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The Myths, Folklore, and Legends of Africa Revealed

by Sandy Salle on December 23, 2011

Every culture has its own folklore and myths that have been passed on from generation to generation. Because Africa is comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of different cultures, it is consequently celebrated for thousands of mythical stories and folklore.

Many of Africa’s legends and myths encompass common themes, including life after death, world creation and origin, animals, and even the geography of the land. They also often deal with multiple Gods and spirits.

There are also many legends and beliefs that evolve around life after death and the spirits of the ancestors. The San tribesmen, for example, believe that their ancestors who have died turn into stars. Other myths state that ancestral spirits are with humans each day and that ceremonies must be performed to show respect to these relatives.

Below, we’ve outlined just a few stories and myths that have been passed down through the ages in Africa:

Table Mountain Myths: Situated at the tip of Africa is one of the African continent’s most magnificent attractions—Table Mountain. Aside from the spectacular beauty and sheer size of this extraordinary natural formation, Table Mountain has been the focus of several ancient African myths and legends.

Captain Van Hunks and the Devil: Dutch legend has it that the 18th-century sea captain, Jan Van Hunks, retired to live on Table Mountain with his wife. To seek seclusion, Van Hunks would travel to the top of Table Mountain’s Devil’s Peak where he would rest and smoke his pipe. One day, Van Hunks was met by a stranger who asked the captain to participate in a smoking contest. Since Van Hunks never denied a good match, he agreed to enter the smoking contest with the stranger. After a great deal of tobacco was smoked, the stranger gave up. To Van Hunks’ surprise, the stranger turned out to be the devil, who was not pleased at losing. He vanished along with Van Hunks that night, with the thick cloud of pipe smoke still looming in the air.

Today, visitors to Table Mountain will see a table-cloth-like cloud that covers the top of the mountain. Legend says that this is the devil and Van Hunks continuing their smoking match.

The Battle of Qamata and the Sea Dragons: According to the ancient legend of the Xhosa people, Qamata was the creator of the world. As he was creating the earth, he wanted to form dry land. The dragons beneath the sea were furious with Qamata in his quest to create dry land and began an epic battle. Qamata’s mother, earth Goddess, Djobela, helped Qamata by creating four powerful giants that would protect the earth from the dragons. The giants were defeated by the dragons but wished Djobela to turn them into mountains so that they could continue to protect the land. According to traditional Xhosa beliefs, one of these four giants was turned into Table Mountain.

Animal-Related Myths: Animals serve a large role in the myths and legends of Africa. Many are personified in stories, embodying characteristics such as jealousy, trickery, and greed.

Many West African myths contain animal trickster characters—two of the most popular being a spider and a hare. The spider, Anansi, was portrayed as an animal that could trick even the most fearsome of creatures.

Other myths spotlight animals in a more positive role, such as the San tribesmen’s belief that the praying mantis is responsible for creating words and fire.

Gain a deeper insight into a trip to Africa by visiting our YouTube page.

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