This blog post was written by students in Carolyn Ross’s Writing and Rhetoric course, “Writing Nature: Discourses in Ecology, Culture, and Technology,” at Stanford University in California, USA, in response to their reading of two creations stories: Genesis 1-3 from the biblical Old Testament and a Pomo (California) Indian creation story, “Marumda and Kuksu Make the World.” In addition, it considers a third creation story of the students’ choosing to expand and enrich our discussion of these texts. Comments posted are from students in Mark Michael’s Rhetoric 102 course at The American University in Cairo, Egypt, and by other students in the Stanford class. The American University, Cairo, students have posted their own blogs, addressing the Judeo-Christian creation story, the Pomo Indian creation story, and other creation stories of their own choosing. For more on this exchange, visit this introductory post.
Throughout the world, and nearly in every culture, there are numerous versions of how the world has been created. What is striking is that among such diversity, many common themes can be found among those cultures that probably never have interacted. Our group’s analysis of the creation myth in India and China has found many themes that were indeed very similar. Notably, in both creation stories, a greater being from another realm gives creates the Earth using the human elements that they possessed. Of course, given the enormous cultural gaps, there were understandingly striking differences in how the two cultures treated the common themes. And yet, the two cultures all seemed to be geared at proving that there is divine presence in this world.
In the Indian creation myth, Marumda, an old man (a god, really) who lives in the heaven-house, travels to his brother Kuksu’s house. Together, they create a ball of armpit wax and hair. This ball contained all kinds of plans to create the whole world such as getting food from the ground, and keeping the humans healthy. After the travel to his brother, Marumda sticks the ball to his ear hole and falls asleep. For eight days, the armpit wax ball keeps growing until the string from the ball jerks his ear. He wakes up and throws the ball, creating the earth.
The creation myth described here is a remarkable tale of what almost seems like a “mindless” creation of the earth and humans. In this example, the human-like god Marumda uses parts of his body, despite their being humble and also dirty, to plan out the whole world. What is striking in this tale is the whole randomness. There was no deliberateness in creating the world, no mention specifically of the humans, and the earth just “came into being” when it was thrown into space.
The Chinese creation myth depicts a time when the Earth and the heavens existed as one, and the entire universe swirled chaotically within an egg-shaped cloud. Amidst the chaos, a giant named Pan Gu was born. For 18,000 years, Pan Gu slept and grew, until one day he woke up and broke the egg, releasing all the matter in the universe and separating heaven and Earth. To prevent heaven and Earth from rejoining together and the chaos, Pan Gu held up the heavens for 18,000 years, until the day he died. When he died, his body was embedded into the earth. His arms and legs became the four directions and the mountains. His sweat became rain, his voice thunder, his hair grass, his veins paths and roads, his teeth rocks and minerals, his flesh the soil in the fields, and his eyes the sun and moon.
Humans were not created until many centuries later when the goddess Nu Wa came down from the heavens to visit the wild Earth created by Pan Gu. Feeling lonely during her visit, Nu Wa took mud from the edge of the pond and molded figures that resembled her to keep herself company. The figures were lifeless at first, but as soon it touched the soil, the humans started to dance and celebrate. Wanting to make more and more humans, she streamlined the process by taking a long vine and whipping it through the pond, flinging droplets of mud that turned into humans when they touched the soil. Eventually, humans roamed all over the Earth. The handcrafted humans became rich aristocrats, while the humans created from the vine became poor peasants.
Similar to the Pomo Indian creation myth, the Chinese creation myth involves an otherworldly being (Pan Gu) sacrificing and devoting his body to create the Earth we know and see today. However, in this creation story, the Earth is born from chaos, the creation of humans is deliberately done by a deity, and the explanation for different classes and different genders are described.
In both stories, otherworldly beings create the world by investing in elements from themselves, whether it is armpit wax or blood, sweat, and limbs. Also, the notion of the earth being created after awaking from sleep is prevalent in both. However, in the Chinese myth, the deities create the Earth and humans with deliberate action, whereas in the Pomo Indian myth, no reason is given to why the Earth was created. Nonetheless, both stories and cultures emphasize the connections between humans and the environment. After all, we both stem from the same divine source.
Zhen Quen (Kenny) Ng and Hyunsuk (Shawn) Yoo