Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Creation Mythology: Australia

Dreamtime by ForlornSon
Today we are going to look at the creation mythology from the Australian Aborigines.  The belief system of the Aboriginal tribes is known as Dreamtime or Dreaming.  Dreamtime often refers to the ‘time before time’ or ‘the time of the creation of all things,’ and Dreaming usually means the beliefs of an individual or a particular group. 

‘The Dreamtime contains many parts: It is the story of things that have happened, how the universe came to be, how human beings were created, and how the Creator intended for humans to function within the cosmos…  In the Aboriginal worldview, every meaningful activity, event, or life process that occurs at a particular place leaves behind a vibrational residue in the earth, as plants leave an image of themselves as seeds.  The shape of the land – its mountains, rocks, riverbeds, and waterholes – and its unseen vibrations echo the events that brought that place into creation.  Everything in the natural world is a symbolic footprint of the metaphysical beings whose actions created our world.  As with a seed, the potency of an earthly location is wedded to the memory of its origin.  The Aborigines called this potency the ‘Dreaming’ of a place…  Only in extraordinary states of consciousness can one be aware of, or attuned to, the inner dreaming of the earth’ (Lawlor, 1991)

Totem Poles of Stanley Park
The first myth I want to share with you today comes from the Arandan tribe, indigenous to the Upper Fiske River in Central Australia.  The myth includes many aspects of Aboriginal life – dreamtime, the totem pole, and the bull-roarer, which is a decorated wooden object, found in many societies, which makes a humming sound when swung around.  The sound it makes is known as ‘God’s Voice’ and the object is used in sacred ceremonies to ward off evil spirits, to cure illness, to lure animals into traps and, in this myth, to create new beings.

The myth of Karora is an example of an ex nihilo, or from nothing, creation myth.  It contains elements of creation from chaos and emergence, as well as creation by thought which is a popular theme in Australian Aboriginal mythology.  It also includes elements of creation gone wrong – a popular theme the world over, where a flood is sent to cleanse the land.  In this myth of the Arandan tribe, we find the ratline bandicoot, a creature who is considered sacred.  The tnatantja pole creates the world centre, or axis mundi – again found in other world mythology.

Karora Dreams

Karora by ClaraBacou*
In the beginning the creator, Karora, lay sleeping in the place we now call Ilbalintja.  Here he was covered with soil, flowers, and other plant life.  All lay in darkness.  From the centre of the ground above Karora a great living tnatantja pole, beautifully decorated, rose toward the sky.  Karora’s head lay on the roots of this pole and somehow his thoughts came into reality.  As he dreamed, huge bandicoots emerged from his navel and armpits, breaking through the soil.  Their doing so caused the sun to rise over Ilbalintja.  The light woke Karora and he too burst out from beneath the soil, his emergence leaving a great hole in the earth, known as the Ibalintja soak.  The hole soon filled with honeysuckle juice the colour of blood.  Upon leaving the earth, Karora lost his magical power and he became hungry.  He caught hold of two bandicoots which had emerged from his body and roasted them in the heat of the new sun.
As the sun set, decked out in necklaces and a veil of hair strings, the great ancestor began to think about a helper, but he soon fell asleep.  While he slept, a bull-roarer emerged from his armpit and transformed into a young man.  When the sun rose the next day, Karora awoke to discover this young man beside him, although he had no life.  The great ancestor, body decorated, made the sacred Raiankintja call and the sound of the call gave life to his child.  Upon the waking of the young man, father and son did a ceremonial dance.
Throughout the following nights Karora brought many new sons into being.  All were hungry and they ate the bandicoots until there were none left.  So Karora sent out his sons to find more bandicoots on the plains, but none could be found and all returned hungry.
On the third day Karora’s sons heard what they believed to be the sound of a bull-roarer and went in search of bandicoot nests.  An odd hairy animal hopped out.  ‘It’s a sand hill wallaby,’ the sons cried, and they broke one of its legs with their sticks.  ‘You have lamed me, yet I am no animal.  I am Tjenterama, a man like you.’  Karora’s sons backed away as the wallaby limped off.
On their arrival home, the sons met their father and he led them to Ilbalintja soak, ordering them to sit in a ring around it.  Upon doing so, the juice of the honeysuckle rose from the sink and swept them away into the underground, where the injured Tjenterama, their new leader, lay.  Here they remained for eternity and, to those people that came later, they became objects of worship.
The great ancestor, Karora, returned to his sleeping place in the soak and people still visit this place to drink and to honour him with gifts.  Karora sleeps on, smiling and happy to have the people visit him.

A Kakadu cave painting photo by Don Hitchcock
The next myth comes from the Kakadu, a name applied to the aboriginal groups found within the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia.  It is believed that the people have inhabited these areas for as long as 50,000 years.  Within this myth we find the creation from chaos theme, although there are also elements of the Australia dreamtime, with the Great Mother Imberombera taking the primary role in the process of creative dreaming.

 The Journey of Wuraka and Imberombera

‘Wuraka came from the west, walking through the sea.  His feet were on the bottom but he was so tall that his head was well above the surface of the water.  He landed at a place called Allukaladi, between what are now known as Mts. Bidwell and Roe, both of which he made.  His first sleeping place, after coming out on to land, was at Woralia.  He then came on to Umurunguk and so to Adjerakuk and Aruwurkwain, at each of which he slept one night.
The woman, Imberombera, also walked through the sea and landed at what is now known as Malay Bay, the native name being Wungaran.  She met Wuraka at Arakwurkwain.  Imberombera said to him, ‘Where are you going?’  He said, ‘I am going straight through the bush to the rising sun.’  The first language they spoke was Iwaidja, that is, the language of the people of Port Essington.  Wuraka carried his penis, or parla, over his shoulder.  He said to Imberombera, ‘ngainma parla nungeroboama,’ my penis is too heavy; ‘ngainma wilalu jirongadda’, my camp is close by; ‘ngeinyimma ngoro breikul’, you go a long way.
At that time there were no black-fellows.  Imberombera wanted Wuraka to come with her, but he was too tired and his penis was too heavy, so he sat down where he was, and a great rock, called by the natives Wuraka, and by the white men Tor Rock, arose to mark the spot.  Imberombera had a huge stomach in which she carried many children, and on her head she wore a bamboo ring from which hung down numbers of dilly bags full of yams.  She also carried a very large stick or wairbi.
At a place called Marpur, close to where she and Wuraka met, she left boy and girl spirit children and told them to speak Iwaidja.  She also planted many yams there and said to the children whom she left behind, ‘ungatidda jaw’, these are good to eat.
She went on to Muruni, leaving yams and spirit children, and told them also to speak Iwaidja.  From Muruni she went on, by way of Kumara, to Areidjut, close to Mamul, on what is now called Cooper’s Creek, which runs into the sea to the north of the mouth of the East Alligator River.  At Mamul she left children, one boy being called Kominuuru, and told them to speak the Umoriu language.  The only food supply she left here was Murarowa – a Cyprus bulb.  She crossed the creek and went on to Yiralka but left no children there.  This was close to the East Alligator River which she crossed and then came, in succession, to Jeri Kumboyu, Munguruburaira and Uramaijino, where she opened up her dilly bags and scattered yams broadcast.  She went on to Jaiyipali, where again she left

Kakadu rock painting
food supplies.  She searched around for a good camping place and, first of all, sat down in a water pool but the leeches came in numbers and fastened themselves on her, so she came out of the water and decided to camp on dry land, saying that she would go into the bush.  Accordingly, she did so and camped at Inbinjairi.  Here she threw the seeds of the bamboo, ‘Koulu’, in all directions and also left children, one of whom was a boy named Kalangeit Nuana.
As she travelled along, Imberombera sent out various spirit children to different parts of the country, telling them to speak different languages.  She sent them to ten places, in each case instructing them as follows:

1.   Gnaruk ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoyo Koranger.
2.   Watta ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Kurnboyu.
3.   Kakadu ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Munganillida.
4.   Witji ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Miortu.
5.   Puneitja ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Jaijipali. {p. 278}
6.   Koarnbut ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Kapalgo.
7.   Ngornbur ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Illari.
8.   Umbugwalur ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Owe.
9.   Djowei ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Nauillanja.
10. Geimbio ngeinyimma tjikaru, gnoro Waimbi.
The first word in each of these is the name of language which the children were to speak, ngeinyimma means you or yours, tjikaru is talk or language; gnorro is go, and the last word is the name of the place to which she sent them.  Each of these places is regarded as the central camping ground of their respective tribes.
Imberombera is thus supposed to have been the founder of the ten tribes above named, all of whom, at present day, inhabit the Coburg Peninsula and the country east and west of this, for some distance, along the coast line, as well as the inland parts drained by the East, South, and West Alligator Rivers.

Another creation myth comes from the Aboriginal Kokowarra people of Queensland, who have inhabited the area for thousands of years.  It is, technically, a creation from chaos myth as well as an emergence creation myth.

The Giant Anjir
In the beginning Anjir was lying in the shadow of a thickly-leaved tree.  He was a blackfellow with very large buttocks, but peculiar in that there was no sign of any orifice.  Yalpan, or Jalpan, happened to be passing by at the time, and noticing this anomaly, made a cut in the usual place by means of a piece of quartz-crystal, with the result that the evacuations were expelled and spread over the surface of the ground.  All blacks were thus originally born from Anjir’s dung.  Yalpan went southwards, and has never been heard of since.  Anjir was buried underground after he had ‘breeded’ – the interpreter’s expression - all he wanted to.

Ngurunderi tries to spear the cod by Keeve Neo
The following creation myth comes from the Ngarrindjeri people and features one of the great ancestral Dreaming ‘heroes’, Ngurunderi.  This particular version was given to anthropologist Ronald Berndt in 1939 by the last initiated Ngarrindjeri men.
The Ancestor Ngurunderi 

The ancestral hero Ngurunderi paddled his bark canoe down the small creek which was later to become the River Murray.  He had come from the Darling, following the giant Murray cod.  As this swam, its tail swept aside the water, widening the river to the size it is today.  When Ngurunderi paused to rest, the cod swam on into the Lake, and he gave up all hope of catching it.  The he thought of his ‘wife’s brother’, Nepele.  Quickly getting into his canoe he quickly rowed to Bumongdung, and from there called out to Nepele, who was sitting on a red cliff named Rawugung, Point McLeay.  Nepele pushed out his canoe, rowed it to some shoals, and waited with spear in hand.  The cod swam down towards Nepele, who speared it opposite Rawugung and placed it on a submerged sandbank there.  When Ngurunderi arrived they cut the cod into many small pieces, throwing each into the water and naming the fish it was to become.  Finally they threw the remaining part into the lake saying, ‘Keep on being a Murray cod.’
Ngurunderi continued his travels. Eventually he reached Bamundang, where he disembarked and pulled up his canoe: his footprints are still there. Carrying the canoe he walked to Larangangel, where he left two large mounds of freshwater mussels. One day, on his way back from granangung, he saw some people at a place called Ngirlungmurnang. They were frightened of him and hid in the reeds. But Ngurunderi could hear them whispering, and he transformed them into a species of blue bird. At this juncture Ngurunderi's two wives appeared. They were at Gurelbang cooking the dugeri (silver bream), taboo to women, and the breeze from that direction carried the smell to him. Having no further use for his canoe, he stood on the 2 mounds of Larlangangel, and lifting it up, placed it in the sky where it became the Milky Way. He then set off for Gurelbang. In the meantime, the two women, thinking Ngurunderi might smell the fish, had made their escape on a reed raft, poling their way across Lake Albert to Thralrum, on the western side. There they left the raft, which was metamorphosed into the reeds and yaccas found at that point today, and continued down into the Coorong.
When Ngurunderi reached Gurelbang and found them gone he too made a raft, and followed them into the Coorong. Here he met a malignant spirit named Barambari. Ngurunderi asked whether he had seen the two wives. But Barambari started a quarrel and speared him in the thigh. Ngurunderi laughed, pulled it out and threw it away. Then he threw his club, knocking Barambari unconscious, and thinking he was dead turned to go.  But Baramberi regained consciousness, and manipulated his magical spear-thrower in such a way as to stop Ngurunderi from walking on. Ngururderi returned and killed him with his club. He lifted some large gums and other trees, piled them into a heap and set them alight, then lifted Barambari's body and placed it on top of the blazing pyre so it would be completely consumed. Turning around he tried again to walk away, but again could not do so. He picked up all the congealed blood and threw it on the fire, and after that he was able to continue. At Wunjurem, he dug a waterhole in the sand to get fresh water, kneeling down to drink he put his head against the sand, and this impression was transformed into rock.
The Ngurunderi Dreaming by Jacob Stengle
Eventually he came to Ngurunduwurgngirl ('Ngurunderi's home'), where he lived for some time, giving up all hope of finding his wives. Later he continued his wanderings down the coast along Encounter Bay, and after a number of adventures was about to cross over from the mainland to Kangaroo Island when he saw his wives starting to do so. It was possible, at that time, to walk across to the island. When they reached the centre Ngurunderi called out in a voice of thunder, 'fall on them, you waters'. Immediately the sea rose and they were drowned; but they were metamorphosed into Meralang 'two sisters', now called The Pages, northeast of Cape Willoughby on Kangaroo Island. Ngurunderi then went to Kangaroo Island, called Ngurungaui, meaning 'on Ngurunderi track', referring to the path taken by all spirits on their way to the spirit world. He made a large Casuarina tree, under which he rested. Then he walked down to the western side of the island, and threw away his spear into the sea; rocks came up at that place. Finally he dived into the sea to cleanse himself of his old life, and went up into the sky, Waieruwar, the spirit world. But before disappearing he told the Jaraldi people that the spirits of their dead would always follow the tracks he had made, and eventually join him in the sky-world.

The final Australian creation myth I want to share with you today, which happens to be one of my favourites, is that of the Rainbow Serpent.  Stories about this creature are especially popular in Arnhem Land which lies in the Northern Territory around Darwin and images depicting it can be found as rock art dating back to before 6000BC.

The Rainbow Serpent
The Beginning of Life

Long, long ago was the Dreamtime.  Everywhere was bare, flat, and empty.  There was only stillness and quietness all over the surface of the world. However, underneath the surface, deep in the earth’s crust, all sorts of creatures were sleeping.  Animals, birds, and reptiles lay cocooned in the land, dreaming peacefully.
One day the Rainbow Serpent opened her eyes and found herself in complete darkness.  Flexing and stretching her coils, she began to push her way through the earth.  Finally, she broke through the surface, bursting out into the sunlight.  The featureless land stretched in all directions.  She set off to explore.
Slithering all over the land, the Rainbow Serpent’s strong winding body carved out valleys and heaped up land into ridges.  She journeyed for many moons, travelling over the whole earth until she arrived back where she had started.  Exhausted, she coiled herself up and rested.
After a long nap, it occurred to her that all the other creatures were still asleep deep inside the earth.  With as much energy as she could summon, the Rainbow Serpent called and called, and gradually, her voice penetrated the layers of the earth and began to stir the creatures from their deep slumbers.
The frogs awoke first.  Slowly, they began to move up through the earth, with their bodies full of water.  Delighted, the Rainbow Serpent tickled the frogs, making them laugh so hard that they coughed up their stores of water, which flowed out over the earth.  Some of the water gushed into channels and pits formed by the Rainbow Serpent’s wanderings, creating streams, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes.  Other trickles of water ran away over the soil and were absorbed by the land.  In these places, tiny green shoots appeared.  Soon, in all directions there were patches of soft grass, clumps of leafy bushes, and bright flowers, and clusters of tall, spreading trees.
As the land sprang to life, all the other reptiles, birds, and animals burst out from under the ground.  The Rainbow Serpent led them across the earth and they all found suitable homes.  The birds were delighted to swoop through the skies and nest in the treetops.  The reptiles were comfortable sheltering among cool stones and damp, shady nooks and crannies.

Myth of the Rainbow Serpent by aerroscape*
The Rainbow Serpent was acknowledged by all as the mother of life.  She set laws, so that all the creatures could thrive together and the earth remain healthy forever.  As time passed, the Rainbow Serpent noticed that some creatures were particularly excellent at keeping her laws.  She gave these creatures human form and told them that they were in charge of looking after the land and everything that lived in it.  Each human had a totem pole of the tribe they came from, whether from an animal, reptile, or bird.  The Rainbow Serpent instructed all the tribes that they were allowed to eat creatures from any totem pole except their own – that way, there would be enough food for everyone.
The Rainbow Serpent chose other creatures that she was very pleased with and turned them into rock.  They were sent to stand forever as hills and mountains, acting as the guardians of the tribes living on the land.
And so the tribes and the land lived and prospered together.  A man called Biami grew to be an exceptionally wise human. Knowledgeable, honest, and kind, he took great care of the earth.  When he became old the Rainbow Serpent did not let him die, but gave him a spirit form so he could live forever among the tribe as protector.


Useful Resources
Coming into Being Among the Australian Aborigines by Ashley Montagu
Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook by Cassandra Eason
Myths and Legends: Fact or Fiction byVic Parker
Religion in Schools: ControversiesAround the World by Robert Murray Thomas
Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia by David Adams Leeming

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