Africa, scarred and still very, resilient has stood many tests of time. But despite all this, our cultures and traditions have remained intact. Our cultures are manifold and very diverse. This is because of the diverse populations inhabiting the continent. Myths are a means of passing down customs and traditional practices from one generation to the next one. They are told inform of tales, fables, and songs. Not only are they relics from the past, but also have an educational aspect to them and they also serve as a mark of identity for the communities.
Forget the age-old story of Hercules, listed below are the best and most popular African myths that have stood the test of time that will totally blow your mind.
Best and Popular African Myths
- The Earth
- Kikuyu Myth
- The Biloko
- The Hippopotamus
- The Zambezi River God
- Anansi the Trickster god
Many tribes in the continent view the earth as a female deity or rather a goddess who is in charge of ruling over people and creatures alike. They believe that Earth lives perpetually and she always gives birth to new generations of people and creatures. It is also believed that she makes trees and vegetation grow when heaven gives her rain. When it rains new life begins. Flowers blossom, plants sprout, and the living creatures get excited.
They also believe that earth protects life against destruction. It is also believed that ancestors live in the earth and their premises have a striking resemblance to the ones they had previously before they died. Things like wind are believed to come from caves in the earth and fire comes out of wood, which comes from the earth as well.
Thus, the earth can be said to possess an extremely powerful spirit which rules over life and death and has the power to admonish disobedient creatures as well as human beings. This is one of the best and most popular traditions in Africa. This is because it resonates and identifies with many communities in the continent.
This a Bantu-speaking sub-tribe that lived along the slopes of Mount Kenya, before they dispersed to various parts of the country. However, most of them still live around the mountain in central parts of Kenya.
The Kikuyu believe that the first Kikuyu person’s name was Kikuyu and that he lived in a village called Kikuyu which is still existent. They also honor and place a lot of reference to the fig tree as it is viewed as the symbol of fertility both to them and in the rest of Africa as well.
At the onset, Kikuyu the person had nine daughters, and these daughters, later on, became the ancestral mothers of the nine clans of the Kikuyu tribe. They also believe in a supernatural being called ‘Ngai’ who is the giver of life, knowledge, good health and tools for agricultural purposes. They also believe that ‘Ngai’ controls thunder, lightning and rain and he also uses them to punish evil persons by striking them for their evil ways.
The Kikuyu also believe that every person has a spirit which becomes a ghost after that person has died. And if that person had been murdered maliciously, the spirit of the deceased purses his killer until they own up to the offense.
Many African communities tell the story of huveane being the first man on earth. Some tribes such as the Basotho of South Africa even believe that he was their creator. They believe that after he created them, he craved for some peace and quiet so that he could admire the work of his hands.
But he could not because this was the same time that the humans he had created were exploring the rest of the creations and their excitement and noise was too much for huveane to bear. And in a mysterious way, he ascended into the heavens by connecting pegs to the sky and as he climbed up, he removed the pegs so that human beings would not follow him.
Of all African myths and beliefs, this one tends to be quite scary and to some extent, beats logic. The biloko are dwarf-like cannibal creatures that are believed to have set camp in the rainforest in Zaire. They are believed to be ancestral spirits who harbor ill feelings towards the living beings.
They are very protective of the forest and the creatures that reside in it. People rarely set foot in the forest and only the most tactful and daring warriors leave the forest in one piece.
The biloko have a strange and frightening appearance comprising of sharp teeth that tend to find their way out of their mouths, hairless bodies and sharp claws. Not to forget their miniature appearance, which is quite hideous. They also cast a spell all those who come into contact with them and devour them.
While tourists part with money to set their eyes on this big mammal, for sight- seeing purposes, in Africa, the Hippo is viewed as a goddess. She is revered as the goddess of fertility. She also brings about and controls childbirth.
This is because of her protective and very caring nature. Male hippopotami, on the contrary, are viewed as bullies who cannot be easily subdued in the case of a confrontation. In many legends, the male hippo is only defeated when a spell is cast on them by the hero’s wife.
6.The Zambezi River God
The Zambezi River God, also called ‘nyaminyami’ myth is one of the best traditions in Africa. This because events connecting to this myth are quite in sync. The Nyaminyami is a creature resembling a dragon. It was believed to command all forms living on the Zambezi River.
The myth derives its relevance from the building g of the Kariba dam back in the year 1956. The project disrupted the peaceful lives of the Batonga who had lived along the Zambezi for hundreds of years. They were cocksure that Nyaminyami would be against the construction of the dam.
Before a year lapsed after the project had commenced, a raging flood struck, which killed several project workers and destroyed the incompletely built dam. Relatives camped at the dam waiting for the bodies of their kin to come afloat or be retrieved but to no avail. Everything seemed bleak.
The elders, later on, decided to carry out a sacrifice so as to try to please the offended river god. They slaughtered a calf and immersed it in the flowing river. To their dismay, the bodies of the workers were found the following day.
7.Anansi the Trickster god
This myth is mostly known in the western parts of the continent. This god is featured as being in the shape of a spider. Many tales told about him depict him as being a very cunning god who tries to trick humans into doing wrongful acts that would be of benefit to him. However, he rarely succeeds at it.
The tale that gives credence to this myth is told of when anansi tried to collect all the wisdom in the world into a big pot for himself. After he had collected it, decided to hide the pot so that no one else would share his new found treasure. He tied the pot on the front part of his body and tried to climb a tree to reach his hiding spot.
This was such a daunting task and he kept losing his grip. His son, who was following him closely, advised him to tie the pot on his back so that he would have no trouble going up the tree.
As he was contemplating his next move, the pot slipped and tumbled to the ground. All the wisdom that Anansi has tried so hard to collect for himself gushed out. Suddenly, there was a rainstorm which washed all the wisdom into the ocean, so that everyone could access it and own a little for themselves. Of all other African myths and traditions told in the western side, this one appears to be very popular as it comes with a moral lesson.
It abhors people from being cunning and selfish.
Myths have been used to pass information from one generation to the next since time immemorial. They serve many purposes such as;
- Educative, since most of them end with a moral lesson.
- They also serve a deterrent purpose by warning people against doing certain things so that bad things do not befall them.
- Some of them are also told for fun and relaxation as well as to pass time. And in so doing, it promotes togetherness in the communities.
From the above foregoing, we can say that the best and most popular African myths that are narrated to us are viewed as the community’s property. They are guarded and respected and no single deduction or addition is allowed to be done to them. This is encouraged so as to promote originality and to ensure that it is passed on to the next generations in its authentic form.