African Creation Stories
by Willow A. Klitz
The Shilluks of the Nile region, for example, tell a story in which humankind is fashioned out of clay. In each region of the world in which the creator traveled, he created humans from the materials available, making some white, others red or brown, and the Shilluk black. He then took a piece of earth and gave them arms, eyes, etc. This story says much about their values and culture. In distributing the characteristics to man, he chose first to give them the ability to do work through the use of their arms and legs. They were then given the ability to see and taste their food. Finally, they were given speech and hearing with which to entertain oneself ("An African Story"). This shows the value system at work among the Shilluk, that work comes above all else. It also attempts to explain the differences between men of various races by telling of how they came about.
A West African creation tale explains how two spirit people were accidentally sent down to earth by the sky god. Lonely, the people decided to create children from clay, but feel they must hide them when the sky god comes down. Because they are hidden in fire, the children soon turn to various shades based on how long they had been exposed to the heat. Over time, these clay children grow up and move to various regions of the earth, ultimately populating it (Fader). Much like that of the Shillu k people, this story serves a two-fold purpose: it explains both the creation of man as well as accounts for the differences among him. This tale shows the West Africans value these differences because they feel that all men are created equal and should be treated as such.
The Boshongo, a central Bantu tribe of the Lunda Cluster, tell a different story. For them, their creator was a man named Bumba who created both the sun and moon along with various creatures before man ("An African Cosmogony"). In the explanation of how each creature created another, one can see the deep relationship between the Boshongo and nature. Because they were the last to be created rather than the first, they are no more important than any other living organism. There is a oneness that exists in their society, for they all work for the betterment of their world.
The Abaluyia, on the other hand, believe that God created man so that the sun would have someone to shine on. He then created plants and animals to provide them with food and gave man woman so that they would have someone with whom to talk (Mbiti 120). This shows that the Abaluyia are a very self-centered, chauvinistic group. They believe, in essence, that the world was created exclusively to suit the needs of men (and not women) with little regard for any other creature. For the Abaluyi a, the world truly does revolve around them.
Despite their differences, these four stories do share the belief that they were created by a god. While they vary in their description of how this occurred and why, they all serve the same purpose. Through their explanation of how this occurred, one can see what they view their place in the world to be. By answering their questions, these stories served as both a comforting basis for the African people and a way of connecting to future generations. As such, these tales of creation are works of truly great literature.
Fader, Ellen, "The Fire Children: A West African Creation Tale." Fire Children: A West African Creation Tale." The Horn Book Magazine Sept.-Oct. 1997: 610. Encarta. Online Information Access Company. 18 February 1997.
Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. New York: Doubleday, 1970.