Basic Information

Alternative spellings: Kolwisi, [1] Koloowisi [8]
Title: The Serpent of the Sea
Type/Species: Sea Serpent, Palulukon
Origin: Native American Mythology, Zuni Mythology, Hopi Mythology

About Kolowissi

In Zuni Mythology, Kolowissi was the chief of a group of spirits of the rain and lightning, called Kokko. [7]

He was a horned water serpent, [6] but like other deities, he could transform into any shape he desired. [2] Kolowissi lived in deep springs or pools. [6] Similar creatures were known to the Hopi as Palulukon. [7]

Kolowissi and the Maiden

One legend of Kolowissi was told as a warning to young women about going to springs alone. [6]

A long time ago, a village existed under Thunder Mountain called Home of the Eagles. [1] Though nothing is there now but ruin, this village once housed many people, among them a priest-chief who had a beautiful daughter. This daughter simply couldn't tolerate dirt on herself or her clothing, [1] and she even lived in a separate room apart from her own family. [2]

A spring was at the foot of the terrace that the village had been built upon. [1] Thus, she could wash herself and her clothing in this spring, and she spent nearly all her time there. [2]

This spring was called the Pool of the Apaches, [1,2] and it was sacred to the Serpent of the Sea, Kolowissi. He grew angry at her constant contamination of his waters, so he decided to punish her for it. [2]

The next time she went to the spring, [2] she found a baby there, [6] but the boy was really Kolowissi in disguise. She looked everywhere but found no one nearby. Unwilling to abandon him to his death, [2] she took the baby home with her without telling her family. [6] She brought him into her separate room and played with the boy for hours. [2]

That night, the young woman slept next to the baby, who had feigned drowsiness to trick her. [3] Kolowissi then returned to his true form, [6] lengthening as he drew himself out, appearing like a nightmare come true. [3] He put his head next to hers, [2] and encircled her in his vast coils. [6]

In the morning, her youngest sister tried to wake her for breakfast, but she couldn't push the door open. It took nearly every member of the family just to crack the door open, and they saw the enormous serpent Kolowissi. His vast size filled the room with coils, and they all screamed and ran away. [3] The father, as a knowledgeable priest, approached his daughter's room and pleaded to Kolowissi in prayer. He promised he would have his daughter atone for her wrongdoings, and he only asked that he might see her again. [3] Kolowissi loosened his coils, causing the entire village to shake. [3] As his coils unfurled he formed great arches with his body, so she could pass under him and through the door. She raced out of her room and went straight to her mother. [3]

The priest called a sacred council, and they performed solemn rites and prepared offerings with four days of ceremonies. When these concluded, the priest explained to his daughter that she must present the offerings of plumes, treasures, and prayer wands to Kolowissi, along with the most precious gift, herself, for she was to leave her home and family to live in the house of Kolowissi in the Waters of the World. [4] Her constant use of the sacred waters required this sacrifice on her part. [4]

She was dressed in sacred cotton robes decorated with intricate designs, and her cheeks were made red with makeup. [4] She wore many precious ornaments: beads, earrings, bracelets, and so on. [4] It was as if she was prepared for a dance, but all the people with her grieved. [4]

They made a sacred road of blessed meal that went straight to the Doorway of the Serpent of the Sea, which was a distant spring. Once completed, Kolowissi descended from her room in great undulations, and he put his head on her shoulder. [4] With that, she began traveling on the sacred road. So great was the serpent's size that it was not until they passed over the Mountain of Red Paint that he had completely uncoiled from her room. [4]

As soon as his body was free, Kolowissi transformed into a new shape: a beautiful young man in ceremonial dress. He lifted his head from her shoulder, [4] but she kept her eyes down as she walked and didn't notice his change. [5]

It took many requests on his part, but finally she turned and saw him. She allowed him to walk by her side, and when she asked where Kolowissi had gone, he told her the truth. She didn't believe him, [5] until he showed her his shrunken scales, which he kept hidden under his mantle. [4] He asked her to come and live with him in the Waters of the World, and she agreed, and she followed her husband Kolowissi to the Doorway of the Serpent of the Sea. [5]

In another version, Kolowissi abducted the young maiden to be his bride without intervention of her family. [6]

Physical Description

Kolowissi was an enormous serpent [6] with gleaming scales [3] and horns on his head. [6] He had a large mouth and fins that ran the length of his body. [6]

Kolowissi was so huge that he had to coil himself to fit into a room. [3]

Quick Facts

  • Kolowissi was horned water serpent. [6]
  • He could transform into any shape he desired. [2]
  • He lived in deep springs or pools. [6]
  • He abducted a young woman [6] who contaminated his sacred waters by cleaning herself and clothing there [2] and took her as his wife. [5]
  • The Pool of the Apaches was a sacred spring to Kolowissi.
  • Kolowissi was an enormous serpent [6] with gleaming scales. [3]
  • He had fins that ran the length of his body. [6]


  1. Erdoes 327
  2. Erdoes 328
  3. Erdoes 329
  4. Erdoes 330
  5. Erdoes 331
  6. Rose 212
  7. Turner 273

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.