Masewi and Oyoyewi
Masewi and Oyoyewi
mah-SEH-wee and oh-yo-YEH-wee
Acoma creation myths
Sons of latiku
Masewi and Oyoyewi are twin brothers who play a prominent role in the creation myths of the Acoma people of the American Southwest. In these stories, their mother, Iatiku (pronounced ee-ah-TEE-koo), gave birth to people, and they emerged into the light from underground at a place called Shipap. Masewi and Oyoyewi, Iatiku's warrior sons, became the leaders of the people. As heroes , they performed many great deeds, such as summoning rain and instructing others how to make offerings to beneficial spirits called kachinas (pronounced kuh-CHEE-nuhz). Like twins in other American Indian traditions—such as the Zuni Ahayuuta brothers and the Navajo warrior twins—Masewi and Oyoyewi sometimes indulged in irresponsible and mischievous behavior between their acts of heroism.
One Acoma story tells how Masewi and Oyoyewi were responsible for bringing rain. Each night they danced outside their mother's house to ensure that the water in her medicine bowl did not dry up. However, Iatiku grew tired of the dancing, so the twins went away to prove that they controlled the rains. After they left, the water in the bowl dried up, and Iatiku asked everyone for help in bringing rain. Desperate, she pleaded with her children to return. They finally did, but only after many years of drought had led to starvation among their people. The return of the twins brought rain, and the people realized the power of Masewi and Oyoyewi.
Masewi and Oyoyewi in Context
For the Southwest American Indian agricultural tribes such as the Acoma, rain was a critical part of life. The desert conditions of the area mean that all life relies heavily upon rainfall to survive. As bringers of rain, Masewi and Oyoyewi held an important place in Acoma society. Similarly, the story of Iatiku becoming upset at the twins can be seen as a supernatural explanation for real droughts the Acoma faced.
Key Themes and Symbols
In Acoma mythology, Masewi and Oyoyewi are associated with the morning and evening stars, which are names given to the planet Venus as it appears at dawn and dusk. They are also closely associated with rainfall, and when they left the land, they caused a drought. As warriors, the twins symbolize courage and strength.
Masewi and Oyoyewi in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Masewi and Oyoyewi appear as wooden carvings in Acoma and Zuni art. They are considered sacred objects and are placed in shrines to be reclaimed slowly by the elements of nature. Some of these sacred objects have been stolen from tribal shrines and sold to collectors around the world; this practice is becoming less common thanks to stricter international laws regarding the selling of cultural artifacts.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The pueblos are one of the most fascinating features of the American Southwest. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research one of the contemporary pueblo cultures. How far back in history do they go? What are some of their myths and ceremonies related to climate, weather, and water issues? Why do you think these issues are important and are central to their religious ceremonies?