ǂGao!na and the Tree Whose Name May Not Be Spoken

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After ǂGao!na, a culture hero with supernatural powers, had created himself, he created the lesser god and then their two wives. The old ǂGao!na could change himself into other forms, could change people into animals, could bring people back to life. The great god created the earth and gave it its name. In the earth, he created holes for water and he created water. Then ǂGao!na made the sky, a dome over the earth; he made rain—gentle and violent. He made the sun, the moon and the stars, the wind. He created these things and commands their movements. He created the things that grow from the ground; he created animals, gave them their names.

Then he created human beings, first a woman and then a man, and told them to breathe. When the man asked the woman to give him fire, she did. He married her. ǂGao!na named the first woman, Khwova, for his wife, and he named the first man, ǂGao, for himself. From the beginning, he created men and women to be mortal. He turns the spirits of the dead into ∥gauwasi; they live in the sky with him. He sends them to earth to bring death or good fortune.

ǂGao!na has a medicine with which he can renew himself and all those who live in the sky with him. When they get old and he renews them, they do not die. But he has not given human beings that medicine. ǂGao!na gave humans arrows, bows, digging sticks, the knowledge to make things.

The old ǂGao!na was manlike. ǂGao!na, the great god of the east, is also manlike. He has the power to change himself into the forms of animals or objects and sometimes does so, but in his own form he is a man. The people say he is the tallest of the San, with a big head, black long hair, a long beard, and hair on his chest. He has a horse and rides everywhere across the earth and sky: one can sometimes hear the sound of his horse's hooves passing overhead. ǂGao!na lives in a house at the place where the sun rises in the eastern sky. Near the house is a great tree—one tree. The !Kung fear the tree and the house. The lesser god in the west lives beside two trees, and these two trees have names. The one tree of the great god in the east has no name, or perhaps it has a name that cannot be spoken. The tree is associated with the spirits of the dead. ǂGao!na's house has two stories. It is long, made of stone, with a shining roof of corrugated iron. There are big doors on the ends and small doors on the sides. All the ∥gauwasi (spirits of the dead) live on the lower floor, and ǂGao!na and his wife and children live on the upper floor. No mortal has ever seen ǂGao!na's dwelling place. See also: ‖Gauwa, Huwe, |Kaggen, |Kai- |Kini, Pishiboro.

Subjects: Religion.

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