Oral Literature: Swahili Myth – Heaven and Earth

When God’s moment had come, he began creating the world of matter. He rolled out the day-sky and the night-sky like an immense tent, or like carpets full of mysterious signs and symbols.

In the night-sky He placed the fixed stars like lamps with motionless flames. Others move along the sky, each following a path which only He knows. The moon too travels along the night-sky, changing its shape as He wishes. In the radiant blue day-sky He placed the glowing sun and ordered her to rise in the East, travel along the sky and set in the West. He created clouds, and painted them in different colours, to sail like ships along the day-sky; towards evening He makes them glow red. Some are dark and heavy with rain which He will shower over the lands He wishes to bear fruit.

He constructed the Universe in seven heavens, the seventh being the lowest level of Paradise. Each heaven has its own planet, the lowest being the moon. The second heaven is ruled by Mercury, the third by Venus, the fourth by Mars, the fifth by Jupiter, the sixth by Saturn and the seventh by the Sun. The guardians of these heavens are the souls of eight prophets of God. They are Adam in the first heaven, Isa (Jesus) and his cousin Yahya (John the Baptist), together in the second, Yusufu (Joseph) in the third, Idirisi (Enoch) in the fourth, Haruni (Aaron) in the fifth and Musa (Moses) in the sixth.

Abraham is the guardian of the seventh heaven; his station is near the wall of the Celestial Mosque where 70,000 angels come to pray every day – and they are never the same ones.

Opposite the high heavens, there are the deep hells, seven layers of them, each one more terrible than the one above it, each one destined for a particular type of sinner. In the deepest Hell, farthest away from their Maker, will dwell the unbelievers.

Then God spread out the earth, like a carpet for men to sit on during their meal. For the Earth is full of food for all the creatures of the Lord. And He caused some parts to be barren sands, but wherever He wished made grass sprout for the hooved animals, and trees for the monkeys, and fruit-bearing vegetation with colourful products, a pleasure for the tongue.
He divided the land from the sea, creating the immeasurable ocean on one side, and the high walls of the continents on the other. He heaped up the rocks to be menacing mountains, then told the streams to rush down them in crystal torrents.

He sowed the islands, to be colourful bouquets growing out of the ocean, and a pleasure for the sailing skippers. He commanded quiet pools to reflect the blue skies and the mighty rivers to spread out over the marshes.

He gave a voice to the wind, so that it can whisper as well as roar while it travels over the countries. It pushes the clouds in all directions and it carries the birds on its powerful back. It blows the ships to their destination and it whips up the waves into frenzy.

Then He told the Earth to teem with insects, and lo, a hundred thousand kinds crawled through the sand, and flew up into the air on diaphanous wings. The butterflies flutter and the beetles creep; they all have the symbols of their Maker written on their backs. Then He released swarms of birds that flew joyfully into the air. Some sat down on branches to praise their Maker with songs in unknown languages. Others built their nests, and He alone was their teacher.

Then He told the ocean to be full of fishes of different forms, and so it happened. Only He knows how many there are — and they all have different colours. Then He told the lizards to exist and they obeyed, basking in His sunshine, and the croaking frogs who praise the Lord in their own language. Only He knows how many there are and how many eggs they must lay.

Then the Merciful Maker called to the heavy animals to come into existence and they did, praising Him by lowing and bleating. He created the flesh-eating beasts with claws, and the bowling ones which eat carrion. He designed the quiet giraffe and the irascible buffalo, herds of antelope and striped donkeys, the river-dwelling hippopotamus and the gigantic elephant.

Only He knows how many species there are; He knows the colour of every feather, the sharpness of every tooth. He created the herds of docile cows, their bulging udders full of milk, and the strong-legged camels that travel without thirst. He decided the life-time of the butterfly, and He lit the glowing light of the fire-fly. He decided the law of His creation: that the small fishes will be eaten by the big ones, and they in their turn swallowed by yet bigger fishes. The vultures will descend from the sky to pick the bones of those that die. He makes green leaves for the goats; He makes the dove unaware of the swift swoop of the hawk. He gives the dead bodies to the worms and maggots; then He gives the worms to the chickens and the unsuspecting chicken to the bateleur eagle, which flies up with it into the pillar less sky.

He caused all his creatures to grow and multiply. Fresh green grass stalks sprout after every bush fire; smooth reddish mangoes bulge every year between the dark green leaves of the mother tree.

In every rainy season the white ants swarm out, rustling in their myriads like the first heavy showers. The black ants march along their own roads, hatching their young in their mounds. Which animal is there that does not have children?
The baboon-babies cling to their mothers’ breasts, the long-legged giraffe sucks his mother. What is there that He has forgotten? Are all these miracles not signs to you of His infinite wisdom, of His immense power?

Myths and Legends of the Swahili – Zanzibar Archipelago – Tanzania

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