This story comes from the Kono people of Guinea. Like many African stories, it is as concerned with the origin of death as with the origin of life, and with the origin of the many races that inhabit the earth.


Death, and Life and Death

      In the beginning there was nothing: neither matter nor light existed. In this world lived only Death, whose name is Sa, and his wife and and their only daughter. Needing a place for his family to live, Sa eventually used his magical powers to create a vast sea of mud. They lived in this filth and instablilty for many years.

      Finally the god Alatangana came to visit Sa and his familty. Alatangana was appalled at the mess in which they lived, and he condemned Sa for creating such a dirty place that lacked light and life. To set things right, Alatangana first consolidated the mud into the solid earth. However, this lifeless expanse across which he could now walk still depressed him. First he made plants to cover the new earth, and then animals to live on it. Even Sa realized that Alatangana had made the world a much better place, and he took Alatangana in as his guest.

      Alatangana was wifeless, and eventually he decided he wanted Sa's daughter for his wife. Sa at first was diplomatic in refusing to let Alatangana marry his daughter, but finally he explicitly refused Alatangana's request. Alatangana, however, wooed Sa's daughter, and eventually they eloped to a distant region of the earth.

      Alatangana and his new wife set up a happy home amidst the paradise that Alatangana had created from Sa's sea of mud. They had fourteen children. Seven were girls and seven were boys, and of each four had light skin and three had dark. This did not distress Alatangana, but he and his wife were shocked to find that their chidren spoke different languages that the parents did not understand.

      Frustrated with this state of affairs, Alatangana finally went to Sa for advice. Sa explained that this was a curse that he had put on Alatangana's children because of the way Alatangana had stolen his daughter. Alatangana returned home, and eventually his children went off to found the peoples of the world, the French, the English, and the other European peoples, and the Kono, the Guuerze, the Manon Malinke, and the Toma Yacouba of Africa.

      All these descendents of Alatangana and his wife still lived in darkness, because although Alatangana had made the life that covered the earth, he had could not find a way to make light. As before, his frustration forced him to call on Sa for help, but rather than face his hostile father-in-law, he decided to send two messengers. He chose the tou-tou bird, a small red bird that is one of the first to arise each morning in the forest, and the rooster. These two birds went to ask Sa how the world could be lit so that the new peoples of the earth could see to work.

      When the two presented their problem to Sa, he invited them into his home and taught them a song with which they could call forth daylight. When the two returned to Alatangana, he was furious at the nonsense they reported about a song they had learned. He nearly killed them, but eventually he sent them on their way.

      Not long afterward, the rooster broke into song, and the tou-tou bird sang its first notes. For the first time, dawn began to appear, and soon it was day. The sun that they had called forth made its way across the sky, and when it set the stars appeared to provide faint light at night. Every day since has begun the same way, with the call of the tou-tou bird and the cry of the rooster.

      Alatangana was grateful for the gift that he now realized Sa had given to him and his children. Sa was not long, however, in calling for payment of the debt. He came to Alatangana and pointed out the good things that he had done despite Alatangana's theft of his daughter. Now he demanded that in return he could, whenever he liked, claim any of Alatangana's offspring. Knowing his guilt and his debt to Sa, Alatangana agreed, and so it is that Alatangana's children, the human people, must meet with Death whenever he calls for them.




Ulli Beier, 1966, The Origin of Life and Death–African Creation Myths: London, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 65 p. (GR355.B4)  


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