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First Man and First Woman

Nationality/Culture

American Indian/Navajo

Alternate Names

Altsé hastiin and Altsé asdzáá

Appears In

Navajo creation myths

Lineage

Created by the Holy People

Character Overview

In the mythology of the Navajo of North America, First Man and First Woman—known as Altsé hastiin and Altsé asdzáá, respectively—were beings who prepared the world for the creation of people. Created when the winds blew life into two special ears of corn , the couple led the creatures that would become the Navajo on a journey from a series of lower worlds up to the surface of the earth. In some stories, First Man and First Woman are joined by two other original leaders: First Boy and First Girl.

In each of the lower worlds, the followers of First Man and First Woman discovered different resources. The couple taught their followers how to survive in the unfamiliar surroundings and urged them to learn new skills, such as planting beans and corn for food. The two helped their people overcome various crises, including a great flood that surged over the land in powerful waves. They also had to deal with the troublesome Coyote, who quarreled and played many tricks on the people.

In one of the lower worlds, First Man and First Woman had a bitter dispute about whether men and women need each other to live. As a result of their dispute, First Man led all of the men away from the women for four years. Following this period of separation, some of the young women gave birth to terrible monsters that preyed on the people. Eventually, the men and women realized that they needed each other, and they agreed to live together again.

First Man and First Woman also raised the Navajo deity, or god, known as Changing Woman (Asdzáá nádleehé), whom they found as a child. They gave Changing Woman the medicine bundle of creation, a bag or collection of sacred objects that became the source of her power. Changing Woman and her sister, White Shell Woman (Yolgai asdzáá), gave birth to twins who became warriors and killed the monsters that threatened their people.

First Man and First Woman in Context

Corn was one of the most important sources of food for the Navajo people. The fact that First Man and First Woman are created from ears of corn illustrates the importance of corn in the Navajo diet. Similarly, the fact that the first Navajo people were brought forth from lower worlds reflects the importance of the earth and nature in Navajo life. In the myth, First Man leads the men away to live on their own for four years. This reflects traditional Navajo beliefs about the duties of men as being separate from the duties of women.

Key Themes and Symbols

First Man and First Woman represent fatherhood and motherhood, raising the Navajo people into their current human form. The two figures also represent both creation and destruction in Navajo myth, since the Navajo believed that both must exist together to maintain a balance in the world. The journey of the Navajo people from deep within the earth can be seen as a progression from the non-living world to the living world, or as a parallel to development from a seed, like a plant that eventually sprouts above the ground.

First Man and First Woman in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

First Man and First Woman are depicted in traditional Navajo art forms, including rugs and sand painting. Spider Rock, a unique formation within the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, is said to be the location where First Man and First Woman learned the art of weaving from Spider Woman .

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

First Man and First Woman reflect the Navajo belief that people should live in balance with the natural world. This contrasts with the traditional Western view that nature is a resource meant to be controlled and adapted to human needs. What do you think are the consequences of each of these views? What are the benefits of each? What are the shortcomings?

SEE ALSO Changing Woman; Corn; Creation Stories; Floods; Native American Mythology

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First Man and First Woman

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