Literature: Myths and Legends of the Lipan Apache|
by Morris E. Opler
Book Preface |
The myths and tales of this volume are of particular significance, perhaps, because they have
reference to a tribe about which there is almost no published ethnographic material. The Lipan
Apache were scattered and all but annihilated on the eve of the Southwestern reservation period.
The survivors found refuge with other groups, and except for a brief notice by Gatshet, they have
been overlooked or neglected while investigations of numerically larger populations have proceeded.
It is gratifying, therefore, to be able at this late date to present a fairly full collection of Lipan folk-lore,
and to be in a position to report that this collection does much to illuminate the relations of Southern
Athabaskan-speaking tribes and the movements of aboriginal populations in the American Southwest.
Before the beginning of the 18th century the Lipan were already in the northern part of the
present state of Texas, and were being forced southward by hostile Comanche. By the
middle of the 18th century we find them in south central Texas, where the Spanairds sought
to protect them from their persistent enemies by the erection of the Mission of San Sab?.
Following the destruction of this mission, two others were established to the south and west
to administer to these Apache. They met a like fate in 1767. In 1796 the Lipan are reported to
have reached the Gulf Coast in the vicinity of the lower Rio Grande. For the next half century
they lived on or in the vicinity of the coast and made a partial adjustment to that environment.
The hostilities between the Texans and Mexicans during the last part of this period involved
the Lipan as allies of the latter. Then part of the Kickapoo, who had ceded their lands in Illinois,
invaded Texas and were added to the list of Lipan enemies. A serious epidemic of smallpox
decimated the tribe further. The Lipan, wasted by warfare and disease, were forced northward
and westward. Part of them found a retreat in the southern spurs of the Guadalupe Mountains,
where they made contact with the southernmost settlements of the Mescalero Apache. These
people, whom I have called the Northern Lipan in the tales, have become known as the "No Water People."
Another section of the tribe crossed the Rio Grande and settled in the neighborhood of Zaragoza, Coahuila.
I place the date of the permanent removal of these Lipan to Old Mexico (raiding expeditions had
penetrated into Old Mexico on previous occasions, of course) at about 1860 or shortly thereafter.
This section of the tribe, the Southern Lipan of the tales, has become known as the "Big Water People."
The "Big Water People," because their fate has been less involved with that of the Mescalero Apache
until quite recently, are prone to consider themselves the true representatives of Lipan culture.
From 1860 on the Northern Lipan became increasingly amalgamated with the Mescalero.
When attempts were made to concentrate the Mescalero at Ft. Stanton in 1870, many
Lipan were gathered into the net. At this same time the Southern Lipan were having
difficulty with the Mexican military and a group of them were happy to find protection to the north.
Thus it was that in 1903, when a handful of Lipan who had survived a war of extermination which
had been waged against them in Coahuila, were brought to Chihuahua, it became known that they
had relatives on the Mescalero Reservation. Efforts were made to unite them with their kin living
in the United States. In that year a small band of nineteen individuals was brought to Mescalero.
This event has given rise to the impression that the Lipan were never anything more than an offshoot
of the Mescalero tribe whose members somehow became separated from the main group and who
were finally restored to their relatives.
Evidence is accumulating which suggests a different historical origin and other ethnic relationships
for the Lipan, however. In an analysis of Southern Athabaskan kinship systems I have tried to
show that the Lipan system resembles the Jicarilla and not the Chiricahua-Mescalero type, and
the Lipan kinship stands closer to Jicarilla in respect to form, terms, and behavior patterns than to
kinship usages of any other Southern Athabaskan-speaking tribe. Dr. Harry Hoijer?s scholarly
analysis of the relationships of Southern Athabaskan languages demonstrates that Jicarilla and
Lipan together constitute a sub-group of the eastern linguistic group, quite apart from Mescalero,
which is classified in the other or western group. The conclusion seems inescapable that the
affiliation of the Lipan and Mescalero is a recent and secondary one and that more ancient and
fundamental connections must be sought to the north.
It is of interest and importance to consider whether the myths and tales yield materials which offer
further insight concerning the place of the Lipan in Southwestern cultures. The results of such an
inquiry have proved so gratifying that it is doubtful whether the value of mythology for purposes of
ethnological analysis has ever been better vindicated.
A glance at the table of contents of this volume is enough to reveal one of the major differences
in myth and conception which divides the Lipan from the Mescalero; the Lipan have a myth of
emergence. This gives a definite cast to Lipan mythology which Mescalero mythology does
not share, for a number of other Lipan stories take their inspiration from events which transpired
in the underworld before the emergence (Section I, C). The myths of all Southern Athabaskan
tribes (with the possible exception of the Kiowa Apache) include a story of a culture hero who
slew the foes of the race. The Navaho, Western Apache, and Jicarilla name the chief protagonist
Killer-of-Enemies and have him attended by a subordinate (a younger brother, relative, or friend)
who is ordinarily known as Child-of-the-Water. By a curious twist the Mescalero and Chiricahua
have reversed the positions of these two; for them Child-of-the-Water becomes the intrepid hero
and monster slayer and Killer-of-Enemies his weaker companion. The Lipan lean towards the
northern and western usage. Killer-of-Enemies is their culture hero. They use the term Child-of-Water
seldom, and then only as a synonym for Killer-of-Enemies. In the Lipan tales a younger brother of the
culture hero called Wise One appears, and to him are attributed the characteristics usually associated
with the less important of the divine pair.
One of the monsters with whom the culture hero has difficulty is known as Big Owl by the
Jicarilla and Western Apache. The Mescalero and Chiricahua think of him as a giant. He
appears as Big Owl in Lipan mythology, again indicating the orientation we have remarked.
The Lipan names for important concepts or supernaturals of the myths show marked departures
from Mescalero usage. The Mescalero call masked dancers and the supernaturals they
impersonate gahe. The Lipan know them as hashchi (hactci) and therefore agree in this
respect with the Jicarilla who refer to comparable supernaturals as hashchin (hactcin),
and with the Navaho who use the cognate term haashch'èèh (hactce).
There are a number of myths of diagnostic value which the Lipan relate but which could not be
found for the Mescalero. One such is the tale of the man who traveled down the river in a
hollow log (Section V, A, 1). This story has been recorded for the Jicarilla, Western Apache,
and Navaho also. Another tale of significance for our purpose is that of the race around the
world (Section VIII, B, 1). This story, unknown to the Mescalero but common to the Lipan and
Jicarilla, has been expanded to ceremonial importance by the latter.
As has been implied in the materials surveyed, the sharp differentiation of Lipan from Mescalero
mythology contrasts vividly with the many parallels between Lipan and Jicarilla mythology.
In addition to the myths and themes which have been identified as belonging to the joint stock
in trade of the Lipan and Jicarilla but which are not shared by the Mescalero (such as the emergence myth),
there are a number of others which deserve mention, for their weight lends a decided Jicarilla cast to
Lipan folk-lore. One such is the hint of Lipan traditions concerning a people who live to the north in a
land of darkness (p. 15). Another is that of the boy who aids in the capture of his twin (p. 23).
Still another has to do with the attempts of a malign being to chop up and cook the culture
hero and his companion (pp. 23-24). The vitalization of a person or animal by the entrance of
wind into the body (p. 29) is one of a number of themes of like character. We are fully justified
in saying tha between the legends of the Lipan and Jicarilla the correspondences are impressive
in respect to themes, names, and terms as well as story outlines. Most of these resemblances
will be noted in the text.
But the myths also contain ethnographic items which attest to the cultural gulf between the
Mescalero and Lipan and to the unmistakable relation of Lipan to Jicarilla culture. It may
be useful to call attention to one or two examples of such materials here. In Section VII
(Tales Connected with Death) mention is made of the ghost or vakosh (vakoc) ; vakosh is a
term descriptive of the material remains of the dead as distinguished from the breath or spirit.
The term and description are applied by the Lipan and Jicarilla and, as far as I have been able
to discover, by no other of these Apache tribes. In the same section of the volume the Lipan
conception of the underworld or land of the dead is described. The underworld is said to be
divided into north and south compartments, inhabited by the spirits of the sorcerers and of
the good respectively. Fire and fog harass the wicked, and snakes and lizards are their only food.
The Jicarilla have an identical picture of the afterworld, and, as far as I have been able to determine,
they are the only other Apache group to entertain such a set of beliefs. In one of the warpath stories
of this volume a Lipan who had been made captive by the enemy and escaped, refrains from entering
the encampment before a purifying ceremony has been held over him. There is no trace of such a
ceremony for the Mescalero and Chiricahua, but this duplicates exactly the Jicarilla procedure.
A systematic review of the contents of this volume would reveal scores of elements which might
be similarly compared and interpreted. A more comprehensive comparison will not be attempted
now, however, for it can be more profitably pursued after the publication of the volumes of Chiricahua
and Mescalero mythology which are now being prepared.
Enough evidence of various kinds has been submitted, nevertheless, to establish with high
probability that the Lipan are an offshoot of a Lipan-Jicarilla group, that their line of migration
took them east to the plains and south to the gulf, and that they were lately forced westward
and northward, to be finally located with the Mescalero.