Apocalypto and an anthropological myth

November 14, 2007

I posted this at my old blog a few days ago. Problem of using wordpress mobile, which I use when I have to use my phone as a modem, to save bandwidth, is that you easily post on the wrong blog.

Saw Apocalypto the other day. It’s Mel Gibson, so you find a lot of blood and guts. It’s about small tribes in Southern America that gets hunted by the Incas in order to be offered to the sun-god. In this ritual the heart is taken out, and smashed, for a short while it looks like the poor guy is still living. Then the head gets chopped of, and thrown down the temple, and then the body follows. There is a lot of running around, chasing some poor guy through the rainforest, all with panthers and snakes, and poisonous frogs, and Incas getting killed.

This is not what I want to write about though. Early in the movie the small tribe sits around the fire, and the eldest tell them the story about the origin of man. An anthropological myth (anthropos is the greek for man, I understand myth not as fairytale, but as the stories we use to make meaning out of existence). In their myth man made his wishes known to the animals. He wished power, knowledge, etc, and the animals gave him this. Power from the panther, and different gifts from all the animals. All except the owl. When man walked away, the owl told the animals that this has been an mistake. Since now man has everything he wants, and lacks nothing. Man will now just keep on taking and taking, until the earth has nothing more to give. (at least, this is how I remember it, it has been a few days).

After this myth, the film show the Incas just taking and taking, plundering people. And the film ends where the guy the film is about get onto the beach, and see the first ships from the European colonists arriving. Colonists who took and plundered more than the Incas ever could. Man just take and take and take. Sadly, this myth about the origin of man seem all to real.

In this myth I saw something of the realities of life, of human life. Of how humans treat each other, and treat the earth. Taking and taking, until she can give no more. In our own self-understanding I believe we need a new myth that would point to an anthropology which involve humans as caring. This myth should also involve how we exist in community, thus fighting against the myth of capitalism, in which everyone fend for him/herself, at the cost of someone else.

We could turn to our own Christian anthropological and creation myths, Genesis 1 and 2, Psalm 8. But I think we need to look at people first, before looking at the text. We need to see what our own self-understanding is. How do we interpret the anthropological and creation myths underlying these texts, how do we translate them into our own lives. I fear for what we would find in people. But, I think we might find some building blocks (maybe others will be needed as well) for an anthropological myth which will give us a self-understanding that might help when we talk about the problems of our day: ecology, poverty, AIDS…

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