Myths carry over from instances in the past, having coalesced through time into something quite different from what they used to be. They represent the traditions of any particular culture or religion and are fables to amuse or beware people.
Africa is home to a versatile and eclectic group of people, spread out through the continent, each with their own beliefs and customs, their own languages and way of life. With the Southern Africa cut off from the world throughout an extended period in history, their beliefs are more deep rooted and the myths are an active part of their life, even today. Influenced by a wide variety of religions, such as Christianity and Islam, as well as people, African Mythology is a blend of different culture with most of the themes relating to animals and especially tricksters.
Gods of different elements have been appointed as in the tradition in Africa and are credited for most happenings in their part of the world and revered as deities to be worshipped.
The Creation of the World
Many African tribes hold true to the idea that Amma, a supreme god mated with the Earth to produce an egg, a cosmic one at that, from which the twin Nummo gods hatched and created the universe. Another belief is that Amma created the cosmic egg, which gave rise to the entire world.
Then there are those who believe that a snake is responsible for the advent of the Earth, one that forms the rainbow as it spans across the sky. Another myth revolves around Bumba, the supreme God, who in the grips of great pain, retched and vomited up the entire universe and the human race.
The Creation of Mankind
One folklore surrounding the creation of the humans is that Juok, the creator, meandered around the world and fashioned mankind out of clay, using material of different color from the various areas he visited. By calling out the different attributes he wished to see, he moulded the men into perfect beings. The Shilluks believe that the colors of the races are attributed to the types of sand and clay he used to mould man.
Another folklore cites that the son of the sun (Lisa) and the moon (Mawu) sent their son, Gu, down to Earth in preparation for the people and he taught them the essentials of growing their own food and building shelter.
The Creation of Death
The African myth is that the gods meant for humans to be immortal and that death was introduced when the wrath of the gods was incurred either by the animals or the people by some unlucky mistake. A hyena is blamed by the Nuer people to have severed the rope that linked heaven and Earth while the Dinkas tell of a women who in her greed hit the god with her hoe, who in a fit of anger cut this rope.
The people of Luyia relate that when a chameleon placed the curse of death on the people when a man refused to give it food. Another tale of the chameleon is that it was to deliver the news of eternal life to the people but a lizard arrived first and told the people of death instead.
The Africans do have faith in life after death and maintain that human spirits persist even in death. Griots tell that these spirits inhabit an underworld where the order of events is alternate to the real world. Folklore also has it that the dead spirits remain with the relatives and offer protection. They are worshipped and kept alive in the parables and legends. In respect, the people of Zulu also hold ceremonies to transfer the soul of the dead into a newborn baby.
Snakes are respected by the Africans because they believe the dead to come back to life in other forms such as snakes. Some also believe the dead to become stars that illuminate the night sky.
Many fables of the trickster have also been featured in the African parables. He is known to take on different forms, either human, god or animal, and has been told to wreak havoc by starting quarrels and through his pranks.
For the people of Yoruba, Eshu the trickster is an unscrupulous and sly prankster who at times serves as a messenger between the people and the supreme gods. A lore has it that Eshu was relegated to playing the messenger when he played a prank on the High God of the sky suggesting that he was a thief. As punishment, the god had the trickster relay details about the happenings on Earth every night.
Known to cause disputes, many stories tell of the trickster causing confusion and arguments among family and friends and in one such tale, he changes the places of the sun and the moon, disturbing the cosmic order and balance in the process.
As an animal, the trickster is referred to being seemingly innocuous and yet cunning enough to outwit others. Tortoises, Hares and many other animals are implicated to be the tricksters. Anansi the spider is said to be the most mischievous form of the trickster, known to be unpredictable and cruel to fulfill his own purposes. Many of the tales were brought by the African slaves to Africa, who were kept under the termagant rule of the Americans.
However, some of the folk stories portray the trickster as a helping creature. The Bushmen of the Saan people tell of a praying mantis who gifted them with fire and words. And the people of Mali tell of an antelope that skilled them in agriculture.
Legends hold rulers and heroes in a divine light and as can be garnered from the myths, Africans twins are considered to be sacred. They appear in many of their tales and represent balance and dualism. The sun and the moon twins, Mawu and Lisa, as mentioned before are highly exalted spirits who are the parents of all other gods.
The Africans, particularly in the Ibo area, also hold to the faith that certain signs are given by the gods as a guiding light. Ala, a goddess, is said to signal where the priest should establish a Mbari, a place of worship for the Africans.
In this section are descriptions of African Mythology and mythological beings described in the encyclopedia.
Concept of lightening
Juok, the Creator
Male and Female
Olodumare and the Orisha (gods)
Osanobwe and Oloku
Panhouin creation myth