One of the heartiest and most vibrant of the ancient African epics revolves around the life of the legendary/mythical chieftain Mwindo of the Nyanga nation*. Mwindo, who exudes a breezy self-confidence that easily merges into arrogance, is both a military and a magical phenomenon, capable of raising the dead and vanquishing the most formidable adversaries. That he is not the perfect hero is evident in the fact that he most undergo severe trials that test his moral character and ultimately subject him to the utmost humiliation.
*The Nyanga live in the Congo River region.
Source: Clyde W. Ford. ‘The Hero With an African Face", NY, Bantam 2000; pp. 71-93.
The Mwindo Epic
THE BIRTH OF THE SACRED WARRIOR
A long time ago in the state of Ihimbi, there lived a king named Shemwindo who ruled the village of Tubondo. Shemwindo married seven women, after which he summoned together a council of all his people. There, in the midst of this assembly of juniors and seniors, advisers, counselors, and nobles, Shemwindo decreed, "You my wives must all give birth to girls. Any among you who shall bear a boy, I will kill that child." Then the assembly was dismissed, and Shemwindo hurriedly visited the house of each of his seven wives, planting his seed into each one as they lay together. After several weeks it became known to all that Shemwindo’s wives got pregnant from the king’s first visit to them.
Now Shemwindo was famed throughout the country, and the birth of his children was eagerly awaited by the villagers of Tubondo. After many months had passed, six of Shemwindo’s seven wives gave birth to female children all on the same day. But Nyamwindo, the seventh wife and preferred one, remained inexplicably pregnant and worried what her long gestation might portend.
Then suddenly, strange things began to happen: cut firewood magically appeared at her doorstep; a water jar seemed to fill itself; and raw vegetables turned up on her table. In each case, Nyamwindo felt it was the child still in her womb who was performing these miraculous deeds, but she had no idea how. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Tubondo began to disdain Nyamsvindo for failing to deliver her child. But the child dwelling in the womb of the preferred one meditated to itself: I do not wish to come out the birth canal of my mother, for then others may not understand that I am no ordinary man.
When the pains of childbirth began, old midwives, wives of the counselors, arrived at Nyamwindo’s house. But the child dwelling in her womb climbed up into her belly, then farther up toward her shoulder, descending down her arm where it was born through the preferred one’s middle finger.
Seeing him wailing on the ground, the old midwives were astonished. "What kind of child is this?" they asked. Others answered in a somber tone, "It’s a male child." Then some of the old midwives said that they should announce to the village that a male child was born. Many thought this unwise because Shemwindo would surely kill the baby.
Shemwindo, sitting together with his counselors, heard of the preferred one’s delivery and demanded to know, "What child is born there?" But the old midwives, sitting in the house with the child, kept silent. They gave him the name Mwindo, because he was the first male child who followed only female children in order of birth.
Mwindo was born laughing, speaking, and walking, holding a conga-scepter in his right hand and an ax in his left. He was born wearing a little bag of the spirit of Kahindo, the goddess of good fortune, slung across the left side of his back, and in that little bag there was a long rope.
In the house where the child was born, there was a little cricket perched on the wall. When the cricket heard that the midwives were unwilling to give Shemwindo an answer, it went to Shemwindo and said, "A male child was born to the preferred one today; his name is Mwindo; that is why no one has answered you."
Shemwindo was enraged upon hearing this news. He sharpened his spear on a whetstone and immediately left for the birth hut. But the moment he prepared to throw the spear into the hut, the child shouted from within, "Each time you throw a spear may it end up at the bottom of the house pole; may it never reach me, these old midwives, or my mother."
Shemwindo threw the spear into the house six times, and each time it fell short of its mark. Failing to kill Mwindo, Shemwindo became exhausted and told his counselors they should dig a grave and throw Mwindo into it. The counselors dug the grave, then went to fetch the child. But after being placed in the grave, Mwindo howled, saying, "O my father, this is the death that you will die, but first you will suffer many sorrows." Shernwindo heard the sound of the little castaway and scolded his people, telling them to cover the grave immediately. Fallen plantain stems were fetched and placed over Mwindo; on top of these stems mounds of soil were heaped. Yet as evening fell, a light as bright as the sun shone from Mwindo’s grave. Those still sitting outdoors rushed to tell Shemwindo’s counselors what they beheld. The counselors returned, but the great heat, like a fire burning from where Mwindo lay, forced them to stand back. Throughout the night they took turns keeping a vigil over the child’s grave. During the first watch, when the rest of Tubondo was already asleep, Mwindo got out of his grave and crept silently into the house of his mother.
Shemwindo, who was awakened by the sound of a child wailing in the house of the preferred one, crept to her hut and questioned his wife:
"Where does this child come from? Did you have another one in your womb?"
"No," she replied, "this child is Mwindo."
Shemwindo left at once to wake up his counselors. "Tomorrow," he ordered, "you will cut a piece from the trunk of a tree; you will carve from it the body of a drum; you will then put the skin of an antelope in the river to soften for the drumhead. You will place this miracle child, Mwindo, in the drum and seal it tightly."
When dawn came, the counselors went to the forest to cut a piece of wood for the shell of the drum. They hollowed the wood, and when they had finished, they went to fetch Mwindo once more. They stuck him into the body of the drum and glued the antelope hide on top.
Shemwindo then summoned two expert divers to throw this drum into the pool where nothing moves, as the entire village looked on. The swimmers entered the pool, and in the middle they released the drum, which quickly sank into the watery depths.
Mwindo moaned inside the drum, stuck his ear to the drumhead, listened attentively, and said resolutely to himself, "I would not be Mwindo if I simply floated. My father, and the others, they will hear the sound of my voice again." And with those words, the drum arose unassisted from the sandy river bottom and floated to the surface of the water, remaining fixed at one point in the middle of the pool where nothing moves.
When a group of maidens came to draw water from the river, they saw Mwindo’s drum turning round and round in the middle of the pool, and they heard him singing of his father’s perfidy. The frightened women scurried up the riverbank and ran back to the village. When news of the sighting reached Shemwindo, he too was in disbelief; he again assembled all his people, who headed for the river armed with spears, arrows, and fire torches. Mwindo waited until the residents of Tubondo had gathered along the river's edge, then he threw sweet words of song into his mouth:
I am saying farewell to Shemwindo–
Oh, you ungrateful people, do you think I shall die?
The counselors abandoned Shemwindo.
He who appears to die but actually will be safe,
He is going to encounter Iyangura.
RESCUE BY THE MOTHER
Mwindo’s drum headed upstream, for he was not sure where Iyangura lived and thought to begin his journey at the river’s source. From Kahungu the Hawk, Mwindo learned that she inhabited an unfathomable realm of the river even deeper than he had ventured so far. Thus began Mwindo’s voyage down into the river’s depths to meet his aunt Iyangura. He sang to all who might impede his quest:
Get out of my way!
You are impotent against Mwindo,
Mwindo is the little-one-just-born-he-walked.
I am going to meet Iyangura.
He who will go up against me, it is he who will die on the way.
Now Mukiti, master of the unfathomable realm and husband of Iyangura, had placed his younger sister Musoka as a guardian at the portal of his domain. When she saw Mwindo, she dispatched an envoy to Mukiti who, by return messenger, ordered her to keep Mwindo far away, for Mwindo was a threat to him. Musoka tried to block Mwindo’s progress, but to no avail; he dove with his drum even farther into the watery depths, burying himself deep within the bottom sand. There he dug a tunnel around Musoka and surfaced farther downstream.
When Mukiti heard Mwindo calling for his aunt and challenging him in song, he began to stir, asking who had just mentioned his wife. He shook heaven and earth.
"I, Mwindo, I spoke of your wife," Mwindo defiantly answered. "We shall meet in battle today," he continued, "for I, Mwindo, am being denied access to my aunt!"
When Mukiti finally saw Mwindo he exclaimed, "You are not the one I expected to see! You are a child inside a drum! Who are you?"
Mwindo referred to himself as the little-one-just-born-he-walked, nephew of Iyangura, who was on his way to meet his aunt.
"Do not even dare to dream that you, of all people, are capable of besting me, Mukiti, lord of the unfathomable realm; you will not pass beyond my guard."
These harsh words were overheard by some of Iyangura’s maidens who had come to Mukiti’s pool to fetch water. At this mention of their mistress’s name, they grew frightened and ran to Iyangura, saying, "There is a little man inside a drum insisting that Mukiti should release him, that he is Mwindo, going to encounter Iyangura, his paternal aunt."
"That is my child," she exclaimed, "let me go to him."* Iyangura made her way to the water hole. She slashed the drumhead, removing the hide, and there beheld the multiple rays of the rising sun and the moon—the radiant beauty of the child Mwindo. Mwindo got out of the drum, still holding his conga-scepter, his ax, and the little bag with rope in it.
BATTLING THE FORCES OF THE UNFATHOMABLE REALM
When Kahungu the Hawk observed Mwindo meeting with his aunt, he flew to Kasiyembe, whom Mukiti had given the task of keeping watch over his wife.
"Kasiyembe," Kahungu cried, "it is not merely a little man who converses with Iyangura; he is a man of many great feats. Perhaps you have more trouble than you think."
"Go tell this Mwindo he should not even try to venture past the area I guard," proclaimed the brazen Kasiyembe. "Otherwise 1 will tear out his spinal column. I am already setting traps, pits, pointed sticks, and razors in the ground, so he will be unable to step anywhere."
Now, Katee the Hedgehog overheard this talk between Kahungu and Kasiyembe and immediately sought out Mwindo. "Mwindo," said Katee, "Kahungu and Kasiyembe are holding secret council against you; they are even preparing pit traps against you, with pointed sticks and razors. But I am Katee, a hedgehog," he continued. "I am going to dig a tunnel for you, a road that begins right here and comes out inside the house of your aunt."
Mwindo then told his aunt Iyangura to return to her home where he would join her shortly. "And tell your bodyguard, Kasiyembe, to be careful," he warned.
When Katee’s tunnel was complete, Mwindo followed it until he came out in Iyangura’s house, to the astonishment of Kasiyembe. Meanwhile Mwindo was also receiving unseen help at the hands of Master Spider who had been watching Kasiyembe build the pits.
"As far as I am concerned," Master Spider said to himself, "Mwindo will not perish." So the spider began building bridges over the top of the pits he knew Mwindo would have to cross.
When Iyangura saw that her nephew Mwindo had arrived, she said to him, "My son, don’t cat food yet; come, first let us dance to the rhythm of the drum."
Mwindo stepped outside with Iyangura and told her that if he danced without food he might faint.
"What shall we do then?" pleaded Iyangura. "Kasiyembe is demanding that you dance." Mwindo understood he was dancing into a trap laid by Kasiyembe, but still he agreed. And dance he did: round and round the middle of the pits, with his body bent over them; with glee, he danced everywhere that traps had been set for him, and he remained uninjured, thanks to Master Spider. And all the while Mwindo waved his conga-scepter and taunted Kasiyembe’s impotence against him.
Instead Nkuba sent down seven bolts of lightning that missed Mwindo intentionally each time. Now angered by Kasiyemhe’s intransigence, Mwindo cast an eye in his direction, and suddenly the guard’s hair flared up in flames. People went to fetch water in jars to extinguish the fire, but when they arrived, the jars were empty; the water had magically evaporated.
"Kasiyembe is about to die," they intoned. "Let us go to his master, Mukiti, for help." But they were too late. Mwindo, in his anger, had also dried up the pool where Mukiti lived.
When Iyangura saw that Mwindo had killed both Mukiti and Kasiyembe she begged of her nephew, "Widen your heart, my child. Did you come here to attack us? Set your heart down; untie your anger; undo my husband and his guardian Kasiyembe; heal them without harboring further resentment."
Mwindo was moved by his aunt’s compassionate request; he opened his heart, waking first Kasiyembe by waving his conga-scepter above him. Suddenly, Kasiyembe returned to life, water returned to the jars, the river was full again, and Mukiti awoke from death. Everyone who witnessed Mwindo’s feat was astonished. "Lo! Mwindo, he too is a great nian," they said. Even Kasiyembe gave Mwindo a salute: "Hail! Hail, Mwindo!"
After Mwindo had accomplished this great deed, he announced to his aunt that tomorrow he would be going to Tubondo alone to fight with his father.
"Don’t go alone," she implored her nephew. "The lonely path is never nice."
But Mwindo refused to listen, and when she realized that her appeals had fallen on deaf ears, she said only, "I do not wish you, my young man, to go fight with your father, but if you persist on going, then I shall go with you to witness this terrible event."
THE FATHER QUEST
Mwindo, his aunt, and her servants set off on a war march to Tubondo. Along the way they enlisted recruits. The fighting began shortly after they arrived on the outskirts of the city. Mwindo’s forces were badly beaten, so he called on Nkuba to help, and the lightning hurler unleashed seven bolts against Tubondo, turning to dust the village and all who lived there. But after entering the devastated city, Mwindo soon learned that Shemwindo, his father, had fled before the holocaust, escaping to the underworld realm of Muisa, "the place where no one ever gathers around the fire."
Again his aunt Iyangura tried to dissuade him from pursuing his father, but Mwindo paid her no heed. He told her to remain in Tubondo, holding one end of his birth rope. If the rope became still, then she could assume he was dead.
Suddenly, Sparrow appeared to Mwindo with these words: "Come here for me to show you the path that your father took upon entering the underground realm of Muisa at the base of the root of the kikoka fern." When Mwindo arrived at the kikoka fern, he pulled the plant out of the ground and entered the underworld realm.
Mwindo was met by Kahindo, the daughter of Muisa and guardian of the entrance to the underworld, whose repulsive body was covered from head to foot with yaws. She cautioned him against going farther: "No one ever gets through Muisa’s village," she warned. "Do you think you with all your pride will succeed?"
But Mwindo persisted, and Kahindo then supplied him with the oaths and knowledge needed to procure his safe passage: "When you arrive in the village meeting place, you will see a very tall, very big man, curled up in the ashes near the hearth," she informed Mwindo. "That is Muisa, and if he greets you, ‘Blessing be with you, my father,’ you too will answer, ‘Yes, my father.’ Then he will offer you a stool, but you must refuse it.
"Next," Kahindo continued, "he will offer you some banana beer to drink; you must refuse that too. Finally, Muisa will invite you to have some gruel to eat; that, Mwindo, you must also refuse."
Mwindo’s heart reached out to the disfigured Kahindo, and he realized he could not leave without washing her scabs. He cleansed and soothed the lesions, then healed her entirely of her yaws before taking leave.
Mwindo headed on to Muisa’s village. On seeing him, Muisa greeted Mwindo, "Blessing be with you, my father." Mwindo answered, "Yes, my father." Muisa then offered Mwindo a stool on which to sit, some banana beer to drink, and some gruel to eat, all of which Mwindo refused. Seeing Mwindo escape these ordeals, Muisa suggested that he might like to go back and rest at his daughter’s house for a while.
So he went back to Kahindo’s, who in the meantime had made herself like the "anus of a snail": dressing up, then rubbing herself with red powder and castor oil. Mwindo was taken aback by her radiant beauty. "Come in, Mwindo," Kahindo exclaimed, "please, come in."
"Oh, my sister," he replied, "I would harm myself if I stayed outside."
Kahindo went to prepare some food, but Muisa, who had observed her tender behavior toward Mwindo, quickly intervened. Before giving him his father, Muisa told Mwindo he would have to face a series of challenges to prove his worth.
"Tomorrow you will start cultivating a new banana grove for me," Muisa ordered. "You must first cut leaves, then plant the banana trees, then fell the trees; then cut the newly grown weeds, then prune the banana trees, then prop them up, then bring ripe bananas. After you have performed all these tasks," Muisa concluded, "I shall give you your father."
In the morning Mwindo left to accomplish the tasks. He laid out his tools on the ground; then all by themselves the tools went to work: first, they cut the grasses; then the tools having cut the grasses, the banana trees planted themselves; the banana trees having planted themselves, Mwindo sent a bunch of axes to fell the trees; when the axes finished their work, he sent niany weeding tools that went across the banana grove cutting the newly grown weeds. After his weeding tools had finished, his other tools now cut supporting staffs; the staffs themselves propped up the banana trees. The staffs having finished sustaining the trees, the banana stems were ripe. In one day, Mwindo cleared, planted, and cultivated an entire field of bananas.
While Mwindo was harvesting his crop, an astonished informant told Muisa of these miraculous events. Muisa then determined to send his karemba belt against Mwindo, for he never intended to hand over Mwindo’s father. "You, my karemba, you are going to fight Mwindo," he said. "When you see him, you will bend him, then smash him against the ground."
Karemba, having heard the instructions of its master, went to the banana grove. When it saw Mwindo, the belt fell upon him, making him scream. Muisa’s belt crushed him; it planted his mouth against the ground and froth came out. Mwindo could neither breathe nor could he control his bladder and bowels. Then, seeing its master with no way out, Mwindo’s conga awoke to its duty; it wagged itself above his head, and he succeeded in taking a short breath, then a sneeze; and finally he opened his eyes and gazed about.
All the while, Mwindo’s birth rope was quiet, and his aunt in the upperworld began crying, "Mwindo is dead! His rope has become still. He must escape this terrible fate," she implored the divinities, "he is my child."
Mwindo remembered his aunt and communicated to her through the power of his thoughts: "My aunt there in Tubondo, my rope did not move because Muisa had trapped me; he wrapped me up like a bunch of bananas in his karemba; but don’t worry now, I am saved; my conga has rescued me."
Mwindo then sent his conga-scepter to attack Muisa. "You, my conga," he commanded, "when you arrive at Muisa’s, you will smash him with force; you must plant his mouth to the ground; his tongue must penetrate the earth; do not release him until I return."
Whirling through the air, the conga went on its way, and arriving at Muisa’s, it did smash him; it planted his mouth to the ground; his tongue dug into the earth; his bladder and bowels left him; and his breath was cut off.
Mwindo remained in the banana grove, preparing a load of green and ripe bananas. When he returned to the village, he cast his eyes at Muisa and saw foam oozing out of his mouth and nostrils. "Now give me my father," he said to Kahindo, who met him as he moved toward Muisa, "so I may go home with him."
"Begin first by healing my father," she pleaded, "so I may find out where your father is and give him to you."
Mwindo sang while awakening Muisa:
He who went to sleep wakes up.
Muisa, you are powerless against Mwindo,
because Mwindo is the little-one-just-born-he-walked.
Mwindo went on singing like that while beating Muisa incessantly on the head with his conga in order to wake him up. When Muisa was revived, he pointed to a tree some distance from where he stood and said, "Mwindo, if you want to get your father, go tomorrow and extract honey for me from that tree."
That evening Kahindo cooked for Mwindo, and after eating, she put her leg across him and they slept. When daylight came, Mwindo, equipped with his ax and with fire, went into the forest to extract the honey. He arrived at the base of the tree and climbed up high to where the honey was. But Muisa did not mean for Mwindo to succeed at this task either. Once again he sent his karemba belt after Mwindo; it smashed Mwindo on the tree; it planted his mouth into the trunk of the tree; he could not breathe; his bladder and bowels left him.
Once again Mwindo’s aunt felt his birth rope grow still, and she feared the end had come. But Mwindo’s conga, lying on the ground at the base of the tree, realized that its master was dying. It climbed up the tree to where he was and began to beat and beat Mwindo about his head, Mwindo sneezed, lifted his eyes slightly, and a bit of breath came out.
When Nkuba, the lightning hurler, heard the cry of his friend Mwindo, he unleashed a lightning bolt that split the tree into pieces. Mwindo got down from the tree without a single wound. He then went back with a basket of honey and set it down before Muisa, demanding to be given his father. Muisa, pretending to comply with Mwindo’s demand, sent a boy to fetch Shemwindo from his hiding place. But the boy arrived and found Shemwindo was no longer there.
Suddenly, Kahungu the Hawk, who had previously abetted Muisa, swooped down from the sky squawking, "Muisa lies; he has warned your father to flee, saying that you were too tough an opponent."
Now Mwindo was furious. "Give me my father immediately, you scoundrel! Make him come out from where you have hidden him so that I may return to the upperworid with him. You said that when I cultivated a field for you, when I extracted honey for you, you would then give me my father. You lied! I want him right now; don’t let your saliva dry up before giving him to me."
Muisa did not bring his father out, and Mwindo gave up on polite words. He beat Muisa on the top of his head with his conga; Muisa lost control of his bladder and bowels; he fainted and froth came out of his nose, his eyes, and his mouth; he tossed his feet up into the air; he stiffened like a dead snake.
"Stay like that, you dog," Mwindo yelled. "I will heal you when I have finally caught my father."
Meanwhile Shemwindo had sought refuge with the god Sheburungu, and Mwindo followed him there, wrapped in his hatred.
"Oh, Mwindo," Sheburungu shouted, "let us play wiki together first.
Mwindo accepted Sheburungu’s challenge to play; if he won, he could then retrieve his father. Through superior play, Sheburungu won everything Mwindo had—his money, his possessions, his aunt, even his claim to the village of Tubondo. In desperation Mwindo wagered his conga against the god, and finally his fortune turned; ultimately he won everything the god possessed—people, cattle, goats—and most important, the ability to capture his fugitive father.
"Mwindo, come quickly," sang Kahungu the Hawk, "your father wants to flee again." Mwindo hastily abandoned the wiki game and headed off to intercept his father in a banana grove.
Seeing Shemwindo, Mwindo inquired sarcastically, "0 my father, is it you here?"
Shemwindo answered meekly, "Here I am."
After seizing his father, Mwindo returned to Sheburungu’s, telling the god he did not want any of the things he had won during the game. Then Mwindo bid farewell to Sheburungu and tugged on the rope to remind his aunt he was still alive. On his return home he went into Muisa’s house, where Kahindo came running. "You see my father here, his bones fill a basket; what shall 1 do then? It is befitting that you heal my father; please don’t leave him like that; wake him up; he is the chief of all these people."
Mwindo resurrected Muisa once more, striking him with his conga, telling him, "You have offended me in vain; you have tried to equal Mwindo. But only I am Mwindo, the little-one-just-born-he-walked, the little one who does not eat earthly foods; and the day he was born, he did not drink at the breasts of his mother."
Mwindo tugged on the rope again, and this time Iyangura knew that he was on his way home with his father.
ATONEMENT WITH THE FATHER
Mwindo journeyed back from the underworld, exiting from the kikoka fern with his father and triumphantly arriving in Tubondo. Reunited with his aunt Iyangura, he recounted his adventures for her. Iyangura sought a public apology from her brother, but first she made a special re quest of Mwindo:
"My son, shall we go on living always in this desolate village alone without other people? I, Iyangura, want you first to save all the people who lived here in this village; only when they have been resuscitate shall I ask Shemwindo to confess how he acted toward you and the evil he perpetrated against you. You, my son, are the eternal savior of people."
For three days, Mwindo resurrected those who had fallen in the battle for Tubondo. He beat his conga over the bones of the dead, and miraculously they arose, resuming precisely the activity they had been engaged in at the time of their death.
After the inhabitants of Tubondo had been resurrected, Iyangura asked Shemwindo to call together all the people, and those three radiant stars—Mwindo, Shemwindo, and Iyangura—appeared to the pleasure of the assembled crowd.
Turning to his father Mwindo beckoned: "Now you, my father, it is your turn. Explain to the chiefs the reason why you have had a grudge against me; tell the chiefs so that they may understand."
Sweat rose from Shemwindo’s body, shame welled up in his eyes. He uttered his confession in quivering tones, broken by a spitting cough:
"All you chiefs," Shemwindo stammered, "I don’t deny the evil that I have done against my son; indeed, I passed a decree that I would kill all male children. I tried many times to kill this child, but each time, instead of harming him, I only made him stronger. I fled to the underworld thinking I would be safe, but my son set out in search of me; he came to take me away from the abyss of evil in which I was involved. I was at that time withered like dried bananas. And it is like that I arrived here in the village of Tubondo. So may the male progeny be saved. My son has let me see the way in which the dark sky becomes daylight and given me the joy of witnessing again the warmth of the people and of all the things here in Tubondo."
After that Iyangura spoke: "You, Shemwindo, together with your counselors and nobles, acted badly. If it were a counselor from whom this plan of torment against Mwindo had emanated, then his throat would be cut here in the council. You discriminated against the children, saying that male children were bad and female children were good. You did not know what was in the womb of your preferred wife, what you were given by Sheburungu, but you saw it to be bad."
Iyangura turned to the counselors and nobles, concluding her remarks: "Shemwindo has committed a heinous deed. If the people of Tubondo had been exterminated, Shemwindo would have been guilty of exterminating them."
Finally, Mwindo stood up and with great compassion said, "I, Mwindo, man of many feats, the little-one-just-born-he-walked, I am not holding a grudge against my father; may my father not be frightened, believing that I am still angry with him; no, 1 am not angry with my father. What my father did against me and what 1 did against my father, all that is already over. Now let us examine what is to come, the evil and the good. If either of us starts quarreling again, it is he who will be in the wrong, and all the elders here will be the witnesses of it. Now, let us live in harmony in our country, let us care for our people well."
Full of shame and repentant, Shemwindo wished to cede his throne to his son. He voluntarily stripped himself of the trappings of kingship, giving them to Mwindo; then he blessed Mwindo and left on a self-imposed exile to a mountain retreat. After his enthronement, Mwindo proclaimed that now he had become famous, and would never act like his father.
A FINAL JOURNEY AMONG THE GODS
Many days after his ascension to the throne, Mwindo had a terrible craving to eat some wild pig meat, so he sent the Forest People to hunt for a fresh pig. Following the trail of a red-haired pig, they encountered Kirimu the Dragon, master of the deep forest. He appeared to them in horrific form, a huge animal with a black hide, seven heads, seven horns, seven eyes, teeth like a dog, a huge belly, and the tail of an eagle.
Kirimu devoured the Forest People, whereupon it then fell to Mwindo to save Tubondo from the beast’s reign of terror. Mwindo fearlessly met the monster in battle; then just as Kirimu was about to swallow him whole, Mwindo unleashed his conga and slew the dragon instead. The people rejoiced at the sight of this plentiful supply of fresh meat and were even more pleased when, once the dragon was cut open, all those whom he had ever swallowed were released unharmed from his belly.
But it so happened that Nkuba, the lightning hurler, had made a blood pact with Kirimu. When he inhaled the odor of his dead friend carried on the wind, tears came to his eyes. "What shall I do with this Mwindo?" Nkuba said to himself.
"If I make him suffer up here among the gods, then perhaps he will learn and I can return him to earth to his village again," he mused. "If Mwindo had known I had exchanged blood with Kirimu, then he would not have killed my friend. If he had known, yet still killed Kirimu, I would kill Mwindo right here and now without ever returning him to his country. But he is safe because he did not know that Dragon was my friend."
Nkuba descended for Mwindo and said, "I have come to take you, my friend; I want to teach you because I am very displeased with you since you dared to kill Dragon, who was my friend. You must know this time that you have done wrong."
Still Mwindo showed no deference or fear toward Nkuba, though all the people of Tubondo were stricken with terror, believing their chief was lost forever.
Mwindo sang taunts of his greatness to Nkuba while the pair climbed slowly up into the air. "I have rescued you many times from many dangers," Nkuba reminded Mwindo. "Still you sing so arrogantly. Do you think that you are now equal to me?"
Once in the celestial realm, Mwindo experienced cold weather and icy winds. And there was no house! They lived as nomads, never settling in one spot. Nkuba seized Mwindo; he climbed with him up to Mbura the Rain. When Rain saw Mwindo, he told him, "You, Mwindo, you never accept being criticized; the news about your toughness, your heroism, we surely have heard the news, but here, there is no room for your heroism." Rain fell upon Mwindo seven and seven times more; he had Hail fall upon him, and he soaked him thoroughly. Mwindo thought to himself, "This time I am in trouble in a big way."
Nkuba then lifted Mwindo up again and had him scramble across to Mweri the Moon’s domain. When Moon saw Mwindo, he pointed at him: "The news has been given us of your pride, but here in the sky there is no room for your pride." Then Moon burned Mwindo’s hair.
Nkuba lifted Mwindo up again; he went with him to the domain of Kentse the Sun. When Sun saw Mwindo, he burned him with his heat. Mwindo lacked all means of defense against Sun; his throat became dry; thirst strangled him; he asked for water. The gods said to him, "No, here there is no water for you; now we advise you to grit your teeth and to put your heart on your knee."
After Sun had made Mwindo sustain these pains, Nkuba lifted Mwindo up and brought him to the domain of Kubikubi the Star. When Star saw him, he too echoed the words of the other gods: "The news comes that you are a great hero, but here there is no room for your heroism." Star ordered the Rain and Sun and Moon to come, and all of the assembled gods—Nkuba, Mbura, Mweri, Kentse, Kubikubi—delivered Mwindo a message in unison:
"We have respect for you, but just that much; otherwise, you would vanish right here. You, Mwindo, you are ordered to go back; never a day should you kill an animal of the forest or of the village or even an insect like a centipede or a water spider. If one day we learn that you have begun killing such animals, you will die and your people will never see you again."
They pulled his ears seven times and seven more, saying, "Understand?" And Mwindo said, "Yes, I understand." They also admonished him: "Nkuba will oversee your behavior and comportment; if you stray from our commands Nkuba will report to us, and that day he will seize you instantly, without even a moment to say farewell to your people."
Finally, after one year of wandering in the abode of the sky, Mwindo was allowed to return home. He assembled all his people and told them of his ordeal: "I, Mwindo, the little-one-just-born-he-walked, performer of many wonderful things, I tell you the news from where I have visited in the heavens. When I arrived in the sky, I met with Rain and Moon and Sun and Star and Lightning. These five gods forbade me to kill the animals of the forest and of the village, saying that the day I would dare to touch a living thing in order to kill it, that day my life-fire would be extinguished; then Nkuba would come to take me without my saying farewell to my people and my hope of return would be lost forever. He also told them, "I have seen in the sky things I cannot divulge."
Mwindo then passed good laws for his people, saying,
May you grow many foods and many crops.
May you live in good houses and a beautiful village.
Don’t quarrel with one another.
Don’t pursue another’s spouse.
Don’t mock the invalid passing in the village.
Accept the chief; fear him; may he also fear you.
May you agree with one another, harboring no enmity nor too much hate.
May you bring forth tall and short children; in so doing you will bring them forth for the chief.
Mwindo’s fame grew and stretched widely; it spread to other countries from which people came to pay their allegiance to him. And among children, none was thought bad; whether males or females, whether able or disabled, they were not rejected. For Mwindo realized there was nothing bad in what God has given to humankind.