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.
Although the creation stories of the Pomo Indian tribe, the ancient Egyptians, and Judeo-Christian followers vary greatly in their details, there still exists one overt commonality: each story asserts that mankind’s existence is dependent upon a deity’s will.
In the Pomo Indian creation story of “Marumda and Kuksu Make the World,” man’s insignificance is demonstrated as our existence is made possible only by the divine beings Marumda and Kuksu. Marumda is an old man who lives in the north in a cloud house. He considers making the world, but decides to ask his brother Kuksu for advice. To guide his journey towards his brother, Marumda pulls out four hairs. As the hairs float to the south, he lights them on fire and is carried by them. As he travels, he smokes and lays down to sleep four time. Finally, he arrives at the home of his brother. The hairs float around the Kuksu’s house four times before leading Marumda inside. As they sit together and smoke, Marumda scrapes his armpit wax and mixes it with Kuksu’s armpit wax. As they hold the wax out in all different directions, they pray and plan the creation of the world. They assert that people will have good intentions and villages, and they will be full of knowledge. They then make the moon, the sun, fire, food, etc. As Marumba floats back home, he makes the ball of armpit wax into an earring, and for eight days he feels it jerking on his ear as it grows bigger and bigger. Once complete, he throws it into space and the earth is complete. As is evident, the collaboration between these two divine beings allows for the creation of mankind and the earth we inhabit.
One version of the ancient Egyptian creation myth begins with Nun, the dark waters of chaos. A hill grew out of the waters and on that hill stood Atum, a god who had mysteriously been able to will himself into existence. Atum was able to mate with his shadow and spat out two children: Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. However, since they were still in chaos, Shu and Tefnut were swept away and became lost. Atum removed his only eyeball and threw it into the world to look for his children. Eventually, Shu and Tefnut returned to their father with his eyeball. Amun cried in joy, and men grew from the places his tears fell. Now, the men needed a place to live. So, Shu and Tefnut proceeded to have two children as well: Geb, the god of earth, and Nut, the goddess of sky. Nut was then positioned to surround and cover Geb, like the heavens. Nut and Geb then had four children: Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Seth. The world was then complete: filled with men and ruled by gods. In this story, the world was not created specifically for men. They were sort of created by accident. Creating the world was the primary goal of the gods. Once men existed, however, they needed a place to live and more gods to rule them. This suggests that men are completely in the power of higher beings.
Genesis, a Judeo-Christian story from the Old Testament, is different from our other two stories: a single deity explicitly creates the first human. Like these other stories, however, man is insignificant compared to the powers of creation – God creates Adam to simply take care of the Garden of Eden – the world is not created for mankind; rather, man is placed on the earth after it is created. Then, because God decided Adam shouldn’t be alone, He formed animals from the ground as helpers and let Adam name them. Afterwards, God formed a woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib because no animal was a suitable companion. Adam and Eve were free to do as they wished in the Garden, except for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The two humans were naked and unashamed until a serpent convinced Eve that she should eat from the tree – it said that God had forbade Adam and Eve from eating from this tree only because He feared that Adam and Eve would become equally powerful. After they both ate the fruit, they realized they were naked and made clothes. God became angry and made the serpent slither on its belly. He also removed Adam and Eve from the Garden and placed enmity between the two. In exerting His power over humans, God reinforces that man is less important and should not attempt to ascend to the power of God.
In the three different creation stories presented in Genesis, Marumda and Kuksu, and the ancient Egyptian folklore, we see two common themes. First, no story explains the origin of the divine beings that eventually create man. Second, each story emphasizes mankind’s powerlessness in relation to a creating force. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the origin of divine beings and the certainty of the creation of man, man is depicted as being dependent upon the whim of higher powers.