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Creation Myths of Primitive America, by Jeremiah Curtin, [1898], at

p. 492


THIS myth contains a complete statement concerning the beginnings of Wintu belief. Olelbis occupies the first place in the estimation of Wintus. To understand the Wintu mind, it is indispensable to begin with Olelbis. Other myths illustrate this one, explain parts of the Wintu system, and help to explain the mental life of the people; but this tale of Creation is to Indians of the western half of the Sacramento valley what their sacred books are to historic races.

No Wintu has been converted to Christianity; hence the faith of the nation is undimmed, and its adherence to primitive religion unweakened. I cannot explain their position better than by giving the words of one of the most intelligent Wintus whom I have met. After I had collected all that I could find, and had received needful explanations as far as was possible, I spoke some time with this man. Referring to their religion and ideas, he said: "When I talk of these things, I am afraid, I feel kind of scart" (scared).

That explains their position perfectly. Their faith is of the firmest; they are full of awe; they believe that Olelbis is up there now in the "Central Blue," in his marvellous Panti Hlut, the most beautiful structure in the universe, and from there sees everything that happens. That heavenly house is framed of living oak-trees, which bear acorns continually, the Indian bread of life,--that house which has in and around it all the flowers that have ever bloomed, flowers whose roots can never die.

Winishuyat, mentioned in "Olelbis" and in other tales, is one of the most interesting personages in Wintu mythology. He is described as a little man, about the size of a thumb, and is always placed on the top of the head by the person whom he accompanies and aids. This person never fails to tie his own hair over Winishuyat, and thus conceals him from every stranger. Winis means "he sees;" the literal significance of huyat I have not been able to get at satisfactorily thus far. The essential meaning of the whole word is that he sees in mind the approaching danger before

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it is evident to the physical eye. Winishuyat means. therefore, the prescience of danger,--seeing danger while it is yet at some distance; not necessarily distance geographically, for the danger may be present, but concealed in the breast of a dissembling enemy, and some time, short or long, may be between it and actual happening.

The peculiar thing in the case is that foresight is separated from the hero, and is made the distinguishing quality of his little thumb-sized attendant, just as if each power had to be connected with a person,--no person having more than one great trait of character.

In the Yana mythology there is no name corresponding to Winishuyat, but the same office is filled by a maternal uncle.

In the tale of "Juiwaiyu," Jupka, the uncle of the hero, makes himself as small as a thumb, and is tied in under the hair of his nephew. In the winning of Paiowa, at the house of Tuina, Igupatopa performs for his sister's son the same kind of service rendered by Winishuyat,--with this difference, that he is more active; he is not merely an adviser, he is a helper, a strengthener; he gives counsel to make his nephew wise, and then enters into his heart to fortify him, to render him brave and strong.

It is curious and instructive to note in European Folk-tales the survival of Winishuyat and his approximate equivalent, the Yana uncle. In Slav tales this person is the mangy, miserable, neglected little colt which, when taken outside the town, shakes itself and becomes a marvellous magic steed, golden-haired, untiring, and wise, faithful to its master as the sun to his course in the sky.

This steed knows what is coming, knows exactly what to do, knows the mistakes that his master is sure to commit, knows how to correct them; and the cumulative effect of these corrections increases immensely the momentum of the final triumph.

The Tom Thumb of nursery tales, the mentor of his big brothers, gives also a striking reminder of Winishuyat.

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