African Mythologies

The African Supreme Being and Creation

Who are some of the African Supreme Beings?

Most African tribes have a creation myth involving a Supreme Being, either male or female. Many of these supreme beings become examples of the deus otiosus or deus absconditus, the creator who creates and then retires or who simply absents himself from his creation in disgust. The southwestern Nigerian Yoruba creator is Olorun, who left creation to an underling and then remained essentially aloof from humanity, leaving the earth to spirits known as orishas.

The Bushman creator, Mantis, lived with his human creations in the beginning, but human foolishness so bothered him that he simply abandoned the world, leaving universal hunger behind. The creator of the Pygmies of the central equatorial region is Khonvum, who once lived on earth as an animal master but who now lives in heaven and concerns himself with the stars and solar system. He deals with humans only through animal spirits. The Kikuyu creator Ngai sent the culture hero Gikuyu to help the people; then he went away. Nyambe, the Malozi creator of Zambia, became so disgusted by the fact that humans ate their fellow animals that he retired to a mountain top. He invited the animals to join him there in safety, but for some reason they decided to stay in the world. The humans constantly try to find the creator, but he stays away.

Other creators are challenged by rivals. The Hottentots, whose language includes the click sound, have a creator Tsui-[click]-Goab who fought what, in effect, was a war in heaven against a negative force, [click]-Gaunab. The good god won, but was wounded in the process. The Ijaw of Nigeria have a female creator, Woyengi, who was angered by a woman named Ogboinba, who overstepped the boundaries set by the goddess at creation. The seminomadic Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania say that Enkai created the world in which a black god and a red god struggle with each other for dominance. The West African Ashanti high god Nyame had his creative work undermined by a famous trickster. The same was true of Fidi Mkulla, the southeastern Congo supreme god of the Baluba and Basonge.

A more overtly animistic creator is the Zulu Unkulunkulu, who created everything and, somewhat like the Indian Brahman, is everything: the corn, the trees, the water, the cow, the human. Another type of animism is evident in the myths that feature everything in creation coming from the creator’s bodily waste. Bumba, the Central African Boshongo supreme being, vomits creation. For the Wapangwa of Tanzania, the basis of creation by the all-present “Word” is excrement.

One of the most complex of African creation myths is that of the Dogon people of Mali and western Sudan. A world-parent story with a cosmic egg, it stresses harmony in the world from the perspective of an animistic religion.


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