The Shoe in the Sky
In a land of over one thousand languages, Diversity is the norm for Africa, not the exception. The mythologies of Africa also reflect this diversity. However, just as some themes are timeless, similar themes are found throughout African mythologies. Much of what modern man knows about Egyptian mythology starts with the pyramids that seem to rise out the terrain. Egyptians were not focused on death but on life. Their extensive rituals of death which included mummification and elaborate burials were to provide for a new life after death. As one ancient Egyptian song explains in its lyrics – “Earthly life is just a fleeting dream. When you reach the land of the dead, you are welcomed safely home.
The San Bushmen have a similar opinion in the myths about /Kaggen. The native people of the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa are descended from a culture that dates back over 30,000 years. The San have a “click” phonetic sound in their language represented by the “/” or forward slash symbol. We may think of this character of the forward slash as a modern-day technical symbol but it really signifies one of mankind’s earliest human vocalizations.
The San mythological figure “/Kaggen” has a prominent role in many myths. In one, /Kaggen finds a piece of a shoe of his son-in-law, Kwammang-a, who is also called the Rainbow. Legend has /Kaggen finding this piece of shoe and then soaking it in water. The portion of the shoe turned into an eland, an animal we would call an antelope or a type of deer. /Kaggen made the eland a pet and fed it honey. According to the legend, Kwammang-a, along with his son /Ni-opwa the Ichneumon find the eland and kill it, beginning to butcher it when/Kaggen arrives upon the scene. In great misery, /Kaggen pierces the gallbladder of the eland. Darkness pours out of the gallbladder and covers the world. /Kaggen tosses one of his own shoes into the sky and the shoe becomes the moon.
San mythology tells of the moon walking across the sky at night. As the moon becomes full, the story tells of the sun piercing it. The moon decays from this blow but, following a promise of the creator /Kaggen, is slowly reborn. The San believed their Creator deity /Kaggen wanted rebirth for all mankind. As the moon, he represented a return to life, a wish the San felt /Kaggen wanted them to also have. [Soiler alert for tomorrow: This is not the end of the story!]
I have always been enthralled by often these ancient mythologies touch on what are actually very basic facts. The moon does rise throughout its phases to full glory only to become nothing again and then grow once more. While I doubt it is the shoe of /Kaggen, it is a wonderful analogy for hope.
We each experience types of death, not just with loved ones or friends but personally in our daily lives. We have the rise of hopes which are then trampled on or perhaps even crushed. We spend time working on a project only to have it canceled or ignored. Maybe you plan a lovely dinner and then no one can make it. Recently I invited someone to attend a conference with me. Three weeks have passed since the conference was over and I still have no response to my initial invitation to this person, a very capable and professional individual.
Sometimes life interferes with our living. Often we take these cancellations or deaths of plans personally, too personally. Certainly the lack of a response to the conference invitation was rude but that should not be interpreted as my failing. Sometimes, though, we do indeed fail. In spite of all our efforts, our work is unsuccessful.
Disappointment and death are facts of life. What we need to remember is that they are not the end. Like the moon, we can restart and move forward. As we move across the terrain of our life, as we put on our shoes each day and walk towards our future, we also can give rebirth to our dreams and create new expectations. Today really is the first day of the rest of your life.