17. African myths included the creation of several gods
In African mythology, across several peoples and cultures, all things have spirits, including those living and some inert. Spirits can be both helpful and harmful to each other and to living things. Some cultures believed that spirits are controllable by humans, usually through the assistance of priests or shamans trained in the process. The spirits are independent of the gods, though the names of some of the gods can be invoked in attempting to manipulate their behavior. Nearly all African cultures believed in a supreme deity, though with differing names including Olorun, Amma, and Mulungu. Most African societies believed the supreme deity is indifferent to human activities, and leaves divine intercession to the lesser gods.
One African mythology, told by the Mende people of the Sierra Leone region, explained how death came humanity. In the tale, humans were originally intended to be immortal, as were the gods. A message describing immortality was dispatched to humanity, carried by a dog. At the same time, evil gods sent a message describing death was sent, carried by a toad. The dog stopped during his journey to eat, allowing the toad to arrive first. A similar tale told in African cultures featured a chameleon carrying the promise of eternal life. Instead, a lizard bearing news of death beat the chameleon in a race to inform humanity. Several African peoples believed in a mythical rope connecting the gods to the Earth, severed by an angered god and thus bringing death to humanity.
18. Polynesian myths included the creation of the yam
Among the peoples of Polynesia, who likely immigrated to the islands from Southeast Asia, numerous mythologies involving creation emerged, along with a pantheon of gods and goddesses. For the Maori people, the gods Papa and Rangi emerged as the creators of all things. In Hawaii, the natives believed in the gods Po and Ao. Po represented the feminine power of creation, including the earth, while Ao represented the masculine force, including the sky. From them descended Ku, who joined with the gods Kane and Lono to create the earth and all living things. Kane formed the first man and woman and at first granted them immortality. Later he disapproved of their behavior, encumbered them with mortality, and departed the earth of his creation, never to return.
The Tahitians believed in the supreme god Ta’aroa. Ta’aroa was born from an egg of indeterminate origin. He created the sky from part of the egg and the earth from the rest. All of the Polynesians believed that two of their most important foods, breadfruit and yams, were gifts of the gods. In Maori legend, the yam was stolen from the gods by the Rongo-maui. After returning to the earth with a yam hidden in his clothing, the god impregnated his wife, Pani. The gods were aware of the theft of the yam, and took revenge by seeing that Pani gave birth to a yam. Thus yams were both stolen from the gods and a gift from the same, making them an important part of the Polynesian diet and mythology.
The Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic regions developed a mythology with notable similarities to those of Siberia. Among the tales told by the Inuit is the legend of Kiviuk, and a boy who disguised himself as a seal. The boy, who lived with his grandmother, suffered abuse at the hands of other boys in their village, who derided him for his poor eyesight. Frequently he returned home with his clothes in tatters from the abuse. His grandmother patiently sewed them again, only to have him return another day with them in rags. Finally, she made him a costume from a sealskin, and trained him to hold his breath with his head in a bucket of water for longer and longer periods.
When he was ready, the grandmother had him enter the water, dressed as a seal, to lure the other boys into pursuit. The boys gave chase, including Kiviuk, who had not participated in the early taunting and abuse. One by one, the chasing boys tired in the water, and having traveled too far from shore to return, were drowned. All but Kiviuk succumbed. Kiviuk continued to fight the icy water, and swim until finally he reached an unknown shore. Some believe he lives there to this day, and that the world well end upon his death. Many other legends and mythical tales feature Kiviuk, sometimes under different names and guises. In some retellings of his legend, Kiviuk’s body is as hard as stone, though his heart still beats. Others relate that when his face has fully turned to stone the world will end. Currently it is about half stone.
Prometheus is remembered as the god who gifted humanity with fire, incurring the wrath of Zeus. But what is often overlooked is the belief among the ancient Greeks that Prometheus was the Titan who created humanity out of clay. He is just one of many of the ancients credited with the creation of humanity, and some tales tell of Zeus destroying all humanity at least five times. Another tale credits Hephaestus with creating the first woman, Pandora, out of clay. When Pandora introduced the ills of the world by opening her box, Prometheus was credited with restoring hope. Throughout the legends which describe Prometheus he is presented as a divine benefactor of humanity, inclined to risk the wrath of the gods to protect human creatures and ease their burdens on Earth.
His theft of fire so enraged Zeus that he was sentenced to be chained to a rock, tortured by an eagle (a symbol of Zeus) which ate his liver. The ancient Greeks believed the liver to be the repository of emotions. Each night the liver regrew, to be torn out again the following day. Heracles, in Roman mythology known as Hercules, eventually freed Prometheus. Similar tales of theft of fire and the revenge of the gods abound in the mythologies of several cultures around the world, including in the Caucasus, India, North and South America, and Egypt. They all include a god or heroic figure opposed to the selfishness of the gods acting for the benefit of humanity, regardless of the price to themselves.
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