Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Kiowa Creation Myth

Delahoyde & Hughes



N. Scott Momaday’s account of the Kiowan creation, an account he inherited from his grandmother and which obviously has an ancient oral history beforehand, starts like this:

You know, everything had to begin, and this is how it was: the Kiowas came one by one into the world through a hollow log.

Note the differences between a creation story that launches with “IN THE BEGINNING, GOD” with one that begins, “You know….” What does this reflect? How are such cultures going to differ in their general attitudes?

The tribe emerges into the world through a hollow log. Ah, but where was the other end of that hollow log? we ask, congratulating ourselves for destroying the logic of the story. Is this less illogical on that level than Genesis, about which one could ask equally difficult and probably irrelevant questions?

There were many more than now, but not all of them got out.

Note that the ones who do emerge from the log do not receive this as a reward for any vague moral superiority. It was just chance; and the nice aspect of this is that you can know you have relatives on the other side who just happened not to finish the journey through the log.

There was a woman whose body was swollen up with child, and she got stuck in the log. After that, no one could get through, and that is why the Kiowas are a small tribe in number.

As with “The Fall” in Genesis, we can blame a woman again for messing up the idyll, but there doesn’t necessarily seem to be that judgmental aspect in this story. In a mythological sense, there is a wisdom to this mini-crisis: it does seem that you shouldn’t be ready to give birth when you’re being born yourself. The woman being stuck stops traffic, etiologically an explanation as to why “the Kiowas are a small tribe in number.”

They looked all around and saw the world. It made them glad to see so many things.

What is absent from this creation story (in contrast to Genesis, for example)? This absence places emphasis on what instead? What does that shift in emphasis suggest about the respective cultures?

They called themselves Kwuda, “coming out.”

This is a very unusual name for a people. When you played kickball in 4th grade, what did you name your team? What kinds of names do sports teams and schools adopt? How is this one vastly different, even in a basic grammatical way, and what might that indicate about the respective cultures?

This is a quite affirming creation myth, and the opening two words lend the material an additional casual and reassuring quality. You’re told you have connections on “the other side,” and you can celebrate being out through the log without it implying any superiority on your part for being so. Creation is a collective experience instead of a competition as to who’s first. There’s no “Adam” here; instead, there’s a whole people. And the name they give themselves is a verb! They conceive of themselves as a verb instead of a noun, a wave instead of a particle, a doing instead of a being, a process instead of a stasis. This has to signify a completely different sense of identity from that of traditional Western culture and its predilection for nouns and even “nounification” of verbs to the extent that overuse of the “to be” verb is the most widespread stylistic writing weakness among Anglos. You know?

N. Scott Momaday. The Way to Rainy Mountain. University of New Mexico Press, 1969. 16.

Honors Literature Students’ Web Page #1

Honors Literature Students’ Web Page #2: Chris Davidson and Amanda Piland.

Creation Myths