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Nukatem

by Ryan Tuccinardi
At the beginning of creation, all creatures were said to be much larger than they were today, according to the Cahuilla expert Francisco Patencio. This matches current paleozoology knowledge, as, at the time, giant elephants, sloths, horses, armadillos and other creatures, especially mammals, existed before human arrival by conventional dates. These were called nukatem. Over time, the nukatem stopped being active and turned into natural objects such as mirages, rainbows, earth and other non-organic but naturally occurring substances. When the Cahuillas looked at one of these things, they prayed and watched the nukatem that they knew was there.

Menily, a nukatem of the moon, was rare among the nukatem because she was female. Menily was beautiful and extremely intelligent, and a good teacher, very much what a Cahuilla woman wanted to be. Menily was a culture heroine, she taught the Cahuilla the skills behind a great many hygienic practices, games and sports, as well as productive pastimes. She taught the humans how the keep their hair from being tangled and how to laugh and be happy.

Mukat made the Cahuilla fall asleep extra deeply one night, so that he could be mean to Menily, for he was a capricious god. Menily went to a pool of water and began dancing. She was sick, deathly sick in appearance, and did not want to stay with the Cahuilla anymore. When the Cahuilla awoke, they tried to find out what was wrong, but she would not tell them. Instead, she wrote a song and then everyone understood her.

Menily then became happy again, and so were the people, but theirs was an ignorant happiness, as they knew not what they had done nor why it worked. The next night, she caused them to sleep very deeply, as Mukat had done the night before. She went up into the sky while they slept. When the Cahuilla awoke, the could not find he, nor could they find any tracks of her. They sent Coyote to find her, but he could not.

Later one evening, the Cahuilla saw Menily dancing in the pool again. She was actually in the sky, but they saw her reflection in the pool. They begged her to come out, but she wouldn't. So, they called Coyote and he began to drink the water. He could not drink it all, but he did make the water level much lower. The moon laughed but did not move. The people looked up and saw her in the sky. This was the first New Moon.

Other nukatem include Taqwus, Muut, Pemtemweha and Kutya?i.


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