Forgotten yet Living Tales
“Myths symbolize human experience and embody the spiritual values of a culture. Every society preserves its myths because the beliefs and world-view found within them are crucial to the survival of that culture.” This is the introduction to anthology on myths entitles “World Mythology”, written by Donna Rosenberg. This is a great book with one caveat – it references no African myths except those of Egypt. In my research for this series (Yes, I do research!) I discovered many books leave out the rich volume of stories that comprise African mythology. In my humble opinion, this is a grave error. Let’s postulate what might motivate such omissions.
As we’ve discussed before, many people think of Africa as a country. It is not. It is a very large and geographically diverse continent. The cultures and languages of Africa are equally diverse with an estimated fifteen hundred to over two thousand languages. Some of these languages have been broken down into what linguistics call language families. For example, Afro-asiatic has spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and some regions of the Sahel. Africa also has a wide variety of sign languages. Then there are the hundred-plus languages used for inter-ethnic communication. These languages alone are spoken by tens of millions of people. The country of Nigeria has over five hundred languages spoken within its borders.
Each of these languages represents a specific culture with its own identifying history and yes, mythology. We could spend ten years of daily posting on this blog (365 x 10 = 3650) and still only cover a mere drop in the stories of Africa. It is a daunting task and many simply do not attempt it.
So, with the technical problems of this past week and all the delays this month, will I just avoid African mythology as well? Of course not. It has reduced the length to which we can go delve into them, sadly, and it will require multiple postings to be done each day this week. Nonetheless, African mythology is definitely worth our time.
Usually mythological tales are about an ancient culture, stories from a time long ago about people who lived in antiquity. African myths differ. They are a bridge from the past to the present as the people who believe prepare for the future. They myths of Africa are as real today as the first time they were told. They breathe with life and help form the rich heritage of a wonderfully diverse land mass, representative of the entire planet. Like a travel brochure hints at the joys of a foreign country, I hope these brief glimpses entice and encourage you to study African mythology further.
We all have heard the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover.” Neither the people of the African continent nor the mythologies are worthy of being categorized as one great big sameness. Organizing mankind by ethnicity may or may not have been a good idea when it first started. It does lead to some incorrect assumptions. While people of European ancestry are considered to be Caucasian, the name comes from the Caucus Mountain range which was once home to the ethnic group known as American Indians, a culture which does not have its origins in the American continents. It would be wise to remember, as we study African mythology, that each of these cultures is a separate entity – delightful and mysterious in its own fashion – much like mankind itself.