Posted by: Lister | March 3, 2007

Dry Hands and Spicey Soup

I’m an atheist, but I can appreciate a good story. I first read about Wulbari in Simon Singh’s “The Big Bang”.

The Krachi people of Togo in West Africa speak of another giant, the vast blue god Wulbari, more familiar to us as the sky. There was a time when he lay just above the Earth, but a woman pounding grain with a long timber kept prodding and poking him until he raised himself above the nuisance. However, Wulbari was still within reach of humans, who used his belly as a towel and snatched bits of his blue body to add spice to their soup. Gradually, Wulbari moved higher and higher until the blue sky was out of reach, where it has remained ever since.

What struck me then was the image of a people with quick access to a God — and all they wanted from him were dry hands and spicey soup.

Singh was using creation myths from various parts of the world to illustrate the main qualitative differences between past myths (stories) and modern cosmology. EG: argument rather than revelation; natural (rather than divine and mysterious) processes. He quotes Thomas Huxley: “The great tragedy of science — the slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact.” In science, truth is measured by something other than taste.

Here’s a fuller version of the Wulbari story, which spoils the effect of Singh’s version in that the people do ask for a little more. And the order of events is different. I can choose to belive Singh’s version is the correct one. But hey, that’s art.

A mortar short of Wulbari? That sounds like a euphemism for madness.



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