Indigenous Cultures and
the Via Creativa

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.

“The Grampians. Stawell. Bunjils Cave with Aboriginal rock painting. Figure is mythical man Bunjil with two dingo dogs.” Photo by denisbin, Flickr

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.

“Hopi Weaver” Photo by Sandy Montoya, Flickr

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?

Recommended Reading

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.

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8 thoughts on “Indigenous Cultures and <br>the Via Creativa”

  1. Avatar

    Some years ago in visiting Guatemala I was looking to buy a stole. I learned that the indigenous people there could tell by the color and patterns of weaving, where in the country it came from. More recently in visiting in the Sacred Valley of Peru, I imbibed some of the indigenous spirituality of community, listening to the earth, and the role of shamans. Thank you Matthew for this meditation.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear David,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences with indigenous people and their spirituality. I admire your courage to step out, and in. THe more we share our ways and discover both our precious differences and our potent similarities, the more will can understand each other and move forward as one beautiful diverse family. I know I am preaching to the choir here – but you inspired me.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    I live in Central Arizona, and I believe my good friend, Hopi artist Filmer Kewanyama, would like me to add a couple nuances to your essay. Although the term Anasazi is often translated as “Ancient Ones,” native people tell me that the term actually means “Ancient Enemies”; so the term “Pueblo People” is preferred and generally used here in the Southwest. The Hopi themselves, rather than being descended from the Pueblo People, are (italics needed) the Pueblo People. They have never gone away. Fil and other Hopi friends (when asked “What happened to the Anasazi? Where did they go?) laugh and answer “We didn’t go anywhere. We’re right here.” The Hopi origin story has them ascending to earth from a Sipapu in the bottom of Grand Canyon. If I understand Fil correctly, the Hopi did live for a while closer to the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, but a long time ago they followed the Creator’s directions to move north to the three mesas that are their home today. (I hope I have this straight.) There is a wonderful 4-minute video by PBS called “The Hopi Origin Story” on the net and you can also find Filmer’s art on the net.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Michele,
      Thank you for adding this information about the Hopi lineage in Arizona. How grounding to have an identifiable heritage linked to a distinct acreage. My mind wanders, perhaps foolishly, to a hope that the “Ancient Enemies” now live as one people, the “Pueblo People”, having allowed their arts to weave the threads of their shared soul. The thought gives me hope that the rest of us can follow in their footsteps, dancing.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      FOr the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar

    This fits nicely with Michael’s Meade’s comment in one the Mendocino Men’s Gatherings that ancient wisdom tells us that we should never go to war until we’ve learned how to dance.

  4. Avatar
    Pamela Harman Daugavietis

    Two MEN were the ones God created to procreate the next generation?!?!? This sounds rather odd to me, and I, as a woman, a mother and grandmother, find this also rather disturbing. What is the message here? I am not against gay marriage or those who are born gay or asexual. The reality is that we all come from a sperm and an egg and I’ve not yet heard that two sperms can create another human life.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Pamela,
      Were you expecting an Eve-equivalent to be created as the second human in the Aboriginal origin story? I was. This story from down under is surprisingly similar to the one from the Hebrew story in the Torah and Bible. But the Aboriginal story is not about launching the human family, but about imparting divine wisdom through dance.

      Perhaps, the two humans in the story are referred to in the same gender because they had only one word for a human, or to make sure the story was about dancing more than about bodies. So many dances require partners. How could the BUnjil’s dances be taught to only one person? After all this story is about companionship. It is possible that only the Aboriginal men danced, or perhaps women were not counted as tribal members, and so left out of the story. It’s hard to know at this point.

      We should regard such Ancient stories openly as primitive pearls os essential wisdom, without the lens of today’s issues and concerns. Gay couples, women’s rights are our issues. But other issues were at play when this story came to life and was refined over time. What remains is the gift to us of the image of Bumjil, the Aboriginal, creating us to dance.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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