|West African Mythology|
The region of West Africa includes many nations, some peaceful and some troubled by civil war or corrupt politics. The list of nations includes Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Each of these countries is home to several ethnic groups, and each group has its own mythology.
The myths of these people are a part of a living religion and should be treated with respect by storytellers.
The supreme god of the Fon people of Benin is Nana Buluku. He is the father of the twins Lisa and Mawu, deities of the Sun and Moon. The creator god is Mawu. An aid to Mawu was Aido-Hwedo, the great serpent power, a primal force who assisted in the ordering of the cosmos.
|god of destiny|
Above the earth, Aido-Hwedo had 3,500 coils, and the same number below; together, they supported Mawu’s creation. Fa is the god of destiny, who provided the personal fate for each human. A son of Mawu and Lisa is Gu, god of iron and war.
Other deities include Age, patron of hunters. Age is in charge of the wilderness, the uninhabited bush, and the animals therein. Legba is a trickster god of language and fate, Minona is a goddess diviner, and Sogbo is the god of thunder, lightning, and fire.
Other interesting characters of Fon traditional beliefs are Honsi and Honsu, a pair of mythical twins with magical powers, and Yehwe Zogbanu, the thirty-horned forest-dwelling giant.
The Bamileke and the Bangwa people recognize one supreme god called Si. But they are more likely to pray to ancestral spirits for help or guidance. Si remains a rather remote figure.
Abassi, or Obassi, is the Efik creator god. His wife, Atai, brought death to humankind. Atai convinced her husband to allow their human children, one man and one woman, to live on Earth. The children were not allowed to reproduce or work so that they would not overwhelm Abassi in strength and wisdom.
When the first humans broke those rules, Atai killed them both and caused strife, death, and war between their children. Abassi and Atai were so disgusted that they withdrew from the affairs of their descendants.
Nyambe is the creator god of the Asante people. He planted the tree of life in his garden then moved it to heaven when humans failed to appreciate it.
Perhaps the best-known being in the myth and folklore of West Africa is Ananse (also spelled Anansi). He is the trickster spiderbeing of the Asante and other West African peoples, and a figure in Caribbean folklore. Dubiaku is a culture hero of the Asante people and the only mortal to outwit death. He is known to the Asante people living in Nigeria as well.
Wuni is the creator god of the Dagamba people. One myth says that the people sent a dog to Dagamba to tell him what a terribly hard life they led, but the dog got sidetracked by a juicy bone. So a goat was sent, but its bleating was so difficult to understand that Wuni misunderstood and decided that life would be ended by death.
The Ivory Coast
|The Ivory Coast|
The supreme deity of the Akan is Nyame, who created all things and from whom lesser gods derive their power. Nyame is not worshiped directly but is approached through intermediaries. These lesser gods, called abosom, may inhabit lakes, streams, rivers, or trees.
Below them in status are minor deities whose power is invoked through amulets or charms worn for protection. The samanfo, or ancestral spirits, are very important to the Akan people, since the ancestors are believed to protect their descendants.
Now predominantly Muslim, the Mande mix elements of Islam with their traditional beliefs. The Mande creation myth, for example, describes the biblical account of creation, but it also includes the creation of two sets of twins from seeds.
These twins were commanded to populate the earth and teach their children how to grow crops. The twins created music and prayed for rain. The Niger River is said to have been formed from the resulting floods.
The majority of Mali’s population is Muslim, but some people still practice indigenous religions. Yo is a primeval world spirit in the belief system of the Bambara people. This trickster is made up of both male and female elements. Yo allowed Pemba, the creator god, and Pemba’s brother, Faro, god of sky and water, to visit Earth.
Pemba is a vegetation deity, and Faro created humankind. Faro is a remote deity who visits Earth only once every 400 years. Musso-Koroni is the Bambara goddess of disorder. She is the wife of Pemba but dislikes him and prefers to wander, causing sadness and disorder wherever she goes.
Amma is the sky god and the creator of the universe for the Dogon people. Nommo was the first living being created by Amma. Nommo multiplied himself into four sets of twins. One twin rebelled against the others, causing unrest in the world.
To restore stability, Amma cut Nommo up and placed the pieces evenly around the world to balance it. Shrines to the ancestral spirits known as Binu commemorate this event.
Lebe is the Dogon earth god, concerned with the agricultural cycle. Tradition claims that Lebe visits the hogons, or priests, every night as a serpent who licks their skin to fill them with renewed life force and purity.
Ogo is the trickster god, also known as the Pale Fox or Jackal. Ogo’s tricky children are Andumbulu and Yeban, the underworld spirits. Yasigi is the goddess of dancing, beer, and masks.
Nigeria is the home of several different ethnic groups. The culture that is perhaps most familiar to the people of the United States is that of the Yoruba people. Many Yoruba were brought to the New World as slaves, and they brought their beliefs with them.
The Bura and Pabir Peoples
Hyel, or Hyel-Taku, is the supreme god of the Bura and Pabir people. He is worshipped indirectly, through the haptu, or personal gods. Some of these personal gods belong to particular clans, and there is no single haptu for a whole tribe.
The Ibo People
The supreme Ibo deity is Chuku, or Chukwu, from whom all good comes. Ala is his daughter, the earth goddess, mother of all things and spirit of fertility.
Igwe is the sky god. Interestingly, the Ibo do not pray to Igwe for rain, because rainmaking is the job of professional tribal rainmakers. Imo Miri is the spirit of rivers. Larger rivers are so holy that it is forbidden for humans to fish in them.
Ekwu, goddess of the hearth, is the women’s patron, and Aha Njoku is the goddess of yams, an important crop for the Ibo people, and the patron of the women who care for them. Lesser gods include Mbatuku, spirit of wealth, Agwo, who is always envious of others’ wealth, and Ikoro, the spirit of the drum.
The Yoruba People
Olorun is the ruler of the sky and father of the gods Obatala and Odudua (heaven and Earth). He is the deity of peace, harmony, justice, and purity. Obatala is one of the most important Yoruban gods.
He created humankind and is the patron of the handicapped. Odudua created the earth. The world began as only water, and Odudua threw soil onto the water. He sent a rooster to scratch at it, which pushed it around and created the dry land.
Yemaja, who is variously described as the daughter of Olorun, Odudua, or Obatala, is the mother goddess of the living ocean. She is the patron of birth and is worshipped primarily by women. Her brother and husband is Aganju. When Orungan, their son, raped Yemaja, her body burst open and fifteen gods were born, including Shango.
|god of thunder|
Shango, the god of thunder and the ancestor of the Yoruba people, has three wives. The first is Oya, who stole Shango’s secrets of magic; the second is Oshun, the river goddess, who is Shango’s favorite; and the third is Oba, who was cast away by Shango to become the turbulent Oba River. Oshun, Shango’s favorite wife, is the goddess of love, pleasure, beauty, and diplomacy. While she is generous and kind to humankind, Oshun has a fierce temper.
Shakpana is another of Yemaja’s sons, an angry god who afflicts humans with disease and madness. Eshu is a trickster god to whom offerings must be made before any magic ritual may be performed. He is the protector of travelers and a teacher who uses tricks to make his point.
Olokun is the sea deity, seen in both male and female versions, who lives in an underwater palace and symbolizes deep wisdom. Olokun is also the patron of those who were carried off in the slave trade.
Aja is a forest goddess who teaches her followers the use of medicinal herbs. Oya is the goddess of fire and wind, a warrior deity whose anger causes hurricanes. She is also the patron of change and guardian of the gates of death.
In addition to the deities, there are other beings in Yoruban mythology. The orishas are the guardian spirits and include Babalu-Aye, the spirit of healing. Egbere always weeps and carries a mat. Whoever steals his mat will become rich.
This sampling of the mythologies of West Africa gives storytellers a hint of the riches to be found by researching them more thoroughly.