Aiwel Longar – Bor, Dinka (Sudan)
A mythical hero who was regarded as the ancestor of the Bor. Tales about Aiwel are examples of enfant-terrible tales—a classification of stories about children whose births are unusual and who have supernatural powers. Different myths tell somewhat different versions of Aiwel’s life. According to one myth, an elderly woman with one daughter was weeping because her husband had died and she had no son. A river god took pity on her and impregnated her with his waters. She bore a son she named Aiwel. He was born with a full set of teeth, which was a sign of spiritual power. The infant Aiwel was also able to walk and talk. When his mother discovered his abilities, he warned her that she would die if she told anyone about this. She did tell someone, and she died. Aiwel went to live with his father, the river god, until he was grown. Then he returned to the village with an ox whose hide had every color on it. Aiwel became known by the name of the ox—Aiwel Longar. He took over the herd of cattle that had belonged to his mother’s husband. During a period of drought and famine, all the villagers’ cattle became thin and started to die except those belonging to Aiwel Longar. His cattle remained fat and healthy. Some young men spied on him to find out his secret. They saw that when Aiwel touched the ground, grass and water sprang up. When the young men reported what they had seen, they died. Aiwel told the villagers they should all leave to escape the famine. He offered to take them to a land of plenty, but they refused and set off on their own. When the people tried to cross a river, Aiwel threw spears at them. One man was able to seize Aiwel and hold him until he became too tired to fight. Then Aiwel said that the people could cross, and he gave them his spears. He told them that he would leave and not return unless they needed his help. In the second version of the myth, an elderly woman with one daughter lived by catching fish in the river. One day she was splashed by a river being and became pregnant. Eight years later, she bore a son she named Aiwel. Her daughter would not accept Aiwel as her brother because her mother was long past her childbearing years. Aiwel lived as an outcast, herding the headman’s cattle to stay alive. He was given a cow by Fadol, the headman. The cow gave birth to a yellow calf that grew into a spotted bull. Because of this miracle, Aiwel became known as Aiwel Longar. During a period of drought and famine, all the cattle were thin and dying except for Fadol’s cattle that Aiwel herded. Fadol followed Aiwel one day and saw that when Aiwel struck the ground, grass and water sprang up. When Aiwel saw him, Fadol fell dead. However, Aiwel touched Fadol and restored him to life. After the two men returned to the village, Fadol gave Aiwel cattle and two beautiful women as wives. Aiwel became headman in Fadol’s place. Aiwel Longar Aiwel’s spear was the symbol of his power and divinity. Priests of the present-day clan of the SpearMasters trace their origins to him. These priests are the link between the people and the gods and are responsible for spearing to death the sacrificial oxen. Aja See orisa. Àjàpá See Ijapa.
Aiwel In African mythology (Dinka of Eastern Sudan), hero, founder of a group of men who perform political and religious functions as members of a hereditary priesthood, the spear masters. Aiwel was born to a woman whose husband had been killed when a lion, desiring the man’s bracelet, bit off his thumb to get it. The stubborn man had refused to give it up. The woman had wanted a son and was able to bear one through the aid of a water spirit. Aiwel was born with a full set of teeth and was able to drink a full gourd of milk at a time. When his mother discovered that it was Aiwel, not his older sister, who was drinking all of the milk, she became very upset. Aiwel told her not to tell anyone or else she would die. Nevertheless, she spoke and died. Aiwel then joined his father, the water spirit. Returning from the river, he took the form of a man and a multicolored ox, named Longar. As it is the Dinka custom to name a person after the characteristics of his ox, Aiwel was called Aiwel Longar. A drought came and only Aiwel’s cattle remained fat. Aiwel then left for a promised land of plenty, asking the people to follow him. At first they refused, and when they later tried to follow, he grew angry and killed some of them with his fishing spear. A man called Agothyathik saved some of the people by fighting with Aiwel, and in time Aiwel surrendered. Aiwel gave fishing spears to the first group of people to cross the river and thus founded the spear-master clans. Those who came later were given war spears, and they founded the warrior clans. Aiwel left his people, saying that he would return only in time of need.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
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