Why Are Myths Necessary? Memories of the End and the Beginning of the World by Toshiaki ISHIKURA

The Necessity of Myths

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? These questions that troubled the French painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) over a century ago are still pressing questions for us who live in the 21st century. How do we comprehend this world that we were born into? Are we really capable of comprehending it? Children acquire different knowledge from adults; and adults acquire different knowledge from others. We have learned endless answers from our parents, relatives, friends, teachers, books, textbooks as well as works of art. Even so, there are still fundamental puzzles about this world that are unanswered; these puzzles remain puzzling. 

 

On the other hand, literature, art, cinema, music, theater and philosophy have bravely challenged these existential questions that science has failed to provide definitive answers. Art, which humans have consistently and steadfastly created, is a technique to construct small harmonies between the beginning and the end of the world. The multiple yet small harmonies constructed in art, though puny, are precious and have, in an indispensable manner, sustained our everyday life. Ideas and feelings of artists that permeate the order and chaos of this universe have attached to the rhizome of artistic creation. When we embark on the journey of this path, we are able to really perceive the profound world behind the works of art. Interestingly, myths have served as a way to respond to such a profoundly creative question since the ancient time. Myths, from an unknown realm, have been urging our thinking, teaching us about the origin of the world, and describing the secrets of the world’s end and beginning. At a time when writing, drama, painting, sculpture, film and animation were still non-existent, myths provide humankind a framework to understand the world, to describe humanity’s courage of exploring the inner world, and to weave out the wisdom of coexistence between human beings and other species. 

 

Myths were once carved in caves and on rocks, embedded in paintings and writings, and continuously passed down through the memory of oral tradition. Taiwan’s indigenous community has also inherited the culture of sharing different myths. Sadly, as electric light generated by the scientific civilization has lit the anthropocentric grand history, the fire passed down from the ancient time has become fainter, and the memory of human being’s coexistence with nature has gradually faded into oblivion. Nonetheless, those important parts in myths are preserved through other mediums, being converted and translated, living on until now. In places like Taitung, where the population is still predominantly indigenous, the creative spirit of myths is still passed down through generations in the contemporary era even though the traditional way of life is slowly changing. Through reading myths and legends, we are able to retrace the origin to evoke the memories about the end and the beginning of the world. 

 

Myths about the “End” and the “Beginning” of the World

Celebrated anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) defines myths in his characteristically succinct yet charismatic way—myths are stories born from the distant ancient times when animals and humans were unseparated and not yet occupied their distinct territories in their separated worlds. For Lévi-Strauss, myths constitute “human being’s oldest philosophy” that represents the ancient people’s serious thinking about “communication between human beings and the rest species”; myths are, therefore, a treasure vault that emphasizes on ecology and biodiversity. What this philosophy speaks about is the crucial wisdom of how human beings, after separating ourselves from other living beings in this world since the invention of instruments, writing and weaponry, can regain a harmonious relationship with this world. 

 

However, after examining Japanese and Taiwanese myths, I could not help wondering: is it really right to limit the essential definition of myths to “the communication between animals and humans?” For instance, one magnificent myth told on the Japanese islands is one about the brothers, Yamanosachihiko and Uminosachihiko, the former being the older brother who was good at fishing and exchanged his fishing hooks with the younger hunter brother for his arrows. After a series of argument derived from the exchange, the genealogy of the gods eventually emerged through the conflicts. This myth is not only found on the islands of Japan but also in the oceanic myths told in Indonesia and other Pacific islands, where the motif of rivaling brotherhood could be found in the local myths. In Japanese myths particularly, such motif has been interpreted as characterizing the historical rivalry and reconciliation between “the people of the ocean” and “the people of the mountain.” In these myths, we not only see the relationship between humans and animals. What is revealed is the landscape and space of the mountain and the ocean, or the relationships between all living and non-living things in between.

 

In Taiwan, there are also many widespread myths, such as travelogues, heroic stories, legends about demons or foreigners. Specifically, Taiwanese indigenous peoples that possess rich diversity, when talking about the creation myths of their tribes, have mentioned “the end of the world” by flood before those that survived could recreate “the beginning of the world.” This is rather unique and meaningful. Flood myths such as this have disappeared in Japanese myths, including Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) and Kojiki (The Chronicles of Ancient Events). However, in places such as Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands and Miyako Islands, similar flood myths could still be found. The expansive area encompassing the central and Kanto regions in mainland Japan is believed to be where “Dosho-shin” (the traveler’s guardian deity) originated and passed down through generations. As a matter of fact, the background of the “Dosho-shin” belief is a catastrophic myth involving “the end of the world” caused by tsunami, earthquake and deluge in the primitive period. In this myth, the surviving brother and sister, setting the issue of incest aside, become husband and wife, creating offspring that sustain a new world. 

 

In fact, beyond the Japanese borders, one can find traces of similar myths in Taiwan. In Japanese myths, it is usually the mythological catfish living beneath the earth that causes earthquakes or floods, whereas it is the eel or snake that dives into the sea and blocks up the “grand cave” at the bottom of the sea, causing floods in Taiwan. There is also a myth regarding a tsunami caused by pregnant women’s flipping stones and gathering corals. In these stories, the survivors that lived through the trials of the subsiding flood witnessed “the beginning of the world.” Therefore, we can conclude that these stories do not focus on the wonder of gods who create the world, but the process of how living and non-living beings help each other to construct a shared world. When these elements are gathered and examined, we can understand that the myths do not aim to convey the relationship between “humans and animals,” but instead the inseparable relationship between humans and the infinite world around us. 

 

Contemporary Myths and Art

The common ground between Taiwanese and Okinawan myths is that “memories of the world’s end” are introduced by earthquakes or disasters, which shape the existing legacy on these islands. The natural disasters are sometimes not purely imaginary, and most of the time, related to disasters that have actually happened. For instance, Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands were struck by a massive tsunami, commonly called the Meiwa Tsunami that followed the Yaeyama Earthqauke in 1771. This catastrophe caused more than ten thousand deaths and missing people. It was a massive tsunami that reached thirty meters in height; and consequently, one can imagine that the tsunami might have also hit the eastern shore of Taiwan. Similarly, Okinawa Islands and Taiwan had encountered tsunamis approximately every one hundred to one thousand years, which caused massive casualties on these islands. These seismic events and tsunamis in real life were recounted repeatedly by people and later became the local myths. 

 

What approaches should we use to capture the memory of such a disaster or destructive event? When thinking about this matter, I believe that the distortion of the past is unavoidable. What I am interested is that Europe, like Japan and Taiwan, also underwent a major earthquake during the same period. It is recorded that the massive earthquake in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, in 1755 caused a tsunami that took more than then thousand lives, with a total death toll reached around fifty to sixty thousand people. The earthquake and the tsunami that accompanied the seismic event was not simply a massive catastrophe but a cataclysmic event that shook the core of the European culture. Writers and philosophers, including Voltaire (the pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), started investigating and studying earthquakes. Therefore, I think the myths revolving tsunami in Taiwan and Japan constitute the spiritual legacy equally powerful to what the European thinkers have passed down. 

 

In my opinion, myths that capture and absorb these calamitous memories in the forms of “the end of an old world” and “the beginning of a new world” demonstrate tremendous possibilities. Myths, at least from the appearance, are mostly considered products of a domain utterly different from contemporary art; however, with qualities inseverable from history, myths cannot be completely erased; instead, they have been passed down in numerous forms in the world. To reiterate the importance of myths, I work with Japanese photographer Shitamichi Motoyuki, musician Yasuno Taro, architect Nousaku Fuminori and curator Hattori Hiroyuki to co-create a collaborative art project featuring the topic of “tsunami rocks,” rocks that have been rolled up from the bottom of the ocean onto the shore by tsunamis. 

 

This creative project adopted the title Cosmos-Eggs and was showcased in the Japan Pavilion in the 2019 Venice Biennale. This collaborative project, along with myths related to tsunamis, also introduced myths about “the cosmos eggs” related to the origin of the world. With Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands as the central area, there are many “tsunami rocks” proudly standing in the surrounding regions, serving as precautionary marks that natural disasters lurk in the unknown future, forming threats to our everyday life. However, the expansive mythological world also informs a background that surpasses Japanese borders, where a grand mythological world exists and unfolds. During this trip to The Hidden South, from the myths of Taitung’s indigenous community, I have discovered crucial elements forgotten in myths from the regions of Miyako and Yaeyama Islands. The world of abundance described in the indigenous myths from Taitung has not only afforded our creative project a new impetus, but also assured me that these myths could be an important source of inspiration for many and more artistic activities and academic research. I would like therefore to pay my deepest gratitude to those who have kept these important myths alive in the contemporary era.

 

 

 

神話為何必要?世界的末日與起始的記憶

 

文 石倉敏明

 

神話的必要性 

我們從何而來?我們身為何物?我們往哪裡去?一百多年前,法國畫家保羅.高更(Paul Gauguin,1848-1903)所苦惱的這些疑問,對於出生於21世紀的我們而言,依舊仍是迫切的問題。我們如何理解這個孕生自己的世界?是否真能確實理解?孩童從成人身上獲取各種知識,而成人也是從他人身上取得各種知識;我們從父母和親戚、從朋友、從老師、從讀物與教科書、亦或從藝術作品中捕獲諸多答案,然而即便如此,關於世界的根本謎題至今仍未獲得解答,謎題依舊是謎題。

 

在這個科學不敢斷言的人類存在主義的問題跟前,文學、美術、電影、音樂、戲劇和哲學則勇敢地不停向其挑戰。我們耗費偌大精力持續不懈創作的藝術,也是一種在世界的起源與終結之間構築其微小和平的技術。藝術所構築的複數微小和平,雖然弱小,卻彌足珍貴,以不可或缺的姿態充實且維持著我們的日常。遍佈在宇宙的秩序與渾沌間的表現者之思想與感覺,依附在藝術創造的根莖裡,我們踏上這條路徑,便得以碰觸隱匿於作品背後那個深奧世界的真實感覺。十分有趣的是,神話自古以來便試著回應具有如此深奧創造性的問題;神話在我們未知之地鞭策我們的思想,授與我們世界的由來,向我們細說其末日與起始的秘密。而在那個文字、戲劇、繪畫、雕刻、電影和動畫皆尚未存在的時代裡,神話提供世人理解自身世界的框架,述說探索人類心之奧秘的勇氣,紡繡出與人類以外的諸種生物及非生物共生共存的智慧。

 

神話曾經被鑿刻於洞窟和岩石上、被藏匿進繪畫與文字裡、在口頭傳承的記憶中生生不息。台灣的原住民亦是有著將幾種不同的神話共同傳承的文化。可惜的是,科學文明的電光照亮人類中心主義的大歷史同時,循古傳承的燈火漸弱,人類與自然的共存記憶隨之被淡忘。但即便如此,神話重要的那些部分仍藉由他種媒介,被轉換及被翻譯,繼續存活於現今,在像是台東這樣有著許多原住民生活的土地上,即使傳統生活方式逐漸改變,仍似乎可見神話的創造性精神依然強而有力地在當代劫劫長存。透過閱讀神話與傳說,我們再度尋溯源流,企圖喚醒世界末日與起始的記憶。

 

「世界末日」與「世界起始」的神話 

著名人類學家克洛德.李維史陀(Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908–2009)曾經以他那十分簡單且充滿魅力的方式如此定義神話:「所謂神話,是在動物與人類還未被一分為二、各自在宇宙所佔有的領域尚未被明確區分的遠古時代中誕生的故事。」對於李維史陀而言,神話是古代人類針對「人類與人類以外的東西之間的交流」之命題去認真思考的「人類最古老的哲學」,也是重視生態及其生物多樣性的知識寶庫。這個哲學所述說的,是關於在道具、文字、武器的發明後,將自己從其他生物的世界中切割開來的人類,如何再次取得與這個世界產生調和關係的重要智慧。

 

然而,在調查日本和台灣的神話之後,「將神話的本質定義侷限在『動物與人類的交流』上真的好嗎?」這樣的疑問不禁浮上心頭。譬如在日本列島的神話中流傳著一個壯麗的神話,是關於在海上擅長漁獵的哥哥「海幸彥」拿釣針與在山中擅長狩獵的弟弟「山幸彥」交換箭矢,因而延伸出一系列的相互爭執,最後,諸神的系譜便在這些衝突事件中被確立。這樣的神話並非僅在日本列島存在,在印尼及太平洋諸島的海洋神話中,也常見隱藏著兄弟對立命題的神話。在日本的神話中,特別將其解釋為「海之民」和「山之民」的對立與和解之歷史表徵,在這樣神話中所顯現的,並不只有人類與動物的關係,而是山海那般的景觀與空間,亦或棲息於山海間所有生物及非生物的關係。

 

在台灣,也有許多神話被廣為流傳,包括異鄉遊記、英雄列傳、妖怪或異族的傳說等。特別是具有豐富多樣性族群來歷的台灣原住民,分別講述其部落的創世神話時,提起被洪水所淹沒的「世界末日」之後,倖存的生物們再度創造一個全新「世界起始」的情節,更是獨特且意味深長。像是這樣的洪水神話,在《日本書紀》和《古事記》等日本神話中已然佚失,然而在沖繩的八重山諸島和宮古諸島上,卻流傳著同樣的洪水神話。而在日本本土,以中部地區和關東地區為中心的廣闊範圍,作為「道祖神」的信仰起源之地被代代相傳著,其實,「道祖神」之信仰的背景故事,正是在原初的時代中,發生大海嘯、大地震和大洪水等招致「世界末日」的災害神話。在這個神話中,倖存的兄妹倆排除了近親相姦的問題,結為夫妻生兒育女,創造了新的世界。

 

事實上越過國境,在台灣也殘留有許多這類型的神話。在日本神話中,會導致地震或洪水的動物形象,以棲息在大地底下的鯰魚神話居多。而在台灣,多是鰻魚或蛇潛入海底,將海底的「大洞穴」塞住而引發洪水的神話;還有懷有身孕的女性因翻動海邊的石頭、撿拾珊瑚等舉動,而招來大海嘯的傳說。無論是哪個故事,等待糟糕的洪水退去,挺過試煉的生存者便能經驗「世界的起始」。我們可以得知,在這些故事中所描寫的,並不是多麽厲害的神祇創造了世界,而是諸種生物和非生物如何互助合作,與此同時再建構出一個共通世界的過程。當調查到這樣的要素後,便能理解到神話企欲傳達的不僅是「人類與動物」的關係,而是我們與森羅萬象間不可分離的關係。

 

當代的神話與藝術 

台灣神話跟沖繩神話的共同點為,皆能經由地震或災害帶來「世界終結的記憶」,將諸島上存有的傳承形塑出來。這樣的災害並非是純粹想像下的產物,大多數與實際發生的災害有關聯,譬如沖繩的八重山諸島在歷經1771年的八重山地震時,遭到被稱為「明和大海嘯」的巨大海嘯侵襲諸島,死亡人數與失蹤人數超過了一萬人。這是一場浪高最高達30公尺的大規模海嘯,可以想見,當時這個海嘯也掃過了台灣的東部。如同這場海嘯一樣,沖繩諸島和台灣諸島皆以百年至千年一次的頻率被巨浪吞沒,每每都是造成島民大量傷亡的海嘯。大概就是這些在現實世界曾經發生的地震和海嘯所帶來的諸多事件,在民間被流傳著,進而變成各地的神話。

 

這樣的災害或毀滅性事件的記憶,在當代藝術中應該用什麼方法去捕捉呢?在思考這件事的時候,我想,必然再一次扭解過去的歷史。令我非常感興趣的是,大約與日本和台灣同一個時期裡,歐洲也經歷了大地震,據說在1755年發生於葡萄牙里斯本的大地震,包含因隨之席捲而來的海嘯死亡的一萬人,死亡人數總數高達五萬至六萬人左右。那次的地震與海嘯造成的並非只是一場純粹的巨大災難,而是撼動了歐洲全體的文化,伏爾泰(François-Marie Arouet,1694-1778)與康德(Immanuel Kant,1724-1804)等作家和哲學家皆開始針對地震做考察研究行動。因此我想,台灣與日本所流傳的海嘯神話,是具有和歐洲思想家們所留存下來的脈絡同等強大的精神遺產。

 

我認為,將如此這般大災害的記憶以「舊世界的末日」和「新世界的起始」的姿態捕捉吸收的神話蘊含著極大的可能性。神話這種東西,至少就表面看起來,多數被認為跟當代藝術是在迥然不同的世界裡。然而,在其與歷史有著無法切割的性格上,是無法被徹底消滅的,反而在世界中以各種不同的形式被傳承下去。為了再次聚光於其重要性之上,我與日本的影像作家下道基行、音樂家安野太郎、建築師能作文德以及策展人服部浩之,以因大海嘯從海底被捲運至陸地上的「海嘯石」為主題,共同創作一項集合式的藝術作品。

 

這個創作計畫以「Cosmo-Eggs|宇宙之卵」為題,於2019年威尼斯雙年展日本館中公開展示。我們在這個共同創作的計畫中,連帶與海嘯相關的神話,也將介紹與世界起始相關的「宇宙卵」神話。以沖繩的八重山諸島為中心,周圍的地區多有「海嘯石」散佈矗立,向我們警示著,在這個行止坐臥的日常中,有著不知何時來到的天災威脅。然後,在其背景所描述的廣大神話世界裡,也告訴著我們,超越日本的國境,一個宏大的神話世界就開展在那裡。此次的「南方以南」之行,我在台東的原住民神話中,發現了在宮古諸島、八重山諸島等兩個地區的神話中已然被忘卻抹去的重要元素。台東原住民神話中所描繪的那個豐饒世界,不僅給予我們的創作計畫一股動力,我確信從現在開始,它們也能為多數的藝術活動與學術研究帶來重要的靈光。我想對於在當代繼續傳頌著這些重要的神話,並且繼承這些神話的人,致上最深的謝意。

 

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本文收錄於《a firetime story》(「南方以南」群記),2021年3月出版。
This article is featued in the book, a firetime story (notes to The Hidden South), published in Mar 2021.
 

 

Photography Etang Chen
攝影 陳藝堂