Listen : Mutsun story about the origin of thunder

April 5, 2016
Ascencion Solorsano
Ascencion Solorsano

The last fluent speaker of the Mutsun language was Ascension Solorsano, a famous healer who lived near what is now Gilroy. Before she died in 1930, she passed along the tribe’s linguistic and cultural traditions to Smithsonian Institute anthropologist John Peabody Harrington. Among his 35,000 pages of field notes from Solorsano was this Mutsun story about the origin of thunder, the Tura. Many years later, Quirina Geary, a member of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, translated the story from Harrington’s notes in English back into Mutsun as part of a project to restore the Mutsun language. Here, Geary is reading the story.

There was an old widow woman with two sons.
okse rootes wikic mukyukniS yuu uThin wak-tawrekma.

They didn’t have anything to eat.
ekwena amman.

Every time these poor boys went to the river where other people were fishing, people would run them away.
hiimi hiskan kocinokniSmak wattinis rummetka, aNNis amakma huynitis nuhu, amakma haahesis haysane.

So they went along looking for what other people had left behind.
piinaway himmatis kocinokniSmak, himmanas witihte ammane.

They would find the thrown away fish bones and pull the nerve out of the backbone like a thread, and put these in a clamshell.
haysa himmas huuyi TattYise, yuu haysa hiTros hurekse haccal TattYitkatum. haysa uttus hurekse haSSantak,

They would go up and down the river doing this. They would take this to their mother to eat.
yuu wattimpis-was aanantak, amSi haysa ammas-was.

One day when they came home they found that their mother had died.
ara haysa hiwaanis rukkatka, haysa amma semmoSte. They cried and cried. They buried her.
haysa warkatis. piras-was haysa.

There was no one to care for them, and it seemed like they would die too.
ekwena ama numan uTTasis kocinokniSmakse, ussi kuutis waate haysaya waate semmonis.

The younger brother said to his tawses riccas taknane, older brother, “We are living so sadly. Let’s become like animals that fly in the sky.”
tawses riccas taknane, “makke Sollen TiiTi. hiSSepuyuT makke hummusmak, numan Tawra Tarahtak.”

The older brother said “How do you think you can do that?”
taknan riccas “hinkasi holle-me-was?”

The younger brother said “I can do it. But you have to promise to do whatever I say to do.”
tawses riccas “holle-ka-was. enohek, koc-ka howso-mes, nahay.”

It was like that every day.
himah'a Tuuhis kaatYi.

But one day, the younger brother bathed himself, and he said “I will jump three times, and the third time, I will fly, and I will walk around in the sky.”
aru, tawses ereeSipus. riccas-ak “culuna-ka kaphana, yuu kapnanwas, yetee-ka hummun, hintYe-ka Tarahtak.”

He jumped three times, and on the third jump, he went thundering up into the sky.
culus-ak kaphana, koc-ak kaphanwas culus, wattinis-ak Tarahtak, Turas-ak Tarahtak.

He said to his older brother “You do the same.”
tawses riccas wak-taknane “hiSSey menya kaatYi.”

His brother jumped, and on the third jump, he also went up into the sky, thundering but not as fast or loudly as his brother.
wak-taknan culus, yuu koc-ak kaphanwas culus, wak ya wattinis Tarahtak, Turas wak ya Tarahtak. enohek taknan hemtsos, yuu heeleSi wattinis.

He joined his brother up there.
haysa himmemus Tarahtak.

So it is that the younger brother thunders more violently and the older brother more softly.
ussi tawses hiTeepu Tura, yuu taknan hemtso Tura.

Remember the fishermen who would not give them food?
moT-me hinwimi huynismak, numan ekwe hummis haysane ammane?

They thought the boys would be worthless.
haysa pesyos kocinokniSmak ekwe miSSimak.

Now when it thundered, they clapped their hands and beg for forgiveness.
ney'a koc Turas, haysa hilsis, 'annam makkese!'

When the Indian people hear the thunders, they say 'Listen, those are the brothers,' and one thunders more loudly and one more softly.
koc mutsun amakma namti Turanmakse, ricca haysa 'namtiy, taknan yuu tawses,' yuu tawses hiTeepu Tura, yuu taknan hemtso Tura.

About the Author

Mary Ellen Hannibal is an award-winning environmental journalist and the author of Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.