A Creation Myth From Guinea: Death and His Son-In-Law

Now, we all know that if you have a companion, things can get complicated; when you add a child to the mix, things can easily go from complicated to downright problematic.

This was the issue facing Sa, also known as Death. He, his wife, and his daughter were (apparently) the only beings in creation. Not just that, they were the only “things” in an eternal darkness. Verily, Sa, his wife, and daughter were the only forms in a formless void, beings adrift in the Great Empty.

Sa, however, had Magic on his side; words that could be used to speak existence into being.

“I can fix this”, he thought to himself.

And so, using his incantations, he invoked a river of mud.

Aesthetically pleasing? Probably not.

Practical – well at least for the (non)-time being.

On top of this river of mud, he built a hut big enough for the three of them to float through the Great Void.

Needless to say, Sa and his family where quite muddy.

And that’s when the other creator God, Alatangana, showed up.

*

Alatangana came knocking on the door to Sa’s wet and muddy hut.

Sa, covered in slime, open the mushy door.

Alatangana looked horrified.

“Brother Death, this is no way to – live?”

“I did the best I could do.”

“Brother Death, I can do better. Please, let me help.”

Sa nodded his acquiescence.

And so, Altangana used his magic.

*

Alatangana chanted, and made the mud river firm.

This is what we call the Earth.

However, he was still depressed.

*

Alatangana chanted, and made plants to cover the Earth.

This is why we have vegetation.

However, it was still quiet, and Alatangana was still depressed.

*

Alatangana chanted, and made fish and birds and animals, to fill the waters, the skies and the Earth..

This is why we have animal life.

And this time, Alatangana was pleased.

Sa, on other hand, was more than pleased. He was impressed. So much so that he invited Alatangana  into his house, to stay as his guest.

Mistake #one.

*

After a while in the company of Sa’s family, he approached Death.

“Brother Sa, I have been lonely for a long, long time. Would you consider giving your daughter to be my bride.”

Death smiled (as much as death can smile), and gently told him no.

*

After a longer time in the company of Sa’s family, he approached Death again.

“Brother Sa, I have been lonely for a long, long time. Would you reconsider giving your daughter to be my bride.”

Death grinned (as much as death can grin), but this time, wasn’t gentle.

The answer was forthright:

“No brother Alatangana. I appreciate this world you have created, but the answer is still no.”

*

Of course, the heart wants what it wants.

The whole time, Alatangana had secretly been wooing Sa’s daughter.

*

Finally, Alatangana tried a final time.

“Brother Sa, I have been lonely for a long, long time. Would you reconsider giving your daughter to be my bride.”

Death didn’t smile this time, and responded in anger:

“Alatangana, you’ve outstayed your welcome. You must leave.”

Alatangana sighed.

“As you wish, I will depart.”

*

When death arose, Alatangana was gone.

But so was his beloved daughter…

*

Alatangana and Sa’s daughter fled to a distant corner of the world. There, they started their own family, though it was peculiar:

They had seven daughters, and seven sons. However, they were all of different colors, and they all spoke different languages, languages that their parents could not comprehend.

While Alatangana and his wife, Death’s daughter, loved their children, they were perplexed.

Finally, Alatangana decided to seek out his father-in-law for advice.

*

When Alatangana found Death, he was grinning again.

“Why-”

“Because I cursed you, for stealing my daughter. Now your children will scatter across the world, all with different colors, and different tongues. Now leave here before I curse you again!”

Alatangana left, his head lowered in defeat.

Sa, Death, was still grinning.

*

In time, some of Alatangana’s children came home to visit, and they all had a singular pain:

There was no light; the sun, as we know it, did not exist.

Their father tried all of his spells and incantations, all to no avail.

There was only one place to look for help…

That meant going to Sa.

*

Instead of going to the hostile Sa directly, Alatangana sent two messengers: a rooster, and small red bird called a tou-tou.

The birds flew to Sa, asking him to help the new humans build a better life through light.

Sa invited them into his house, and taught them the songs required to bring forth daylight, before sending them on their way.

*

When they returned to Alangana and told them of the songs they had learned, he was infuriated.

“What lies are these? Either you are lying, or worse yet, Sa is trying to deceive me!”

He started trashing the birds, almost killing them; however, at the last moment, he spared them, though he threw them out of his house.

*

The tou-tou and the rooster fled as fast as they could. However, once they were a safe distance away, they both tried their magical songs.

(you can still hear their songs to this very day, at the break of dawn…)

And so, by singing the songs that Death taught them, they ushered in the very first dawn.

Sunrise had arrived for the human race.

*

Alatangana was ashamed, and rightfully so. He had stolen Death’s only daughter, and he had doubted the tou-tou and the rooster; therefore, had also doubted Sa’s magic.

His heart, in time, moved from shame to gratitude. And that’s when Sa showed up.

“I let you into my house, and you stole my daughter. I gave the magic of the sunrise to your emissaries, and you rebuked them. Now you have sunlight for your children.”

“Brother Sa, I am in your debt.” said a remorseful Alatangana.

“Fine,” whispered Sa. “However, there is a debt to be paid. Whenever I want, whenever I need, whenever I choose, I can come to claim any of your children, your children’s children, and their children, until the end of time. Agreed?”

Solemnly, Alatangana, father of humanity, nodded in acceptance….

And that is how Death entered the world.

*

This tale comes from the Kono people of Guinea, Africa. It would seem that they understood a fundamental truth – every breath is a blessing, and Sa, Death, is always waiting to claim what belongs to him.

Then again, there’s always a rooster, waiting to bring in a new day, and usher in new life…

rooster-crowing
Taken from https://animalsake.com/why-do-roosters-crow-in-morning

 

This retelling of this traditional story is our own. You can find another version of this story in In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton.

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