Animals in African Mythology

animals Animal tales in the African tradition amuse and entertain, provide explanations, and comment on human weaknesses and values. Animal trickster heroes are common. Chief among these are the tortoise (see Ijapa), spider (see Anansi; Gizo; Wac), hare (see Kadimba), fox, and jackal. Animals have symbolic relationships to the gods. Rams, for example, were sacred to Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. Shango is frequently depicted with ram’s horns. A chameleon named Agemo was the servant of the Yoruba Supreme Being, Olorun. Khonvoum, the Supreme God of the Pygmies, communicated with humans through either a chameleon or an elephant named Gor, “The Thunderer.” In tales throughout the continent about the origin of death, animals served as messengers to humanity from the Supreme Being. Typically, one animal bore the message that humans would die but be reborn, and the other carried the message that death would be permanent. The most frequently paired messenger animals were the chameleon and the lizard. Other animals used as messengers were the dog, duck, frog, hare, mole, and toad. In some tales the goat, hyena, and rabbit were associated with the origin of death in various ways. Animals are also ritual guardians of sacred places. They are often seen as signs of communication from the spirit world, and their appearance in a place may mark it as sacred. snakes, particularly the python, play prominent roles in African mythology. A serpent named AidoHwedo carried the Fon Creator, Mawu-Lisa, in his mouth as she created the world. Chinawezi, the cosmic serpent of the Lunda people, governed the Earth and its waters. Snakes were commonly associated with rain and the rainbow. (See Bunzi; Mbumba.) Where hunting was the way of life, the master animal—the primary source of food for a people— was revered. In traditional hunting societies, people believed that if their deaths were honored, animals would appear and offer themselves willingly. By killing the animal, the hunter enabled it to enter the spirit world, from which it would return to nourish humanity. When the master animal was not treated properly, the consequences could be terrible for the people who depended on it. See buffalo for a tale in which the mistreatment and death of the Baronga master animal had a devastating effect. See Eland for tales about the master animal of the San. The origin of animals is part of the creation accounts of most African cultures. In many traditions, animals, plants, and humans were made by the Creator after the Earth was first formed. The gift of specific animals is described in various myths. The Maasai of Kenya, for example, were given cattle by the culture hero Naiteru-kop (or in some versions, the Supreme God En-kai), who lowered them down from the sky. In another Maasai myth, livestock emerged from a termite hole in the ground. For other myths involving animals, see bat, crocodile, leopard, and lion

Taken from African Mythology A to Z – Library Binding – May 1, 2010- Second Edition – Written by Patricia Ann Lynch (Author), Jeremy Roberts Dr (Editor) – Copyright © 2004, 2010 by Patricia Ann Lynch