Barotse

This creation story comes from the Lozi peoples who live along the Zambezi River in Barotse Province of western Zambia. It was originally collected directly from Lozi teller, in the native (Kololo) language, and the vibrancy of the oral tradition is fully evident here, even though the story itself may have been handed down for many thousands of years.

As in Bereshit, a strong focus is on the separation of mankind from the creator, but the perspective from this African tradition is that the creator retreated into heaven, and left man to fend for himself on Earth. Although the experiences at the root of this ancestral memory is the same for all peoples, the relationship we have with this history is significantly different from culture to culture.

There are a number of strong parallels to Bereshit. Firstly, Kamonu disturbed Nyambi by how much he resembled his creator. Secondly, Kamonu did not respect the sacred order of nature. Thirdly, Nyambi gave Kamonu a garden to cultivate, and finally, the building of the tower, and the failure to reach Nyambi.

God Retreats to the sky 

In the beginning, Nyambi made all things. He made animals, fishes, birds. At that time he lived on Earth with his wife, Nasilele. One of Nyambi’s creatures was different from all the others. His name was Kamonu. Kamonu imitated Nyambi in everything Nyambi did. When Nyambi worked in wood, Kamonu worked in wood; when Nyambi forged iron, Kamonu forged iron.

After a while Nyambi began to fear Komonu.

Then one day Komonu forged a spear and killed a male antelope, and he went on killing. Nyambi grew very angry at this.

“Man, you are acting badly” he said to Komonu. “These are your brothers. Do not kill them.”

Nyambi drove Kamonu out into another land. But after a while Kamonu returned. Nyambi allowed him to stay and gave him a garden to cultivate.

It happened that at night buffaloes wandered into Kamonu’s garden and he speared them; after that some elands, and he killed one. After some time, Kamonu’s dog died; then his pot broke; then his child died. When Kamonu went to Nyambi to tell him what had happened he found his dog and his pot and his child at Nyambi’s.

Then Kamonu said to Nyambi, “Give me some medicine so that I may keep my things.” But Nyambi refused to give him medicine. After this Nyambi met with his two counsellors and said, “How shall we live since Kamonu knows too well the road hither?”

Nyambi tried various means to flee Kamonu. He removed himself and his court to an island across the river. But Kamonu made a raft of reeds and crossed over to Nyambi’s island. Then Nyambi piled up a huge mountain and went to live on its peak. Still Nyambi could not get away from man. Kamonu found his way to him. In the meantime men were multiplying and spreading all over the Earth.

Finally Nyambi sent birds to go look for a place for Litoma, the village of Nyambi. But the birds failed to find a place. Nyambi sought help from a diviner. The diviner said, “Your life depends on Spider.” And Spider went and found an abode for Nyambi and his court in the sky. Then Spider spun a thread from Earth to the sky and Nyambi climbed up on the thread. Then the diviner advised Nyambi to put out spider’s eyes so that he could never see the way to heaven again and Nyambi did so.

After Nyambi disappeared into the sky, the Kamonu gathered together and said, “Let us build a high tower and climb up to Nyambi.” They cut down trees and put log on log, higher and higher towards the sky. But the weight was too great and the tower collapsed. So Kamonu never found his way to Nyambi’s home.

But every morning when the sun appears, Kamonu greeted it, saying, “Here is our king. He has come.” And all the other people greeted him shouting and clapping. At the time of the new moon men call on Nasilele, Nyambi’s wife.

 Adapted from E.W. Smith African Ide

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