Once again Balladeer’s Blog examines a neglected epic myth from around the world. Previously I have dealt with epics from the Navajo, Vietnamese, Iroquois, Aztec, Hawaiian, Chinese and other belief systems.
The mythic tale of Aiwel Longar comes from the Dinka pantheon. Nhialic is the supreme deity to the Dinka and the first man and woman he created were Garang and Abuk. The Dinka people live in the Upper Nile in Sudan, as they have for centuries.
I often cover the way in which cultures which come into contact borrow mythic material from each other to embellish their own respective belief systems. The story of Aiwel Longar clearly influenced (and vice versa) Egyptian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim myths. It also bears striking similarities to the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl.
PART ONE – Born as simply Aiwel, this figure was a gift from the god of the Nile River to Aiwel’s widowed and childless mother. The infant already had a full set of teeth when his mother picked him up out of the Nile River, where the river god had set him adrift.
Like many mythic figures Aiwel could talk and function like an adult at a very young age. While still a toddler he often stole and drank entire gourds full of milk. After one such binge Aiwel’s mother caught him and the young demigod warned her not to tell anyone or else she would die. His mother disobeyed Aiwel and admitted his deeds to other Dinka villagers and, as Aiwel predicted, she immediately passed away. Aiwel went to live with his godly father in the Nile River.
PART TWO – When he is an adult Aiwel suddenly reappears, entering his late mother’s village with a huge ox of many colors (a two-colored ox was highly valued – a MULTI-colored ox was priceless). The ox was called Longar and so Aiwel was then known as Aiwel Longar. This tradition of a Dinka male being given his surname or “ox-name” from an ox given to him on reaching manhood is still in practice today.
Aiwel lives in the village, tending the cattle that belonged to his mother’s dead husband. After a time the area is plagued by a massive drought and many of the villagers’ cattle begin to die, but not Aiwel’s, which remain fat and strong. Jealous villagers spy on the demigod to see how he feeds and waters his herds but Aiwel is aware of their interest and decrees that they will die if they try to reveal his secret to the other villagers. These men do try to expose Aiwel’s secret but die in the attempt.
PART THREE – The drought becomes worse and is accompanied by a plague and by crocodiles beginning to overrun the land. Aiwel announces to the Dinka people that one of the gods (in some versions his father in others the supreme deity Nhialic) has told him that all of them are to follow him to a promised land in the distance, a land of plentiful water and no disease.
The Dinka refuse to listen to him and when he heads off they all stubbornly head in other directions. After a few days many of the Dinka abandon the disobedient throngs and seek out Aiwel, eventually overtaking him and following him from then on.
PART FOUR – After traveling for an indeterminate time Aiwel, fish-spear in hand, leads his people across the Nile and miraculously the water never rises above any of their heads the entire way across. It rises to their necks but no further. After reaching the other side and emerging from the reeds on the riverbank Aiwel stands and kills the Dinka people who come out after him, impaling them with his fish-spear as they emerge.
Per Aiwel’s instructions from (whichever god gave them) this slaughter continues until a Dinka man named Agothyathik fools Aiwel by disguising an ox-bone as his head. He then submerges himself and holds the disguised ox-bone just above the water level. After Aiwel stabs at the bone Agothyathik leaps up from the water and begins fighting the demigod. The battle continues until Aiwel decides that Agothyathik will be a fit Chief of Chiefs for the Dinka. The remaining Dinka people are permitted to emerge from the river without being slain.
PART FIVE – When all the rest of the refugees have crossed the Nile Aiwel Longar informs them that they have reached the promised land. He gives fish-spears to various men who are remembered as Spear Masters and who became the heads of all the clans of the Dinka. Aiwel next teaches them about all the lesser deities created by Nhialic and gives them “commandments” about the proper ways to worship them.
Finally Aiwel Longar gives the Dinka a sky-blue bull to worship. When the bull dies its thigh bone is worshipped by the Dinka from then on. Aiwel Longar tells the Dinka he is not meant to dwell with them in the land he has led them to and he wanders off, promising to return at some vague time in the future when the Dinka need him the most.
FOR MORE MYTHS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/mythology/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2013. 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.
8 responses to “AFRICAN EPIC: AIWEL LONGAR”
How very interesting! I can’t imagine why he would slay all the villagers who had followed him through the Nile? You interest in this world is inspiring. I have The Hero’s Journey sitting on my shelf and I need to start it soon. Great read, as usual.
Thank you! I agree, it is odd that he was instructed to kill all the villagers until one of them would prove to be shrewd enough to disguise their head and tough enough to try fighting him. I could see him needing a clever and battle-proven person to be the Chief of Chiefs but still …
I forgot his poor Mother haha
Ha! That’s true!
This a great myth that has several strong messages – easy to remember. Migrating to the promised land is a common theme in many cultures.
Exactly! That’s part of its appeal! By the way, you previously mentioned being an Iron Man fan. I started reviewing some of his 1970s stories. https://glitternight.com/2022/04/01/iron-man-1970s-classics-1-the-black-lama-and-raga-son-of-fire/
Really great legend!