These stories are adapted with permission from Ulli Beier (editor), The Origin of Life and Death: African Creation Myths. London: Heinemann, 1966.
|HOW THE WORLD WAS CREATED FROM A DROP OF MILK At the beginning there was a huge drop of milk
Then Doondari (God) came and he created the stone.
Then the stone created iron;
And iron created fire;
And fire created water;
And water created air.
The Doondari descended a second time. And he took the five elements
And he shaped them into man.
But man was proud.
Then Doondari created blindness and blindness defeated man.
But when blindness became too proud,
Doondari created sleep, and sleep defeated blindness;
But when sleep became too proud,
Doondari created worry, and worry defeated sleep;
But when worry became too proud,
Doondari created death, and death defeated worry.
But when death became too proud,
Doondari descended for the third time,
And he came as Gueno, the eternal one
And Gueno defeated death.A Fulani story (Mali)
Tortoises, Men, and Stones
God created the tortoise (turtle), men and stones. Of each he created male and female. God gave life to the tortoises and men, but not to the stones. Noen could have children, and when they became old they did not die but became young again!
The tortoise, however, wished to have children, and went to God. But God said: “I have given you life, but I have not given you permission to have children.”
But the tortoise came to God again to make the request, and finally God said:
“You always come to ask for children. Do you realize that when the living have had several children they must die?”
But the tortoise said: “Let me see my children and then die.” Then God granted the wish.
When man saw that the tortoise had children, he too wanted children. God warned man, as he had the tortoise, that he must die. But man also said: “Let me see my children and then die.”
That is how death and children came into the world.
Only the stones didn’t want to have children, so they never die!
A Nupe story (Nigeria)
The Forbidden Fruit
God created the first human being with the help of the moon. God kneaded the body out of clay. Then God covered it with skin and the end God poured blood into it. God called the first human Baatsi.
Then God whispered into his ear telling him to beget many children, but to impress upon the children the following rule: from all trees you may eat, but not from the Tahu tree.
Baatsi had many children and he made them obey the rule. When he became old he retired to heaven. His children obeyed the rule and when they grew old they too retired to heaven.
But one day a pregnant woman was seized with an irresistible desire to eat the fruit of the Tahu tree. She asked her husband to break some for her, but he refused. But when she persisted, the husband gave in. He crept into the forest at night, picked the Tahu fruit, peeled it, and hid the peel in the bush. But moon had seen him, and she told God what she had seen.
God was so angry with humans that he sent death as a punishment to men.
An Efe story (D.R. Congo)
The Plant of Life
Shida Matunda created all things. After making the earth and water and plants and animals, he created two women and took them as his wives.
His favorite wife, however, died. Then Shida Matunda buried her in her house and remained at her grave watering it every day. After some time, a little plant began to grow from the grave. Then he was glad, because he knew that the dead woman would rise again. He did not allow his other wife to come near the grave.
But one day when Shida Matunda had gone out, the wife was overcome with curiosity and she stole into the house. When she saw the plant, she was jealous and cut it down with a hoe. The blood of the dead woman poured out of the grave and filled the house.
When Shida Matunda returned and saw the blood, he was much afraid and said: “You have killed your co-wife and thereby caused all men, animals, and plants to die.”
From Shida Matunda and the surviving woman descended all other humans.
A Nyamwezi story (Tanzania).
1. What common characteristics do these stories share with each other?