Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1711/Belief in a Creator

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From The Gentleman's Magazine.


Few results of ethnology are more interesting than the wide-spread belief among savages, arrived at purely by their own reasoning faculties, in a Creator of things. The recorded instances of such a belief are, indeed, so numerous as to make it doubtful whether instances to the contrary may not have been based on too scant information. The difficulty of obtaining sound evidence on such subjects is well illustrated by the experience of Dobritzhoffer, the Jesuit missionary, who spent seven years among the Abipones of South America; for when he asked whether the wonderful course of the stars and heavenly bodies had never raised in their minds the thought of an invisible being who had made and guided them, he got for answer that of what happened in heaven, or of the maker or ruler of the stars, the ancestors of the Abipones had never cared to think, having enough to trouble themselves with in providing grass and water for their horses. Yet the Abipones really believed that they had been created by an Indian like themselves, whose name they mentioned with great reverence, and whom they spoke of as their "grandfather," because he had lived so long ago. He is still, they fancy, to be seen in the Pleiades; and when that constellation disappears for some months from the sky, they bewail the illness of their grandfather, and congratulate him on his recovery when he returns in May. Still, the creator of savage reasoning is not necessarily a creator of all things, but only of some, like Caliban's Setebos, who made the moon and the sun, and the isle and all things on it,

But not the stars; the stars came otherwise.

So that it is possible the creator of the Abipones was merely their deified first ancestor. For on nothing is savage thought more confused than on the connection between the first man who lived on the world and the actual creator of the world, as if in the logical need of a first cause they had been unable to divest it of human personality, or as if the natural idea of a first man had led to the idea of his having created the world. Thus Greenlanders are divided as to whether Kaliak was really the creator of all things, or only the first man who sprang from the earth. The Minnetarrees, of North America, believe that at first everything was water, and there was no earth at all, till the first man, the man who never dies, the lord of life, who has his dwelling in the Rocky Mountains, sent down the great red-eyed bird to bring up the earth. The Mingo tribes, also, "revere and make offerings to the first man, he who was saved at the great deluge, as a powerful deity under the master of life, or even as identified with him;" whilst among the Dog-ribs the first man, Chapewee, was also creator of the sun and moon. The Zulus of Africa similarly merge the ideas of the first man and the creator, the great Unkulunkulu; as also do the Caribs, who believe that Louquo, the uncreated first Carib, descended from heaven to make the earth, and also to become the father of men. It seems, therefore, not improbable that savage speculation, being more naturally impelled to assume a cause for men than a cause for other things, postulated a first man as primeval ancestor, and then applying an hypothesis, which served so well to account for their own existence, to account for that of the world in general, made the father of men the creator of all things; in other words, that the idea of a first man preceded and prepared the way for the idea of a first cause.