Turtle Island and The Dawn Of Life

'Turtle Island' by David Parson

‘Turtle Island’ by David Parson

The more points we can collect on the starburst of cultural and evolutionary trajectories, the better we can understand ourselves and the environment that supports us.  

– Mark Engstrom, Deputy Director, Collections & Research, ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum has a mission to connect the study of nature with the arts and world cultures.  I am pursuing this theme here, with the help of the humble turtle.

Turtle Island is an Iroquois creation story.  It tells how a great tree was uprooted in the Sky World, and describes what followed when a pregnant woman fell through the hole.  (The story is posted in an exhibit at the ROM, and I have reproduced the text at the end of this post.)

Like many other creation stories, this one suggests that human beings were created from the outside, by centripetal forces.  The human spirit does not arise out of a natural process, but only arrives when the ground has been prepared, so to speak.  It is interesting to compare this with our modern scientific conception – that human beings evolve from inside nature, in a centrifugal process.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the proposed space for the ROM’s new Dawn Of Life Gallery is directly above tbe Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples.  Lots of opportunities for dialogue and new insights!

Iroquois Creation Story (in the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples)

Countless generations ago there existed beings who inhabited the Sky World. One day a great tree was uprooted in this world, creating a hole through which a pregnant woman fell. As she fell, the woman’s descent was broken by a flock of water fowl, who then placed her on the back of a great sea turtle. The water animals retrieved some earth from the bottom of the sea and placed it on the turtle’s back. As the woman walked about, the earth began to grow, forming Turtle Island.

In time the woman gave birth to a daughter. When the daughter reached womanhood, a spirit placed two arrows across her abdomen and she became pregnant with twins. The mother died during childbirth, and the twins argued incessantly as they grew to be young men. One twin created things of beauty, while the other twin created mischief. Eventually the twins fought, and the victorious brother turned to a final task. He formed a figure from the earth and gave it life. This being was the first of our people. – Iroquois Creation Story, posted at the ROM



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