O'odham Creation and Related Events
As Told to Ruth Benedict in 1927
The origin stories of the O’odham (Pima) Indians of Arizona are renowned for their beauty and complexity but have been collected in only a handful of books. This volume—the third full O’odham telling of ancientness to appear in print—brings together dozens of stories collected in 1927 by anthropologist Ruth Benedict during her only visit to the Pimas. Never before published, they helped inspire Benedict to write her groundbreaking book Patterns of Culture.
The Pimas represented a way of life that Benedict at first called “Dionysian” after hearing the stories, narratives, songs, and oratory collected from various tellers during her three-month stay. The oral literature concerns the creation of the world and its transformations over time, the creation of the O’odham people, and other cultural traditions. Featuring a pair of man-gods, a female monster born of woman, and a conquest of Pimas by Pimas, they serve to mark the O’odham as a people distinct from their neighbors near and far.
The present volume contains more stories than any other source of Pima tales, plus more of the songs and orations that accompanied a telling. It includes “The Rafter,” a host of ancillary stories, numerous Coyote tales, and additional speeches tied to the narratives of ancientness. One long story, “The Feud,” found only in this collection, shows similarities to the Maya Popol Vuh.
Donald Bahr, a preeminent authority on the O’odham, has not only clarified the text but has also written an introduction that provides the background to the collection and analyzes Benedict’s probable reasons for never having published it. He has also included a previously unpublished text by Benedict, “Figures of Speech among the Pima.” O’odham Creation and Related Events represents an invaluable sourcebook of a people’s oral literature as well as a tribute to a singular scholar’s dedication and vision.