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It is our custom to go abroad for the early beliefs of mankind and to teach our children the mythologies of foreign lands, unmindful of the wealth and beauty of our American folk-tales. The present collection invites attention to the unique and entertaining character of the myths of some of our California Indians.
These tales were told me by the Indians of a single stock, the Mewan, the tribes of which are confined to central California and have no known relatives in any part of the world. They have been little visited by ethnologists and during the few years that have passed since the tales were collected, several of the tribes have become extinct.
The myths are related by the old people after the first rains of the winter season, usually in the ceremonial roundhouse and always at night by the dim light of a small flickering fire. They constitute the religious history of the tribe, and from time immemorial have been handed down by word of mouth; from generation to generation they have been repeated, without loss and without addition.
The conceptions of the Indians concerning the forces of nature and the character and attributes of the early inhabitants of the earth differ so radically from our own that an explanation seems necessary. This is supplied by the Introduction, which is intended to give the reader the view point necessary for the full appreciation and enjoyment of the tales.
C. Hart Merriam
Washington, D.C., January, 1910.