Tag Archives: creation myth

Pangu Creation Myth

Background:

Informant is a 53 y/o Chinese woman who is a first-generation immigrant to the US and has lived in the US for around 23 years.

Main Piece:

(trans.) “A long time ago, our world had no shape, just an expanse of chaos, which eventually shrinks into a large egg. Inside the egg was a giant named Pangu who was birthed from this egg. When he stood up, he grew taller each day, and was eventually able to separate the egg into the sky and the earth. Many thousands of years pass as Pangu stands with his arms holding up the sky and his feet firmly planted on the ground, and eventually, he passes away. Pangu’s corpse becomes many different things, his eyes are the sun and the moon, his blood is the river, ocean, etc., the details I’ve forgotten, but just like that we now have our world today.”

盘古开天的故事啊,让我想一想。。。嗯,简单的说,好久以前,我们的世界本来是没有任何形装,混乱的一片,慢慢的缩小,变成了一个大蛋,然后有一个巨人在这个蛋里,就是盘古,出生了。他站起来的时候,越战越高,每天长那么几厘米,就把蛋分为天和地。好几万年盘古就这样的站着,手撑着天,脚踏在地上,最终也去世了。他的尸体就成为了世界里面的各种东西,眼睛是太阳和月亮,血是河,大海,等等,细节忘掉了,反正就这样子变成了我们现在住的世界。

Background:

This conversation took place over the phone. I asked my informant about Chinese creation myths she knows of.

Analysis:

Around the world, myths are few in number—myths are often creation stories with transcendental truths in them that answer why the world is the way it is, exploring the relationship between humans and the cosmos. The belief in myths doesn’t stem from the literal narrative it tells, but rather from the sacred meaning behind it, which is why myths have many different variations, but they generally do not change over time. Myths can be analyzed using Levi-Strauss’ structuralism approach, which takes the smallest components of a myth and how they relate to each other, which is most commonly presented through binary oppositions, and thus come to an understanding about that particular culture’s ways of thinking. In this Chinese creation myth, there are a couple of key symbols. First, the primordial chaos that is contained, specifically, into an egg, the egg is then separated into Earth and Sky, there is then the birth and growth of a giant, who eventually dies, and finally his corpse turning into various celestial and natural elements present in the earth and sky. While extremely simplified, these binaries are all somewhat related to the ideas of recycling and reincarnation, and that nothing is ever truly destroyed—Pangu splits the egg, his body dies but turns into the natural world. 

Either way, it is interesting to think about this creation myth in the context of modern China, which generally doesn’t push for any specific religion, and these myths are now usually found more in written texts rather than passed along by speaking. This myth is generally associated with Daoism, though elements of reincarnation lean more towards Buddhism. 

For another version of the Pangu myth, see Goldin, Paul R. “THE MYTH THAT CHINA HAS NO CREATION MYTH.” Monumenta Serica, vol. 56, 2008, pp. 1–22, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40727596.

Legend of the owl.

H is a Caucasian-Native-American male originally from Tucson, Arizona. H is currently a corporate manager based in Austin, Texas.

H performed this folklore while visiting LA on a business trip. I met H in Downtown LA for lunch in order to collect folklore he had previously agreed to perform for me. The following is the second of two stories he provided. H first heard the following story from his grandfather.

H: Another legend is of the owl. The Apaches have nothing to do with owls, they see them as the night creature and if you see an owl, you run, my Grandfather would stop if we saw an owl and the trip would be over. The big owl in the Apache stories was evil, he was a giant. Sometimes he was man-like. They were able to paralyze humans with their stare or they could cry and everyone who heard it it was like thunder, and it would cause you to stop, uh, some owls were seen as cannibals and they would eat children, and so you avoided them. The Apaches claimed that the big owl was the sun of the sun, and.. when he was slain, his body hit the earth and his feathers flew off in every direction and those feathers transformed the owl that now live in the forest. And if you saw an owl, you turned and went home.

Reflection: Owls in Apache culture appear to have the same negative connotations that crows have in European culture. As far as I know, crows are not perceived the same way in Apache culture, so I find it interesting that their culture happens to consider the owl, a different type of bird, an evil portent. Based on H’s detail that owls in Apache legend have the power to paralyze people with their cries, there appears to be a direct link between how unsettling or intimidating a bird sounds and how it is perceived across European and Native American cultures. The deep “hoots” of an owl are an evil omen just as the harsh “caws” of a crow are associated with death in European culture.

Story of the Salt River.

H is a 50-year-old Caucasian-Native-American male originally from Tucson, Arizona. H is currently a corporate manager based in Austin, Texas.

H performed this folklore while visiting LA on a business trip. I met H in Downtown LA for lunch in order to collect folklore he had previously agreed to perform for me. The following is the first of two stories he provided.

H: This is a story of the Salt River, as told by my Grandfather, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The Apaches did not call themselves Apache. The called themselves “Dene,” or “people.” The term Apache comes from the Zuni for “Apachu” or “the enemy.” Well the Apaches were raiders and warriors, but overtime they settled in Northern Arizona in the Mogollon Rim.. and led peaceful lives.. hunting, fishing.. and living off the land. They battled the Spaniards, and then ultimately the Calvary.. And the government came in and took their land, they acquiesced and lived on the reservation. And the treaty they signed so they could stay on the reservation as long as the grass grew and the rivers ran.. One group of Apache’s however, refused to sign the treaties. And they lived in a basin. The Apaches called them “Tonto,” or “fools” for continuing to fight. That basin the “Tonto Basin,” is ultimately where the Salt River is. The creek that was found was named “Tonto Creek,” but ultimately became the Salt River. As the Calvary tried to capture their chief, Del Shay, they were unable to do so. They fought fiercely, they tried to shoot him, and poison him. But ultimately, the Federal Government gave a few silver dollars to one of Del Shay’s nephews, to kill him. And they went into town-camp, took his head, and brought it back to the Calvary. His wife it is said, cried for a hundred days and her tears filled the river of the Tonto Basin and turned it salty. And forevermore, the Tonto Basin river remains salty from her tears with the Calvary capturing her people and killing her husband.

Reflection: I was impressed with H’s telling of this creation myth, as I could tell he had the whole story well-memorized and rehearsed. I was also able to gain a greater appreciation for the Salt River, a body of water with great significance where I grew up in Arizona. The way the story links American violence against the Apache and a permanent change to the landscape (Tonto Basin becoming forever salty) appears to be a symbolic microcosm of how American atrocities against the Native Americans wrought irrevocable consequences for all their land and people.

Spanish Moss

Context: This story is meant to be told as part of a performance. Usually children or campers, the group will all collect a piece of Spanish moss. They will then slowly start peeling off the layers of the moss, eventually revealing the red strands mentioned in the story.

T.A. : Okay so going up there’s a lot of Spanish Moss around where I lived and I was always told that story behind Spanish moss. And this is like a campfire story that we would always tell. You would pick up Spanish moss from the ground end and um when youre telling the story, you’re peeling the Spanish moss. You can get to the center of it. And I’ll tell you the secret now. And you peel the Spanish moss, and in the center it looks like a piece of red hair. Like Red hair at the very center of it, and that’s, so you peel back. The stuff and it looks like, uh, a strand of hair. It’s red, it’s like very red. Spanish moss isn’t red, it’s like green. Um, but the story that’s told with it, it’s like this Native American girl who’s, who is the daughter of a chief. And she had this gorgeous, long red hair. It was beautiful, it flew in the wind and she was very much desired. Um, but she was in love with this other man, and she wanted to marry this man in the tribe, but um, all these other guys wanted her and her father was like no, you need to marry this guy, dah-duh-duh-dah-duh, basically, and, um, so then one day when she realized that she, like, would never be able to be with the love of her life, that she was, you know, too beautiful, or her hair was too luxurious. Like, she, she didn’t care what she looked like, she just cared that she loved this man, and was tired of other men being like, ‘no, like you’re mine because of this.’ So, yeah, basically she was tired of being, of people being like ‘no, you have to marry me because you’re so beautiful,’ dah-duh-duh-dah-duh, and all this stuff, and her dad was like ‘you have to marry these guys that want to marry you.’ She just wanted to marry the one that she loved. And so she goes to the edge of this cliff. Um, it’s like a plateau. So there’s like a valley underneath it. And she takes her hair, and takes like a stone or something like that, like a sharp knife—
P.Z. : Something sharp.
T.A. : Yeah, and she grabs her hair and cuts it off. And all of her hair falls into this valley and onto all these trees. Right? And she throws herself off the cliff and kills herself. Um, which is tragic end to the story. But also, but she cuts all her hair off, throws it into this valley, and then at the end of the story, at the end, by this point you see the red strand of hair and it’s now —
P.Z. : Under the moss?
T.A. : Spanish moss. You see all of her beautiful long red hair still in the Spanish moss today.
P.Z. : And it’s like the original story of —
T.A. : Yeah, of like why it’s there.
P.Z. : And you heard this in your hometown?
T.A. : Um, so like whenever, my family’s a big camping family, and like going through summer camps and stuff too, it’s a campfire story people tell. So you’d pick up Spanish moss off the ground, and you’d go oh have you ever heard like the story about Spanish moss? And then you tell it.
P.Z. : And Texas… What part of Texas?
T.A. : I’m from southeast Texas.

Thoughts: This was the first time I encountered a modern myth. It was also one of the only pieces of folklore I collected that included a sort of performance with the story telling. I thought that this was fascinating because it took an everyday item found in the area and transcribed deep value to it based on this creation myth. It also was fascinating that it remains popular for people of all ages to hear and tell this story, as it can be used in any group setting when one is outdoors and encounters this very common flora.

Menil the Moon Maiden

Main Piece:

I: It’s a very complex story, but in it, Menil is a beautiful woman who… like brings the Arts and lots of teachings and lessons to people, and how to live, how to be, in like the beginning of the world. And people love Menil, and then there’s also this figure, that is sort of… like– he’s like a demi-god almost? Like a very powerful not-human being who created the world but he’s not the Creator– if that makes sense– but like who created a people at least– and his name is Mukat, and Mukat… essentially like, he’s really enamored with Menil, and then he pretty much rapes her, kind of, in the night. And then when she discovers what happened– I think she was sleeping– she disappears, and the people are so upset, and they’re like, “That’s awful, what happened to her?” And then when they find out, they kill Mukat because that’s like an unforgivable sin. In these stories, what’s so complex is like nothing is evil and nothing is good, like, right and wrong don’t exist in like the Western way that we think of them now. Like, Mukat does terrible things, but he’s not an evil being. He exists to teach almost as Menil exists to teach. And so, the people kill Mukat, and then they look into the lake where Menil used to teach them how to bathe and things, and they see her reflection and then she becomes the moon and she she won’t ever come back now, she’s the moon forever, and she’s no longer a woman.

Background:

My informant is a good friend from high school. She is a part of the Cahuilla and Chippewa Indigenous Nations and explains this traditional creation myth of Menil the Moon Maiden. She explains that her father knew this story, but she did not learn the long-form of it until she found documentation of an oral telling of the legend. She tells me that this telling was one of the more traditional forms of the story, but expresses how the accuracy is hard to determine because it was told in English. She tells me that she believes it may have been told in specific contexts at one point, but because there are so few surviving Cahuilla stories, they are told whenever they can be. This story has personal significance for her because the disappearance of Menil is reminiscent of the relevant issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a cause that my informant has been actively doing work to raise awareness and action for.

Context:

This is a transcript of a conversation between my friend and I over the phone. I have talked to her a few times about my folklore class and explained the collection to her. She was happy to help and talk about some of her traditions.

Thoughts:

I love this folk myth because I appreciate how the concepts of complete “right and wrong” and absolute “good or evil” are not ideas that exist in Cahuilla culture, as they are conversely prevalent in many Western stories. This aspect of the myth is an important element to consider, as it can point to how members of this culture view and understand life. My friend tells me that this myth is not told to emphasize any lessons, and thus, listeners may not even understand any of the teachings until years later. This is how it is supposed to be told, she explains, so people may form the significance of the story themselves. While this story is a creation myth, the forms of narratives may be different from person to person depending on what levels of belief they hold to the story. Thus, as my friend explained, because this story is now often told just to keep the tradition alive, to some, it may be a legend or a tale.