in Cahuilla Culture (1979). The Cahuilla story, typical of the Southern California region and unlike the rest of California, envisioned creation of the earth out of an abstract Darkness. This Darkness was interrupted only occasionally by energy in the form of lightning, and somehow as a consequence of this lightning creation began as the growth of two embryonic sacks. Even at the beginning, though, creation is fragile and the sacks miscarry twice, coming to term only in the third opportunity. At this point, the sacks bear the twin creators of the Cahuilla people, first Mukat and then Tamaioit. There are two of them and this suggests a fundamental duality in the world. Nothing will be perfect in this world; conflict and compromise will determine reality. This duality is mirrored in many ways --- young and old, foolish and wise, imprudent and cautious, male and female, bad and good. Many aspects of this duality are illustrated through the subsequent interactions of Mukat and Tamaioit.
Mukat and Tamaioit begin by trying to drive Darkness back and make way for Light, and they do this by creating some strange creatures, like an eery black-and-white lizard, who attempt to swallow or push back the Darkness. When this has largely failed, they decide to have a smoke, and both bring tobacco, pipe materials, and fire out of their hearts. This scene is very important in setting forth the sacred nature of tobacco, fire, and smoking; but it is also very important in demonstrating the creative energy that lives in Mukat and Tamaioit. This energy is alive in their hearts and is in such a pure form that they have merely to draw things out of their hearts at will. Human spiritual energy will be seen as centered in the heart, but human energy will never compete with that of the creators in strength. The story looks back to a "classic" time when creative energy and spiritual power are still very active.
Continuing to bicker about who is older and better, Mukat and Tamaioit, nevertheless, go about making earth and sky and people. These are the First People who will eventually become animals, demigods, and spirits. All of the materials for these creations come from inside Mukat and Tamaioit. When it comes to making human people, Mukat proceeds slowly and with great care and thoughtfulness, but Tamaioit proceeds very rapidly, making snap decisions. Tamaioit's people are double-sided and have strange limbs as well as webbed feet. Mukat ultimately illustrates his wisdom and superiority by constructing people "the way they ought to be" (that is, the way they actually are) by taking time and being careful. As they finish, they begin to argue the merits of their creations and Tamaioit, finally humiliated, takes his retinue into and below the earth, causing a cataclysmic upheaval which Mukat is just able to stabilize. From this time onward, Mukat is alone with his creations and the few of Tamaioit's who remained (Coyote and Duck, among them).
Mukat and the First People live in a Big House, which sets the stage for the Cahuilla tradition of having the chief inhabit a large ceremonial house. While there are many events related to this period, one of the most interesting and important centers around Moon Maiden, Menily, a fine young woman who teaches the people most of their traditional knowledge and institutions, married relations and duties, games, and herbal cures. She also teaches men and women their separate responsibilities in marriage and parenting. Moon Maiden is a model of loving and, in reality, is the creator of society as we know it. But Mukat offends her by "desiring her as his wife," offending against the incest taboo, so she is forced to go away. She is gone for three days (the length of time that the moon is not seen) and then she re-appears in the western sky as the New Moon, beginning her monthly cycle. Thus, the natural cycle of the moon is rationalized and, at the same time, connected with women's menstrual cycle.
The climax of the Cahuilla's story follows in the death of Mukat. Not only had Mukat alienated Moon Maiden by offending against incest taboos, but he had been responsible for giving rattlesnake sharp poisonous fangs and for giving the people bows and arrows with which they had killed and wounded each other. The people decide that Mukat must be destroyed and they contrive to poison him. It is a traumatic event in the creation of the world because, with the death of Mukat, the people are cut off from the classic period of direct seminal power and must achieve change and survival through their own powers and institutions.
As Mukat slowly succumbs, over a course of days, Coyote stays constantly with him; and at the last, Mukat is fearful that Coyote will gain his powers by eating his body. So, under Mukat's instructions, the people keep Coyote away as they prepare Mukat's cremation fire. Not to be foiled, however, Coyote sees the smoke, races back, and jumps over the people's heads just in time to grab Mukat's heart. So spiritual power is transferred from the creator-god to Coyote after all.
With Mukat's death, the people are left to create life on their own. He instructs them in how to use plant and mineral resources and how to cremate their dead. He gives the people the spiritual contents of the Sacred Bundle which remains in the Big House and is used in their annual nukil celebration. And, finally, they go on a very long sojourn throughout all of Southern California, looking for the best place to live. When they arrive at that place, the present homeland of the Cahuilla, they have become the human people of today and the First People, as such, have all withdrawn into the animal and spirit worlds. The song cycle that relates the creation myth was followed by another song cycle which depicts the wandering-of-the-people. This accounts for the spreading of the myth throughout neighboring areas and also provides an opportunity to create a picture of the whole natural world around them in far greater detail than allowed by the central tale. While transmission of these songs from one generation to another has faltered, many of them are now sung by the contemporary group, the Cahuilla Bird Singers.
Folklorist's retelling.Chapter 1: Indian Origin Stories