Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of this epic myth of the Nyanga people.


Nyanga territoryMukiti the serpent god of the river reached the village of Tubondo, ruled by Shemwindo, father of the yet-unborn Mwindo. Mukiti arrived in his human form and Shemwindo extended a formal greeting to his relative (as is often the case all around the world the Nyanga people believed their rulers to be descended from the gods and therefore family members of those gods). Per Nyanga tradition no business would be discussed until the arriving guest had rested and eaten so Chief Shemwindo had Mukiti put up in an icumbi (guest house).

After a period of rest and a twilight meal Mukiti made plain to Shemwindo that he desired the chief’s sister Iyangura as a wife. Again, per tradition, Shemwindo, as the male guardian of the prospective bride, told the suitor Mukiti that the formal answer would be given the next day. However, Shemwindo gave Mukiti the gift of a rare black goat as an unofficial sign that his request would be granted.   

The next morning Mukiti made himself “as clean as a snail’s anus” to use a Nyangan idiomatic expression, and dressed extravagantly including a belt made of bongo antelope. Shemwindo and his sister Iyangura likewise dressed in their finest and Shemwindo went forth to greet the river deity. Shemwindo summoned all the royalty of the village, including his seven wives, all pregnant and all still living under his threat of death if any of them gave birth to a boy. 

Iyangura was formally introduced to Mukiti and the two darted against each other’s chest in the traditional way for prospective mates. Next Iyangura asked Mukiti to prove his love for her and he danced “like raphia-tree larvae” in an undulating fashion. Shemwindo and his court informed Mukiti that he could take Iyangura as his bride and assigned him a list of gifts that he must bring in exchange for the honor. 

Mukiti was given seven days to gather the gifts and departed for his home in the deep, slow portion of the nearby river. He resumed his large serpent form and summoned all the fish, crabs, lesser serpents and other denizens of this body of water he ruled. He informed them that he had been assigned 9,000 (yes, 9,000) bride gifts and set them all to work helping to gather those gifts.

The exact amounts and coloring of the various goats, chickens and other gifts all have specific meaning and are all intended for different royal divisions of Chief Shemwindo’s village. The list is too extensive to be worth going into here but its length is another reason why the singing of the tribal epics could take several days to complete.

At the end of the seven days Mukiti had all his subjects ready the gifts for transport, assume their human forms and then began the long, formal groom procession back to Tubondo. The first night the procession stopped at the cavern village of Yana the bat god and his people, the Baniyana. The bat god gave Mukiti the ceremonial gift of a ram and entertained the deity and his entourage overnight.

The procession set out for Tubondo again in the morning and as the second night approached the travelers stopped at the web-covered village of Mitandi the spider goddess and her people, the Banamitandi. The spider goddess gave Mukiti the ceremonial gift of a goat and entertained the deity and his entourage overnight.

In the morning the procession moved out again and on this third day of travel they arrived in Tubondo. Chief Shemwindo welcomed the divine party and gave Mukiti the ceremonial gift of a billy-goat. The river-god was then shown to his icumbi for this visit. The bride Iyangura joined him toward evening, heated water for her husband and herself and the pair washed themselves.

After Iyangura finished a wife’s traditional bedtime washing of her husband’s feet the couple rubbed red powder all over each other and their bed. Then they lay down to sleep. (Some versions claim Mukiti and Iyangura had sex but other versions insist actual intercourse would not have taken place until after the new couple had returned to the husband’s home.)

Over the next few days Mukiti and his party formally bestowed the 9,000 bride gifts on their recipients and at long last began the return trip to the river that the serpent-deity called home. Iyangura was, per tradition, left behind in Tubondo for now. After Mukiti and his entourage had been gone a full day Shemwindo and a party of his own began the journey to accompany the bride Iyangura to her new home. 

Along the way the new bride is not to set foot on the ground and when the party from Tubondo arrived at the river Iyangura was, per tradition, escorted to the home of her husband’s mother. Once there Iyangura and Mukiti shared the remainder of a meal of banana paste that the bride would have started for breakfast back in her former village. When the bride and the groom had finished this meal Mukiti gave Shemwindo the ceremonial gift of a steer. 

Next the river god gave Shemwindo’s party seven (the perfect number in Nyangan beliefs) bunches of valuables as farewell gifts and his brother-in- law’s procession returned to their village. After they departed the newlyweds settled into their lives together. The next morning Mukiti assembled all the denizens of the river, back in their animal forms, and issued a proclamation prompted by a troubling dream he had had overnight.

Mukiti had had a vision of the yet-unborn figure Mwindo advancing upon the river god’s home by walking along the ground at the bottom of the river. To prevent this sub-aquatic approach to his lair the river god decreed that from that point on any humanoid figure who neared the village by walking along the riverbottom was to have their spine torn out. The only permissable means of approach for visitors in human form would be the path along the riverbank.  

The stage was at last set for the extraordinary birth of the semi-divine hero Mwindo. +++

COMMENT: The reason so much attention was paid to Iyangura’s marriage to Mukiti was because a Nyanga audience needed to be given sufficient reason for the lack of a stabilizing female in Tubondo. Normally Chief Shemwindo’s sister would have given frank advice that the chief’s wives were not permitted to give. That advice would have warned Shemwindo away from the acts of villainy he begins to commit next time around.

Now, with an adequate explanation for the removal of Iyangura from Tubondo, there would be no “audience anxiety” for the storyteller’s listeners. They wouldn’t have to ask “Why is there no female relative of Chief Shemwindo on hand to advise him how wrong his behavior is?”    





© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 




  1. Nobody cares about stupid african myths

  2. Do we get any killing in this story?

  3. Very long and drawn out rituals for a marriage.

  4. You find the most out of the way myths and i love it!

  5. Very awesome! Interesting about the way a nonwife is allowed to speak there mind.

  6. Awesome new gods but kind of dull. Does it pick up?

  7. You make these myths much more interesting than I would have thought.

  8. Lolajay

    These cross cultural myths are so awesome!

  9. Pingback: Episode 16: Dragons of Africa - Part II - Mythsterhood

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