African Mythologies

African Heroes

Who are the African mythic heroes?

The Bantu of Sesuto tell the story of Lituolone, a god-hero who was miraculously conceived and born of an old woman, without having been with a man. Lituolone was born fully adult and ready to take on a heroic quest. The world had been oppressed by an evil monster who had devoured all humanity but his mother. So it was that the young hero decided to be a monster slayer as were so many world heroes before him. Taking a knife, he challenged the monster and was immediately swallowed by it. Once inside its evil belly, Lituolone cut his way out, killing the monster and releasing captured humanity.

The mythic heroes of Africa, however, mostly tend to be culture heroes—especially tricksters—who represent the needs of ordinary people in the face of the general arbitrariness of the high gods, the supreme beings and creators who are either disgusted with people or withdrawn from them. Tricksters such as Ananse and Legba are heroes in that they successfully trick the Supreme Being. Thus, Legba reveals the creator god’s unfairness and Ananse wrests the art of storytelling from him. Other culture heroes such as the Kikuyu Gikuyu teach the people how to survive. The trickster heroes reflect a general sense that the world is a dangerous place in which ordinary people must struggle to survive without much help from the privileged, including the creator. In this kind of a world, the trickster, however amoral, or even immoral, represents the aspirations and wish fulfillments of the downtrodden and becomes a hero.


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