Looking for a complete introduction to African mythology in just a few minutes? You’ve come to the right place! Read on !
The whole northern edge of Africa was more or less integrated into the zone of influence of the great civilizations of antiquity: the Mediterranean shores of the continent were well known.
Then the Arabs acquired a precise knowledge of the interior, up to the great black empires of West Africa. They also knew the eastern coasts very well, which were not ignored by the Chinese either. For Europeans, Africa remained a “mysterious continent” for a long time, and the exploration of the interior was not systematically carried out until late in the 19th century.
Does Africa have mythology?
The African mythology is both unique and impressively diverse. Although many peoples shared a common language and lived in close geographical proximity to one another, local beliefs varied greatly. There are of course common themes, characters and gods recurring in mythologies across the continent, but individual cultures generally had their own beliefs and customs.
How the African mythology is shaped
Some believe that the history of the cosmos can be divided into three eras.
The first is perfect, a golden age where gods, men and animals live together in complete harmony.
Then, during the second of these three periods, the age of creation, the creator god gives birth to the earth, men and animals. This is a period of differentiation because God created life using himself as a material and model, thus attempting to recreate the golden age on earth.
But something happens, indicating that the age of perfection is over and cannot be reproduced on earth; death enters the world, the earth and humanity are defective.
It is a time of chaos and order, of fear and hope, of mitigation of the past and the promise of a new future. This order-chaos dualism is sometimes seen as the very nature of the creator god.
In some religious systems, this creator is a prankster god who is both benevolent and creative, and an unpredictable and often destructive wizard. It is a god who carries in him life and death, an illusionist with sublime and scandalous characteristics. This dialectical mixture is found in the creation of men who carry within them life and death and also behave in a sublime and scandalous manner. This state of affairs is the result of the defect going back to the age of creation, that primordial period of transformation, that rite of passage on the cosmological level.
In the course of time, the godly, creative part of the trickster god and the dualistic god goes to heaven, further away from man and earth, and its destructive part remains on earth, with a potential for perfection and goodness: the trickster god has become profane. This third age is the contemporary age, the world of today, a realm where men and gods are isolated from each other, where men, through rituals and traditions, seek to duplicate this long-lost perfect age, of which a faint echo remains perceptible.
During this race from the perfect age to the contemporary age, men or animals frequently express their free will, thus setting themselves apart from God. This phase of the differentiation process is characteristic of the creation age. While separating themselves from God, men and animals retain some qualities of their original oneness (which is theirs during the perfect age) but lose an essential divine quality, immortality. For many reasons, by separating themselves from God, they become mortal.
Death enters the world; it is often the result of an act of free will on the part of man or animal, an act that is at the heart of the age of creation.
Why is African mythology the richest in the world?
Africa is the second largest continent in the world. Among its one billion inhabitants, more than 1,000 languages are spoken and a wide variety of ethnic religions are found. In most African cultures, history and beliefs have been explained and transmitted through oral traditions and stories.
Focus on 10 Incredible legends of African mythology
African mythology is a little explored subject today but very impressive, that’s why I decided to tell you about it, to tell you the story. So, what better than a Top 10 Legends on African Mythology to easily discover them.
We start this Top 10 with the Huavene myth. In many African stories, Huveane is the first man, while in others he is portrayed as a conniving deity. For the Basotho and Bavenda peoples of Lesotho, South Africa, he is their creator. After the creation of the earth and the heavens, Huveane wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet while proudly admiring his work.
Unfortunately, it was around the same time that humans learned about birds and bees. That was fine for them, but all the noise was too much for Huveane. In an unusual way, Huveane rose into the heavens by driving stakes into them and climbing to the top. As he climbed, he removed every peg so that no human could ever follow him.
The Bushmen, also called the Khoi or San, are the nomads of Africa. In recent decades, many have become farmers due to the dangers our modern life poses to their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but their territory once stretched from Cape Town to Kenya. The Bushmen are experts at finding water and their advice is often sought because of their precognitive dreams and divination abilities.
According to their beliefs, the supreme god Kaang created the world but sent death and destruction after experiencing too much disobedience and antagonism. Even though he lives in the sky, his invisible spirit still resides in all living beings.
In one story, Kaang’s wife gave birth to an eland (African antelope). The god fed the cub but it was killed by mistake by his two sons. Kaang demanded that the eland’s blood be boiled. The resulting fatty residue was scattered across the landscape, becoming in turn other antelopes and animals. In this way, Kaang provided the meat that his people still hunt, kill and eat today.
8. Adu Ogyinae
According to Akan mythology, all humans lived deep in the earth. One day, seven men, five women, a leopard and a dog crawled out of a hole dug by a huge worm.
Looking around, the astonished people became terrified, but Adu Ogyina, the first man on the surface, seemed to understand the world and its wonders. He calmed them and gave them strength by laying his hands on them.
Adu Ogyinae also took charge and grouped the people into work teams. He coordinated the construction of their first shelters until a tree he was cutting down fell on him and killed him.
7. The Biloko
The Biloko are evil dwarves who roam the most remote regions of the rainforest in central Zaire. According to legends, these beings are restless ancestral spirits who still harbor resentment towards the living. They zealously protect the forest and its living creatures from the hollow trees in which they hide.
Women lose consciousness at the sight of them and only the most daring hunters enter these forests and survive. In addition to their hideous appearance – no hair, long sharp claws, and mouths with sharp teeth that can open wide enough to swallow a human being whole – they also tend to bewitch and eat anyone who comes under their spell.
6. The God of the Zambezi River
The legendary Zambezi River God, or Nyami nyami, is a dragon-like creature believed to command all life in and on the mighty Zambezi River, the fourth largest river system on the continent.
According to one fable, the Kariba Dam project (initiated in 1956) shattered the peaceful existence of the Batonga people who had lived in the Zambezi Valley for hundreds of years. This is the reason why the Creative City concept is so important to the Creative City concept. Barely a year after the project began, a severe flood struck, killing several workers and destroying the partially constructed dam. For three days, relatives waited in vain for the human remains to be recovered.
Finally, the tribal elders explained that only a sacrifice would appease Nyaminyami’s displeasure. A calf was then slaughtered and put in the water. The next day, the bodies of the workers were found in its place. The dam was completed in 1977.
5. The Hippopotamus
This remarkable African mammal is generally presented as a goddess in ancient African legends and mythological sources. Worshipped in ancient Egypt as Tawaret, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, she was essentially seen as a protective and caring deity.
In Mozambique, the Ronga people tell the legend of a mother who left her child with Mother Hippo for safekeeping because the child’s life was threatened by an envious rival. Every night, the mother Hippo took the child out to suckle his mother, while male hippos are generally considered to be shape-shifting beasts.
According to the legend of the hero Fara Maka, one of these beasts ate all the crops in the fields. The hero threw all his spears and sent black dogs against it, but the monster continued to eat and could only be subdued and killed after being bewitched by the hero’s wife.
In an Angolan folk tale, death is explained as follows: heartbroken after the death of his favorite wife Muhungu, Chief Kitamba ordered his people not to speak or eat until she could be brought back to life. The chiefs of the tribe asked a medicine man to go to Kalunga (the world of the dead) to get the queen. The healer ordered everyone in the village to wash with infused herbs and soon after, he went down to the land of the dead with his son.
She showed him Kalunga-ngombe, the lord of the underworld, and explained that he would eventually devour everyone. She also showed him a chained shadow, the spirit of Chief Kitamba, who was destined to die soon. Handing him a burial bracelet as proof of his encounter, the queen sent the sorcerer away, telling him that no one who had entered the Kalunga could ever leave, and that he must not eat any food or speak of Kitamba’s impending death. Otherwise, both he and his son would be forced to remain in the underworld. When he returned, he presented the bracelet to the chief, who confirmed that it was Muhungu’s.
The exploits of Ananse, one of West Africa’s most folkloric characters, are described in hundreds of tales. Usually in the form of a spider, his stories deal mainly with his attempts to trick humans into stealing or doing something immoral that would benefit him in some way. These attempts usually fail miserably, teaching the audience various life lessons.
One story tells of his attempt to collect the wisdom of the whole world in a jar for himself. When he succeeded, he tried to hide the pot at the top of a tree, where no one could find it. He tied the pot in front of him and tried to climb the tree, but progress was slow as he kept slipping and losing his grip.
His son, who had been following him, finally asked him why he hadn’t tied the pot to his back so he could climb more easily. When he realized his son’s ingenuity, the pot slipped and fell to the ground. Wisdom fell and a sudden rain washed it into the river and from there into the ocean waters, so that everyone now has some.
2. The Queen of Rain
Mythological figure of African culture. For the Lovedu African people of Mpumalanga, South Africa, the rain queen is a fundamental symbol of their culture and history. Called Mudjadji, the queen is said to be a living embodiment of the rain goddess. Since she is the embodiment of rain, it is said that even her state of mind influences the weather.
The Mudjadji are also said to be able to send storms to destroy the enemies of the Lovedu or gentle rain to feed their friends. Each year, the powers of the rain queen are displayed in the Ga-Modjadji colony during the rainmaking ceremony. The queens are all supposed to commit suicide by poison at the age of 60. On this day, all the rain ingredients, precious objects and incantations of the queen, kept secret during her reign, are passed on to her successor.
1. The mysterious Queen of Sheba
We know about the Queen of Sheba from various sources with mythological references, including the Bible and the Koran. We do not know if she was a queen regent or a queen consort. Her full name is never mentioned, but most scholars believe that her kingdom may have been in the region of Ethiopia. The royal family of Ethiopia claims to be the direct descendants of the child born to the queen and King Solomon.
According to the Kebra Negast, the story goes that the king invited Makeda to a ceremonial feast where spicy food was deliberately served. As she spent the night at home, the queen asked Solomon to swear not to force himself on her. He said he would not take anything from her if she did not take anything from him. Unfortunately, she became thirsty during the night, woke up and took some water and placed it by her bed. The king appeared, reminding her of her promise, for water was the most precious of all earthly goods. The queen took the water and drank it, thus releasing the king from his promise.
Conclusion on our introduction to African mythology
It can be said that African Mythology is full of diversity but it remains unique. It is true that the peoples used and shared a similar language with each other and geographically they lived in close proximity to each other. Yet, their local beliefs were greatly diverse.
Of course, individual cultures generally had their own beliefs and customs. However, all the themes, all the gods, and all the characters remained the same but were appropriated by different peoples.
One could have fun comparing Greek mythology (Homer, Hesiod or Hercules) or Norse mythology with its legendary creators. However, African mythology is so unique and diverse in nature that it cannot be compared.
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