According to Yoruba (YOUR-a-bah) mythology, the first Yoruba kings were the
offspring of the creator, Oduduwa (oh-doo-DOO-wah).
A Yoruba king's crown identifies the status of its wearer and gives the king
the power to interact with the spirit world in order to benefit his people.
A veil, a large face, and a group of birds are commonly appear on a Yoruba
Long, long ago, Olorun (OH-low-run), the sky god, lowered a great chain from
the heavens to the ancient waters. Down this chain climbed Oduduwa, Olorun's
son. Oduduwa brought with him a handful of dirt, a special five-toed chicken,
and a palm nut. He threw the dirt upon the ancient waters and set the
chicken on the dirt. The chicken busily scratched and scattered the dirt
until it formed the first dry earth. In the center of this new world,
Oduduwa created the magnificent Ife (EE-fay) kingdom. He planted the palm
nut, which grew into a proud tree with 16 branches, symbolizing the 16 sons
and grandsons of Oduduwa.
Oduduwa was the first ruler of the kingdom and the father of all Yoruba.
Over time he crowned his 16 sons and grandsons and sent them off to
establish their own great Yoruba kingdoms. As descendants of the sky god,
these first Yoruba rulers and their direct descendants were divine kings.
Only they could wear special veiled crowns that symbolized their sacred
The Boshongo are a Bantu tribe of Central Africa.
In the beginning there was
only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a
stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water,
leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then
some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and, finally, some men,
one of whom, Yoko Lima was white like Bumba.
The Efik are a Nigerian tribe.
The creator, Abassi, created two humans and
then decided to not allow them to live on earth. His wife, Atai, persuaded
him to let them do so. In order to control the humans, Abassi insisted that
they eat all their meals with him, thereby keeping them from growing or
hunting food. He also forbade them to procreate. Soon, though, the woman
began growing food in the earth, and they stopped showing up to eat with
Abassi. Then the man joined his wife in the fields, and before long there
were children also. Abassi blamed his wife for the way things had turned
out, but she told him she would handle it. She sent to earth death and
discord to keep the people in their place.
The Ekoi are a tribe in southern Nigeria.
In the beginning there were two
gods, Obassi Osaw and Obassi Nsi. The two gods created everything together.
Then Obassi Osaw decided to live in the sky and Obassi Nsi decided to live
on the earth. The god in the sky gives light and moisture, but also brings
drought and storms. The god of the earth nurtures, and takes the people back
to him when they die. One day long ago Obassi Osaw made a man and a woman,
and placed them upon the earth. They knew nothing so Obassi Nsi taught them
about planting and hunting to get food.
Wak was the creator god who lived in the clouds. He kept the vault of the
heavens at a distance from the earth and covered it with stars. He was a
benefactor and did not punish. When the earth was flat Wak asked man to make
his own coffin, and when man did this Wak shut him up in it and pushed it
into the ground. For seven years he made fire rain down and the mountains
were formed. Then Wak unearthed the coffin and man sprang forth, alive. Man
tired of living alone, so Wak took some of his blood, and after four days,
the blood became a woman whom the man married. They had 30 children, but the
man was ashamed of having so many so he hid 15 of them. Wak then made those
hidden children into animals and demons.
The Fans are a Bantu tribe in Africa.
In the beginning there was nothing but Nzame. This god is really three: Nzame, Mebere, and Nkwa. It was the Nzame
part of the god that created the universe and the earth, and brought life to
it. Whle the three parts of Nzame were admiring this creation, it was
decided to create a ruler for the earth. So was created the elephant, the
leopard, and the monkey, but it was decided that something better had to be
created. Between the three of them they made a new creature in their image,
and called him Fam (power), and told him to rule the earth. Before long, Fam
grew arrogant, he mistreated the animals and stopped worshipping Nzame.
Nzame, angered, brought forth thunder and lightning and destroyed everything
that was, except Fam, who had been promised immortality.
Nzame, in his three
aspects, decided to renew the earth and try again. He applied a new layer of
earth to the planet, and a tree grew upon it. The tree dropped seeds which
grew into more trees. Leaves that dropped from them into the water became
fish, those that dropped on land became animals. The old parched earth still
lies below this new one, and if one digs deep enough it can be found in the
form of coal. Nzame made a new man, one who would know death, and called him
Sekume. Sekume fashioned a woman, Mbongwe, from a tree. These people were
made with both Gnoul (body) and Nissim (soul). Nissim gives life to Gnoul.
When Gnoul dies, Nissim lives on. They produced many children and prospered.
A Rhodesian peoples Maori created the first man, Mwuetsi, who became the
moon. Maori gave him a ngona horn filled with ngona oil and told him he
would live at the bottom of the waters. Mwuetsi objected and said he wished
to live on the land. Maori reluctantly agreed, but said Mwuetsi would give
up immortality if he did. After a while Mwuetsi complained of loneliness, so
Maori sent him a woman, Massassi (the morning star), to keep him company for
two years. Each night they slept on opposite sides of a campfire, until one
night Mwuetsi jumped over the flame and touched Massassi with a finger he
had moistened with the ngona oil. In the morning Massassi was huge, and soon
gave birth to plants and trees until the whole earth was covered by them.
the end of two years Maori took Massassi away. Mwuetsi wept for eight years,
at which time Maori sent him another woman, Morongo (the evening star),
saying that she could stay for two years. On the first night Mwuetsi touched
her with his oiled finger, but she said she was different than Massassi, and
that they would have to oil their loins and have intercourse. This they did,
this night, and every night thereafter. Every morning Morongo gave birth to
the animals of creation. Then she gave birth to human boys and girls, who
became full-grown by that very same evening. Maori voiced his displeasure
with a fierce storm, and told Mwuetsi he was hastening his death with all
this procreation. Morongo, ever the temptress, instructed Mwuetsi to build a
door to their habitat so that Maori could not see what they were doing. He
did this, and again they slept together. Now in the morning Morongo gave
birth to violent animals; snakes, scorpions, lions, etc. One night Morongo
told Mwuetsi to have intercourse with his daughters, which he did, thereby
fathering the human race.
The Shilluks of the Nile region, for example, tell a story in which
humankind is fashioned out of clay.
In each region of the world in which the
creator traveled, he created humans from the materials available, making
some white, others red or brown, and the Shilluk black.
He then took a piece of earth and gave them arms, eyes, etc. This story says
much about their values and culture. In distributing the characteristics to
man, he chose first to give them the ability to do work through the use of
their arms and legs.
They were then given the ability to see and taste their food. Finally, they
were given speech and hearing with which to entertain oneself ("An African
Story"). This shows the value system at work among the Shilluk, that work
comes above all else. It also attempts to explain the differences between
men of various races by telling of how they came about.
A West African creation tale explains how two spirit people were
accidentally sent down to earth by the sky god. Lonely, the people decided
to create children from clay, but feel they must hide them when the sky god
comes down. Because they are hidden in fire, the children soon turn to
various shades based on how long they had been exposed to the heat. Over
time, these clay children grow up and move to various regions of the earth,
ultimately populating it (Fader). Much like that of the Shilluk people, this
story serves a two-fold purpose: it explains both the creation of man as
well as accounts for the differences among him. This tale shows the West
Africans value these differences because they feel that all men are created
equal and should be treated as such.
The Boshongo, a central Bantu tribe of the Lunda Cluster, tell a different
For them, their creator was a man named Bumba who created both the
sun and moon along with various creatures before man ("An African
Cosmogony"). In the explanation of how each creature created another, one
can see the deep relationship between the Boshongo and nature. Because they
were the last to be created rather than the first, they are no more
important than any other living organism. There is a oneness that exists in
their society, for they all work for the betterment of their world.
The Abaluyia, on the other hand, believe that God created man so that the
sun would have someone to shine on. He then created plants and animals to
provide them with food and gave man woman so that they would have someone
with whom to talk. This shows that the Abaluyia are a very self-centered,
chauvinistic group. They believe, in essence, that the world was created
exclusively to suit the needs of men (and not women) with little regard for
any other creature. For the Abaluyia, the world truly does revolve around
Despite their differences, these four stories do share the belief that they
were created by a god. While they vary in their description of how this
occurred and why, they all serve the same purpose. Through their explanation
of how this occurred, one can see what they view their place in the world to
be. By answering their questions, these stories served as both a comforting
basis for the African people and a way of connecting to future generations.
As such, these tales of creation are works of truly great literature.
Modimo was the creator. He distributed good things, appeared in the east and
belonged to the element water. At the same time he was a destroyer, a
terrifying creature responsible for drought, hail, cyclones and earthquakes.
When these things happened he appeared in the west and was part of the
element fire. Modimo was also sky and light, earth and root. He was unique
and singular. He had no ancestors, no past or future. He pervaded the whole
of creation. His name was taboo and could be spoken only by priests and
The Ancient One, known as Unkulunkulu, is the Zulu creator. He came from the
reeds (uthlanga, means source) and from them he brought forth the people and
the cattle. He created everything that is: mountains, streams, snakes, etc.
He taught the Zulu how to hunt, how to make fire, and how to grow food. He
is considered to be the First Man and is in everything that he created.