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The Dahomey creator deity Mawu-Lisa.
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The traditional beliefs and practices of African people like their history remains largely unfamiliar and unknown to the European and American public compared to more popular worldwide mythologies like the Greco-Roman, Norse, Celtic, Aztec and Mayan pantheons. This page deals with all tribes and cultures originating from Africa, except for the Ancient Egyptians. We should mention that like with the Native Americans, this page encompasses a huge array of different people grouped here together for the sake of convenience. Worth knowing is that a large portion of these stories are oral tradition that haven't survived to the present day or have been "rewritten" with the introduction of the modern Abrahamic religions.

See also these pages for specific cultures:

The Hollywood History version of this are Darkest Africa and Ancient Africa.


Tropes:

  • The Almighty Dollar:
    • Dedun was one of the few Nubian gods remembered from Ancient Africa. Dedun was associated with the lucrative trade of incense, and so is remembered as a god of wealth and prosperity.
    • Ikenga is a Nigerian god of personal power and "strength of movement", who is also associated with fortune and wealth.
    • Libanza was the Bangala god of wealth and his title is “The Rich One”.
  • The Anti-God: Palo religion has Nzambi and Lungombe, though they are technically different aspects of the supreme creator deity. Lungombe is all of the negatives, Nzambi is the positives.
  • Arachnid Appearance and Attire: Anansi the Spider.
  • Backup from Otherworld: There was once a girl in Congo whose mother had died. Her Wicked Stepmother refused to feed her, so the child spent her time crying by her mother’s grave. One morning the girl noticed a great tree bearing many pleasant fruits had grown from the grave. The girl lived on this tree until her stepmother demanded her father cut it down. The girl wept by the grave again and the next morning a pumpkin had grown. The girl received a new pumpkin each day until her frustrated stepmother dug it out by the roots. The next day a stream appeared with sweet clear water that nourished the girl. So the stepmother filled the stream with dirt. The girl lamented by the grave again, when a hunter then appeared. He asked to use the fallen tree for arrows, which she agreed to. The arrows were magical and he effortlessly slew a herd of buffalo. He used the profits to pay bride-price and marry the kind girl. Her mother’s spirit had watched over her.
  • The Blacksmith: Yoruba mythology has Ogun, a particularly fiery deity whose favorite libation is burning rum.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution:
    • Yoruba tradition plays with it. Shango could fry his enemies with lightning but is most known for throwing it at people destined to follow his path. He was once a man gifted with the power to wield lighting who shared it with other Orishas after being promoted to their ranks, but because of this, each one of them has a stronger association with something else. Jakuta's meteorites are what are really associated with divine retribution.
    • Amadioha in Odinani religion can strike you with lightning if he deems you guilty. He can also send bees.
  • A Boy and His X: Matong of the Tswana was very close to his talking pet bull. They were born on the same day and the bull was the only thing Matong’s mother was able to leave for him. The bull protected him from his wicked uncle, lions, other bulls, and more foes as they journeyed together. Matong was devastated when his bull died. But it left him with instructions on how to be accepted by a new tribe and marry its princess.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The Bangala god Libanza and his wife Nsongo are siblings.
  • Came Back Strong: In Yoruban mythology and Santeria, Shango. He was an ordinary king until he hanged himself and became one of the most powerful (and popular) Orisha. His salute means "the king is not hanged".
  • Creation Story: The Tswana say that in the beginning there was a cave called Lowe. The first man Tauetona lived there. The gods made him, his brothers, and the animals. They were told to name everything, so they named their country Taya-Banna or “Origin of Man”. Men lived in peace with the animals but had no wives because the gods put the women on Motlaba Basetsana or “Plain of Women”. The gods sent a chameleon to tell humans they would be immortal but it took too long so they changed their minds, sending the speedy lizard with a message of mortality. The men were sad but were told that they would have children to remember them. Tauetona found the women with the help of a giraffe. So the mother goddess put a magic ointment on the tongues of people to make them speak. The men used their new ability to propose.
  • Divine Ranks: Many religions in Sub-Saharan Africa have an omnipotent creator god, similar to the Abrahamic God, and other lesser deities that are more like the gods in Greek myth. The former is always distinct from and explicitly superior to the latter.
  • Enfant Terrible: Deskaleri the Mysterious was a lad from Mandinka folklore who spoke before he was even born and delivered himself. His brothers considered him an Annoying Younger Sibling and beat him up whenever he tried to tag along with them. He disguised himself as a cotton ball, a gourd, and a silver ring which they figured out each time. That was until they visited their aunt who was actually a witch. She rose each night to kill and eat them in their sleep but Deskaleri pretended he had to pee or fend off mosquitoes, or drink water to keep her at bay through the night. In a frustrated rage she chased the brothers. Deskaleri threw charms at her which made a forest, mountain, and sea to slow down the ravenous she-demon. They climbed a tree to escape so the witch threw palm nuts to get them down. Deskaleri was the only one not tied up in her bag so he threw a palm nut at her and they switched places. The boys made a fire and cast the witch into it by shaking the tree. They returned home singing Deskaleri’s praises.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Nyname of the Ashanti is pretty eldritch in form, the sun is merely one of his eyes. Ngula, who gave birth to him, was created by him before she did so. She is somehow both his mother and daughter. He is a very nice guy so it is hard to call him an abomination. His response to being struck repeatedly by an old woman was to not come back to Earth rather than strike back.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Averted with Libanza. People thought he was a great guy and wanted to join him in the underworld when they died.
  • Girls with Moustaches: The Yoruba goddess Oya is said to sprout a beard before going to battle.
  • God Is Evil: There's a certain tribe in Africa who believe that their supreme god created humanity because he was bored and wanted something to torture. There's good news, though: you can rebel against him, and in fact it is the right and duty of every human to do so.
  • God of Evil: Likundu was the Bangala god of evil. His titles are “Ndoki” or witch and “Ekundu” the red sorcerer.
  • The Heart: The Bangala deity Jakomba was the god of human thoughts, morality, and hearts.
  • Hollywood Chameleons: In the mythology of Nigeria's Yoruba people, Top God Olorun has a chameleon messenger named Agemo. When Olorun granted Obatala permission to create solid land, a powerful water deity named Olokun (who may be male or female, depending on the version of the mythology) was not happy due to the reduction of their territory. So they challenged Olorun to a weaving contest, hoping to prove themselves the more regal deity, and thus more worthy of being leader of the gods. Olorun sent Agemo to compete in his place, and Agemo copied the color of every outfit Olokun made. Olokun submitted to Olorun's authority, under the logic that if Agemo was their equal, then Olorun must be their superior.
  • Human Sacrifice: Bangala men would have their slaves and wives killed to join them in Libanza’s splendid underwater abode after death.
  • Impossible Task:
    • In an African myth, a man tasks his boys with buying enough objects to fill a certain room, to determine who would inherit his farm. The first two boys tried to do it with grain and feathers but failed, while the third son took out a candle and match, filling the room with light.
    • In the mythology of the Akan people of West Africa, the sky god Nyame owned all the stories on Earth. When Anansi the trickster spider offered to buy them, Nyame set a price of four dangerous and/or elusive creatures: Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, the Mboro Hornets, and Mmoatia the fairy. Anansi managed to capture all of them through trickery and guile, and Nyame keeps his bargain, which is why we have stories.
  • "Just So" Story: The Bangala say the sun and moon are lovers. They visit each other every month and the moon vanishes in that time.
  • Kill the God: In Odinani religion, every god except for the Superior one who is the origin of all things, only exists to serve a specific purpose. One that purpose has been fulfilled they die. In this case "killing" them would be a good thing, as it means you are becoming more self sufficient.
  • Lilliputian Warriors: In Zulu folklore there are the Abatwa, who ride ants and are gravely insulted if you say they are small. They kill humans with venomous spears which can even pierce a boot if they happen to be stepped on. They are probably inspired by exaggerated tales of extremely venomous ants.
  • Living Shadow: In Nigeria, the Yoruba people believe that a person has at least three spiritual beings. One of them is the Ojiji, a shadow that follows its owner and awaits their return in heaven when they die.
  • Lord of the Ocean: In Yoruba belief, the orisha Olokun is described as the King of the Oceans. He has rulership over all other water deities and is usually thought of as having an Ambiguous Gender, being depicted as male, female, or androgynous (in acknowledgement of the fluid nature of water). Occasionally, the title of sea deity is given to his daughter Yemoja instead.
  • Love Goddess: The goddess Oshun from the Yoruba religion.
  • Man-Eating Plant: While it isn't a part of mainland Africa, the island Madagascar provides one of the earliest documented examples in the "man-eating tree of Madagascar", a fearsome entity that was described in 1881 in the South Australian Register, when the newspaper published an account of a "German explorer Carl Liche" who supposedly had eyewitnessed a Human Sacrifice ceremony of the "Mkodo" people in inner Madagascar. People doubted the "eyewitness account" and it was suspected to be a hoax early on, yet the man-eating tree still found its believers; in 1924 former Michigan Governor Chase Osborn repeated the legend in a book Madagascar, Land of the Man-eating Tree. However, it has since been confirmed that neither Carl Liche nor the Mkodo ever existed, and that the story was fabricated from scratch. The hoax seems to have been inspired by the first scientific description of carnivorous plants in Charles Darwin's book Insectivorous Plants in 1875.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Grootslang is a creature from South African folklore that resembles a cross between an elephant and a venomous snake (two of the most dangerous animals on the savanna). Though according to its legend, it was technically first; elephants and snakes came from the gods splitting the other beasts up into the two, realizing they had screwed up in creating something that horrible; they just missed one.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • African Living Dinosaurs such as the Mokele-Mbembe have been speculated by some cryptozoologists to have been the inspiration for dragons, as popularized by French cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in his book Les derniers dragons d'Afrique (The Last Dragons of Africa). Biblical stories of dragons, such as the one of Daniel, as well as the Mushussu have been used as evidence for these claims, with the theory being that they were transported to the Middle East from Africa by merchants or explorers.
    • The Grootslang from African folklore is an enormous monster described as a mix of an elephant and a snake that guards a cave loaded with diamonds. Sounds an awful lot like some kind of dragon, right?
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The Hadza people of Tanzania have stories of giants so large, they put elephants between their belts and clothes. They also claim that their distant direct ancestors were giants and were the first people to use fire, medicine, and lived in caves, sounding strangely similar to extinct hominids such as Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The Mami Watanote  is the African equivalent of the mermaid: Usually female, may have a fish (or serpent) tail, but can also appear in human form to mix with the locals, likes to abduct swimmers or boaters, extremely beautiful... but also very jealous if she should chose you as a partner.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Wereleopards, werehyenas, werejackals and werecrocodiles.
  • Oxymoronic Being: In the Yoruba mythology, the supreme god is composed of three separate entities (Olodumare, Olorun and Olofi) who despite having separate roles are considered the same being. Further adding to the confusion is that unlike Jesus, it/they aren't given any sort of personification, as beyond their roles and names the three supreme being aspects are considered "unknowable" and are properly referred to as an "it" with no gender pronouns, as it is considered the "all-encompassing" aspect of existence.
  • Shock and Awe: Yoruba religion gives us the fearsome Shango, who is based on a real-life West African king that has gained fame for his tempestuous personality.
  • Top God:
    • Cagn king god to the San people of Southern Africa. He is also The Trickster in his pantheon.
    • Nyname the sky god is king in the mythology of the Ashanti people of Ghana.
    • Nana Buluku King and Queen of the gods in the religion of the Fon people of West Africa. There are also many lesser god monarchs, such as Sogbo who leads the thunder gods.
    • In Yoruba tradition, the Orisha, owners of heads, are often translated as gods since they are worshiped like a polytheistic pantheon but they really are not. It is just that God is too powerful and defying of description for humans to properly worship so a lot of attention is given to Orishas, who take on forms that can be viewed by people directly, with hope they will act as middlemen to God for humans. Undergods is a more correct term.
    • Ala, embodiment of dry land, is very much the same in the Odinani religion of the Igbo people of southern Nigeria. The supreme eternal god appointed her ruler of everything else. She will live and rule until dry land is no longer needed.
    • Roog, who is known by different names depending on which group you ask, is king god in the mythology of the Serer people of West Africa.
  • The Trickster:
    • The hare is often one in African tales. When his stories were brought over by slaves to America, he became Br'er (pronounced "bruh", for "brother") Rabbit / Compe' Lapin.
    • The tortoise often played this role alongside the hare with the two being rivals. Of course, the tortoise always came out on top. After all, where did you think The Tortoise and the Hare came from?
  • Red Right Hand: The Imbulu of the Nguni peoples were lizard-people who could take any shape they wanted. But they could never hide their tails which had a mouth at the end with an insatiable hunger for milk.
  • Trickster God: Anansi the Spider is often known as the god of stories/knowledge because he tricked sky god Nyame into selling him every story that was ever told. The price was the capture of four dangerous and/or elusive creatures and Anansi promised to deliver five. Many Anansi tales show him being the clever one, and tricking someone else, but many also show Anasi being tricked, if you are clever enough yourself.
  • Troll: The Nigerian trickster god Edshu: In one story, he walks down the road wearing a hat that is red on one side and blue on the other. When people on one side of the road ask "Who's that going by in the red hat?", they get into fights with people on the other side who insist that the hat was blue. The god takes credit for this, saying "Spreading strife is my greatest joy."
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Various African myths and legends include shapeshifters (almost invariably Always Chaotic Evil cannibalistic witches and shamans) who take the forms of lions, leopards, hyenas, jackals, crocodiles, snakes, bats, dogs, pigs, water buffalo, geese, grasscutter rats, wildcats and sharks. They use these shapes to kill and eat people, dig up graves, destroy crops, and other heinous acts.
  • War God: Igbo mythology has two war gods. Ikenga, the proud ram horned (sometimes literal two faced warrior depending on the region) warrior that represents just war for the sake of improvement (his domains were also Achievements and Time). The other is Ekwensu, lord of Chaotic War, tortoises and bargains.

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