When I teach evolution, I have a brief section about evolution and creation. It is a science course and I do not spend a lot of time on this. One of the things I do in this course is to introduce the students to versions of creation from outside Christianity, such as the new Native American creationism espoused by Vine Deloria Jr. and the Muslim creationism of Harun Yahya. But this semester, I had two students from Africa. One of them told me about the creation stories of her people, the Yoruba. I would like to present the account that she gave to us, the ÌTÀN ÌSÈDÁ ÃYÉ.
“In the beginning of the world, there was nothing except a ball of water. And Olódùmãrè (the Almighty) sent Õdùduwà to Òbìrí Ãyé (the round Earth) to plant the earth. Õdùduwà left heaven with a horn full of sand and a chicken. He poured (planted) the sand on the surface of water, so that he can step on a ground. He then placed the chicken on the ground. The chicken helped spread the sand all over. The areas where the chicken was able to reach are the land we have today. Õdùduwà saw to it that the surface of the earth was covered part land and water so that there is a form. And several years passed by………………..
“Meanwhile, Sokoti (the blacksmith of heaven) has been assigned to mold every form of creature he could imagine to fill the formed earth. Sokoti used his artistic ability to mold different kinds of creatures with different colors and skins. Unfortunately, Sokoti was a drunkard. This made it hard for him to get his job done right. One day in his drunken state, he molded different forms of creatures and sent them to earth without a quality test of assurance. These creatures were the monkeys, baboons, chimps, and gorillas.
“On one of his sober days, Sokoti framed out a fine creature and made different forms it in various colors and diversity with sand, clay, and mud. Some he fashioned them with large breasts, and left some bare. He created them such that they were like a puzzle that could fit into each other. These creatures were the most perfect of all he had made. He sent them into the world and they were called Eniyan (humans).
“After few years, there was conflict between the apes and humans. They couldn’t live together in harmony. The apes were rejected and ignored by humans. They decided to end this conflict by consulting with each other. They chose a representative who will go to Olódùmãrè on their behalf. Olódùmãrè gave instructions that they should congregate at the mountain in three days time, where he would prepare a potion of oil in a giant basin. They are to rub their skin with this oil to become human. The apes were so excited that they drank, danced and forgot what day it was. By the time they remembered, the oil had almost dried up. They managed to rub their faces, hands, and feet with the remaining oil but it wasn’t enough. Some rub their butts and chests against the basin, but still not enough. This is why apes have faces, hands, butts, and feet that are almost bare.”
This story illustrates two things. First, it shows that there are many creation accounts. Christian creationists assume that disproving evolution would prove their version of Christianity. Second, it shows how a supposed harmony between creation and evolution can be forced, no matter what kind of creationism it is. It can be Christian creationism, as when generations of religious scientists have tried to harmonize Genesis and geology. But it can also be done with the Yoruba account. As my student explained, the primordial Earth was mostly water (the continents arose later); this is the Òbìrí Ãyé of the legend. The adiye chicken could have been a tyrannosaur or an archaeopteryx. It took time for Sokoti to perfect the design of the human, just as it took evolution a long time to produce us. Sokoti used different materials, such as sand or clay, of different textures and colors to produce different species, and different human races, just as evolution has produced diversity. And Sokoti, like sexual selection, produced genders of humans who fit together like puzzle pieces. See? The Yoruba legend fits together with modern science!
Attempts to reconcile religion and science, from Augustine to Francis Collins in the western world, and all over the world, is an exercise in creativity rather than a discovery of truth.
I appreciate the contribution that my student made to our class, and I think no one in the class (except the other Yoruba student) had experienced anything like it.