Ngano| The moon and how the world was made

A long time ago, there was nothing on earth except a vast body of water, Dziva (which means lake). There were no animals, no birds, and not even any plants. In the sky, there was Nyadenga (which means The One above), Zuva (which means sun), Mwedzi (which means moon), many stars, and the clouds.

Dziva was motionless; he seemed sad. Nyadenga eventually said to Mwedzi, “Go to the earth, and live with Dziva.” Then he took Mwedzi and placed him in Dziva.

Nyadenga had made Mwedzi able to swim, and breathe in water. And now that he lived in the water, Dziva was pleasing. The water now rippled. But Mwedzi began to feel lonely. Then he said to Nyadenga, “Look, what has worked well for Dziva is now my curse. I am very lonely. Isn’t there some other place you could take me to? Perhaps I could find something to cheer me up.” “Let me bring you back up here, just like it was before,” said Nyadenga. “Not back there, somewhere else,” replied Mwedzi. “It is better in the water. If, however, you are sure that you no longer like it in there, then I will take you out,” said Nyadenga. “But once you leave Dziva, you can never return!”

Nyadenga took Mwedzi out of Dziva, and put him on dry land. He would still live close to Dziva. Then Nyadenga made Mwedzi into a man, and gave him the ability to live on dry land, and then handed him a horn filled with oil. Mwedzi was pleased. He took the horn and thanked Nyadenga.

Out on land, Mwedzi struggled to adapt. It wasn’t what he had expected. It was cold and there was no grass, neither were there any trees and animals. He was still lonely and realized he needed the water. He was cold and hungry. With time he became miserable; he had had enough. Oh, how he wished he could return to Dziva.

Out of desperation, Mwedzi began to weep. The weeping surprised him. Nyadenga heard him and asked, “Now what is the matter?” Mwedzi told Nyadenga all the things that were troubling him. “I did tell you that the water was better,” said Nyadenga. “Anyway, I shall give you someone to be with. Hopefully, she will make living on land more manageable for you.”

Nyadenga took one of the brightest stars and made it into a woman. She was going to be Mwedzi’s partner. This star was Nyamatsatsi (which means ‘morning star’). Nyadenga then gave her two fire making sticks. To Mwedzi he said, “Nyamatsatsi shall be with you for only two years.”

Nyamatsatsi was beautiful and Mwedzi felt an instant liking for her. 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 and decided to retire for the night. Nyamatsatsi then said to Mwedzi, “We should make a fire to keep ourselves warm.” She took the fire making sticks and handed them to Mwedzi.

Mwedzi took the male fire making stick and began to twirl it 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. Then they went and lay on opposite sides of the fire as it burned between them.

Mwedzi felt better. Now he had company and they had fire to keep them warm. The land wasn’t bad after all. He then took his horn, and dipped his index-finger into the oil and said:

"I am going to jump over to the other side, and back.
I am going to jump over to the other side, and back.
I am going to jump over to the other side, and back."

Mwedzi then 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.

Just before daybreak the following morning, Nyamatsatsi was awakened by excruciating pain in her back. She was terrified and called out to Mwedzi. Startled, Mwedzi awoke and peered at her from the other side of the fire. He was shocked by what he saw. Her belly was swollen and she shrieked in agony. Mwedzi did his best to calm and comfort her.

At daybreak, Nyamatsatsi let out a scream as she began to bear. Mwedzi looked on, terrified and yet amazed. She bore grasses, bushes and trees. She bore all known plant life and suddenly the earth was covered in lush greenery. The moment she finished bearing she was at peace.

The trees grew very tall, and when their tops touched the clouds it rained. Mwedzi and Nyamatsatsi had all they needed. From the trees, Mwedzi prepared timber and built a hut. He found iron and made a hoe, then farmed the land. They had fruit and grain to eat. On the other hand, Nyamatsatsi took care of the home. She fetched firewood and water, and cooked. She also made clothes for them both. They had plenty and life was blissful.

Before they knew it, two years had passed. Then Nyadenga took Nyamatsatsi away as he had promised. He placed her at the bottom of Dziva. Mwedzi was so heartbroken and wept uncontrollably. He had lost his mate and now he had to adapt to life without her. However, he could not do any of the things she used to do. He was now alone, cold and hungry. ‘Nyadenga, what do I do without Nyamatsatsi?’ Mwedzi asked. “Who will help me with fetching water and cooking?” Mwedzi was inconsolable and would not stop crying. He wept for eight days.

Nyadenga was filled with pity, and answered him. “Do you remember me telling you that the water was a better place for you? Now look at yourself, in tears. Anyway, I will give you one of your kind once more; I will give you Marinda (which means ‘evening star’). Like Nyamatsatsi, she will only be with you for two years.”

Just like Nyadenga had done with Nyamatsatsi, he took Marinda, one of the brightest stars, and made it into a woman. Mwedzi was grateful for Marinda and took a liking to her, even though he missed Nyamatsatsi.

On the first night with Marinda, as Mwedzi was about to lie down on one side of the fire he had lit, she immediately stopped him. ‘Please. Come lie close to me.’ Mwedzi went and lay beside Marinda. Then he took his horn and dipped his index finger to moisten it with oil. Just as he was about to touch Marinda, again she 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. Then the two coupled together and went to sleep.

Continued at Ngano| The moon and how the world was made: Part Two

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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