The Remarkable Mythology of
the Toba Indians- pt.1

I am proud to present the following story from volume 2 of 
"Folk Literature of the Toba Indians" (of northern Argentina).
I've never seen a story with so many non sequiturs.

"Big Conflagration, Metamorphosis of Men into Animals, and the
Partial Establishment of the Current Cosmic Order

One day the world came to an end, and people made a deep pit 
in the ground and climbed into it. They prepared some mud at
the bottom of the well, and when the fire passed over them 
they covered themselves with the mud. The fire and the sulphur
burned everything. When it was all over, they thought about 
what they should do. "The first person to emerge must not look
in any direction but just come out of the pit bent over." The 
first person to come out made the mistake of looking all 
around him. He was turned into a bird. Another man came out, 
and he was turned into a very large bird. However, the last 
people to come out of the pit did things well; they came out 
bent over and looking at the ground, and so they remained as 
human beings. After a while they lifted their heads and saw 
that there was nothing left in the world and that the earth 
was parched and red.

There was a small red bird singing its little song. It was 
all by itself, and it would jump up into the air and then 
jump back down again. A few days later a small tree came up 
in the midst of the field, and the bird kept on singing every
day. Then a man came who made a river and divided the day 
into hours. He wanted to cross the river, so he stuck his 
lance into the ground. He crossed over to the other side, and
after that many people followed. However, another man ruined 
what the first man had done. It was going to be a single 
river, but he spoiled the plan and the water spilled all over
the place, some here, some there.

People of long ago were happy after that, because they had 
fish to eat. Before that they had nothing to eat because 
there was no river. People began to keep animals. They caught
horses and mounted them and went out looking for food. In the
open plains they found rheas, and they hunted them on 
horseback with their lances and bolas. People were happy. 
When they came back from hunting they went to the river to 
drink water. Now they had a river, but before there was none,
and they had to dig for a plant that contained water in its 
roots. When they were thirsty they would dig it up and drink 
its water and quench their thirst. Once they had the river, 
however, people never got that thirsty again. The man who had
divided the river was called Kwiteik.

Later on they began to make chicha[1]. Our ancestors knew how
to prepare a drink with the fruit of the carob tree. They
prepared it in a large trough, and, after leaving it there 
two or three days to ferment, they would drink it and get 
drunk. They would start singing and take their small gourds 
and play them. In those days there were all kinds of pastimes;
for example, there were mock battles between the tribes. Those
who lost were left naked, with only a small piece of cloth to 
cover themselves. Everything was taken from them in the 

The book gives a few other variations on this story; most of
them focus on what types of animals which the people who came
out of the hole first were turned into. Some turn into pigs,
armadillos, etc.; in one version, the first man to leave the
hole became the first howler monkey. But in my favorite
version, no humans survive the fire; when it's over, the only
things left are a small carob tree and, sitting on a branch,
a little bird singing its little song. How all the creatures
currently living on the earth came to be, is left unexplained.

Joel T.

[1] Chicha was the Spanish name for the Incas' maize beer, but
the Toba seem to use the term to describe beer made from carob