11 Enchanting Mythological Figures Across Africa

Ailsa Johnson / © Culture Trip
Ailsa Johnson / © Culture Trip
The vast African continent is home to a diverse range of ethnic groups, each with their own beliefs and traditions. With these varying beliefs comes a fascinating array of tales of wonder centred around mythological figures, which are etched into the cultures of the native people.

The supreme god and creator Adroa

Adroa is the sky god and the supreme god and creator. It’s believed that Adroa created a set of twins who were the first man and woman on earth: Gborogboro and Meme. Meme gave birth to all the animals, as well as another pair of male-female twins. The fascinating thing about these twins was that they had magical powers, and from them many pairs of male-female twins were born, until Jaki and Dribidu, the hero-ancestors, were born. It is their sons who are said to be the founders of the present Lugbara clans of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Anansi the trickster spider

Anansi is a mythological figure who mainly appears as a spider but can take on human form and features in many West African cultures. He’s known as the spirit of all knowledge and tales and is particularly fond of playing tricks on the unsuspecting – whether they be humans, animals or even the gods. Thanks to his wide knowledge and cunning ways, he’s able to trick even the cleverest of victims.

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Bumba vomits up the universe

Bumba is an African creator god, specifically noted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who had an intense need for company. He was lonely and unwell, until he vomited and created the universe and everything in it. First came the sun, the moon and the stars, and then the planets. Not quite done, he belched again and nine animals and some humans appeared. The nine animals multiplied, creating every creature we know today.

Kaang, creator god of the San

According to the San people, Kaang created the universe and many stories about him revolve around resurrection. The San people are extremely spiritual, and through ritual dances and rock art they aim to break the barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds. The San also believe that every single living being has a spirit, and during and after the creation, all lived together in complete harmony. It’s because of these beliefs that animals have such a major place in their culture and traditions.

Anubis, Egyptian god of the afterlife

Anubis, the guardian of the dead, is one of the most well-known Egyptian gods. He’s mainly depicted as a dog-like figure and leads the dead to Ma’at, where their hearts are weighed and judgement is made on their destiny. Depending on the judgement, he leads them to eternal life or dooms them to Ammit the devourer.

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Gu, African god of blacksmithing

Gu is the son of Mawu-Lisa, a creator god with both a female (Mawu, creator of the moon) and male (Lisa, creator of the sun) side. He was known to be handy at fixing things, so he was sent down to earth to do exactly that. The humans were so impressed that he was immediately upgraded to god status and took on the official title of African blacksmith god.

African water spirit Mami Wata

Mami Wata is a water deity with a combination of traits: she is a mother, carer, lover, healer, provider and mystic. Mostly appearing as a mermaid, she’s also often depicted as a snake charmer, and the two depictions are sometimes combined. Mami Wata is known to recruit new followers by abducting them while they swim in the river or during a boat ride; she transports them to her realm and eventually releases them. Her victims always return with a new look on life and a spiritual understanding that they didn’t possess before.

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Goddess of creation Nana-Buluku

Nana Buluku is the mother of Mawu-Lisa, and as such the Yoruba and Fon associate the sun and moon with her. She’s usually depicted as an old lady and a grandmother.

Ngai, the divider of the universe and lord of nature

Kere-Nyaga (Mount Kenya) is where Ngai likes to spend most of his time, and the foothills of the snowcapped mountain are also where locals assemble in the shade of trees to pray. The origin of the Gikuyu tribe starts with Ngai. Legend has it that a man called Gikuyu was led to the top of the mountain, where he met Ngai. The god emphasised the beauty of the land below and promised that he would give the man anything he needed as long as he kept praying. Gikuyu had nine daughters, but longed for sons to carry on his name. The god provided and so the Gikuyu tribe was born.

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The god of justice or vengeance, Takhar

Takhar is a demi-god in the Serer religion in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania and is worshipped to protect believers against injury, bad omens and abuse. Sacrifices in the form of poultry and cattle are left under the tallest trees, as it’s believed that Takhar lives in the highest branches. The vengeance of Takhar is also a preventative method within the tribe, as fear deters locals from committing crimes.

The werehyenas of Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, blacksmiths have an unfortunate fate, as they’re all believed to be witches or wizards, which allows them to change into werehyenas (which are similar to werewolves but more terrifying). Apparently, sangomas (witch doctors or traditional healers) can turn someone into a werehyena if the person has tasted human flesh. The werehyenas are grave robbers and will destroy anything that gets in their way. They have a rotten smell, and bury their victims alive to return to later when they are hungry. Their shrill laughs can be heard from miles away.