- Richard Farr
“Tell me more about different cultures with spookily similar myths.”
In The Fire Seekers, Bill Calder is struck by the way similar myths emerge in cultures that have had no contact with one another, and in the notes there I mention some interesting cases of other Babel-like myths, or combinations of an ‘Eden / Tree of Knowledge’ myth with a ‘Babel’ myth. While writing Ghosts in the Machine, I read Sabine Kuegler’s memoir Child of the Jungle, about growing up among the Fayu, a tribe in Indonesian West Papua, during the 1980s. Before the Kueglers showed up, the Fayu had had no contact with Western influences such as Christianity, and yet part of their creation myth was the story of Bisa and Beisa. As Kuegler’s Fayu friend Kloru relates it:
There once was a large village with many people who all spoke the same language. These people lived in peace. But one day, a great fire came from the sky, and suddenly there were many languages. Each language was only spoken by one man and one woman, who could communicate only with one another and not with anyone else. So they were spread out over the earth. Among them were a man and a woman named Bisa and Beisa. They spoke in the Fayu language. For days they traveled, trying to find a new home. One day they arrived at the edge of the jungle, and it began to rain. The rain wouldn’t stop. Days and weeks it rained and the water kept rising.
Bisa and Beisa built themselves a canoe and collected many animals that were trying to escape from the water. As they paddled, they kept repeating, “Rain, stop! Thunder, stop! We are scared.”
But the rain wouldn’t stop. The water rose until it covered all the trees. Everything died in the flood. Everything except for Bisa, Beisa, and the animals in their canoe.
They had given up all hope when, days later, they suddenly came upon land. Bisa, Beisa and the animals got out of the boat and found themselves on top of a small hill. Before them they saw a cave leading into the earth. They crawled inside its cover, feeling great relief.
Soon afterward, it stopped raining, and the water disappeared. The animals swarmed into the jungle, but Bisa and Beisa stayed in the cave. They built themselves a home and had children, who themselves had children until they became a great tribe known as the Fayu.