DIVERSITY OF MALAY CREATION MYTHS: SOME MORE CASES
Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Good day from Filipinas, the Pearl of the Orient!
The previous articles demonstrated samples of cosmogonic myths from across the ASEAN region and our sibling Polynesians. Below is a cross-cultural summary of myths coming from the region.
As an observer, please feel free to browse the diverse archetypes and seemingly shifting meanings. As already articulated earlier, the myths and legend of the region are the repositories of ‘ancient wisdom’ or ‘divine wisdom’, also known as Theos Sophia.
[Philippines, 29 June 2011]
In Minahassa the deity makes two images of earth, one male and one female, whom he vivifies by blowing powdered ginger into their heads and ears. The Bagobo of Mindanao say 98 that after the creation of the sea and land, and the planting of trees of many kinds, the creator took two lumps of earth, and shaping them like two human figures, he spat on them, where-upon they became “man and woman.” In Sumatra the Dairi Battak say 99 that after the deity, Batara Guru, had finished the earth, he desired to people it and accordingly first sent down a swallow, which returned, however, saying that it did not like the dwelling assigned to it. Batara Guru then wished one of his children to descend, but none of them were willing to exchange their heavenly for an earthly home. Determined to succeed, the deity himself came down to earth, bidding the swallow return to the sky to bring thence some earth from which he might shape man. With the material so provided, Batara Guru made two images, one male and one female, and set them in the sun to dry. After they had become hard, he muttered a magic formula over them seven times, and when they then began to breathe, he repeated another formula with which one may force another to speak. Then the two images spoke and said, “What do you wish of us, Grandfather, that you cry thus loudly in our ears?” and he replied : ” I have called to you so loudly because I have created you in order that you might speak. Never forget that I am your grandfather. Obey my commands and never refuse to follow them.” This the newly created pair promised to do.
An interesting variant of ordinary creation-myths occurs in southeastern Borneo. Here the two wonder-trees on the new-formed earth mated and produced an egg, from which a phantom maiden came. A divine being descended to earth, and seeing the lifeless and intangible character of the maiden, went to get what was necessary to give her life and substance; but while he was away another deity became active, and gathering earth for her body, rain for her blood, and wind for her breath, made the beautiful shade alive and tangible. When the first deity returned and discovered what had happened, ‘in anger he broke the vessel that he had brought; and the water of life which it contained flew in every direction and watered all plants, which thus acquired the power of springing up after having been cut down; but man did not receive any of the precious fluid and so failed to acquire immortality. The use of stone as a material, instead of earth, occurs among the Toradja in Celebes.’°’ The heaven father and earth mother having made two stone figures, one male and one female, the heaven deity returned to the skies to procure the breath of immortality with which to infuse life into the images; but in his absence the wind blew into them and vivified them, and on this account man is mortal. Another version 102 omits the attempt to secure immortality. A somewhat different form of origin-myth describes a series of attempts at creation in which different materials are tried, the first trials being failures, although success is finally achieved. Thus the Dyaks of the Baram and Rejang district in Borneo say that after the two birds, Iri and Ringgon, had formed the earth, plants, and animals they decided to create man. “At first, they made him of clay, but when he was dried he could neither speak nor move, which provoked them, and they ran at him angrily; so frightened was he that he fell backward and broke all to pieces. The next man they made was of hard wood, but he, also, was utterly stupid, and absolutely good for nothing. Then the two birds searched carefully for a good material, and eventually selected the wood of the tree known as Kumpong, which has a strong fibre and exudes a quantity of deep red sap, whenever it is cut. Out of this tree they fashioned a man and a woman, and were so well pleased with this achievement that they rested for a long while, and admired their handiwork. Then they decided to continue creating more men; they re-turned to the Kumpong tree, but they had entirely forgotten their original pattern, and how they executed it, and they were therefore able only to make very inferior creatures, which became the ancestors of the Maias (the Orang Utan) and monkeys.”
A similar tale is found among the Iban and Sakarram Dyaks, only reversing the order, so that after twice failing to make man from wood, the birds succeeded at the third trial when they used clay. Farther north, among the Dusun of British North Borneo, the first two beings “made a stone in the shape of a man but the stone could not talk, so they made a wooden figure and when it was made it talked, though not long after it became worn out and rotten; afterwards they made a man of earth, and the people are descended from this till the present day.” The Bilan of Mindanao 107 have a similar tale. After the world had been formed and was habitable, one of the deities said, “Of what use is land without people?” So the others said, “Let us make wax into people,” and they did so; but when they put the wax near the fire, it melted. Seeing that they could not create man that way, they next decided to form him out of dirt, and Melu and Finuweigh began the task. All went well until they were ready to make the nose, when Finuweigh, who was shaping this part, put it on upside down, only to have Melu tell him that people would drown if he left it that way, for the rain would run into it. At this Finuweigh became very angry and refused to change it, but when he turned his back, Melu seized the nose quickly and turned it as it now is; and one may still see where, in his haste, he pressed his fingers at the root. Another account says that the images made of earth were vivified by whipping them. In a few cases we find that man was supposed to have been made of other materials. Thus the Ata in Mindanao declare 109 that grass was the substance used, whereas the Igorot in Luzon say 110 that the ancestors of all others than themselves were made from pairs of reeds. In Nias one version states that man was formed from the fruits or buds of the tree which grew from the heart of one of the earliest beings, while various gods developed from the buds on the upper part of the tree. “When these two lowest fruits were still very small, Latoere said to Barasi-loeloe and Balioe, `The lowest fruits are mine. But Balioe answered, `See, then, if you can make man of them. If you can do that, they belong to you; otherwise, not.’ Latoere being unable to form men from them, Lowalangi sent Barasi-loeloe thither; but he could shape nothing more than the bodies of men, although he made one male and one female. Then Lowalangi took a certain weight of wind, gave it to Balioe, and said, `Put all of this in the mouth of the image for a soul. If it absorbs all of it, man will attain to a long life; otherwise, he will die sooner, just in pro-portion to the amount which is left over of the soul that is offered him.’ Balioe did what Lowalangi had told him, and then he gave the people names.” In a few instances still other substances are said to have been used from which to make man.