Kukumat and the creation of Yumans

April 14, 2002

>> Creation story of the Yuman tribes — As told by Jay von Werlhof, Imperial Valley College Desert Museum director. Transcribed by Staff Writer Aaron Claverie.

Kukumat and Blind Old Man arose from the waters long ago to create all things on earth.

The waters subsided.

Kukumat was the principal creator. He created animals, spirit beings and people as they are today.

Blind Old Man, Kukumat's evil twin, created monstrous creatures.

To destroy the evil brought into the world by his twin, Kukumat raised the waters again, drowning Blind Old Man and his hideous progeny.

The waters subsided.

Kukumat created woman. The woman had a son. The boy was named Kumastamo. The woman is never heard from again after she gives birth.


Kumastamo was the principal creator of all things in the Yuman world.

He created the first Yuman man, Marxokuvek, who was given limited creative powers.

With these powers, Marxokuvek created Coyote, who became the first shaman, a teacher and a healer.

When Kukumat died, Kumastamo summoned all the people to Avikwami, or Spirit Mountain, now known as Newberry Mountain near Needles.

The Yumans assembled to stage a keruk, a cremation ceremony, for Kukumat. This is the most significant of all Yuman celebrations.

As they were getting ready to stage the ceremony, a spirit people — probably undead creatures created at the dawn of time by Blind Old Man — attacked.

Kumastamo showed his people how to defend themselves. He made a big shield of reeds that was covered with hide and gave his people bows and arrows.

With their newfound knowledge of war, the Yumans defeated the faceless spirit monsters, too horrible to describe.

After their victory, the Yumans built a huge hut in which to cremate Kukumat. The fires were lit. Kukumat burned.

As his ashes rose to the heavens, two significant things occurred.

Coyote leaped into the hut and stole Kukumat's heart.

Then, the ageless one, Heavenly Snake, decided it wanted to be cremated with Kukumat.

Heavenly Snake was so huge, though, the hut had to be enlarged four times.

As Heavenly Snake and Kukumat finally burned together, Heavenly Snake exploded, sending vice and virtue throughout the land, giving everybody a bit of both.

After the ceremony, Kumastamo ordered the Yumans to disperse to other territories.

The trail of dreams was founded. It was known as Kwatcam, which means "going down."

This is the trail from Avikwami all the way south along the Colorado River (which Kukumat had created long ago by plunging his spear into the ground.)

In the migrations, the people dispersed and eventually took territory near the Colorado River and spread out all the way to the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.

Marxokuvek, leader of the Quechan, died and was cremated on Avivolpo (a mountain in southwestern Arizona called Muggins Peak today.)

National Parks Service linguist/archaeologist Don Laylander has shown the migrations of the Yuman tribes to the land of eastern Imperial County and Yuma County were about 6,000 years ago.

Accelerator mass spectrometry carbon dating has placed some of the ceremonial grounds in Imperial County, including a snake icon on the IVC Desert Museum grounds, at nearly 3,000 years old.

The creation story has been told many times. It takes a versed native four days to tell.

In a recent study of the Imperial Valley's geoglyphs, it was found that almost each of these tells in some part the creation story.

Harry Casey of Brawley recently photographed all of the area geoglyphs from the air. Von Werhlof is putting together the photos with his detailed analysis in a sequel to his 1989 book "Spirits of the Earth." The book should be published next year.

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