Ngano| The moon and how the world was made

A long time ago, the earth was a cold empty place with nothing but land and a vast body of water called Dziva. Mwari, an ever present being, lived in the skies. One day while gazing from above, he suddenly smiled as he thought to himself. He was going to make a man. Immediately, he took to task. With dust from the earth, and water from Dziva, Mwari, with his own hands, delicately molded, shaped and fashioned the man. When his work was complete, he marveled at the amazing feat he had just performed. Mwari named the first man Mwedzi.

Mwari took Mwedzi and placed him at the bottom of Dziva. Before sending him off, he handed a gona to him and said, ‘In this gona is some oil which gives life. Take it with you wherever you go. From this day, Dziva shall be your home to live in as you please.’ Mwedzi thanked Mwari, took the gona and sank to the bottom of Dziva. Mwedzi spent his days exploring Dziva. As time passed, Mwedzi became tired, and then he called out to Mwari. ‘Yes Mwedzi, what is it?’ Mwari asked in response. ‘You see, I have spent a long time at the bottom of Dziva,’ said Mwedzi. ‘Now, there is nothing down there that I do not know. Please send me to land.’ ‘Mwari took a deep sigh, and then said, ‘The land is not good for you and so you will regret it. Once I send you there, I cannot return you to Dziva and therefore you will die.’ However, Mwedzi insisted until Mwari granted him his wish.

A mate for Mwedzi

The land was cold and empty. There was no grass, no trees and no animals. With time, Mwedzi, faced with hunger and cold, grew weary and became miserable. Oh, how he wished he could return to Dziva. Out of desperation, Mwedzi began to weep. He wept so loud that Mwari heard him and finally spoke to him. ‘Mwedzi my son,’ said Mwari, ‘Did I not warn you against this?’ Mwedzi responded, ‘But how do I survive in this place?’ ‘You are already on the path that leads to your death,’ said Mwari. ‘However, I shall give you one of your kind.’

Immediately, Mwari took to task. With dust, and water from Dziva, he delicately molded, shaped and fashioned a woman, who was to become Mwedzi’s mate. Mwari felt pleased with his work, and named the woman Nyamatsatsi (which means ‘morning star’). Before leaving he handed her firewood and said, ‘You are going to need this.’ To Mwedzi he said, ‘Nyamatsatsi will be your wife for only two years.’ Mwedzi felt an instant liking for Nyamatsatsi. He was glad that he wouldn’t be lonely anymore. 

When evening came and the chill began to set in, the two became very cold. They found a cave in which to retire for the night. Then Nyamatsatsi said to Mwedzi, ‘We should make a fire to keep ourselves warm.’ Then she took the firewood she got from Mwari, and handed it to Mwedzi.

Mwedzi then took two sticks and prepared them for making a fire. A long thin stick was the makle, and the female a thick chunk of wood. He began to twirl the male against the female. As he twirled, smoke appeared and embers began to form. Nyamatsatsi then kindled and stoked the fire. They rejoiced because they had lit a fire for the first time. Mwedzi and Nyamatsatsi went and lay on opposite sides of the fire, as it burnt between them.

As they lay down many thoughts ran through Mwedzi’s mind. Why had Mwari given him this maiden? What was he to do with her? The oil – did it have anything to do with her? What was to happen after two years? Then Mwedzi decided to take a chance. He took his gona, moistened his index finger with the oil and said, ‘I am going to jump over to the other side of the fire.’ (These words by Mwedzi are told by a song. )

Mwedzi's song
'Ndichayambuka mhiri, nemhiri
Ndichayambuka mhiri, nemhiri
Ndichayambuka mhiri, nemhiri '

Mwedzi jumped over the fire to Nyamatsatsi. He gently touched her body with the ointment on his finger. Then he jumped back to his side, lay down and fell asleep.

The offspring of Mwedzi and Nyamatsatsi

Nyamatsatsi awoke very early the following morning with a strange feeling. She was terrified and called out to Mwedzi. Startled, Mwedzi awoke and peered at her from the other side of the fire. He could not believe his eyes Something very strange had happened; Nyamatsatsi’s body was swollen. Then day broke and suddenly Nyamatsatsi began to bear, while Mwedzi looked in awe. She bore grasses, bushes and trees. She bore all known plant life, and with that the earth was covered in lush greenery. The trees grew very tall, and when their tops touched the sky rain fell upon the earth.

Mwedzi and Nyamatsatsi built a life together. From the trees, Mwedzi got timber and built a house. He found iron, made a hoe and farmed the land. On the other hand, Nyamatsatsi took care of the home. She made fish traps so that Mwedzi could fish in Dziva. She fetched wood and water, and cooked for both of them. They had plenty and life was blissful.

Marinda the evening star

Before they knew it, two years had passed. Mwari took Nyamatsatsi away and placed her at the bottom of Dziva. Mwedzi was so heartbroken and wept uncontrollably. ‘Mwari, what do I do without Nyamatsatsi?’ Mwedzi asked. ‘Who will fetch water and cook for me?’ Mwedzi would not stop, and continually wept for eight days. Finally Mwari spoke to him. ‘I warned you Mwedzi. You are already on the path that leads to your death. I will however give you another one of your kind. I will give you Marinda. Like Nyamatsatsi, she will only be with you for two years.’  

On the first night with Marinda, Mwedzi went to lie down on one side of the fire, but she stopped him. ‘Please. Come lie close to me,’ Marinda said. Mwedzi lay down beside Marinda. Then he took some oil from his gona and moistened his index finger. Just as he was about to touch her, Marinda stopped him. ‘I am not like Nyamatsatsi,’ she said. ‘Now smear your loins with the oil, and then smear mine.’ Mwedzi did as he was told. The two coupled together and went to sleep.

Continued at Ngano| The moon and how the world was made: The kingdom of Dzimba Dzamabwe


The recording of this legend is attributed to Leo Frobenius (1873–1938). I have retold the story in my own way, while trying to preserve its key aspects.

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