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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Chemehuevi Myth as Social Commentary


We are told that in pre-contact times, when the stars in the heavens and the seasons on earth revolved changelessly and with no hint of coming destruction, the Chemehuevis sometimes held great gatherings. The knotted string was sent out, indicating the number of days that would elapse before the approaching festival; food was prepared in abundance; and the People came from near and far, to eat, to rejoice, to decide matters of consequence, and to hear the words of the High Chief. The lesser chiefs came with their families and spoke to each other in the language of chiefs, which was unintelligible to the common folk. And the great Chief himself, a man of such dignity that his words were generally conveyed through a spokesman, instructed the People in the way of life.

There is no way of knowing how much of this is legend and how much fact; and of the moral code which the Chief inculcated, there remains no single word. And yet there may be traces of this teaching discernible in certain fragments of the great mythic cycles which survive. These myths reach back to the youth of the world, to the beginnings of all things. Patterns set for human behavior by Mythic Coyote were often far from admirable, and of these we need say no more at present. Yet many tales had moral value, showing the dire results that followed impulsive and improper actions.

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