A long time ago, Yhi, the goddess of the Sun, created the animals. She brought them to life by removing them from the icy depths of the earth. After that, she distributed them everywhere in the waters, on the surface of the earth or in the freedom of the heavens.
But as time went by, a subtle unease began to creep in among the animals: none of them felt satisfied with their form and way of life. Those who had been destined for water longed to live on earth; those who walked or crawled on the ground longed to possess wings that would enable them to fly in the skies. There was not a single animal in the world that could be saved from the contagion of discontent.
The beasts grew and multiplied, but they grew further and further away from Yhi, their common mother, the Sun goddess. They were hiding; they had lost their joy, their will to live. No more singing or shouting or chirping could be heard in the forest. Even the plants, herbs and flowers suffered to see their friends so melancholy.
One day when Yhi was strolling through the heavens, she noticed, looking benevolently towards the earth, that something had changed: every trace of joy and life seemed to have been erased. An inert and cold world, utterly uniform and unimaginative, offered itself to the goddess’s view.
Worried Yhi descended and landed on the plain of Nullabor. Someone in the distance saw her and sent a message: “She is back, hurry up. Yhi is back among us!” In a flash, a tide of animals rushed and surrounded the goddess. Anxious anticipation seemed to hover over the impromptu assembly.
“Come closer, – invited the goddess softly. – Tell me what afflicts you”. A chorus of confused voices rose up; at first faint, then more and more determined. Each one expressed its desires, its hopes, its frustrations. Higher and higher waves of sound overwhelmed the goddess. “Enough! Enough! – Yhi suddenly shouted, raising her arms over the noisy crowd. – If you all speak at once, how can I understand you? Please speak one at a time.”
The goddess then turned to a fawn that was standing beside her and looking at her with the sweetest of eyes. She said to him: “What is your wish”. The fawn replied: “Mother, give me a quick and swift body that will enable me to reach even the most inaccessible places and to hide in ravines when I am pursued”.
After the fawn came the kangaroo: he asked for strong legs to support him in his leaps and a tail with which he could balance his body. The bat applied for a pair of wings that would allow him to fly like a bird. The lazy lizard, in turn, confessed that he was tired of crawling painfully on his belly: he asked for a gift of legs on which he could stand. Shy, in a corner, the platypus meanwhile watched as his companions got what they asked for from the goddess. He felt confused; he really did not know what desire to express.
In her wisdom, the Sun Goddess smiled as she listened to that tumultuous blossoming of desires. Her animals were being enriched with different parts, but she knew that as a result their living habits would change somewhat. Nevertheless, her motherly love could not resist those insistent requests.
The owl, which had asked for large, sparkling eyes, would in future be forced to hide in dark places during the day and only come out in search of food in the darkness of the night. The silkworm would have to spend days and days imprisoned in its cocoon before transforming into a multi-coloured butterfly. In turn, the pelican would be condemned to remain motionless for hours on end, standing upright on its legs and submerged in water, to be able to swallow a few small fish.
Yhi smiled because she knew well that, should their wishes be granted, the animals she loved so much would have to face a hard life that would require sacrifice, courage and perseverance. The Sun Goddess greeted her friends, inviting them to scatter to the four corners of the world. Times would follow times, imperceptibly producing remarkable changes in the animals – in their forms and in their kinds of life.
One day the king of creation, man, would be called upon by the gods to rule the world. And even today, seeing the endless species of beasts that populate the earth, man wonders in amazement where such diversity and abundance came from. Animals crawl, run, swim, leap, fly. Perhaps man does not know that one day a strange assembly was held on the plain of Nullabor.
“Where does man come from? “ The children ask the wise old men of the villages scattered over the endless expanse of the desert. After her intervention with the animals of the earth Yhi, the goddess of the Sun, returned to heaven to Baiame, the Great Spirit. He was thought, intelligence, life. But he had no body.
From on high Baiame had followed the assembly of animals with curiosity and when Yhi stood before him, sighing, he said: “It would please me too if the beasts would look at me and listen. Unfortunately, this is not possible because I am pure spirit. But I have an idea: I will clothe a piece of my spirit in flesh and place it on the earth. Then the animals will recognise me and love me as their father”.
“It seems to me, – replied Yhi – that if you place a little of your Spirit in an animal, the other beasts will not esteem you, and I am sure they will not give you the honour and love that you deserve.”
“I will put a little piece of the Spirit in them too, – he, the Baiame God concluded resignedly. And so, he did. The elephants, swans, geese, snakes, every bird in the sky and every fish in the sea received a tiny part of God. This is the force that governs every animal, and that is called instinct. It was at that time that the Great Spirit secluded Himself in a secret place to ponder upon the new creature that would be begotten of Him.
During his absence, indeed precisely because the Spirit of God was far away, a terrible storm was unleashed upon the earth, which grew more and more violent and lasted for days on end. It was a real deluge. As the water level rose and became more and more threatening, the frightened animals pushed themselves higher and higher up the mountainside. Finally, they found refuge in a vast cave that opened up almost to the top of the mountain. Here they lay dormant, silent, waiting for the storm to cease and for the waters to recede.
Meanwhile, in the mind of the god Baiame, the design of the new creature had matured: he would call it ‘man’. The form was not very dissimilar to that of an animal, but it would be more graceful, more harmonious. Above all, two things would distinguish the new being from all the others that populated the world: he would be upright on his legs and endowed with a lively intelligence, therefore able to understand things and with the ability to choose; he would not be a slave to instinct like all the other beasts that lived on earth.
As soon as God Baiame set his eyes upon the world again, the storm ceased. The waters retreated into their confines and a vast peace invaded the land. The animals looked at all the changes that took place. At last, as if emerging from a long hibernation, they decided to leave their shelter.
But they did not go far. Before they each reached their natural habitat, the eyes of them all fell on something they had never seen before: a strange animal stood in the middle of a clearing; it was beautiful, quiet, confident.
“Who is this stranger?” asked the kangaroo, whose surprise prevented a further leap. They were petrified: such a beast had never been seen on earth. Each animal recognised a small part of itself in the newcomer. But it was the whole thing that gave the impression of a marvellous creature: there must have been something extraordinary in that stranger.
The animals could not realise what that ‘something’ was; it was the Spirit of the god Baiame, the Creator of the world, who made himself visible on earth through man.
Gradually man learned to know the world. He did not know it, but he was the master, the king of creation, for this had been the will of the Great Spirit. Man enjoyed the company of animals, joked and had fun with them. But every evening a veil of sadness overshadowed his happiness: when the shadows covered the earth and every animal returned to its lair, man felt terribly lonely. He thought of the beauty of nature, smelt the scent of flowers and the sweet taste of fruit… then the sting of a strange dissatisfaction revealed to man that something was missing.
God Baiame soon realised that his favourite son was not happy: the man sympathised with animals, but this did not satisfy him. He realised, with a deep sense of disappointment, that the beasts possessed only a small piece of God’s Spirit, totally insufficient for a truly rewarding deep relationship. Finally, Baiame understood: man needed someone like him. And once again the god intervened.
That night the man slept an agitated sleep. Strange dreams raced through his mind, while an increasingly violent impulse drove him towards desires he did not know how to fulfil.
In the morning, when the first light of dawn opened the man’s eyes, he discovered with wonder that a new creature stood beside him; even more beautiful than himself, sweeter. Her roundness bewitched the man and her smile spoke a language completely unknown to him.
The two of them took each other by the hand and very naturally walked into the forest, while a thousand curious eyes flourished among the grasses and leaves. Man’s loneliness was over; the season of love was beginning for him. On the prairies and in the woods the animals, driven by that spark of the Spirit within them, gathered and danced at length, praising the God of Life in their own way.
(Illustration: 123rf.com – Folktale from Australia)