Tag Archives: African epic myths


Aiwel Longar

Aiwel Longar

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 Continue reading


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Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of an epic myth of the Nyanga people of Africa.


MwindoMwindo is yet another semi-divine hero from global mythology. This epic will explore his unusual birth, his heroic deeds and victories over various monsters and hostile gods.

Many of the myths from Africa survived mostly in oral form until comparatively recent decades, so there are even more variations of African epics than readers may be used to. To cite just one example: Mwindo himself is usually referred to by the epithet Kabutwa-kenda, “the little one just born yet walking”. However there are a few versions of the myth in which Mwindo and Kabutwa-kenda are TWO SEPARATE FIGURES and are half-brothers.

masc graveyard smallerIn the versions where they are two separate entities Mwindo is a villainous figure while Kabutwa-kenda is the main hero of the epic. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will be reminded of the Navajo twin gods Nayanazgeni and Thobadzistsini. Nayanazgeni was usually the hero of the epic about the defeat of the evil gods called the Anaye but in the Apache version of the myth his brother Thobadzistsini is the hero and Nayanazgeni is reduced to being a comic relief coward. 

To stay in the area of comparative mythology for a moment Mwindo also shares qualities with the Sumerian demigod Gilgamesh. Like Gilgamesh, Mwindo goes from being brashly overconfident about his own supernatural powers to becoming a more humble hero and more capable ruler as the tale goes on.

The Mwindo Epic begins in the village of Tubondo, surrounded by raphia trees and located on a high hill. The founder and Chief of the village was named Shemwindo and he had seven wives because the Nyanga considered seven to be the number of perfection. Nyanga villages had seven separate kinship halls even if there were not seven separate kinship groups in the village. This was done out of deference to the sheer perfection of the number seven.  Continue reading


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Balladeer’s Blog resumes its blog posts about neglected mythological epics from around the world. This particular epic comes from the Bambara people of the Kingdom of Segu in what is now Mali.

MaliTHE BAKARIDJAN KONE EPIC – Djeli, the poet-historians of the Bambara people for over 300 years, would often recite, chant and sing this epic myth while playing their stringed instruments called ngoni.

A. The future father of Bakaridjan Kone is a noble-born farmer in Disoro Nko. He grows tired of his agrarian lifestyle and his wives. (“Segu City’s where he’d rather be/ He gets allergic smelling hay” Had to be said.) Hearing that Da Monzon, the great ruler of the Kingdom of Segu, knows how to create gold, the disenchanted farmer goes to Segu City and becomes part of the court of Da Monzon, only to learn the gold story is not true.

A ngoni instrument

A ngoni

B. Kumba, one of the errant farmer’s wives, gives birth to a boy. His deadbeat dad refuses to be present for the naming ceremony but hints around to Da Monzon that maybe he should provide him with a gift to celebrate the birth. Da Monzon is disgusted with the man for abandoning his wives and not being present for said naming ceremony.

              Instead, the king sends cowries to the wives so they can perform a proper ceremony, at which he wants the baby to be named Bakaridjan Kone. As the provider of the boy’s name, Da Monzon has made himself the child’s adopted father.

C. Years go by, and, royal politics being what they are no matter the culture or time period, Da Monzon begins to worry that he may get killed and/or overthrown before any of his sons are old enough to take over as king. His morike (oracle or diviner) tells him that no full-grown man poses a threat, but there is a boy-child who would one day be able to seize the throne. The morike advises Da Monzon to find a boy who is tough enough to not cry out when his foot is pierced by the king’s spear. THAT is the boy who might overthrow the king. Continue reading


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LiberiaBalladeer’s Blog presents another neglected epic myth from around the world. In this case, Liberia’s Woi Epic of the Kpelle people.

The Woi Epic is often studied for its use of music, dance, singing and audience participation to reflect the action in the story. Think of it as a combination opera, ballet, live drama and Rocky Horror Picture Show screening.

The order of the episodes in the epic is not set in stone and a performance may include only a few of the episodes, all of them or just one. The finish of each episode is marked by the performer(s) announcing “Dried millet, wese” to which the audience repeats simply “wese.”  

ONE – Woi, a culture deity and master of ritual magic, and his wife Gelengol are the only living things that exist. After Woi impregnates his wife she eventually gives birth to human beings, chickens, goats, cows, sheep and, after all other life-forms, spiders. (Plenty of African myths feature a female deity giving birth to multiple living creatures and many feature the woman also giving birth to tools and weapons and utensils.)    

TWO – Woi notes that the demonic figure Yele-Walo has stolen one of his bulls by sneaking up on it in the form of a rattan plant. Yele-Walo took the bull with him to his hideaway “behind the sky.” Woi prepares for battle and is aided by squirrel-monkeys, tsetse flies and horse-flies. Yele-Walo also steels himself for the upcoming fight. Continue reading


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


MwindoThe lightning god Nkuba looked down from the sky and prepared to attack the semidivine hero Mwindo in order to avenge his (Nkuba’s) friend, the monster Kirimu. That seven- headed creature had been slain, cooked and served as a meal by Chief Mwindo for killing three of his devoted corps of Pygmies. 

The morning after the village of Tubondo had feasted upon the remains of Kirimu, Mwindo had a premonition of impending danger. He announced to his people that his supernatural senses had revealed to him that the bad-tempered god Nkuba had taken offense at his actions against the monster Kirimu. The lightning god was coming for revenge. Continue reading


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


Film, 'Jason And the Argonauts', (1963) Todd Armstrong as Jason fighting the seven-headed Hydra.

The semidivine Chief Mwindo set out to find and battle Kirimu, the seven-headed monster terrorizing his domain. Mwindo was guided by Nkurongo, the sole remaining Pygmy from the foursome who had encountered the creature while hunting a wild boar for the Chief.   

Mwindo carried with him his signature weapon – his conga-scepter, a riding-crop sized staff made of antelope tail. When the Pygmy had led the hero to where Kirimu had slain his comrades the pair saw that the creature was lying in wait in the jungle, ready to strike at anyone who attempted to retrieve the boar slain by the Pygmies. Continue reading


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




This part of the Mwindo Epic picks up with the semidivine hero having been the chief of the village of Tubondo for an unspecified amount of time. One day he was in the mood for a meal of pork so he sent four of his loyal Pygmies out into the jungle to catch a wild boar for him. They set out with their hunting dogs on leashes.

The four Pygmies traveled far off into the jungle but could not find any wild boars or other large game. They began to suspect some supernatural predator of having whittled down the game population in the area. After a few days of searching fruitlessly for a wild boar the four Pygmies at last spotted and speared a boar. 

While the quartet of hunters were slicing off the meat they were attacked by Kirimu, a huge monster with a tough black hide, seven heads with one large eye each, a horn on each head, teeth like a dog and a swollen belly with room for plenty of victims.  Continue reading


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


Nyanga ChiefIn the restored village of Tubondo, with all the dead brought back to life by Mwindo it was at last time to pass judgment on the captured Shemwindo. In some versions of the Mwindo Epic the semidivine hero sits upon a throne made of spears as if deciding the fate of prisoners of war. Other versions claim Mwindo’s friend Nkuba the lightning god sent down copper chairs for Mwindo and his Aunt Iyangura to sit on while judging the former Chief Shemwindo. 

Still other versions depict Iyangura’s husband Mukiti the river god sitting alongside Mwindo and Iyangura as they decide Shemwindo’s fate. Some versions claim the trio floated in the air in the copper chairs provided by Nkuba.   Continue reading


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


Nyanga territoryThe semidivine hero Mwindo at last stood face to face with his evil father Shemwindo. After the villain had led his heroic son on a long chase through the various realms of the gods that honeycombed the subterranean region Mwindo finally had satisfaction.

There in the hut of the Nyanga creator deity Ongo the two adversaries eyed each other with the intense hostility born from prolonged conflict. Mwindo had bested Ongo at the Nyanga gambling game called Wiki and – as good as his word – the creator god had turned Shemwindo over to the victor.     Continue reading


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


elevated hutStill pursuing his evil father, Mwindo arrived at the subterranean realm of Sheburungu, home of the Nyanga creator deity Ongo. (Though Sheburungu was often used as an epithet for Ongo.) Ongo’s kingdom was inhabited by children who never aged. (Michael Jackson’s ideal world!)

The children of Sheburungu gathered around Mwindo and followed him as was the custom in all Nyanga villages when a newcomer arrived. The little boys and girls asked the semidivine hero for food and – as an indication of Mwindo’s good heart despite his tendency to egotism and boastfulness – he resolved to feed them all. Continue reading


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