Monday, August 30, 2010

Creation myths

Happy Independence Day, Malaysia! (31st August) Here is my entry for Merdeka.

One can embark on so many interesting adventures via footnotes. Reading the aforementioned Malay Poisons And Charm Cures has led me to another book I am keen to delve into: R.O. Winstedt's Shaman, Saiva And Sufi. A similar sort of book, it is about the mysticism of Muslim Malays and was published in 1925. You can read many of its chapters on Google Books.

It is not a fascination with the dark arts that drives my curiosity here. I am primarily interested in the etymology of the familiar Malay words I grew up with, and the origins of cultures.

And I have to say, even though I do not have a drop of Malay blood in me, Malay culture is part of my culture too as a Malaysian and I take full ownership of it. No amount of racist propaganda is going to make me think that I am an outsider in my own country; the mountains accept me and call me theirs - who can argue with their authority?

Today I want to write about creation myths. I love reading them, and even wrote one myself a few years ago which I would like to expand into a larger story. Anyway, in his book, this Winstedt chap relates several versions of a Malay creation myth I had not heard of before, but which very much resembles the Maori creation story of Rangi (sky) and Papatuanuku (earth).
In the Moluccas the earth is a female deity, who in the west monsoon is impregnated by Lord Sun-Heaven. 
A very Zeus-Danae style of procreation!
The Torajas in Celebes (Sulawesi) believed in two supreme powers, the Man and the Maiden, that is, the sun and the earth. The Dayaks of Borneo hold that the sun and the earth created the world. ...
...A Kelantan account relates that sun and earth once had human form, sun the form of a man and earth the form of a woman, whose milk may be traced in the tin-ore of Malaya and whose blood is now gold. 
Meanwhile, the following brief account reminds us of the tremendous influence Indian culture had on our region all those centuries ago:
Actors in the north of the Malay Peninsula say that "the earth spirit, whom actors fear, is the daughter of Seretang Bogoh, who sits in the sun and guides the winds, and of Sang Siuh, the mother of the earth, who sits at the navel of the world." 
Many religions at once unite and dissociate the fruitful earth and the gloomy underworld. But as Malay drama came from India, this northern tradition may be a corruption of Hindu mythology. By some Malay actors Raja Siu, lord of the surface of the earth, is invoked along with Siva, and the name [Siu] is perhaps a corruption of Siva. Anyhow, in time Siva and Sri usurped the place of Father Sky (or Father Water, as he is sometimes called) and of Mother Earth in the Malay pantheon, and today even the existence of these two primitive gods has been forgotten.
Winstedt goes on to explain, or conjecture, how these early cult figures evolved into djinns and spirits...

Reading all these ancient stories makes me feel connected to all these disparate cultures that today seem at odds with each other. We are indebted to Indian culture for its great contribution to our literature, early medicine, arts, medieval astrology; and yet in today's Malaysia many Indians are made to feel like 'third citizens'. Deepak Chopra teaches that everyone shares the same atoms, and the same breath.

This Merdeka, as all others, I am hopeful that we can keep this in mind and not let our minds be blinkered by the politics of hate.

I would also like to bring your attention to Amir Muhammad's Merdeka project, Sejarah Melayu Reloaded. It is his very funky, witty retelling of the classic Malay Annals, which was often quoted in our primary school history textbooks. Dating back to (according to Amir) 1612, Sejarah Melayu was the go-to source for the early history of the Malayan Archipelago. Amir's updated version is spiced up with entertaining pictures, too.

Salam merdeka kepada saudara saudari berbagai kaum di mana jua mereka berada.

1 comment:

Antares said...

Utterly edible post! Yum :-D