Indo-Chinese Mythology

Quick Reference

The Austroasiatic and Austronesian peoples—the indigenous people of southern Indo-China—believe that everything was created by Ndu or Adei, the most important of the yang (spirits, sacred beings), who, although he provided milk and rice and otherwise provides for the people through particular expressions of yang, is, like the Hindu Brahman (see Brahman), a nonpersonal absolute that is everywhere and nowhere. Ndu/Adei can take form, however. There are many stories of Ndu's entering the world to assist humans. A story is told, for instance, of the culture hero, the orphan (Ddoi/Drit), who was refused rice by his uncle. As he wanders hungry along the road the young man meets Ndu in the form of an old man. Ndu gives the boy magic seeds for an abundant harvest of rice and brings about the death of the uncle, and he even provides a bride. Also important among tribes such as the Sre and the Jörai are female figures. There is a female sun and an old woman called Mother Bush or Dung-Dai, who is sometimes the wife of Adei.

The Sre people envision a world of many levels with the earth in the middle. Ndu was helped in the creation by the spirit Bung, who brought up plants from the lower worlds through a hole. For the Jorai, the earth is like a basket within another upside down basket that is the sky. Adei is king of the sky. The people emerged into the earth from a lower world, also by way of a small hole. Students of Native mythology of the American Southwest will note the likeness of this myth to the emergence creation myths typical of this area.

In the Jörai mythology, humans and animals conversed in ancient times and humans could fly. There was no death, and humans were like yang. It was only when men abused their paradise that Adei left them and they had to work to live. The Sre say that Ndu offered humans the water of immortality but that they found the water too cold and therefore only dipped their hands and feet and hair in it. So it is that people die but their hair and nails keep growing.

The Austrasians have a flood (see Flood) myth in which we are told that the only survivors of the deluge were a brother and sister who protected themselves in a drum. These two became the first human ancestors. Among the Austronesian tribes, it is a mother and son who survive. In both cases it is incest that becomes the basis for new life. As incest is taboo, sacrifices are necessary to purify what is essentially a flawed existence from which Ndu/Adei remains aloof and in which animals and humans are no longer in direct communication. All of the indigenous people of the Indo-Chinese region await an apocalypse or “cold darkness” at some future time.

There are many Austrasian and Austronesian myths in which the connection between the world of the yang and that of humans is reestablished by beings who take animal form or by spirits sent down to earth in human form. In one story the sun attracts a young man to the upper world by sending a spirit in the form of a beautiful woman to seduce him. In other stories a particular species of monkey is thought to be a remaining link between heavenly beings and earthly ones.


Subjects: Religion.

Reference entries