BLS 300 – Visions of the Creation
July 29, 2010
Vision of the Americas
In most of the regions we have studied thus far, we have found that there is an overall vision within each that describes how the cultures in that region answer the questions that are the focus of human identity, that tell us how that regions cultures viewed their own role, their purpose. In the Americas however, there is a definite divergence between the tribal bands of North America and the city-states found in South America. Within each sub-region, the views are rather the same, but the differences between the two are striking and prevent an overall vision for the Americas. In comparing these two different visions to other regions we have examined, we find that the South American vision remains quite different from those of East Asia, the Pacific Islands and of Africa, while the North American view has several common facets with those areas.
The views of the two types of cultures evident in North and South America see the world differently, and so their visions of humanity, as seen in their creation myths, differ quite a bit. For the tribal bands of North America, the focus is on living harmoniously with the natural world and in the idea that man is not all-knowing and all-powerful and must be taught lessons by the rest of the creatures in the world. We see this in most of the stories in fact, but one that expresses it strikingly is the Eskimo story “The Creation” (Sproul 220-229). In this story the first man is taught how to live by a character named Raven, everything from what to eat and drink, how to clothe himself, how to raise his family, how to make tools and weapons; all these things were taught to man by Raven, which expresses the necessity for mankind to learn from the rest of creation the proper way to live in this life. The Hopi story “The Emergence” (Sproul 268-284) is another example of mankind’s need to be taught, and of the necessity of harmony, both with the land and within one’s community. This story speaks of a man called Lavaihoya, who convinced the people that they were different than the animals, and different from each other, causing a division that the myth asserts should not be there.
In contrast to this vision where mankind is not superior and all-knowing, where man must live in harmony with the rest of the Divine’s creations, the creation myths of the South American city-states depict a vision where mankind’s role in the world is appeasing God, his place superior to the rest of creation. The Inca story “Ordering the World” (Sproul 301-305) tells of how the Inca people were made great by their Creator, the Sun. Their Creator lifted them above all things, gave them a purpose. It tells us that he sent his son and daughter to Earth to teach men “to adore him and acknowledge him as their god; to obey his laws and precepts as every reasonable creature must do” (Sproul 302). We see evidence of this role of mankind also in the Popul Vuh (Sproul 287-298), the creation myth of the Quiché Maya people. In this story the Creator tries several times to create mankind, but each incarnation displeases him so he destroys them and tries again. The final incarnation of mankind at first “did not sustain nor maintain” (Sproul 296) their Creator but in time they appeal to him, and this pleases him. Again there is the idea that mankind’s role here is to appease the Creator and that their lives are to be spent in that effort.
Looking back at the North American vision, where mankind is focused on living life in harmony with the natural world, it is easy to see a similarity with the African tribal myths. In both regions, the people were focused on living simple lives, where their role was only to live in harmony with the land they lived on. The stories of both regions are similar in that, though in the African myths the teaching was done more often by the Divine rather than the creatures of the world. Harmony with the natural world was also important in the visions seen in East Asia, seen in the principles of Yin and Yang in China and In and Yo in Japan. In the excerpt “Creation out of Chaos” (Sproul 199-200) describes a vision much like that of the North American tribes, one in which there must be balance, and in which mankind is strongly tied to the natural world. Though the content of the stories is again different, the creation myths seen in the Pacific islands have a similar vision to that of North America. Again, mankind is very much a part of the natural world, not something greater than it. The Walumba creation story “The Origin of the Aborigines” (Sproul 315-320) tells of how the people came to be, and like the North American mythologies there is a distinct focus on the environment, on teaching mankind how to live in harmony with it. The Hawaiian chant “The Kumulipo” (Sproul 358-368) is further evidence of the similarity to the North American myths in that mankind is not given precedence in the story. Mankind is no more important than anything else in creation in these regions.
There are not so many similarities between the South American vision and the visions of Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Among the South American people the importance was placed on mankind, and his role was to serve God’s will. This vision is not found in those regions. However the South American vision does place an emphasis on order, on each thing having a role and a purpose, and this is not unlike visions seen in Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific Islands. This is really the only common vision evident however between those regions and the peoples of South America, and is certainly not a strong enough argument for a common vision between them.
The tribes of North American and South America have very different lives. In the North, the tribes were small, nomadic bands whose livelihood depended on being able to work in harmony with the land. Their creation myths, such as the Eskimo tale “The Creation” and the Hopi story ‘The Emergence”, reflect this. Likewise, the South American tribes’ creation myths reflected their experiences, where the environment required them to form larger city states, forcing a social order that is echoed in their myths, such as the Inca’s “Ordering the World” and the Quiché Maya’s “Popul Vuh”. It shouldn’t be surprising to find that the myths of other regions more closely resemble the myths of North America in the vision of humanity that they describe, one in which mankind must live in harmony with the rest of creation, and where while he may be a special creation of God, that does not place him above other creations.