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.
Humans have always looked for explanations of how the world began and where they come from, no matter what culture they belong to. Creation stories are central to almost every culture, and although the modalities through which the stories are told differ, many times the central themes remain the same. In the three creation stories we will be discussing, the modesty and pureness of the earth’s beginnings is emphasized, even though the methods through which the earth is created contrast each other.
Genesis, a segment from the Old Testament, illustrates the creation of Earth, nature and humanity. According to this chapter, God made the Earth, night, day, man, plants and animals. God creates the animals with the intentions that they be helpers for man, therefore He gives man dominion over all animals, and let him hold power over his environment. God plans for man to be a pure and honest race, but man does not follow the intended script. Man disobeys God’s orders and eats from the tree of knowledge. This tree contains fruits of good and evil, and the consumption of one apple corrupts his mind and dissolves his purity. This creation story implies that humans were intended as a pure race to till and take care of the Earth with the help of animals. However, by the end of the story man is no longer pure and is driven out of the Promised Land. Genesis provides an account of the reasons for man’s inherent corruption. This chapter of the Bible explains that man was originally an immortal race born in the land of milk and honey but by his own wrongdoing, man resigned himself to a mortal life.
There’s another creation story from a California Indian tribe, Marumda and Kuksu Make the World, which depicts the creation of the world from a ball of wax. In the very beginning, there were two divine beings, Marumda and Kuksu, who were brothers and lived in the clouds. One day, Marumda had the great idea of creating the world, and floated over to his brother’s cloud house to ask for help. Both brothers sat together, smoking, and took turns scraping their armpit wax and buildup from between their toes and rolling it into a sphere, which would become the earth. The two brothers discussed what the world and people would be like, making statements like: “There will be all kinds of food whereby the people will be healthy. These people will have good intentions. Their villages will be good.” Then, they performed a ritual by blowing tobacco smoke north, south, east, and west, all the while singing ancient songs. After this ritual, Marumda floated northward in his cloud-house, then he “tied a string to the ball of armpit-wax, passed the string through his own ear-hole and made it fast. Then he went to sleep.” While he was asleep, the string jerked his ear as the ball of armpit-wax grew and grew. After eight days, Marumda sat up, untied the string from his ear, and “threw the earth out into space.”
Earth Diver is a traditional creation story from the Iroquois Native American tribe. This story centers on the creation of the Earth, rather than the origination of humans, animals and nature. According to this legend the first race of humans were the Sky People. The revered elder of the Sky People advises the chief’s sick daughter to dig up a tree and lay next to the hole it makes to cure her illness. She follows his orders, but while she is digging the tree falls into the hole and she is dragged down with it. Two swans rescue the young girl, and she becomes known as Sky Woman, a symbol of good luck. The Great Turtle, a wise councilor, decides that it is necessary that the earth-covered roots of the tree are recovered from the hole. Many animals attempt to retrieve the tree, but all fail and die by the time they resurface. Finally, an old female toad dives in and when she resurfaces she spits out a piece of earth before she dies. “This earth was magical and contained the power of growth” and it grew until it was large enough for Sky Woman to walk upon. The earth was dark so a small turtle climbed into the sky and collected lightening. This lightening was gathered into two balls, the sun and the moon.
All of these creation stories are related by the similar theme of the earth having humble, innocent beginnings. In Genesis, God created humans to be innocent and pure, and this is also reflected in the pureness of the creatures in the other stories. There is a lack of evil in the “beginning”, for in Genesis all creatures lived in harmony, in Marumda and Kuksu Make the World the two brothers peacefully collaborated, and in Earth Diver the Sky People and animals acted together as equals. Both God in Genesis and the brothers Marumda and Kuksu display intentions of making humans good and with “good intentions”. The Iroquois story differs because humans and creatures actually create the earth, and afterward good and evil are created. Although the relationships between humans, creatures, and nature differ in each story, there is still a commonality of modest innocence.
Natalie Hernandez, Christina Littlejohn