Monday, August 20, 2007

!Kung Gods and the Genesis of Jehovah

The !Kung San Bushmen represent the Mariana trench of the mitochondrial African Eve. They are thus an oracle of the founding emergent culture from which we came. In “NISA”, Marjorie Shostak captivatingly recounts the tales of a !Kung woman, illustrating her turbulent life and loves, in a society where although the men profess to be the elders, women possess an autonomy of choice - in which gathering brings in the staple and hunting is as much for sexual favours as for food value, in which nominal patriliny is complemented by common sense maternalism, in which a young mother will often have her first child with the maternal grandmother. The rite of menarche is a time of both joy and such female power that a girl having her first period might disable the power of a hunter if she looked him in the eye.

Fulton’s Cave Rite of Menarche

In addition to accessing the ‘supernatural realm’ in trance dancing, which they now combine with cannabis smoked from holes in the ground, the Bushmen have intriguing stories of their founding creator deities. The extreme ancientness of these traditions, is clear from the discovery of evidence of religious ritual and remains 70,000 years old from the San “Mountain of the Gods”.

The !Kung creation story has intriguing parallels with that of Genesis, and the male gods come in a dark and a light being, but the two are not at war, but rather, more subtly the creative and destructive forces of life and mortality. And the Gods come with female partners. And the gods are paradoxical trickster heroes, both Gods and men who were heroic ancestors in the dawn of time.

The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads from a cave in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local San people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.

=/Gao!na, the !Kung Great God, using one of his seven divine names, created himself:

“I am Hishe. I am unknown, a stranger.
No one can command me.
I am a bad thing. I follow my own path.”

Then he created a Lesser God who lives in the western sky where the sun sets; and after this two wives for himself and for the Lesser God. =/Gao!na, tallest of the Bushmen, was in his earthly existence a great magician and trickster with supernatural powers, capable of assuming the form of an animal, a stone or anything else he wished, and who changed people into animals and brought the dead back to life. But as the Great God who lives beside a huge tree in the eastern sky, he is the source and custodian of all things.

He created the earth with holes in it where water could collect and water, the sky and rain, both the gentle ‘female’ rain and the fierce ‘male’ rain thunder and lightning, the sun, moon, stars and wind. He created all the plants that grow on the earth. He created the animals and painted their individual colours and markings, and gave them all names. Then came human beings, and he put life into them; and gave to them all the weapons and implements they now have, and he implanted in them the knowledge of how to take all these things for themselves. Thus their hunting and gathering way of life was ordained from the very beginning and =/Gao!na ordained that when they died they should become spirits, //Gerais, who would live in the sky with him and serve him. He set the pattern of life for all things, each in accordance with its own rules.

The !Kung gods, are endearing in that they provide a sense of meaning about life, death and existence for a people who live largely in autonomous small family groups, which only seasonally gather in bands, without the coercive aspects of deity we find in the moral imperatives of Near Eastern Monotheism. They are thus in a sense ancestors, advisors and arbiters of the paradoxes of mortal fate without jealously demanding the slave-like fealty of their worshippers. One can also see how universal the transition is, from Son to God, as trickster heros become creator deities. Here we have all the components of sophisticated theology from a graduated genesis of life the universe and everything to the sense of affinity between raw physical existence and the spirit realm beyond. We can also see how gods gain personalities with all-too human emotions such as love and jealousy, in the cosmic inflation from hero to deity.

  1. Fielder, Christine and King, Chris 2004 Sexual Paradox Lulu Press
  2. Johnson, Peter; Bannister, Anthony; Wannenburgh, Alf The Bushmen, New Holland Publishing Cape Town.
  3. Shostak, Marjorie 1981 Nisa, Harvard Univ. Pr., Boston.
  4. van der Post, Laurens and Taylor, Jane Testament to the Bushmen Penguin Books, UK.


, , , ,

No comments: