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Site Last Update: 09 Dec, 2019
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Book Review of What African Myths Tell

Printed by Peramiho: Peramiho Printing Press, 2/2OO2.
12 pages
Reviewed by John P. Mbonde

How was it at the beginning?

Father John Henschel C.S.Sp. of Bagamoyo Parish, Tanzania is the author of this booklet. Undoubtedly his inspiration derives from the fact that he [from Germany] has lived for years at a famous historical place, Bagamoyo, where the first Catholic missionaries set foot in Tanzania mainland to proclaim the Gospel. On the other side Bagamoyo is a famous slave trading centre and also the place where the remains of Dr David Livingstone were kept for some time before being sent abroad fore burial. "Since time immemorial men found answers in a unique style, in the style of narrated stories, narrated in myths…A myth is a story told in a special way which originates in prehistorical time…The myths elucidate that even the first men, millenniums and millenniums ago, were able to see not only the nature around them. They had the ability to understand what is behind the foreground, to understand profound realities. As the last profound reality they recognized God" (p. 9).

In everyday life, each one of us has three main important questions: WHAT—WHEN--WHY. Myths are basically memories of the past. Africa tells thousands of such old myths. This book, "What African Myths Tell" with its subtitle "How was it at the beginning?" discusses seven myths selected from six different African ethnic groups (nations) who live thousands of kilometres away from one another, but tell the same myths.

The booklet consists of three chapters. In Chapter I there are four myths about the close connection between God and humankind: God is called "Unkulukulu" in South Africa, ‘How Amazulu came to life’; "Engai" among Maasai in Tanzania, ‘Why Engai’s rope was cut?’; "Shapanga/Chapanga" among the Ngoni in Tanzania, ‘Shapanga left the village’; Ntara-Nti in Cameroon, ‘Ntara-Nti left the village’. In addition to these four myths, there are three other myths telling about heroes of the old days: Litaolane saved humankind; Masala Kulangwa killed the monster Shing’weng’we; and the two sons of Ndabe.

Chapter II concentrates on answering the question why all these six African ethnic groups (nations) tell the same myths? Accordingly the author gives some interpretation of these old myths: their similarities, self identification and realization, originality, etc.

Chapter III shows how such old myths can be used for a narrative African Christian theology of today. Henschel also makes some biblical parallels with the given myths. "Myths are an ancient heritage, but they can be used to express modern viewpoints as well, even in the Christian proclamation of the Gospel…Myths go back into the old time. To prove it we can take the Christian Bible. The first book Genesis brings in the first chapters two old narrations about the creation of the world, of the cosmos, of nature and of Adam and Eve narrated in the style of myths" (p. 11).

This booklet What African Myths Tell gives a big challenge not only to teachers and preachers, but also to researchers in this era of globalization.


John P. Mbonde is a retired Tanzanian civil servant, journalist, and author of books, book reviewer and analyst of African oral literature. He has travelled all over the world on academic and study tours.

Mr. John P. Mbonde
P. O. Box 3479
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
E-Mail:
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