In the last episode of Mythology 101 we took a deeper look into the Norse mythology of Thor and Loki in particular. So far we have covered most of the major continents from Europe to Scandinavia, so it’s probably time to dig a little deeper into some of the mythology of Africa. This time let’s focus on the Dark Side of the Dark Continent’s mythology, the dangers and the demons, the nightmares and the stories of warning.
Before we get started, we should look at the mythology of how things got started…
According to the people of Zaire, there was a god named Bumba (aka Mbombo). One day Bumba became very ill with a very sore stomach, it kept getting worse until finally he vomited, he vomited the sun, then the moon and finally the earth. He felt a little better, then he got sick again, this time vomiting nine animals; a leopard, an eagle, a crocodile, a fish, a tortoise, another leopard (this time black), a white heron, a scarab beetle, and a goat. The newly formed animals then also got sick, and they vomited up the rest of the world’s creatures. The Heron threw-up all the flying birds, the crocodile threw-up all the snakes and iguanas, the goat threw-up all the horned animals, the fish threw-up all the other fish, and the scarab threw-up all the insects. Just when things seemed to be looking up, Bumba got sick again, and threw up mankind. Just seems really gross to me.
With mankind started, mythology started to grow, including the story of how a god named Chukwu helped to determine how death would be handled in the world. He decided to send instructions to man, and first sent a dog with a message, “if someone dies, lay them on the ground and sprinkle ashes on them, this will return them to life”. But, along the way the dog got distracted, like dogs do, and he layed down for a nap. Worried that man wouldn’t get the message, Chukwu decided to send a sheep with the instructions, but the sheep stopped to eat along the way, and then forgot what the message was. The sheep decided to make something up, and told man that they should bury the dead person in the ground. By the time the dog finally showed up with the correct message, nobody believed him, and now death would be permanent on earth, stupid sheep.
Now that we know how things started, and how death would be handled, we can start to look at some of the mythology of the monsters that could bring death. One of those stories is creatures known as the Adroanzi. The stories say that at night, they would follow people who were walking alone, and in fact would protect those people from dangers. However, if that person ever looked over their shoulder to see their followers, the Adroanzi would kill them.
There is also the stories of the ogres known as the Aigamuxa, apparently they have long teeth and their eyes are on the bottom of their feet. They try to sneak up on human beings and rip them to shreds with their teeth. There are many stories of people that try to escape by being clever, the most successful ones involve sprinkling spices or tobacco dust on the ground. the spice or tobacco gets into their eyes (which are on their feet), and gives them a chance to get away.
There is a recurring creature in a number of different tribes across Africa, it involves a creature that is literally half a man, he has one leg, one arm, and one side. If he is seen from the missing side, he is invisible. In Central Africa he is known as the Chiruwi, and if he encounters a man, he will challenge him to a fight. If he loses, he will ask be to be spared, and gives knowledge and medicine in return, allowing them to become a medicine man. If Chiruwi wins the fight, he will kill the loser. The Zulu’s have a similar creature that goes by the name of Tikdoshe, much like Chiruwi, he will challenge men to a death-match. The reward for defeating Tikdoshe is a collection of medicines and magic.
The Khoikhoi’s version of the half-man is a monster, surprisingly agile, he can jump over bushes and shrubs in pursuit of the men it wants to devour, there is no stories of a prize for not dying.
It seems that a lot of the mythology of monsters involve creatures that are challenging, hunting or trying to trick the humans, much like Ga-gorib, also known as the ‘thrower down’. He would sit on the edge of a pit, and dare men that walked by, to throw rocks at him> When men threw stones, the rocks rebounded and killed them, then they would fall into the pit. There is many stories of men trying to outwit Ga-gorib, they usually involve some form of distraction or wrestling to push Ga-gorib into his own pit.
Some of the stories even lead us to believe that a King Kong style area exists with dinosaur like creatures such as Mokele-Mbembe. In the early days of recorded time, European travelers told stories of a massive animal the size of an elephant, with a long neck and a snake-like tail, sometimes with a single horn or tooth. Mokele-Mbembe would attack small boats and retreat into caves. The locals knew to avoid him, because apparently he was a vegetarian… sounds like a dinosaur to me.
The last and maybe scariest monsters I want to tell you about is Shakpana, in Nigerian lore, he is said to be the god of the pox. He would visit villages at night, and inflict the villagers with pocks and madness that would spread quickly throughout the tribe. I did not include a picture, and I highly recommend against Google searching smallpox. Terrifying!
The moral of the story is, that, no matter how creative you might be, somewhere in history someone has come up with a crazier idea… so when it comes time to think of your enemies and game’s monsters, perhaps you should look into mythology and see what crazies have already been dreamed up, and use those to influence your designs.
Stay tuned for future episodes of Mythology 101, and if you have ideas for an area I haven’t covered yet, drop me a line.
Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS
- Mythology 101: Episode 1 (Roman)
- Mythology 101: Episode 2 (Greek)
- Mythology 101: Episode 3 (Australian Aboriginal)
- Mythology 101: Episode 4 (Chinese)
- Mythology 101: Episode 5 (Dragons)
- Mythology 101: Episode 6 (Egyptian)
- Mythology 101: Episode 7 (Celtic)
- Mythology 101: Episode 8 (Native American & First Nations)
- Mythology 101: Episode 9 (Norse)