American Indian mythology
When the first European explorers arrived on the North American continent in the late 15th century, they did not find an empty land. More than 2 million Native Americans representing at least 1,000 different tribes were living in North America. Native Americans inhabited regions ranging from the frozen Arctic to subtropical Florida, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. They lived on the tundra, in the mountains and woodlands, on the plains and prairies, in the swamps of the Southeast and the deserts of the Southwest. Far from being the single culture labeled “Indian” by Europeans, Native Americans represented a multitude of highly developed cultures and spoke hundreds of different languages.
Wherever they lived, Native Americans of North America developed lifestyles, worldviews, religions, traditions, and mythologies as varied as the environments they inhabited. In the Arctic, where people depended on the creatures of the sea for sustenance, myths identified the powerful beings that controlled the supply of these animals, who needed to be honored and obeyed. Along the Northwest Coast, people who fished for salmon developed a mythology in which salmon played a primary role. In the Southwest, where a corn-based agriculture predominated, legends about corn were prominent. Groups whose lives depended on hunting told stories about the origin, loss, and recovery of game animals. The climate, the weather, the geography, the sources of food, and the people’s way of life all influenced the legends people told.
Humans use mythology and ritual to establish a sense of community, identity, and an understanding of their place in the universe. These tools maintain the traditions of a culture and reflect what is most important in people’s lives. We read myths not only to learn about the culture in which the myth originated but to discover the hearts and minds of the myth makers. The myths of Native Americans give us a glimpse into the ways of life and worldviews of North America’s first people.
Last updated: February 6, 2015 at 14:19 pm
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