by Ron Meshanko

The Huli Creation myth states that deities also existed before the world was created. There were deities besides Honabe, the first deity to visit earth. However, the myth does not state who these deities were or their relationship to Honabe and the world she created. The myth infers that the deities lived in a realm separate from the earth, for Honabe was the first deity to inhabit the land. The Huli believe that many deities, such as Ni and Hana, the sun and moon deities, live in the sky. The Origins of Man myth states that Datagaliwabe was the original male deity to come from the sky.

Huli symbolism, especially trees and ladders, attests to the separation of earth and sky, land and deities. The Ira Hari tree at Kelote is venerated as a sacred tree through which all of the earth’s waters pass into the heavens only to fall again as rain. Men tried to build a bridge to heaven on this tree using rope and timber but were unsuccessful. Their language was confused as they worked on the bridge, resulting in the disruption of their plans to reach the abode of the deities but also the creation of various languages. In the Haroli myth, a young man climbs a tree into heaven where he is given the plans and instructions for constructing the Haroli cult grounds and the bachelor rituals. The Origins of Man myth depicts the first man climbing a tree to avoid the attack of a snake when a rope suddenly falls from heaven and carries him to the safe dwelling of the gods. These symbols reoccur in the millenarian cults of the Huli.

Mountains and hills are also sacred to the Huli in that they are the dwelling place of dama dayanda, the mountain deities. Mountain peaks symbolize the place where the sky and earth meet – a central point where deities dwell. The Kelote cave, the central Huli gebeanda or religious shrine, is located on top of a high cliff overlooking the Tagari river. It is there that Helahuli, the founder of all cultural groups known to the Huli, is believed to dwell.

The creation myth does not mention the identity of the original sky gods. Perhaps these deities were no longer considered important, or their significance waned in light of other religious needs. This appears to be the case with Datagaliwabe, a powerful, giant High-God who looks down from the sky to punish any breaches of the Huli moral code of behavior. He is not worshipped in any way. Mircea Eliade contends that supreme deities like Datagaliwabe were the original sky gods who created the land and other deities. 1 They were replaced by fertilizing deities: fecundators, sun gods, and demi-urges in the face of more dynamic, concrete and familiar theophany. 2  The fact that Datagaliwabe is a deus otiosus. powerfully present in the  minds of the Huli but lacking any form of worship, suggests that he was the original sky god or deity. He was replaced by Honabe, the demi-urge from whom all life flowed, and her children, Ni and Hana, who are the focus of many Huli fertility rites, especially tege pulu and dindi gamu. Korimogo, Helabe, Piandela, Helahuli and the seven other deities also subsumed the role of the ancient sky god Datagaliwabe.  Eliade’s statement that “the supreme sky god everywhere gives place to other religious forms” 3 seems most applicable to the Huli religious experience.

Thus, it is clear that the earth, the habitation of humans, and the sky, the abode of the deities, were originally separated until Honabe visits the earth. Trees, ropes, ladders and mountains are symbolic expressions of the human desire to breach the gap between them and the deities. It is highly possible that Datagaliwabe, the Huli high-god, was the original supreme sky god who slowly faded into the background of religious consciousness and was replaced by Honabe, the Huli demi-urge, Ni and Hana, and other powerful fecundators. The Hull concern for fertility which pervades their religious expression led to the shifted emphasis on fecundators. 

  1. Mircea Eliade, Patterns of Comparative Religions, p. 46. []
  2. Ibid., p. 52. []
  3. Ibid, p. 99. []

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