In most African cultures, history and beliefs have been explained and passed on through oral tradition and storytelling.
Many narratives deal with common concepts such as life after death or the birth of the universe, but they also include belief in magic, ancestor spirits, celestial beings, and an assortment of unusual legends that pertain to its animals.
The Bushmen, also called the Khoi or San, are the nomads of Africa. In the last few decades, many have become farmers due to the dangers that our modern life poses to their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but their territory once stretched from the Cape to Kenya. Experts at finding water, their advice is often sought out due to their precognitive dreams and divining capabilities.
According to their beliefs, the supreme god Kaang created the world but sent death and destruction after experiencing too much disobedience and antagonism. Even though he lives in the sky, his invisible spirit still resides in all living things.
In one story, Kaang’s wife gave birth to an eland (African antelope). The god nurtured the calf but it was mistakenly killed by his two sons. Kaang demanded that the eland’s blood be boiled. The subsequent fatty residue was scattered across the landscape, in turn becoming other antelope and animals. In this manner, Kaang provided the meat that his people hunt, kill and eat to this day.
- The Biloko Forest
The Biloko are diabolical dwarf-like entities believed to roam the nethermost regions of the rainforest in central Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the legends, these beings are restless ancestor spirits who still harbour resentment toward the living. They zealously guard the forest and its living creatures from the hollow trees in which they hide.
Women lose consciousness at the sight of them and only the most daring hunters enter these forests and survive. Apart from their hideous appearance – no hair, long sharp claws, and sharp-toothed mouths that can open wide enough to swallow a human being whole – they also have a tendency to bewitch and eat all those who come under their spell.
- Zambezi River God
The legendary Zambezi River God, or Nyaminyami, is a dragon-like creature believed to command all life in and on the mighty Zambezi River, the fourth-largest river system on the continent. According to one fable, the Kariba Dam project (started in 1956) shattered the peaceful existence of the Batonga people, who had lived in the Zambezi Valley for hundreds of years.
Asked to relocate, the Batonga were certain that Nyaminyami wouldn’t allow the dam to be built. Barely a year after the project began, a severe flood struck, killing several workers and destroying the partially built dam. For three days, relatives waited in vain for human remains to be recovered.
Finally, the elders of the tribe explained that only a sacrifice would appease Nyaminyami’s displeasure. At this, a calf was slaughtered and placed in the water. The next day, the bodies of the workers were found in its place. The dam was finished in 1977.
- Kalunga Underworld
In an Angolan folktale, death is explained like this: heartbroken after the death of his favourite wife, Muhungu, Chief Kitamba ordered his people not to speak or eat until she could be brought back to life. The headmen of the tribe asked a medicine man to fetch the queen from Kalunga (the world of the dead). The medicine man ordered all the people of the village to wash themselves with infused herbs and shortly afterwards, descended into the land of the dead with his son.
Following a road, the man soon encountered the queen. She showed him Kalunga-ngombe, the lord of the underworld, and explained that he devoured everyone in the end. She also pointed to a shadowy figure in chains – the spirit of Chief Kitamba, who was destined to die soon. Giving him a funerary bracelet as proof of his encounter, the queen sent the medicine man back, telling him that no one who entered Kalunga could ever leave and that he shouldn’t eat any of the food or speak of Kitamba’s impending death.
Otherwise, he and his son would both be forced to stay in the underworld. When he returned, he presented the chief with the bracelet, and the chief confirmed that it was indeed that of Muhungu.
- Rain Queen
To the Lovedu people of Mpumalanga, South Africa, the Rain Queen is a fundamental part of their culture and history. Called Mudjadji, the queen is said to be a living incarnation of the rain goddess. As she is the embodiment of rain, even her state of mind is said to influence the weather. The Mudjadji is also believed to be able to send storms to destroy the Lovedu’s enemies or gentle rain to nurture their friends.
Every year, the Rain Queen’s powers are displayed at the Ga-Modjadji settlement during the rainmaking ceremony. The queens are all expected to commit suicide by poison at the age of 60. On that day, all of the queen’s rainmaking ingredients, prized objects, and incantations kept secret throughout her reign are passed on to her successor.
Source: Hestie Barnard Gerber. Image: Pixabay