Text by Meghna Golder
Did you hear? An egg recently made the news for being the most liked picture on Instagram. The number of people who rallied to make the picture of the egg the most liked photo was mind-numbing. I guess it finally did answer the age-old question: the egg really did come first.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know the title says “Origin Myths from Six Continents.” I only mentioned the egg because there is an origin myth regarding the birth of humans from a cosmic egg. Therefore, it stands to reason that we would all finally recognize and worship, in whatever digital way possible, our egg overlord.
Why am I focusing on myths? Well, whose mind hasn’t wandered toward the existential? Who hasn’t teetered on the edge of such weighty questions such as who are we? What are we doing here? Is there any purpose to our birth? How do we rationalize dying? True, science does its bit when answering these questions. However, these questions are generally driven less by the intent to know the facts and more by feelings and emotions. Myths step in at this crucial point and help us get our bearings.
Here, I attempt, on a very minor scale, to provide one origin story of mankind from each continent. I hope reading these provides a perspective on how we are all different but also oh-so-similar.
1. Dreaming People – The Negritos (Oceania):
In the beginning, there were only Pedn and his wife Manoid and there was only the sun. Then the dung beetle Tahobn created the Earth by pulling it out of the mud. It was dried and made firm by the sun, and it had trees but no animals or birds.
Pedn and Manoid saw the Earth and descended upon it. Then Manoid dreamt of a child. She begged Pedn for one. Pedn went out to get some fruit. He spread a cloth for the fruit to fall in, and when the fruit fell, it became a baby boy. Manoid dreamt again, this time of a baby girl. Again, she begged her husband for the child; much like before, Pedn spread his cloth and in fell a fruit that became a baby girl. The boy was called Capai, and the girl was called Pa’ig. As there was no one else, these two married each other and subsequently had children.
2. One Version of the Myth of P’an Ku – The Chinese (Asia)
From the third to the sixth century A.D., particularly in Southern China, there existed a popular creation myth that centred around the immense fertility and generative ability of the god P’an Ku. One version deals with a great cosmic egg. Within the egg was Chaos. Floating in this Chaos was P’an Ku, the Undeveloped, the Divine Embryo. P’an Ku burst out of the egg, four times larger than any existing human, with an adze in hand (or a hammer and a chisel); this he used to fashion the world. Two great horns grew out of his head, two long tusks grew from his upper jaw, and he was covered with hair.
P’an Ku set to work putting the world in order. He chiselled the land and sky apart. He dug deep valleys, created courses for the rivers, and piled the mountains on the earth. He also placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. It was he who taught mankind how to build boats, how to construct bridges over rivers, and the secrets of precious stones.
3. The Creation of the World – Norse Mythology (Europe)
Back in the time of Ymir, the frost giant, there was only a “grinning gap and grass nowhere.” The sons of the god Borr—Odin, Vili, and Ve—built the middle earth and ordered the universe and its times and seasons.
The gods were happy in their courts until the Fates intervened. “The fearful maidens from Jotunheim (home of the giants)” lived at the roots of Yggdrasil, the “world tree,” which was a giant ash tree that supported the universe; this tree extended through Asgard (home of the gods), Utgard (land of the giants and elves), and Niflheim (the realm of Hel, goddess of death). These Fates had the power to “lay down laws,” “choose out life,” and “speak the doom of the sons of men.”
The first man and woman were created from the trunks of ash and elm trees which the sky gods Odin, Honir, and Lodur found while walking along the seashore. The man was called Ask (ash) and the woman Embla (elm). Therefore, from the same material that formed the essence of the world, the gods made people. The gods gifted the realm of Midgard to these two for them to propagate and for their descendants to live in.
4. The Chameleon Finds – The Yao (Africa)
In the beginning, there were only the Mulungu (creator deity) and the decent, peaceful beasts. A chameleon wove a fish trap. The first time it was full of fish, which he took home and ate. The second time it was empty. The third time around he found a little man and woman in it. He took them to Mulungu, who asked him to plant them in the earth for them to grow.
The chameleon did so, and the man and woman grew till they became the size they are today.
All the animals gathered around to see what the people would do. The humans made fire. The fire caught in the bush and decimated the forest. The animals had to run to escape the flames. The humans also caught animals and killed, roasted, and ate them. They did this one day and the day after and the day after that.
Mulungu was in despair over everything burning and animals having to flee. The chameleon escaped into the trees. In the end, a spider spun a rope for Mulungu, and Mulungu climbed the rope to live in the sky.
5. A Bag Hung in Space – The Cupeño (North America)
The Cupeño tribe is divided into two moieties, the Coyote and Wildcat. According to the myth, in the beginning, there was a void, and everything was dark. A bag hung in space. Then it opened into two halves. From one half came coyote (isil) and from the other came wild cat (tukut). They immediately began to argue as to who was older. Coyote was older because he spoke first. People had already been created. However, they could not see and were in mud and darkness. They heard the coyote call first and thus knew he was older. They then arose from the mud and started to sing. It is said that shamans today understand coyote since people heard him first.
6. The People Climbed Out – Mundurucu (South America)
The creator god Karusakaibo had made the world but had not created men. One day Daiiru, an armadillo who was the creator god’s constant companion and helper, offended the creator and was compelled to take refuge in a hole in the ground. Karusakaibo stomped the earth and blew into the hole. Daiiru was blown out by the rush of air. He reported to Karusakaibo that people were living inside the earth. Then he and Karusakaibo made a cotton rope and lowered it into the hole. People began to climb out; however, when half of them had emerged, the rope broke and half of them remained underground where they still live.
Underground everything is opposite. The sun passes from west to east when it is night on earth. The moon also shines there when the earth has no moon in the sky.
- Primal Myths: Creation Myths around the World – Barbara C. Sproul
- The Mythology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained – DK
About the writer:
Meghna Golder is an editor, both research and otherwise. She’s an avid reader of both prose and poetry. She occasionally also fancies herself as a writer.
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