African creation myths: 4 examples you probably didn’t know

John Henrique Nov 21, 2020

Different cultures, past and present, have their beliefs about the origin of the universe, the earth, the seas and living beings.

African mythology, for example, is full of good stories about the origin of human beings.

In this article, we will talk about four of these African creation myths.

1. The Makua myth of the two holes in the earth

The Makuas are spread across northern Mozambique and Tanzania and traditionally worship a supreme deity called Muluku.

According to Félix Guirand, in his book History of Mythologies, the Makua myth of creation can be summarized as follows:

In the beginning, god, or Muluku, dug two holes in the earth, from which came a man and a woman.

Muluku gave this first man and this first woman everything they needed to settle in a certain territory and survive.

He gave them fertile land to grow food crops, tools to build their houses and make fire, utensils like pots and pans, as well as some raw corn.

The first humans had everything to live a happy life. They had everything they needed to thrive and produce descendants there.

However, as in the myth of Adam and Eve, the Makua couple disobeyed their god. Instead of building their house and cultivating the land, the two ate the raw corn, broke the pans, threw trash into the pots, and went to live in the woods.

As a punishment, Muluku summoned the first couple of monkeys and gave them everything he had given to the human couple. And the monkey couple prospered.

Muluku then removed the monkeys’ tails and placed them on humans. And he said to the monkeys: “Be men!” and to humans: “Be monkeys!”. And so it was done.

2. The Maasai myth of the origin of life and death

The Maasai ethnic group still preserves its cultural traditions. It has a population of almost 1 million people, spread between northern Tanzania and Kenya.

According to the Maasai cosmogony, the universe has always existed. But there is a god responsible for creating the world: his name is Ngai.

In the beginning, according to Maasai mythology, there was only one man, called Kintu. Everything changed when the daughter of Heaven fell in love with Kintu and managed to convince her father to accept the marriage.

Kintu was called to Heaven, where he was challenged by Ngai with a series of tests, from which he emerged victorious.

The prize for his bravery was the hand of Heaven’s daughter, who came down to Earth with animals and plants as her dowry.

However, a warning had been given by God before the couple set out on a trip to Earth: they were forbidden to ever return to Heaven.

Of course, the order was not obeyed. In fact, this seems to be a common feature in creation myths.

Before arriving on Earth, Kintu remembered that he had forgotten the grains to feed the birds. His wife begged him not to go back to Heaven. But he did.

One of the sons of god, Death, was absent at the time of the wedding and did not know what had happened. When Kintu entered Heaven to get the grains, he came face to face with Death, who was furious.

Death grabbed the man by the feet and went down with him to Earth, settling near his home. All the children born from the marriage between Kintu and Heaven’s daughter were killed.

God sent another son to chase Death away, but to no avail. Death was just too smart and avoided all the traps that were set for him. This was the beginning of Death’s sovereignty on Earth.

3. The origin of the ethnic groups for the Shilluk of the White Nile

The Shilluk creation theory is related to the origin of different ethnic groups among human beings. The explanation is in the color of the clay found in each region at the time that each ethnic group was created. This reminds us of Genesis again.

The God of Christians and Jews also created man out of clay and, after doing so, breathed life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live.

To give him company, God made Adam fall asleep and removed a rib, from which he created the woman.

Juok, the god who created everything, also used clay to create the first human beings. White men are like that because, when he created them, he used white sand.

In Egypt, he used clay from the Nile River to create the peoples of that region. The Shilluk of the White Nile, however, were made from black earth.

According to the Shilluk, Juok would have said the following words at the time of creation:

I will make humans, but they must be able to walk and run and go out into the fields, so I will give each of them two long legs, like the flamingo.

They must be able to cultivate millet, so I will give each of them two arms, one to hold the hoe, and the other to tear up the weeds.

They must be able to see the millet, so I will give them two eyes.

They must be able to eat their millet, so I will give each a mouth.

Cotterell, Arthur (1979). A Dictionary of World Mythology.

Finally, so that the creature could sing, speak, dance, shout and listen, Juok gave him the tongue and ears, without which the human being would not be able to communicate or produce culture. And so, according to the story, “man was perfect”.

4. The origin of good and evil according to the Ewe people

This is another creation myth involving clay. But this time, the quality of the clay used will define the character of the created people.

For the tribes that speak the Ewe language, belonging to Togo, Ghana, and Benin, the tradition says that, in the beginning, God created man and, later, woman. Both came from the clay. So far, very similar to other creation myths.

The difference of this myth in relation to the others is that, the moment the man and woman met, they started to laugh. They laughed a lot. And after that, they went out into the world.

But god didn’t stop there. He continues to use clay to bring new people to life. A good person is made of good clay. A bad one is made of bad clay.

One wonders whether the Ewes traditionally believe in shades of good and evil (people neither good nor bad) or the possibility of a transformation throughout life.

Regarding death, the Ewes have a very interesting myth. Like other myths dealing with the human condition, there is an unfortunate event that sealed the fate of human beings from the very start.

In this case, the unfortunate event has to do with animals. Let’s see what happened.

Once, men sent a dog to god to ask him something they wanted very much: they wanted to be able to return to life after death.

The dog went. But on the way, he felt hungry and stopped at a house where a man was cooking.

Meanwhile, a frog came to the presence of god with an opposite message: that men had told him that they did not wish to return to life after death.

When the dog finally reached god, it was too late.

God said he was confused by those two conflicting messages and, as the frog arrived first, he decided not to give humans the possibility of reincarnation.

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Related topics:

Creation myths Mythology

Written by John Henrique

John has a degree in IT and is the founder of Hyperaxion. He is a science enthusiast and can usually be found reading a book or playing role-playing games.


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