African Mythologies


What is an example of a myth affected by colonialism?

One example might be the creation myth of the Bulu people of Cameroon. In the beginning, according to this myth, Membe, the creator, sent his son Zambe to earth to create Human, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, and Elephant. Zambe named each of these animals after himself. One of the men he created was white and one was black. Like a good culture hero, he gave the animals good things to provide viable life, including water, tools, fire, and a book. The men stirred the new fire, but the white man was disturbed by the smoke that got into his eyes, so he went off with the book. Chimpanzee and Gorilla ignored Zambe’s gifts and went off to eat fruit in the forest. Elephant just stood around. The black man remained to stir the fire, not caring about the book. One day Zambe returned to his new creations and asked its inhabitants what they had done with his gifts. When Chimpanzee and Gorilla and Elephant admitted they had done nothing with them, Zambe gave the first two hairy bodies and big teeth and ordered them to spend their lives foraging. Elephant was sent off in much the same way. When Zambe interviewed the black man, he asked him what he had done with his book, and the black man said he had not read it because he was too busy tending to the fire. Zambe told him he would have to spend his life working and taking care of others because he had no book knowledge. Zambe finally asked the white man what he had done with the gifts. “I have only read the book,” answered the man. “Well,” said Zambe, “this is what you shall continue to do; you will learn many things, but you will need the black man to care for you.” This is why animals do what they do and why black and white men do what they do. The white man reads a lot; the black man keeps the fire going.


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