Yami Creation Myths

Forty-five nautical miles from the southeastern shore of Taiwan lays the island of Irala. Inhabiting Irala for thousands of years, the Yami of Indonesian decent enriches the island with a unique culture that is apparent in its ancient cosmology.

Although the Yami creation myth does not explain the creation of the universe, it does detail the creation of mankind. In the “Legend of Imulud”, shared through oral tradition, Imulud, the God of Creation, throws a stone from the heavens onto the island, which is void of human life. When the stone reaches land, it bursts open to give birth to the first human being, a man called the “Son of Stone”. Revelations from Imulud direct the Son of Stone towards the sea, where he finds a single reed of bamboo violently swaying with tidal winds. The bamboo suddenly splits open to reveal the second human being created by Imulud, reasonably known as the “Son of Bamboo”. Through divine intervention, the first two Yami women are born following the creation of man; according to Yami mythology, the women emerged from the knees of the Son of Stone and the Son of Bamboo.

Conflicts arise in the “Legend of Imulud” to anger the God of Creation—after the genesis of woman. In the myth, incest occurs between the children of the Son of Stone and the Son of Bamboo, thus provoking the God of Creation to punish the children of incest by making them blind and physically horrendous. This tale thus establishes sexual acts between immediate family members as taboo. The theme of mankind angering his creator is also apparent in the Book of Genesis in the Torah, in which God punishes man after finding that “every scheme of his heart’s devising was only perpetually evil” (Ch. 6). Similar to an artist demolishing a canvas on which he has painted, God destroys mankind with a tremendous flood. In both stories of creation, the power of a Supreme Being, as well as his wrath, are established. Another similarity in both stories is a theme of regenerating life from destruction. In the “Legend of Imulud”, after the God of Creation kills the blind offspring he creates a replacement generation for the children of the Son of Stone and the Son of Bamboo. In this next generation, however, incest does not occur; Imulud is pleased and does not punish the children. In the Book of Genesis, the Lord gives life to a new generation of man by saving Noah and his family. The theme of creation in The Book of Genesis and Yami mythology is also found within the Enumma Elish, in which mankind is created from the obliterated body of Qingu, Tiamat’s defeated general. Similarities between the “Legend of Imulud”, the Book of Genesis, and the Enumma Elish expose a theme of recreation from destruction and conflict.

The “Legend of Imulud” also discusses the importance of bamboo, fish, iron, and silver to the people of the Yami tribe. In the story of creation, the Son of Stone discovers iron, whereas the Son of Bamboo discovers silver. In the Yami tribe, it is custom to use silver as ornamentation of helmets, which are worn during religious rites and tribal ceremonies. Silver and iron, however, have no monetary use, because communalism dominates their social organization; the women share clothing that they make with other families, and the men share crops with other families as well. The significance of bamboo is seen not only in Yami creation mythology, but to many Asian cultures as well. As a staple resource of various Asian societies, bamboo has numerous uses ranging from supporting houses to being served as a delicacy. In the story of creation, a harmonious relationship between man and fish is also established, which reflects the importance of marine life as a food source essential to Yami survival. The “Legend of Imulud” not only serves to explain the genesis of man, but also establishes social mores and a cultural history.

Although the “Legend of Imulud” provides the Yami people with history, meaning, and purpose in life as well as the establishment of social codes, the story of creation fails to explain the Yami cosmogony, a question of: “From where did the gods come?” This aspect of the creation myth is similar even to the Book of Genesis and the Enumma Elish, which both avoid explaining the origins of The Prime Mover, which is Imulud in Yami mythology, the Lord in the Book of Genesis and Apsu and Tiamat in the Enumma Elish. This shows us that even in the worlds of mysticism and mythologies not everything has an explanation.

- Katherine Kuang