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.
Human beings have long pondered upon their existence-from our creation, to the meaning of our existence, and our lives after death. Across the world, cultures invented and kept alive a tradition of thought that all however different, entertained the idea of a meaningful creation. Specifically, the Genesis, Marumbda and Kuksu Make the World, and the Greek creation myth all emphasize the unique creation of human beings who despite the horrors that exist in the world, have the strength to survive and have the pride of being created in the image of more divine beings.
Genesis is the creation story from the perspective of the Christian religion. Christians are monotheistic so they believe, this all powerful, single being, God, created the world and all the things in it. He accomplished this in seven days. When God put humans on this earth, he gave them strict rules to follow about not eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil since he knew this would deplete their innocence, which he did not want for the race of man. Eve was tempted by curiosity and Satan in the form of a snake, “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened” (Genesis: 3, 6-7). At this moment, humans became aware of all things, good and evil, in the world. As a result, Man was punished by God for disobeying Him. God said to Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth” (Genesis: 3, 16). God’s punishment to Adam was, “…the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it….By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made” (Genesis: 3, 17-19). Despite this downfall and curse, the race of Man persevered.
The Greek creation myth describes the beginning of time as an empty darkness. The Nyx, a bird with black wings, was the only thing that existed. She laid a golden egg and sits upon this egg. Finally, life stirred in the egg and out of it rose Eros, the god of love. One half of the shell rose into the air and became the sky, Uranus, and the other became the Earth, Gaia; they fell in love and had children, who procreated to have even more children. Soon, some of the children become afraid of the power of their children. One of them, Kronus, swallowed his children when they were still infants. His wife, Rhea, hid their youngest child, Zeus. Once Zeus had grown older, he tricked his father into giving up his brothers and sisters. Once this was accomplished the children fought and won a mighty war against their father. Zeus became their leader, and they began to furnish Gaia with life and Uranus with stars. Zeus asked his sons Prometheus and Epimetheus to go to Earth and create men and animals and give them each a gift. Prometheus set to work forming men in the image of the gods and Epimetheus worked on the animals. Epimetheus informed Prometheus that he had foolishly used all the gifts. Distressed, Prometheus decided he had to give man fire, even though gods were the only ones meant to have access to it. When Zeus discovered Prometheus’ deed he became furious. He ordered his son to be chained to a mountain and for a vulture to peck out his liver every day till eternity. Then he began to devise a punishment for mankind. Another of his sons created a woman of great beauty, Pandora. Each of the gods gave her a gift. Zeus’ present was curiosity and a box, which he ordered her never to open. Then he presented her to Epimetheus as a wife. One day when Epimetheus was gone she opened the box, out of which flew all of the horrors which plague the world today – pain, sickness, envy, greed. Upon hearing Pandora’s screams Epimetheus rushed home and fastened the lid shut, but all of the evils had already escaped. Later that night they heard a voice coming from the box asserting it was hope. They released her and she flew out into the world to give hope to humankind.
On the contrary to the previous two, the story of Marumbda and Kuksu Make the World, has no punishment involved. Marumbda and Kuksu synergize and devise a plan for what they want the world to look like and what they want the human race to stand for. “People are going to be according to this plan. There is going to be food according to this plan. There will be food from the water. There will be food from the land. There will be food from underground. There will be food from the air. There will be all kinds of food whereby the people will be healthy. These people will have good intentions. Their villages will be good. They will plan many things. They will be full of knowledge. There will be many of them on this earth, and their intentions will be good.” Now the plan is set so they go about making the earth by removing hairs to act as string and combining balls of armpit wax to hang from the string. As 8 days pass, the ball of wax grows; becoming the earth and Marumbda unties the string and lets the earth go into space.
All three myths capture the uniqueness and superiority that we humans see as inherent in our creations. However, with such an existence arrive the pains of life. Nevertheless, these myths describe humans as beings who are able to thrive in spite of harsh conditions and infuse hope in human life. The inherent curiosity and compassion within each of us allows us to transcend any pitfalls of life.
Katie Smith and Druthi Ghanta