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African Myths of Origin

Author Stephen Belcher
Translator Dr. Musa Al-Halool
Publish Year
ISBN 9789948232933


This book was published in English in 2005 and contains seventy-one chapters. Each chapter contains a number of legends that Africans still discuss today surrounding the origins of their kingdoms, tribes, livestock, and plantations, or how they learned this or that craft. These legends were originally told orally until Westerners (first traders, colonists, then ethnographers and anthropologists) began embracing Africa, and wrote them down. In the colonial era and beyond, Africans themselves wrote these legends in the colonial language imposed on them in order to preserve their rich oral heritage. Not all of these legends are intended for fun or to pass the time. They explain, in a mythical way, how the worldviews of the peoples of Africa were shaped and differentiated from each other, as well as how their cultures were founded: they were either a gift of life, a brave adventure, a mere coincidence, or borne of conflict and competition. Although the content of the stories is known to everyone in the group, not everyone is authorized to tell the story. It is not the subject of ordinary discussion and should be handled only by experts with knowledge and authority.
The stories in the book cover all of Africa, except for the Arab African countries (although they do feature Pharaonic Egypt). This exception is due to the fact that Islam and Tadwin (the writing down of the Quran) largely stymied the popularisation of myths orally transmitted by Africans about their imagined history. This notwithstanding, some African Muslims did weave tales about well-known Arab and Muslim figures, as did they borrow stories from Arab historical and narrative traditions and use them for their own ends. The translator referred to these allegorical and metaphorical places in the Notes section.