Chumash Story: Seeds of Creation and the Rainbow Bridge

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Hutash, the Earth Mother, created the first Chumash people on the island of Limuw, now known as Santa Cruz Island. They were made from the seeds of a Magic Plant.

David Pu'u, Chumash cosmology, Channel Islands, Ventura

In this story, Hutash, the Earth Mother from the Chumash cosmology, had the idea of making a bridge out of a wishtoyo (rainbow) so the newly created people could walk from Limuw, now Santa Cruz Island, all the way to Tzchimoos, the tall mountain near Mishopshno (Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara). Photo By David Pu’u.

A Chumash Story of Creation

To create the Chumash people, Earth Mother Hutash buried the seeds of a magical plant on Limuw (“in the sea”), now known as Santa Cruz Island, in the Santa Barbara Channel. The people sprung full grown from the plant, both men and women to inhabit the island.

Seeing that the people were cold, Hutash’s husband Alchupo’osh, Sky Snake (the Milky Way), decided to give Hutash’s people a gift. Using his tongue to send a bolt of lightning, he started a fire. The people tended the fire and kept it burning so they could stay warm and cook their food.


This Chumash creation story describes Limuw (Santa Cruz Island) as the birthplace of the Chumash people. Told by Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, Chumash elder.

The sight of the fire attracted the Condor who at that time was an all white bird. Curious, he flew low over the fire to get a better look and burned most of his feathers. They all turned black except for a little white under the wings.

With warmth and hot food, the people prospered and created plentiful offspring. After many years of filling their gifted land with people, the island became crowded. The noise of the happy Chumash singing and dancing, the children laughing, kept Hutash awake at night.

The Santa Barbara Channel Islands are often called the “North American Galapagos” because they are home to over 150 endemic or unique species.

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Sometimes she would complain to Sky Snake. “Sky Snake,” she would say, “the people are too noisy! I want to sleep. I whisper to them, shhh, children, it is time to be quiet. It is time to rest, it is time to sleep. But do they listen to Earth Mother? No.”

One night when the people were keeping Hutash awake when she wanted to be asleep, she looked out on the moonlit mainland and realized she would have to send the people there.

“Sky Snake,” said Hutash, “The people need to leave the Island and go live on the mainland.” He wondered how they could get there.

“I will make a Rainbow Bridge,” said Hutash. “They will walk across it to the mountain top and they will find plenty to eat and drink and we will all be happy.”

dolphins, Santa Monica Bay

According to legend, Chumash who fell into the ocean while crossing the rainbow to the mainland were turned into dolphins. Photo By Jessica Aldridge.

 

Hutash created a tall spanning bridge from a Wishtoyo, a rainbow for the people to walk cross to the mainland. She made a long, high rainbow that stretched from the tallest mountain on Limuw all the way to Tzchimoos, the tall mountain near Mishopshno (Carpinteria).

It would take them all day, walking, but when they arrived there would be plenty of room and lots to eat. The people were afraid.

“But Hutash, the Bridge is too high! What if we fall? We will drown!” they protested.

“I will take care of you,” she offered.

The people put on their fur and leather clothes, filled a few baskets with belongings, and started up the Rainbow Bridge. Families held hands to stay together.

“Keep your eyes on your goal,” said Hutash. “Look ahead to where you are going.”

As the people climbed on the Rainbow Bridge, they could see the land as clearly as on the days the warm winds blow from the east, and they were excited.

But some people looked back, and some people looked down. These people felt dizzy. The water was a long long long way down. The fog licked their toes. Some of the people grew afraid, and they looked down instead of ahead to where they were going. They doubted Hutash and their tummies felt funny. Some of the people lost their balance and they fell through the fog toward the shimmering, dark sea far below.

Hutash regretted their danger of drowning because she told them to cross the bridge. To save the people in the water, she transformed them into dolphins. That way they could hold their breath longer under water and swim between the island and the shore.

Now the Chumash call the dolphins their brothers and sisters.

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This version has been edited by Jack Eidt, using as sources:
The Chumash People: Materials for Teachers and Students. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 1991.

“The Rainbow Bridge: How we & dolphins came to be–A Chumash origin story,” by Gwendolyn Alley on Art Predator

Rainbow Bridge Photo from David Pu’u Photography at his blog.

Video Features by Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, Chumash elder, presented By Channel Islands National Park and Community Access Partners of San Buenaventura. Directed, Shot and Edited by Chad Beaty, filmed on location at Santa Cruz Island.

Updated March 20, 2016

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. To reach out, write to jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow us on Twitter @WilderUtopia