Bantu mythology

The Bantu beliefs are the system of beliefs and legends of the Bantu peoples of Africa. Although Bantu peoples account for several hundred different ethnic groups, there is a high degree of homogeneity in Bantu cultures and customs, just as in Bantu languages.[1] The phrase "Bantu mythology" usually refers to the common, recurring themes that are found in all or most Bantu cultures.[2]


All Bantus traditionally believe in a supreme God. The nature of God is often only vaguely defined, although he may be associated with the Sun, or the oldest of all ancestors, or have other specifications. Most names of God include the Bantu particle ng (nk), that is related to the sky; some examples are Mulungu (Yao people,Akamba of Kenya and others), Mungu (Swahili people), Unkulunkulu (Zulu people), Ruhanga (Nyoro and others), and Ngai (Akamba, Agikuyu and other groups). In many traditions, in fact, God is supposed to live in the skies, much like in western mythologies and religions; there are also traditions that locate God on some high mountain, for example the Kirinyaga mountain - Mt. Kenya, for Kikuyu people.

There are several Bantu myths that are intended to explain, or that elaborate on, the distance between God and men, i.e., the sky and the earth. In many Bantu creation myths the sky and the earth used to be closer to each other, and were separated by God because of some disturbance caused by men. For example, there's a Bantu myth of God being disturbed by the pestles handled by women, that would hit His belly when raised up, and another one where God is offended by the smoke of man-made fires. There are also myths about men trying to climb up to God's place (e.g., by climbing up a very high tree, or up a dangling rope).

God is almost never described as the Creator of all things, as in most Bantu mythologies the universe is eternal and has no beginning. Animals are also a part of this eternal universe. While not its creator, God is intimately related to the universe; animals are sometimes referred to as "His people", and in some of the myths about God moving away from men (for example, the one mentioned above about the smoke of man-made fires) it is clear that God's discontent with men has to do with their habit of manipulating and corrupting the natural world.

In traditional Bantu religions, anyway, God is high above the earth. All religious practices are intended to worship God. This traditional attitude of Bantu belief systems has been modified, to various degrees and in various ways, by the advent of Christianity (or Islam), as the God of Christians and Muslims has been equated to the Bantu supreme God. Mungu has thus become a God that cares about humanity and that it makes sense to worship and pray to.[3]


While in Bantu mythology the universe and the animals are eternal, so that there are no creation myths about their origin, the opposite holds for mankind. In many Bantu myths, the first man was born from a plant: for example, he came from a bamboo stem in Zulu, and from a "Omumborombonga" tree in Herero mythology. Other traditions have the first men come out of a cave or a hole in the ground. People that mainly live on cattle farming usually believe that men and cattle appeared on earth together.

It can be noted that, as is the case with many mythologies, Bantu mythologies about the creation of man are often limited to describing their own origins, rather than those of all of humanity. For example, most Bantu peoples that coexist with bushmen do not include these in their creation myths (i.e., bushmen are considered, like animals and the rest of humanity, to be a part of the eternal universe rather than a part of the specific group or people).


The chameleon is a herald of eternal life in many Bantu mythologies

Most Bantu cultures share a common myth about the origin of death, involving a chameleon. According to this myth, God sent the chameleon to announce to men that they would never die. The chameleon went on his mission, but he walked slowly and stopped along the way to eat. Some time after the chameleon had left, a lizard went to announce to men that they would die. Being much quicker than the chameleon, the lizard arrived first, thus establishing the mortal nature of man. As a consequence of this myth, both chameleons and lizards are often considered bad omens in Bantu cultures.

Depending on local traditions, there are different explanations for the "double message" of the chameleon and lizard. In some cases, God sends both the chameleon and the lizard, with their respective omens, intentionally committing mankind's destiny to the outcome of their race. In some other cases, the lizard eavesdrops the orders God gives to the chameleon, and chooses to bring the opposite message out of envy. In still other cultures, after having sent the chameleon, God changes his mind as a consequence of the bad behaviour of mankind. Missionaries have often adapted the myth of the chameleon to evangelize Bantu Africans; the chameleon, who brings the good news of eternal life to mankind, is thus equated to Jesus Christ.


In most African cultures, including Bantu cultures, veneration of the dead plays a prominent role. The spirits of the dead are believed to linger around and influence the world of the living. This spiritual existence is usually not considered eternal; the spirits of the dead live on as long as there is someone who remembers them. As a consequence, kings and heroes, who are celebrated by oral tradition, live for centuries, while the spirit of common people may vanish in the turn of a few generations.

The dead communicate with the living in different ways; for example, they talk to them in dreams, send omens, or can be addressed by specially gifted seers. If they take any visible shape, it is often that of some animal (most likely a snake, a bird or a mantis).

The living, through clairvoyants and seers, may address the dead in order to receive advice or ask for favours. If a spirit takes offence in something done by a living person, he may cause illness or misfortune to that person; in that case, a clairvoyant may help that person to amend his mistake and pacify the angry dead. Catastrophes, such as famine or war, may be the consequence of serious misbehavior of the whole community.

As is the case with other mythologies, Bantu cultures often locate the world of the dead underground. Many Bantu cultures have myths and legends about living people that somehow manages to enter the world of the dead (kuzimu in Swahili); this may happen by chance to someone who is trying to hunt a porcupine or other animal inside its burrow. Some legends are about heroes who willingly enter the underground world in some kind of quest; examples are Mpobe (in Baganda mythology) and Uncama (Zulu mythology).

While Bantu cultures also believe in other spirits than those of the dead (for example, spirits of nature such as "Mwenembago", "the lord of the forest", in Zaramo mythology), these play a much lesser role. In many cases, they were originally spirit of dead people.

One finds here and there traces of belief in a race of Heaven dwellers distinct from ordinary mortals. For instance, they are sometimes said to have tails.


Bantu mythologies often include monsters, referred to as amazimu in isiZulu and madimo, madimu, zimwi in other languages. In English translations of Bantu legends these words are often translated into "ogre", as one of the most distinctive traits of such monsters is that of being man-eaters. They can sometimes take on the appearance of men or animals (for example, the Chaga living by the Kilimanjaro have tales of a monster with leopard looks) and sometimes can cast spells on men and transform them into animals. A specific type of monsters is that of raised, mutilated dead (bearing a surface resemblance to western culture's zombies) such as the umkovu of Zulu tradition and the ndondocha of the Yao people.


The traditional culture of most Bantu peoples includes several fables about personified, talking animals.

The prominent character of Bantu fables is the hare, a symbol of skill and cunning. Its main antagonist is the sneaky and deceptive hyena. Lion and elephant usually represent brute force. Even more clever than the hare is the turtle, who beats its enemies with its patience and strong will. This symbology is, of course, subject to local variations. In areas where the hare is unknown (for example, along the Congo River), its role is often taken by the antelope. In Sotho culture the hare is replaced by a jackal, maybe due to the influence of Khoisan culture, where the jackal is also a symbol of astuteness while the hare is seen as stupid. Zulus have stories about hares, but in some cases the ferret takes on the role of the smart protagonist.

The popular internet conspiracy theory about "reptilians" possibly has had its origin in those beliefs, as a contemporary sangoma named Credo Mutwa allegedly claimed many Africans believe in their existence.

See also


  1. ^ See Wernehellooooor, chapt. 1
  2. ^ See Lynch, p. xi
  3. ^ Mungu is in fact the standard translation of "God" used in Swahili; for example, in Swahili Bible. The anthem of Tanzania is Mungu ibariki Afrika, "God bless Africa".


  • Patricia Ann Lynch, African Mythology A to Z, Infobase Publishing.
  • Alice Werner, Myths and Legends of the Bantu (1933). Available online here [1].
Absolute (philosophy)

The concept of the Absolute, also known as The (Unconditioned) Ultimate, The Wholly Other, The Supreme Being, The Absolute/Ultimate Reality, The Ground of Being, Urgrund, The Absolute Principle, The Source/Fountain/Well/Center/Foundation of Reality, The Ultimate Oneness/Whole, The Absolute God of The Universe, and other names, titles, aliases, and epithets, is the thing, being, entity, power, force, reality, presence, law, principle, etc. that possesses maximal ontological status, existential ranking, existential greatness, or existentiality. In layman's terms, this is the entity that is the greatest, highest, or "truest" being, existence, or reality.

There are many conceptions of the Absolute in various fields and subjects, such as philosophy, religion, spiritual traditions, formal science (such as mathematics), and even natural science. The nature of these conceptions can range from "merely" encompassing all physical existence, nature, or reality, to being completely unconditioned existentially, transcending all concepts, notions, objects, entities, and types, kinds, and categories of being.

The Absolute is often thought of as generating manifestations that interact with lower or lesser types, kinds, and categories of being. This is either done passively, through emanations, or actively, through avatars and incarnations. These existential manifestations, which themselves can possess transcendent attributes, only contain minuscule or infinitesimal portions of the true essence of the Absolute.

The term itself was not in use in ancient or medieval philosophy, but closely related to the description of God as actus purus in scholasticism. It was introduced in modern philosophy, notably by Hegel, for "the sum of all being, actual and potential".

The term has since also been adopted in perennial philosophy.

Bantu peoples

Bantu people are the speakers of Bantu languages, comprising several hundred indigenous ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa, spread over a vast area from Central Africa across the African Great Lakes to Southern Africa.

Linguistically, Bantu languages belong to the Southern Bantoid branch of Benue–Congo, one of the language families grouped within the Niger–Congo phylum.

The total number of Bantu languages ranges in the hundreds, depending on the definition of "language" vs. "dialect" estimated at between 440 and 680 distinct languages.

The total number of Bantu speakers is in the hundreds of millions, ranging at roughly 350 million in the mid-2010s (roughly 30% of the total population of Africa, or roughly 5% of world population).

About 60 million Bantu speakers (2015), divided into some 200 ethnic or tribal groups, are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.

The larger of the individual Bantu groups have populations of several million, e.g.

the Shona of Zimbabwe (12 million as of 2000),

the Zulu of South Africa (12 million as of 2005)

the Luba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7 million as of 2010),

the Sukuma of Tanzania (9 million as of 2016),

or the Kikuyu of Kenya (7 million as of 2010).

Candomblé Bantu

Candomblé Bantu (also called Candomblé Batuque or Angola) is one of the major branches (nations) of the Candomblé religious belief system. It developed in the Portuguese Empire among Kongo and Mbundu slaves who spoke Kikongo and Kimbundu) languages. The supreme and creative god is Nzambi or Nzambi Mpungu. Below him are the Jinkisi or Minkisi, deities of Bantu mythology. These deities resemble Olorun and the other orishas of the Yoruba religion. Minkisi is a Kongo language term: it is the plural of Nkisi, meaning "receptacle". Akixi comes from the Kimbundu language term Mukixi.

Fumo Liyongo

Fumo Liyongo or Liongo was a Swahili writer and chieftain on the northern part of the coast of East Africa somewhere between the 9th and 13th centuries. He is celebrated as a hero, warrior and poet in traditional poems, stories and songs of the Swahili people, many associated with wedding rituals and gungu dances. Liongo himself is credited with many such songs and poems. Oral tradition is generally coherent in describing Liongo as a king or prince of Pate Island. Several towns on the Tanzanian coast contend as Liongo's birthplace. He is supposed to be buried at Ozi.

Kongo religion

Kongo religion is a broad set of traditional beliefs from the KiKongo speaking peoples. The faith bases itself in the idea of a main creator god named Nzambi Mpungu who made the world and spirits who inhabit it. Priestly doctors known as Nganga try to heal followers minds and bodies. Mediatory roles like being a Nganga require legitimization from the other world of spirits and ancestors. The universe is split between two worlds, one of the living (nza yayi) and a world of the dead (nsi a bafwa), these worlds are split by a body of water. Humans continually pass through these worlds in cycle.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.


Mulungu (also spelled Murungu, Mlungu,Zuma,and in other variants) is a common name of the creator deity in a number of Bantu languages and cultures over East and Central Africa. This includes the Nyamwezi, Shambaa, Kamba, Sukuma, Rufiji, Turu, and Kikuyu cultures. Today, the name "Mulungu" is also often used to refer to the Christian or Islamic God. The Swahili word for God, "Mungu", is a contraction of the original form "Mulungu", which still appears in Swahili manuscripts of the 18th Century.In some Bantu cultures (for example the Ruvu culture) the same word "mulungu" is also used with a distinct meaning, to refer to certain forest spirits; this homonymy has occasionally confused ethnographers and missionaries.


Ngai (other names: Engai, Enkai, Mweai or Mwiai) is the monolithic Supreme God in the spirituality of the Kamba and Kikuyu (or Gikuyu) of Kenya. Ngai is creator of the universe and all in it. Regarded as the omnipotent God, the Kikuyu worshiped Ngai facing the Mt. Kirinyaga (Mount Kenya) while prayers and goat sacrificial rituals were performed under the sacred Mugumo tree (a fig tree species). Occasions which may warrant sacrifice or libation include times of drought; epidemics; during planting and harvesting; and human life stages such as birth, marriage and death.Ngai was often referred to as "Mwene Nyaga" meaning (The Owner of the Dazzling Light). Kenyan anthropologist, later president, Jomo Kenyata notes that: "In prayers and sacrifices Ngai is addressed by the Gikuyu as Mwene-Nyaga (possessor of brightness)." He went on to write that: "This name is associated with Kĩrĩ-Nyaga (the Gikuyu name for Mount Kenya), which means: That which possesses brightness, or mountain of brightness."According to Kikuyu creation myth, Ngai created humanity, first man called Gikuyu and first woman called Mumbi. Ngai created a mountain "As his resting place when on inspection tour and as a sign of his wonders." Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi bore nine daughters who became the origins of 9 clans of Kikuyu people. "The names of the main clans are: (1)Acheera; (2) Agachikũ; (3) Airimũ; (4) Ambũi; (5) Angarĩ; (6) Anjirũ; (7) Angũi; (8) Ethaga; (9) Aithĩrandũ."


Religion is a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.Different religions may or may not contain various elements ranging from the divine, sacred things, faith, a supernatural being or supernatural beings or "some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life". Religious practices may include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of deities), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions may contain symbolic stories, which are sometimes said by followers to be true, that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the universe, and other things. Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs.There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide, but about 84% of the world's population is affiliated with one of the five largest religion groups, namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or forms of folk religion. The religiously unaffiliated demographic includes those who do not identify with any particular religion, atheists, and agnostics. While the religiously unaffiliated have grown globally, many of the religiously unaffiliated still have various religious beliefs.The study of religion encompasses a wide variety of academic disciplines, including theology, comparative religion and social scientific studies. Theories of religion offer various explanations for the origins and workings of religion, including the ontological foundations of religious being and belief.


Ruhanga features in Bantu mythology as the remote creator and sky-God, recognized among the Bahima, the Banyoro, the Batooro, the Bahororo, the Bakiga, the Bamba and all other groups referred to in general as Banyakitara. The Bahima further recognise him as the arbiter of life, sickness, and death. However, unlike creator figures in other religious systems, Ruhanga is generally not a focus of worship.Ruhanga is also considered to be the founder of the Batembuzi dynasty of the Kingdom of Kitara.

Traditional African religions

The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonising nature with the supernatural. According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world."


In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a character in a story (god, goddess, spirit, human, or anthropomorphisation), which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour.

Zulu traditional religion

Zulu traditional religion contains numerous deities commonly associated with animals or general classes of natural phenomena.

Unkulunkulu is the highest God and is the creator of humanity. UNkulunkulu ("the greatest one") was created in Uhlanga, a huge swamp of reeds, before he came to Earth. Unkulunkulu is sometimes conflated with the Sky Sun god UMvelinqangi (meaning "He who was in the very beginning"), god of thunder,earthquakewhose other name is Unsondo, and is the son of Unkulunkulu the Father and Nomkhubulwane the Mother.The word Nomkhubulwane means the one who shapeshift into any form of an animal.

Another name given for the supreme being Unkulunkulu is uSomandla the ultimate Source of all existence.

Other deities include Nomhoyi, the goddess of rivers, and Nomkhubulwane, sometimes called the Zulu Demeter, who is a goddess of the rainbow, agriculture, rain and beer (which she invented),and She is goddess the Mother who is Ma,uNgungi,the deity of the blacksmiths,iNyanga the moon goddess associated with healers who are called IziNyanga; the word Nyanga is a Zulu word for the moon,Sonzwaphi the deity of healing,Ukhulukhulwanaa star being ancestor who came from the stars and found the ancient Zulus living like animals and without laws. He taught them to built huts and taught them the high laws of isiNtu.The word UNkulunkulu is suspected to be a corruption of the word Ukhulukhulwana.

For further referrences: Let Not My Country Die by Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa.

Umsamo Iziko LamaThongo by Prof V.V.O.Mkhize.

Edited by Edmund Mandla Tsawe [NdabazeThongo].

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