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 three very different creations stories, the Judeo-Christian Genesis, the Pomo story “Marumdu and Kuksu Make the World” and the scientific Big Bang Theory, a theme that man is composed of humble components emerges. In Genesis we are formed from the dust of the earth, in the Pomo tradition it is armpit wax, and according to the Big Bang theory we are formed from stardust. Since we are inherently created from the same components as all other beings and as our physical environment, we should be conscious that the differences between ourselves and our surrounding are not so large.
In the story of genesis, God builds the world in seven days, beginning with the creation of light and dark from a void, and calling them night and day. God then goes on to create dry land from the waters, and fill it with all possible types of vegetation. On the fourth day God creates the seasons, the sun, the moon and the stars. The next day God brings living creatures to the seas and the air, and on the sixth day adds living creatures to the land. On the seventh day God constructs out of dust and breathes life into him. On the seventh Day, God rested from the exertion of creating the world. In Genesis, man was created out of dust, out of dirt. God tells Adam, the man, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 19), reminding man of his humble origins. God did not choose a glamorous or special substance to create man, even though man was created in God’s image. God chose to create Adam out of the earth.
The Pomo Indian creation story “Marumda and Kuksu Make the World” describes a metaphysical world where two brothers, Marumda and Kuksu, live. The younger brother Marumda one day feels like he wants to create the world. He visits his brother Kuksu and his brother collects his armpit wax and Marumda does the same. They create a ball of wax, and dictate that it will be an earth with the following conditions. There will be good people, food from the land, and food from the water. They declare that there will be “all kinds of food whereby the people will be healthy.” Marumda ties a string to this ball, and the ball becomes the earth. This creation story has this underlying theme of the earth coming from humble origins just like the other two creation stories mentioned here. Armpit wax, which is actually a fictional substance, signifies that the earth was created out of something unwanted or insignificant. It implies the same about people. However, even though people were made out of armpit wax, they must live differently in the world. Marumda declared that the people are “good” and must live healthily off the land provided. This gives a sense of the theme that the people must live with the earth because they are made of the same constituents.
Big Bang theory reduces humanity to barely a speck on the radar. Everything began as a component of an infinitely dense singularity, and from that point exploded time, space and matter. Through sequences of the development of matter, spread across the 13.7 billion years that lead to the present day, matter has gone from the rawest forms of energy, to multiple phases of exotic particles, and ultimately to the stable atoms we see today. Matter organized into stars, and stars into galaxies, and galaxies into galactic groupings. The stars turned Hydrogen into elements up to Iron, and supernovae created the heavier elements beyond that. There is no God, no pre-existing creator to set forth the wheels of creation and establish what “is.” The birth of time began with the birth of matter and space, as Einstein has showed us they are all linked and relative. There is only matter, different atoms with different properties, which form the Earth and the innumerable celestial bodies beyond it. Humans, and indeed all life, are just an unusual arrangement of these atoms, which have come into being on this planet and perhaps planets elsewhere. As Carl Sagan put it, “we are stardust,” and so is everything else around us. It is a tremendously humbling concept.
These creation stories all are connected by the way that people come from the earth. This humble origin common to these stories may point to a common feeling across cultures that man is, in fact, made up of the basic elements that everything else in the world is made of. While, man has intelligence that makes him unique in these stories, their origins are ultimately from nature.
By: Nessarose Schear, Will Robins, Raman Nelakanti