‘The teaching of South American myths serves to provide general laws for the resolution of problems concerning the nature and development of thought.’
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques II.
‘Those who (in philosophy) make use of myth are unworthy of serious consideration’.
The reflections presented here were intended to help clarify a specific problem; the problem of the relationship between mythical thought, primitive society and history. This problem, met abstractly by every anthropologist in the exercise of his discipline, was posed unavoidably for me in a practical sense when I had to begin to analyse the material I had collected between 1967 and 1969 concerning the myths and magical-religious practices of the Baruya, a tribe from the interior of New Guinea.
To give an idea of this material, here is a version of the Baruya myths about the origins of the world and of human history—a version which contains the essential features of several variants of those myths: Originally the Sun and the
This text thus gives us an account of the origin of the world and the men who exist today, an account which starts not from the void but from a primaeval state in which distinct realities—the earth and the sky, the sun and the moon, men and spirits, plants and animals, etc.—had not yet become separated and disconnected from each other. In a first phase, through the action of the sun and moon, this disconnection was accomplished and the world took on its present configuration, whose architecture is based on the balanced interplay of those two opposed persons/principles, the sun and the moon, through whom the hot and the cold, the dry and the wet, the burnt and the rotten, etc., came about.