Native American Tales

The Jicarilla Genesis

The Jicarilla GenesisThe Jicarilla Genesis

Jicarilla Apache

Everything used to be dark and everyone lived in the underworld. The people could talk, the animals could talk, the trees could talk, and the rocks could talk. There were animals who wanted more light and there were animals who wanted more darkness. They decided to pay a game of chance to determine who would get more light. There would be four games, but some of the birds had vision so sharp they could see through the thin wood of the thimbles and determine where the button was.

The day animals and people won first, and won again, and won again, and won again. It was so bright that many of the night animals fled away. They discovered a hole and could see that there was another world up above. They built four mounds to try to reach the hole. One mound had yellow fruit, one mound had red fruit, one mound had blue fruit, and the other had fruit of all colors, but the mounds stopped growing before they reached the surface.

They tried making ladders out of feathers, but the ladders could not hold weight. The buffalo offered their horns as a ladder. With the horns the animal and people were able to climb to the surface, but it bent the buffalo horns and from that point forward the buffalo had curved horns. The people fastened their sun and moon with spider threads and brought them to the surface with them. The entire Earth was covered with water. The four storms blew the water away and made the four oceans. The land was still very muddy. The polecat was sent out first, but had to come back. Then the badger was sent out, but also had to come back. Each of them had sunk into the mud and from that point forward had black legs. The next thing sent out was the beaver, who went out and started damming up the water that remained on the Earth. He wanted there to be water for the people to drink. He also came back. Crow was sent out, but he started eating dead things and the people were upset, so crow was turned black instead of the grey he had been.

The land was finally firm enough for people to walk upon and they stopped wherever they wanted to stay. The Jicarillas kept circling around the hole they had come out of and their leader asked them where they wanted to stay and they said the middle of the Earth, so the leader got fed up with them and took them to Taos, where they stayed.


I do wonder about the colors of the things in this story. What symbology do they hold. Why red fruit? Why blue fruit? Why yellow fruit? Why different colored fruits? The specific colors wouldn’t be mentioned if they didn’t mean something.

It’s interesting how people and animals came from the underworld. How did they get there then? They had to have been created somehow in the underworld. It’s really one of those out-there theological questions. If you believe that we have souls that were created at one point, where did they come from?

I wonder why the skunk was sent out first, maybe everyone was tired of smelling him. Send the skunk out, he stinks, maybe he won’t come back.


This is a creation story, of course. The underworld was sort of the premortal existence in this story. Yes, there is a concept of premortal existence. It’s the idea that your soul lived somewhere before you were born. So maybe it was heaven, maybe it was the underworld, or maybe it was Vegas. In some religions, the premortal existence is a big deal. A lot happened there, just like in this story. These people had to struggle to get to the surface of the Earth, they were born, so to speak. In some Christian theology, we also had to struggle to get to Earth. There was a war in heaven. There was a disagreement. Lucifer was cast out. In consulting both theologies, we didn’t just pop into being. We had to do stuff to get here.

This story sort of paints night creatures in an inherently bad light. They wanted away from the light, so they ran away when there was more light and the people and creatures of the light went to the surface. Obviously, the creatures of darkness eventually came to the surface, but it didn’t seem they were with the main group that did. We have this idea that light is good and dark is bad. I happen to love the dark, in a weird way. It’s peaceful. In some circles darkness harbors evil. It’s true that it’s easier for serial killers to hide in the dark, but going beyond that, some believe that evil spirits like to reside in the dark and if you fill your house with light, the spirit cannot stay.

My point is that the two groups of beings were seen as different in this story and one was almost considered bad. It’s a common theme in religion, any religion. Lightness and darkness are almost always associated with good and evil.


Well, guys, you crawled your way out of a hole in the ground.

Weigh In

Would you send the skunk out first?

If you wouldn’t send the skunk out first, what animal would you have sent out, and why?


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