Arandan from Chaos

This myth from northern Australia, an example of creation from chaos with elements of the creation by emergence theme, contains the familiar elements of creation by thought or the Dreaming and the creation that has gone wrong and must be cleansed by a. In the myth’s mentioning of places and objects familiar to the Arandan aborigines, we find the common understanding on the part of a given culture that creation began in the center of its local world.

The ratlike bandicoot, for example, is sacred to the Bandicoot clan, whose specific creation myth this is, and Ilbalintja soak is a real place. The decorated tnatantja pole—a kind of axle tree or world tree and the bull-roarer are still used in Arandan religious ceremonies. The bull-roarer is an object found in many societies; it is a flat piece of wood with pointed ends. At one end is a hole through which a hair string is attached so the bull-roarer may be spun around to make a mysterious buzzing sound.

In the beginning when there was darkness everywhere, the creator, Karora, lay sleeping in Ilbalintja, covered by rich soil and a myriad of flowers and other plants. From the center of the ground above Karora rose a magnificently decorated and living tnatantja pole that reached all the way to the sky. Under the ground the god’s head lay on the roots of the pole, and in his head were thoughts that became real. Huge bandicoots slithered out from his navel and his armpits—male wombs—and broke through the soil above, and the sun began to rise over Ilbalintja.

The sun having brought light, Karora burst through the earth, leaving a gaping hole—Ibalintja soak—which filled with the bloodlike juice of the huneysuckle. Having left the earth, Karora’s body lost its magical powers, and the god became hungry. He grasped two of the bandicoots writhing around him and roasted them in the heat of the new sun.

As the sun went down decked in necklaces and a veil of hair strings, the great ancestor thought about a helper but fell asleep with his arms stretched out. As he slept, a bull-roarer emerged from his armpit and turned into a young man, Karora’s first son. In the morning Karora woke up to find his new companion lying next to him but without life. The ancestor, his body now decorated, made the sacred raiankintja call. The sound gave life to his child, and father and son did the ceremonial dance.

During the next nights Karora gave birth to many more sons, all of whom became hungry and ate bandicoots until none was left. Karora sent his sons into the plains to find more bandicoots, but they returned hungry.

On the third day the sons heard what they thought was a bull-roarer sound and began searching in bandicoot nests until a strange hairy animal hopped out. “It’s a sandhill wallaby,” the men shouted, and they broke one of the animal’s legs with their sticks before it could cry out, “You have lamed me; I am not a bandicoot, but Tjenterama, a man like you.” The hunters backed off as the kangaroo limped away.

Karora met his sons when they returned home. He led them to Ilbalintja soak and ordered them to sit in a circle around it. Then the honeysuckle juice rose and swept them down into the soak and underground to the injured Tjenterama, their new leader. They remained there forever and became objects of worship to the people who came later.

Karora returned to his old sleeping place in the soak. The people still go there to drink and honor him with gifts of greens. Karora smiles in his sleep, happy to have them visit.

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