In the current debate regarding the teaching of the biblical creation model
versus the Darwinian model of human origins, we should also include other
creation stories, particularly those from the Western Hemisphere.
Indigenous creation stories, in other words. One in particular I am
familiar with -- a version of genesis that explains my world and how people
were created here in this continent.
The creation story of the Quiche' Maya of Guatemala is known as the Popol
Vuh, a sacred pre-Hispanic text. This version of the origins of humans
combines passages of divine intervention with empirical observations. What
could be better than a creation story that moves beyond the either/or
argument favored by both Christians and Darwinists?
In the modern era, the Maya inhabit the southern part of Mexico, Guatemala
and parts of Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Their ancestors were
astronomers par excellence of all ancient cultures and used a calendar more
accurate than the one we use now. They discovered the concept of "zero" in
mathematics (independent of the Arabic and other numeral systems); they
wrote down their histories using a phonetic system of language, the
undisputable mark of civilization. It seems obvious that a culture blessed
with such genius would also be blessed with a story of creation that we
should consider, if for no other reason than this story originates in the
Western Hemisphere, where we reside.
The Popol Vuh tells the story of genesis, of how the first humans were
created. Some parts of the Popol Vuh might sound familiar: a tremendous
flood, for example, washes away an early race of humans. And like the
Bible, it also tells many wonderful stories beside the one of creation.
In the Popol Vuh, before humans are created, the hero twins Hunaphu and
Ixbalenque must first overcome the lords of evil and darkness. They do this
by their wits alone. Not by force, but by wisdom, by knowledge. Knowledge
is power, in other words. It is only after this light of knowledge has been
brought to Earth that the creator gods make humans, because now humans will
have the brilliance -- the brains, in other words -- to think and
Other parts of the Popol Vuh are different from the Bible: the creator god
in the Maya cosmology is male and female, grandfather and grandmother. I
like this because it shows not just an empirical observation, but also the
natural order of the world -- to create life you need both male and female.
It also gives women a role in the process, just like in real life.
Here's another difference: Christians believe they are made of clay, but
here's what the Popol Vuh says: We are made of corn. I am a man made of
corn. It makes sense to me -- I am what I eat. I could argue that it is my
world that is the basis for creation in the Popol Vuh -- and this is
important: How else can I explain how I came to reside here in this
There must be a reason why -- perhaps even a divine reason -- the beautiful
creation story contained in the Popol Vuh has survived so long and is still
part of the beliefs and traditions of millions of people ... our neighbors,
So before rushing to endorse one model or the other -- creationism versus
Darwinism -- it might be wise to reflect on how indigenous peoples explain
their origins here, especially since there is no mention in the Bible of
this continent or its people. Besides the version in the original Quiche',
the Popol Vuh is available in Spanish and in English in a very modern
translation by Dennis Tedlock, who worked closely with Maya linguists and
religious figures to ensure accuracy of both content and context.
In the past 10 years, our knowledge of the Maya language has grown
exponentially; and this new version reveals many new and wonderful aspects
of this ancient, sacred text. The important thing is to move beyond the
We, in fact, have much more than two versions of creation to reflect on.
Every creation story has value for our society. They all teach us something
about the origins of different cultures and races, whether we accept them
on faith or not. We can let our heart decide.
Alejandro Murguia is a writer and professor of Raza studies at San
Francisco State University. He is the author of "The Medicine of Memory: A
Mexica Clan in California" (University of Texas Press) and the short-story
collection "This War Called Love" (City Lights Books).