A Creation story of the desert areas in the west of South Australia tells how the Creator, Bunjil, made all of Creation but was lonely. “He felt the need for companions with whom to sing and dance, and so he decided to make a man. He searched for the finest clay, fashioned a man to his own likeness, and added some finely shredded tree-bark for the hair. Bunjil was so pleased with his creation that he immediately made another.
When both figures were finished he breathed on them to give them life… Bunjil stayed with the two men for a long time. He taught them to sing and dance, and under his guidance they gradually became wise in all things. Eventually they, in their turn, could pass on Bunjil’s wisdom to all the Aborigines who followed them.”*
Notice how in this story it is of the very purpose and essence of humanity that we sing and dance—this pleases God and relieves God’s loneliness. Indeed, in this story of our origins, we were created for celebration and artistic expression through song and dance.
Among the Hopi peoples of the southwestern United States, art is integral to the sacred ceremonies and therefore to the universe itself. “All aspects of life, whether the rituals of daily existence or the sacred religions ceremonies, whether on a physical or a spiritual plane, have the same universal goals—harmony, fertility, and regeneration. Universal harmony, fertility, and regeneration have always been and still are the dominant themes of Hopi painting, for artistic expression is but one aspect of Hopi life and it must be an integral part of the Hopi world. In the Hopi world it is impossible to separate the activities of daily life, religious observances, and artistic creation.”**
The people who preceded the Hopi, the Anasazi, etched petroglyphs on cave walls; the symbol, design and subject matters depicted parallel those of the Hopi. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that Hopi painting, under Western influences, stepped outside religious ceremonies themselves. “Painting was always a communal occupation.” Painting was for the people, for the community—not for the artist’s ego. Hopi art, which is among the oldest art in America, includes pottery, baskets, textiles, altar cloths, masks, ceremonial ritual, kachina dolls, and designs etched into kivas, caves, and rocks. The architecture of Old Oraibi dates to 1150 c.e. and is the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America.
* From Melva Jean Roberts and Ainslie Roberts, Dreamtime: The Aboriginal Heritage, p. 42.
** From Patricia Janis Broder, Hopi Painting: The World of the Hopis, p. 7.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing From Global Faiths, pp. 224f.
Banner image: “Corroboree” (Aboriginal dance gathering), Laura Dance Festival, 2017. Photo by Malcolm Williams, Flickr
Queries for Contemplation
What follows from the creation story that we were made to sing and dance and thus relieve God’s loneliness? How does this affect us personally? How might it affect our culture?
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.