“The Old People Told Us”
Recorded by M. B. Borman as told by Enrique Criollo
The legend presented here was collected with 25 others from one Cofan speaker, Enrique Criollo, of the village of Dureno on the Aguarico River, in the province of Sucumbios of eastern Ecuador. Enrique Criollo was born in the Sucumbíos probably around 1940. His father died about the time of his birth, so he lived with his mother and two siblings until his older brother-in-law brought the four of them to his home in Dureno.
Enthusiastic, young and friendly, Enrique became the regular language helper to the missionaries who began living with the Cofan in the 1950s. Enrique was, at that time, a young married man about twenty years old. He had the normal knowledge of his generation of the old stories of his people. He had heard most of the stories from his mother and older brothers, aunts and uncles. In 1957, in the process of analyzing the grammar of the Cofan language, various Cofan legends were recorded and then translated by M. B. Borman.
The Creation and the Flood
The world came to an end by an earthquake. When the earthquake ended it, all the people died. However, three people survived — all three were men, no women.
Then everything turned into a river. One man went one way, and the other two went the other way. This happened around the circle where the sky touches the earth. All three men clung to floating trees and survived that way.
Then the first man thought, “I’m alone.” He began walking and searching. There was no jungle, just sand. Everything was cleaned and there was no firm land. There was only watery mud.
As he walked and searched, he met the second man walking toward him. Then the two of them met the third man. The three men were the only people left, and there were no leaves to make a house.
Then God came walking up to them. He asked, “Do you want some earth?” The men answered, “Yes, we want earth very much. Please create some for us.” God said, “Well, don’t be sad.” He brought some earth all wrapped up and gave it to them. They laid it down on the sand. In it lived the red earthworm. Then they went to sleep. In the morning the patch of earth had grown, and the next day it was larger and grass, plantain and balsa had begun to grow.
God said, “Do you want me to create jungle for you?” The men said, “We want you to make a lot of jungle.” God said, “Then you’ll need a machete.” “Yes,” said the men, “we really need a machete.” A split palm trunk lay near them, so God made a machete from the palm wood and gave it to the men. By that time everything had become jungle.
One man went to the jungle to hunt game with a blowgun. The two others stayed home. In the evening the hunter returned. He asked, “Why are you sitting like that?” You see, one man had become a woman! The other, still a man, was sitting, frightened. “You’re acting just like a timid coati mundi [a mammal in the raccoon family],” the hunter scolded the fearful man. “Become a coati mundi and live like that!” So the frightened man turned into a coati mundi and went off into the jungle.
So, the next day the hunter married the woman. They had children and lived in the house.
God came to visit again. By that time four children had been born. God made canoes for them. The first canoe was made from a simaco seed pod and later God made one from a felled cedar tree. While it fell, it hit God on the head, split open and became a very fine canoe. But, God thought, “Man should work to travel. He should make his own canoe using an axe. If he gets a canoe without working, he’ll take it for granted. But if he works hard and is tired, he’ll pray to God.”