The Canela Creation Story

After my wife Jo and I accepted the Canelas’ invitation 50 years ago to come and live with them in their jungle village in Brazil, we never heard a Canela pray. Why should they? Their Creator had abandoned them.

According to their world view, life was wonderful in the beginning:

Food was plentiful and easy to gather. Palms were not tall like they are now, but short, and their fruits and nuts could be plucked easily. Field-making and gardening tools like axes, machetes, and hoes didn’t need anyone to handle them; they worked by themselves. 

Holding the Canela New Testament translation, Jo Popjes talks with some Canela friends.

The Canalas believed that one day, Sun and Moon came to earth, to populate the earth with strong, beautiful people, and to set precedents that would benefit these descendants. Sun’s super-power was knowledge. He knew the purpose for their coming to earth and knew what Moon needed to do.

Moon’s super-power was to set patterns. Whatever Moon did would last forever.  Moon, however, depended on Sun to tell him what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, Moon liked to do things his own way, even if it meant disobeying Sun.

Even though Sun taught Moon how to care for plants, let the tools work on their own and even how to create beautiful children, Moon’s impulsive actions brought more hardship and suffering to the world. Palms grew taller; tools no longer worked on their own; the children he created were ugly, and when they died their deaths became permanent instead of temporary.

“It’s because I am all wrong and twisted in my thinking,” Moon lamented. “My way of thinking and living is all wrong. But now it is too late to change anything.”

Sun then decided they should return to the heavens. So they ascended to the sky and stayed there forever, never thinking about their children or returning to earth again.

When we worked with Canela helpers to translate the first few chapters of Genesis, they immediately identified the actions of Adam with those of Moon.

“Adam disobeyed the Creator, and that is why things are in such a mess on earth.”

When they read the translation of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “Because of what Adam did we all die, but because of what Jesus did, all will be made alive,” they exclaimed, “So our Creator did not abandon us. He sent His Son Jesus to set new patterns and make things right!” That’s when they started to pray to their Creator. They now call Him Pahpam—Our Father.

This story is a redemptive analogy. God has embedded such analogies to illustrate some aspect of redemption in every culture’s myths, legends, customs or language.


Adapted from a blog post on

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