Unit Three: Studying Africa through the Humanities
Module Fourteen: Religion in Africa
Activity One: Creation Stories
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
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
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).
How Truth and Falsehood Got So Confused
Olofi created the Earth and all things in it. He created beautiful things and ugly things. He created Truth and he created Falsehood. He made Truth big and powerful, but he made Falsehood skinny and weak. And God made them enemies. He gave Falsehood a cutlass [large knife], unbeknownst to Truth. One day, the two met and started fighting. Truth, being so big and powerful felt confident, and also very complacent since he didn't know that Falsehood had a cutlass. So Falsehood cunningly cut off Truth's head. This jolted and enraged Truth, and he started scrambling around on the ground for his head. In his scrambling, Truth stumbled unto Falsehood, and knocking him down Truth, felt the head of Falsehood, which he took to be his own head. His strength being truly awesome, a mere pull from Truth yanked off the head of Falsehood. Truth then put the head on his own neck. And from that day what we have had is a horrible mismatch: the body of Truth and the head of Falsehood.
An African-Cuban Creation Story.