Kings Park

Posted in Journal, Travel at 17:15

Baobab - boab tree

The belated continuation of my December trip to Western Australia! Perth is home to the largest inner-city park in the world, Kings Park. I took two guided tours through it, both were wonderful: the first was the Indigenous Heritage Tour, with a Nyoongar guide, and the second was one of the free guided walks, with a volunteer (and non-aboriginal) guide. They both gave complementary information about the park’s and, by extension, Australia’s flora, although I was glad to have taken the indigenous tour first since it was more in-depth about things that the free walk only looked at momentarily.

The photo at top is of a boab tree, which is also known as the baobab. They mainly grow in northern Australia; this one and another were actually transplanted in the park. They don’t grow as well in the southern part of the country, we were told, because the wet and dry seasons aren’t clear-cut enough.

We were told that the most emblematic plant is the kangaroo paw:

Red kangaroo paw

…but the ones I most noticed were banksia, with their saw-tooth leaves, and zamia, a plant that dates back to prehistoric times:

Banksia buds

Zamia

My favorite part was when our Nyoongar guide, Greg Nannup, sat us down to tell a short version of the Dreamtime, when the land was created – in our case, Southwest Australia.

Kangaroo pelt cape

I wrote down what I remembered of the story afterwards. I’ve only studied Haudenosaunee, Northwest Native American, Scandinavian, and Greek creation myths (including for my Masters thesis, so not casually!), and have only occasionally read Australian Aboriginal, so this was the first time I had heard a Dreamtime story in real life. My recounting probably misses some things, in addition to how much shorter it was than a true telling of it would be. Much like Native American creation myths, our guide told us that Aboriginal creation myths are meant to be told over a period of several days, ceremonially. It’s also important to keep in mind that as oral traditions, they’re truly meant to be performed. Reading myths on paper/written down “takes them out of their context”, so to speak, something I can relate to personally having grown up with stories of my Oregon surroundings. As fascinating as our Internet age is, it’s good to keep in mind that there is also a grounded reality to which our own spoken stories, whether everyday or more, are fundamentally related. In the West we tend to see the written word as the final word, which is not the case in other cultures – the spoken word is an embodiment of spirit (which is still hinted at in our languages, as it is from the Latin spiritus, breath, and speaking is in fact using your body and breath to create).

Dreamtime – Creation: There was a time when all was not a dream, but it was not reality as we know it either. The Earth existed, but the sky lay heavily upon it, and so nothing could come into a reality existence.

But the time was coming when the sky would be lifted, and there would be a reality.

In the spirit world — for that was what it was — there were many types of spirits. Tree spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits, flower spirits… and also human spirits. A gathering was held — several, in fact [this is one area in which the story has been shortened] — in which it was debated and discussed and eventually decided who would watch over beings in reality; who would be the caretakers.

Tree spoke first: “We trees stay in one place. We cannot wander the land as a caretaker would need to do.” And the other spirits also spoke. It was decided that humans would be the caretakers, for they had abilities the others did not.

Tree spoke again: “You may use us as you wish, but never destroy us all.” In turn, animals and plants alike offered to protect and nourish their human caretakers in exchange for balance. All agreed: “never destroy us all.”

One day, the giant keeping down the sky became angry with his burden and lifted it. Reality now appeared beneath the sky.

The first two spirits to see it were First Woman and First Man, but they were not yet real. First Woman tentatively set her foot down: it became real, and her footprints are today the deeps in the Swan River, Derbarl Yerrigan. A long strand of her white hair also fell, and became the white sand beaches along the south of the river. First Woman understood she could not go completely into reality, for her true purpose was as a spirit.

Meanwhile, in this part-real, part-spirit world, First Man roamed the land. The last First Woman saw of him, he had been picking up small round things and eating them.

First Woman also roamed, creating hills and plains. In her travels she came across small white spirits: helpless children. She felt she needed to save them, so she picked them up and put them in her hair as she walked the land. Then she realized: the children’s true purpose was to be born as real humans. By picking them up, she was not allowing them to become real.

Then a terrible thought struck her: there was nothing she had crossed on the Earth to eat. There had only been these spirit children; millions and billions of them. First Man had been eating them…!

Now First Woman was really in a panic. The time of reality was also nearing. First Woman replaced as many spirit children as she could. But when reality became permanent, she had to leave, with some of the spirit children still in her white hair.

She flew to the skies with them, having no other choice. Now we see her hair as the Milky Way, and its stars are the spirit children who remained spirits.

Milky Way near the Southern Cross
   (The Milky Way near the Southern Cross, photo by Yuri Beletsky)

Villa Kerylos

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:34

Villa Kerylos, Triklinos - wall and ceiling

As my vacation continues, I’ve been able to visit some local sights that I had often heard about, but not seen until now. One was the Villa Kerylos, a “reconstruction of Greek noble houses built on the island of Delos in the 2nd century B.C.” The Greek word kerylos means halcyon, a bird of good omen, also able to calm the seas, thus our English expression “halcyon days“.

The villa was built by banker and archeologist Theodore Reinach, and architect and archeologist Emmanuel Pontremoli, who was born in Nice. Imagery surrounding the goddess Nike can be found in the villa, no coincidence as Nice’s original Greek name was Nikaïia after the goddess, who is often depicted as having wings, which also fits well with the legend of Alcyone, a nod to the villa’s name meaning.

Villa Kerylos, peristyle - Nike and Phygele

Villa Kerylos, Nikai

My Villa Kerylos photoset has several other photos of the beautiful home. One of my favorite areas was the downstairs sculpture corridor, with several well-known statues. Before visiting, I was only a little acquainted with the myth of Athena and Erikhthonios / Erichthonius, depicted in this sculpture. Erichthonius, “son of Earth”, was born as a serpent when Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, who took a scrap of wool and wiped his seed off onto the ground. Some legends speak of Gaia, goddess of the Earth, then handing Erichthonius to Athena, who hid him in a basket and raised him in secret.

Athéna à la ciste

Skywoman

Posted in Journal at 20:17

I’m making the most of our four-day weekend, thanks to yesterday, the 14th, being France’s national holiday, and working as much as I can on my thesis. Overall, it’s on comparative creation myths (comparative meanings, not value – I’ve never been one to hierarchise much of anything, however I’ve always been interested in meaning). My favorite part is on Skywoman/Aataentsic (“All-Knowing Wise Woman / Ancestress / Mature Flowers”), a legend that has many versions among Iroquois-family tribes, as well as a version often known as “Strawberry Legend” among the Cherokee. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League/Confederacy) version is overviewed by the Canadian Museum of Civilization; a Seneca (Iroquois) Creation Story is available thanks to Archives Canada, and the Cherokee Nation has its version at The Beginning/Legend of the Strawberries. An excerpt from the latter:

The Creator found that his daughter laughed and sang too much; and she talked constantly. She asked too many questions. Why do the leaves of the Tree of Life shine? Who created the Upper World? Who named the plants? Creator still loved her, for this was his daughter, but this constant laughter and questions, what could he do? The Creator had told them many times to stay away from the Tree of Life and not to play around its trunk. But like all curious children she had to see why her father said these things. First Man would insist that she not go to the tree but every day First Woman would climb the tree to its highest limbs. One day she found a hole in the bottom of the trunk and started to go in. First Man was again insistent that she stay away from the tree but to no avail. She went in and fell out of the bottom of Ga-lun-la-ti.

Creator returned home to find First Woman was missing. He asked First Man “where is my daughter?” to which the young man replied “I told her not to go into the hole in the bottom of the tree, but she would not listen.” Creator did not know what to do as he peered over the side of Ga-lun-la-ti and saw his daughter falling toward the awesome ball of water.

There’s an excellent documentary on the Huron-Wendat (Wyandot, Iroquoian but not members of the Confederacy/League) available online thanks to the Canadian National Film Bureau, Kanata: Legacy of the Children of Aataentsic. If you understand French, the original is at Kanata : l’héritage des enfants d’Aataentsic. It includes an oral retelling of the Aataentsic/Skywoman myth, as well as further symbolism and its relation to their way of thinking, which I found heartening as well as interesting.

In a quirky turn of events, I actually did not know of the French-language Huron-Wendat versions before beginning my thesis… which is in French. I had been prepared to translate one of the English versions, and then discovered Aataentsic, “Celle de toute sagesse”.