Nyanga (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The hero of an epic story of the enfant terrible genre—stories of miraculous children with supernatural powers. The Mwindo epic is more a performance than a narration. It contains many different literary forms: prose, poetry, songs, prayers, blessings, proverbs, riddles, and asides made by the narrator. bards who narrated the Mwindo epic believed that its performance gave the narrator protection against disease and death.
As with the epics of other cultures, the Mwindo epic is a record of the culture and beliefs of the Nyanga people. Mwindo was the son of Shemwindo, the chief of Tubondo, and his favourite wife. Mwindo could walk and talk from birth and possessed amazing powers, such as the ability to move on land, under the ground, underwater, and in the air. He had the gift of premonition, could destroy evil forces, and was born with a magical scepter. Another of his powers was the ability to ally himself with powerful superhuman beings and natural elements, such as lightning (see thunder and lightning), bats, and spiders.
Mwindo’s father did not want any of his wives to bear sons, because he feared that sons would compete with him. So when Mwindo was born, his father tried to kill him. However, because of Mwindo’s powers, all of Shemwindo’s attempts to kill him failed. Shemwindo finally had his councilors seal Mwindo inside a drum and throw the drum into a river. Still in the drum, Mwindo traveled down the river in search of his father’s sister, Iyangura, who was married to Mkuti, the great water serpent. (See also snake.)
Iyangura freed Mwindo from the drum. Mwindo was determined to return home to fight his father, and he and Iyangura set out together. That evening, they reached the home of Mwindo’s maternal uncles, the Baniyana. The Baniyana dressed Mwindo in garments made of iron and told him they would go to Tubondo with him. All the uncles were killed in the first attempt to take Tubondo. Mwindo called down lightning that destroyed the entire town, but his father escaped by descending into the underworld.
Mwindo brought his uncles back to life and then followed his father underground. He underwent trials and performed many tasks while in the subterranean world, until finally the beings that lived there turned his father over to him. After returning to the surface world with his father, Mwindo restored to life all the people of Tubondo. The kingdom was then divided into two parts, one ruled by Mwindo and the other ruled by his father. Some time later, some of Mwindo’s followers were swallowed by a dragon while they were out hunting. Mwindo killed the dragon and freed his people.
Lightning, a friend and ally of both Mwindo and the dragon, was upset that Mwindo had killed the dragon. To teach Mwindo a lesson, Lightning took him into the sky world to undergo suffering in the realm of the sky gods. Lightning brought Mwindo to the realms of Moon, Sun, stars, rain, and Hail, where he endured many ordeals and gained new wisdom. Before Mwindo was allowed to return to Earth, the gods instructed him never again to kill an animal.
Back on Earth, Mwindo passed on to his people the command that all beings were sacred in the eyes of the gods and that humans had no right to determine any being’s fate. He gave his people laws for living in harmony, and he ruled as a great chief.