Oral Literature: Swahili Myth – How Man Was Moulded

“God made the night cover the day, and so their alternation marks the progress of time.

One day, he called together his angels. They all appeared before His Throne, performing the ritual prayer of morning-time. Then the Lord spoke: It has pleased Me to decide that I will create a being – with brains like you, but his substance will be clay. I will mould him out of earth, and on earth he will live. He will rear cattle and till the fields. He will learn to sail the perilous ocean and catch My silver fishes in nets. He will take possession of all My creatures on earth and rule them, following My laws. He will be My servant; his children will spread out over the face of the earth, as numerous as ants, and they will work and worship Me.

The angels are permitted to express their feelings, and the strongest one is apprehension. With their lucid minds they foresee what will happen. They themselves are made out of the substance of pure light. Their transparency makes them honest: they have no solid faces behind which evil can be hid. They are pure, and without sin. Their high intelligence makes them perceive the sufferings of other creatures, and the wishes of their Master. And so they are devoted to worship and service, to helping and relieving others.

Their purity also gives them altruism: Their diaphanous brains breed no egoism, they cannot think of anything to wish for; no desire swells up in their sinless souls.

But what will man be like? His body will be lumpy and full of lust like that of dogs and pigs; like them, he will want to procreate and multiply, to fight and to kill. He will not be transparent like sunrays in the morning; he will be foggy like dark rainclouds. Apart from greed and cruelty, there will be stupidity and dishonesty in him. Brains of clay will be tardy and turgid. His thinking will be sensual rather than sensible, reluctant to accept the necessary, slow to service, prone to pride. He will hide his hate and lust behind a stony skull. Worst of all, he will satisfy his senses rather than sing hymns to praise his Maker.

His involved thinking will not solve problems, but will lead to complications which his lack of honesty will seek to conceal rather than simplify: direct thinking is the fruit of honesty. His greed will cause him to steal fruits and females from his neighbour’s garden, and jealousy will inflame his mind. He will seek glory by conquering portions of God’s earth, and he will take pleasure in killing, like a martin. The intelligent angels could already see black clouds of smoke hanging over the earth: the fierce fire of war.

But their Lord reassured them: do not fear, I will what I will, I know what I know. I have a purpose which I will fulfil after thousands of years. Then you will see the reason for the creation of man. The angels said no more but intoned hymns to praise His wisdom. Then God took some fat clay, grey and solid, and kneaded it in the shape of a man. Adam (earth) was ready; he lacked only one thing: Life. God pronounced the word, and it came to Adam.

Life spread through his body, entering through his mouth. Life throbbed through Adam’s veins, adding colour to his skin. Blood travelled to his hands and feet and made them ready for movement. Warmth rippled through his muscles and the first sparks of thought lit up in his dark brain. Adam shuddered; his eyelids trembled and then opened, like the lid on a coffer full of jewels. The angels held their breath as they saw this handsome lad open his crystal eyes to admit the sunlight.
Adam opened his mouth, drew breath, his tongue moved, and his voice rang out, proclaiming the greatness of his Maker: `Al-Hamdu Lillâhi r-Rahamâni r-Rahîm!’

The angels were greatly astonished to see this clay creature speak intelligently and devoutly. They admired this beautiful new creation, and all obeyed their Lord when He commanded them to prostrate themselves before Adam and worship him. Except none”.

Myths and Legends of the Swahili – Zanzibar Archipelago – Tanzania

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