Oral Literature: African Myth – Earth and Sky

Sogbo had wished to go down to the earth and rule there, but the Goddess Mawu denied him. Mawu said that the earth was further from her, and so the elder Sagbata should be sent down.

Sogbo complained at this show of preference, and so was interested when Legba came to him with a suggestion that perhaps this would be the occasion for a test of their respective powers.

When Sagbata had departed Mawu’s residence in the skies for his new realm on earth, he took all sorts of wealth: the seed, of useful plants and crops, the tools and skills by which humans shape their world. But he did not have room for two item which therefore remained in the skies: water and fire (fire was eventually stolen and brought down to men).

Legba’s suggestion was that Sogbo should withhold the rains which water the earth and see what occurred. Sogbo readily agreed. At the same time, Legba went to Mawu and expressed concern that there might not be enough water in the heavens for the needs of residents, and Mawu gave him a message for Sogbo, ordering her second child to stop the rains for a time.

When Sagbata descended to earth with all his seeds, he was welcomed by the humans who had been placed there, for his gifts promised to make their lives much easier. But the crops he had brought required rain, and the rain did not fall. Soon the humans began to curse Sagbata for the false hopes he had raised and the change in weather that had come about after his arrival.

After a time, Mawu sent Legba down to earth to see how the eldest was doing. Legba came down and found Sagbata in a miserable state, for the earth was parched and barren and the people were very hostile to him. Legba promised to intercede on his behalf with Mawu, and told Sagbata to watch for a messenger who would soon bring him instructions.

Then he returned to Mawu’s house and found the wututu bird.  He sent the bird down to Sagbata with the message that all the people on earth should unite and light a great fire, so that the smoke would rise to heaven and signal their distress. The bird flew down to Sagbata and gave him Legba’s instructions. Ever since that time, it is honoured as the messenger of Mawu.

Sagbata assembled the people and they built a great fire. All the vegetation on earth was so dry that it quickly ignited, and soon the flames were leaping high into the sky and the smoke of the burning rose out of sight into the heavens.

When he saw this, Legba went rushing to Mawu and told her that the earth was on fire, burning so strongly that it might even set off a fire in heaven. Mawu looked down and saw the flames and the smoke, and she ordered Legba to tell Sogbo to release the rains. Legba went to Sogbo, and Sogbo in turn released the rains which put out the flames and restored fertility to the earth.

After that, Mawu decided that while Sogbo controlled the rains in heaven, the people of earth should have the power to call down rains as well, for the perils of the earth might eventually have an effect above.  The wututu bird was sent to live below, among people, to serve as a messenger who would inform the powers of the skies when rain was needed.

(Illustration. 123rf.com) – (From Zimbabwe)

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts