lioNgo swahili (Kenya) The semihistorical, semimythical hero of an epic poem. Liongo was a member of the royal family of Shaka, a small principality that was founded by colonists from Persia (now Iran). Liongo was famous for his great height and strength, courage, skill with the bow, and talent as a poet. Although he was the eldest son, he could not succeed his father as shah, or ruler, because his mother was one of the shah’s lesser wives. Instead, his half-brother Mringwari became shah following their father’s death. Made bitter by what he saw as injustice, Liongo behaved in a highhanded way and treated the people of Shaka oppressively. He became hated. His quarrel with Mringwari reached the point that Liongo made an attempt on his brother’s life. He was captured and imprisoned. While in prison, Liongo composed and sang many beautiful songs, to the delight of everyone who heard them. When Liongo was told that his brother had sentenced him to death, he made plans to escape. With his mother’s help, he was able to do so. He then led the life of an outlaw, raiding towns and attacking travelers. Mringwari wanted to have Liongo killed, but it had been discovered that no spear or arrow could harm him. Mringwari convinced Liongo’s nephew (or in one version of the epic, his son) to find out the secret of Liongo’s charmed life. Liongo told the boy that he knew why he had come and that the boy would regret what he was doing. Then he explained that the only way to kill him was to drive a copper needle into his navel. The boy reported back to Mringwari, who had a copper needle made. He then sent the boy back with orders to kill Liongo. One night, when Liongo was in a deep sleep, his nephew stabbed him in the navel with the copper needle. The pain woke Liongo up. He gathered up his bow and arrows and left the house. Halfway to the well where people got their water, his strength failed him and he fell to his knees. He fitted an arrow to the bowstring and died. The people saw him kneeling there, but they did not know he was dead, so they were afraid to go for water. After several days, they asked Liongo’s mother to go speak to him. When she touched Liongo, she knew that he was dead. The people buried Liongo; according to tradition, his grave can still be seen at Ozi. Instead of giving Liongo’s nephew the wife and wealth he had been promised, the people killed him for his treachery.
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