Imana and the Childless Couple

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(Hutu, Nyarwanda, Tutsi/Rwanda)

—Imana is the supreme being, the creator. He is good. Ryangombe is his opposite, feared and deadly.

This is a myth about the fall of man. Imana was alone in the beginning, and he created the heavens and the earth. But the earth was not a mirror of the heavens, it was not the same: it was in fact the opposite, and was characterized by human suffering. But when Imana had initially created all living beings, including humans, animals, and plants, they remained in the heavens with him, and at the beginning humans lived with Imana, ate Imana's plants. And if it happened that a person died, Imana brought him back to life in three days. And so in those early times humans mated and life prospered, and people did not die. The story of the fall begins with a woman whose name was Nyinakigwa: she was sad, because she and her husband were without children. Having thought long about her situation, she went to Imana and asked him to make it possible for her to have a child. He heard her entreaties, and then agreed to provide her with a child. But there was a stipulation: he would provide her with a child with the provision that she must not tell where that child came from. So it was that Imana gave her three children—two of them were sons, Kigwa and Lututsi; one was a daughter, Nyinabatutsi. Nyinakigwa was happy now, and she and her family lived in harmony. But she had a sister who was in a similar state: she was also unable to bear children. When she saw that her sister had children, she became jealous. She beseeched her sister to tell where those children had come from, how she herself might also get children, and she finally got Nyinakigwa to tell her of the origins of those three children. Then she herself went to Imana to ask him to provide children for her as well. And now Imana was angry because he had been disobeyed. Nyinakigwa, knowing that she had broken her word to Imana, turned on her children and killed them. When she had done so, when she had destroyed her children, the sky dramatically opened, and when it had done so the children plummeted to the earth below, where they lived lives of great difficulty and anguish. Now Nyinakigwa was in sorrow, knowing that because of her action her children were living in a land of great suffering. In the end, the two women went to Imana and asked for his forgiveness. And Imana considered their request and agreed that one day the children would have suffered enough and he promised that they would come back to him in the heavens.

In another myth, God and a man, one of his creations, regularly conversed with each other. Then, one day, God told the man that on a certain night he was not to go to sleep, that during that night God would bring him long life. The man did not know that a snake had overheard the words of Imana. And during that fateful night the man did in fact fall asleep, against God's admonition. When Imana came with his good word, his promise of renewed life, the snake answered in the man's stead and God, thinking the snake was the man, gave him the news: he would die but would return to life; he would become old but would shed his skin. And so it would be for all of his descendants. The man awakened, and he continued to await God's message, but it was not forthcoming. He then went to God and asked him about this. It was then that Imana knew that the snake had taken the man's place. He said he could not undo what had been done, but noted that men would henceforth kill snakes. But the man would nevertheless die, as would his children. The snake, on the other hand, would shed its skin, and be reborn. See also: Ryangombe.


Subjects: Religion.

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