African Mythologies

African Heroes

Are there African heroines?

There are some African mythological heroines. An example is the Kikuyu maiden Wanjiru, who undergoes sacrifice for the good of her people. Her story involves not only the motif of sacrifice, but also of the descent into the Underworld and resurrection. According to the story, after three years of severe drought the people met in a field to dance for rain. A shaman told them that rain would not come without the sacrifice of the maiden Wanjiru, for whom each family would have to pay with a goat. When the goats were assembled at the dancing grounds, Wanjiru was produced by her family. Since she was the object being sold, Wanjiru was placed in the middle of the dance grounds. It was then that she began to sink into the ground. The people cried out in horror, but Wanjiru herself cried out, “Rain will come.” As the girl continued to sink, people stepped forward to save her but were paid with goats to move aside. As she went under, Wanjiru called out, “My own people have done this to me.” Then during the night, Wanjiru’s fiancé decided to follow his beloved. Like Orpheus in the Greek myth, he sank into the Underworld intending to retrieve her, and, unlike Orpheus, he succeeded. When the couple appeared alive and well at the dance circle, the people were amazed. The couple married and the rains came.

The Wanjiru myth resembles one from the Ceram in Indonesia, in which a maiden named Hainuwele is sacrificed in a dance circle and becomes the source of the people’s nourishment.


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