O'odham Creation and Related Events, as Told to Ruth Benedict in 1927 in Prose, Oratory, and Song by the Pimas William Blackwater, Thomas Vanyiko, Clara Ahiel, William Stevens, Oliver Wellington, and Kisto

By Fitzgerald, Colleen M. | Western Folklore, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

O'odham Creation and Related Events, as Told to Ruth Benedict in 1927 in Prose, Oratory, and Song by the Pimas William Blackwater, Thomas Vanyiko, Clara Ahiel, William Stevens, Oliver Wellington, and Kisto


Fitzgerald, Colleen M., Western Folklore


O'odham Creation and Related Events, As Told to Ruth Benedict in 1927 in Prose, Oratory, and Song by the Pimas William Blackwater, Thomas Vanyiko, Clara Ahiel, William Stevens, Oliver Wellington, and Kisio. Edited by Donald Bahr, Foreword by Barbara Babcock. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Pp. xxvii + 227, foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, bibliography, index. $45.00 cloth)

The desert landscape of southern Arizona is home to the Akimel and Tohono O'odham, also known as the Pimas and the Papagos, both well-studied by anthropologists, linguists and ethnomusicologists. O'odham Creation and Related Events (OCRE) is a very significant addition to work on the O'odham, for it is a previously unpublished body of oral literature collected in Sacaton, Arizona in 1927, primarily from narrators William Blackwater and Thomas Vanyiko, by Ruth Benedict.

OCRE began as a collaboration between Donald Bahr and John Bierhost, but the latter, who found the papers, had to leave the project. The completed edition, a collection of songs, stories, and ritual speeches relating to the O'odham creation stories, is probably the most complete of the published O'odham mythologies (Russell 1908, Saxton and Saxton 1973, and Bahr et al. 1994). Especially noteworthy is that the stories are usually accompanied by information about the source. At times, the contributions of the two principal narrators, Blackwater and Vanyiko, are presented in OCRE in a "duet" (or "duel") type format.

In this and other ways, Bahr has given a structure and a context to Benedict's manuscript. The book's organization into five chapters is Bahr's, as are the chapter titles, the chapter introductions, and the supplementary notes and textual comments-these are mostly about mistakes in O'odham words and names, but they also include ethnobotanical material (using Rea 1997 as a resource), and they make significant comparisons with previously published collections. Bahr's own knowledge of O'odham oral literature-a life's work-is a valuable and essential component of OCRE.

Of the book's five sections-1) The Rafter Hauled: The Long Telling of Ancient Times; 2) Pieces Left Out; 3) Pieces Afterward, on War; 4) Coyote Tales; 5) Oratory-the first two are devoted to stories set in the Edenic time before "normal" marriage and procreation. The stories in "The Rafter Hauled" relate how creation proceeded from nothingness to the Pimas before the Apache wars, and the stories begin with Earth Doctor (and later, with Elder Brother): "In the beginning there was darkness. Darkness spun round upon itself and from it was born Earth Doctor. He went west, south, east, north, up, and down, looking everywhere, but there was nothing" (5). Stories in the second section, "Pieces Left Out," speak of ancient times in which Earth Doctor and Elder Brother play minor roles or none at all, and include versions (here told by Blackwater) of the rafter stories. Section two also presents, with an editor's synopsis, "The Feud," an important story that does not exist in any other record of O'odham storytelling but which, as Bahr notes, bears a similarity to the Popol Vuh, not in its mythic elements but in such elements as the ball-play, the self-immolation, and the brothers and their transformations: "'I will make myself into a lizard and fasten myself to this stick of wood. When you get home, throw it on the ash pile.' They knew he was wise, and they took the wood in and threw it on the ash pile [or outdoor fire]. …

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