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Dengbagine and the Parting of the Waters


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(Zande/Sudan)

Dengbagine, a mythic hero, was a priest at the court of King Mabenge. No one knew who his father and mother were. His son was Bakuparanga.

An army arrived to make war on Mabenge. The opposing armies faced each other across the Uelle River. The river was wide, making it impossible for Mabenge to cross to the other side. Dengbagine was a man who performed wonderful things. He struck the river with his hand bells, and the waters divided, so that there was a path to the other side. When everyone had crossed to the other bank, he struck the waters again, and they closed once more. Mabenge's enemy was then overcome. When they returned, they again came to the banks of the Uelle and were unable to cross over. As before, Dengbagine divided the waters, and the people crossed over with the spoils of the battle, including many captives. But now the elders began to conspire against Dengbagine, telling Mabenge that this man was dangerous because he might use his wonderful abilities to overcome the king. They must therefore destroy him at once. Mabenge, who had been awed by the miracle he had seen Dengbagine perform, agreed with the elders. They seized and bound Dengbagine, intending to kill him. He asked them to tie a stone to his chest, and throw him with it into the water. But they should not stab him with a spear. When they had bound the stone to his chest, he asked them for his hand bells. He held them in his hands as they threw him into the water with the stone tied to his chest. He remained under the water for a time, then rose to the surface with the hand bells in his hands. Everyone saw him as he walked on the water. Beneath the waters, they could hear the beating of drums and gongs along with the chorus of a song from the mouths of many men. Dengbagine began to dance his dance of divination, all the while the drums sounding in the waters, though no one knew who was beating them for him. After he had danced for a long time, he went suddenly into the sky, but his hand bells fell to earth at the feet of Mabenge and entered the earth. He disappeared, and no man saw him.

Subjects: Religion.


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