In the beginning … well, you can fill in the rest. A universal story of creation will never be accepted, because it is safe to say none of us were around 6,000 or 4.5 billion years ago. So our imagination, curiosity, and speculations have left us inventing miraculous tales of giant spiders and talking snakes. Maybe they are in fact the true depiction of what really happened between the Creator and earth, or maybe the tales are far from the truth. At any rate, the stories are quite intriguing and share some common themes. African creation stories in particular offer a unique conclusion to “in the beginning …”
The ancient Kemetic creation story is found in the “Papyrus of Ani: The Abode of the Blessed.” In the beginning, the gods dwelled in heaven that was situated in the sky. The Egyptians believed heaven was like a rectangular shaped iron ceiling. Each corner of heaven was supported by a pillar, each one accompanied by a god who was the child of Heru: Amset, Hapi, Tuamautef, and Qebhsennuf.
The Creator, Nebertcher, wrote the beginning of the story with:
“I am he who evolved himself, under the form of the God–Khepera; I, the evolver of the evolutions evolved myself, the evolver of all evolutions, after many evolutions and developments which came forth from my mouth. No heaven existed, and no earth, and no terrestrial animals or reptiles had come into being. I formed them out of the inert mass of watery matter, I found no place upon which to stand … I was alone, and the Gods Shu and Tefnut had gone forth from me …”
Nebertcher or Khepera (known as the same God) saw that there were none who dwelled upon the earth. So he created Shu and Tefnut, who were male and female gods, at the same time. The pair then created two more, Nut and Seb and their children continued to multiply and populate the earth.
On the west side of Africa, the Yoruba people told a different story of creation. Wanda Cobb Finnen shares the tale in her book “Talking Drums: Reading and Writing with African American Stories, Spirituals and Multimedia Resources.”
In the beginning, Olodumare, also known as Olorun, saw that the earth was without form. All that existed was water between the skies. So he decided that he wanted a foundation on the earth for his sons to roam. So he dropped a palm tree seed from the sky and watched it grow, and as it grew, he called his sons Oduduwa and Obatala by his side.
“‘Sons, look below. All that you see will be yours. Take this bag; it holds all you will need to create land. Then I will let down the golden cord and lower you to the branches of the palm tree … You have only this one chance to change the water into soil. On this land, your people will plant trees, grow food, build huts, hunt animals, dance, and play, all for your pleasure,’” Finnen writes.
Their father gave them a bag full of white sand, black soil, a chameleon, and a hen. Obatala was the careless son and became drunk on palm wine, while his brother Oduduwa diligently formed the earth.
The Creator was pleased with Oduduwa and blessed him with fine living and other rich gifts for his dwelling upon the earth, including a wife. Together, they populated the land with children and grandchildren.
Because the Yoruba tradition has been primarily oral storytelling, the creation story varies from teller to teller. Many popular versions of the myth say Obatala was the one who fashioned human beings from the clay of the earth, special ones of which he made disfigured, but considered more precious.
In South Africa, the Zulu people have a creation story which takes a bit of stretching of the Westernized mind. Like many other African tales, the story varies from storyteller to storyteller, thus there are several creation stories among the Zulu people.
In the beginning, there was a large swamp in the land named Uhlanga, where many reeds of unique colors grew. One morning, God, Umvelinqangi, also called Unkulunkulu, came down from heaven and married Uhlanga. He took from his wife the colored reeds and made a man and a woman. It is understood that he, the Creator, is in everything, created everything, and taught the Zulu people how to raise cattle, hunt, and survive.
A pattern among many African creation stories is that man and woman were made together, very different from more Westernized stories of origin.
Although we shall never know what really happened in the beginning, our ancestors have given us some food for thought.