Mawu: People Wipe Dirty Fingers on Him

'Mawu: People Wipe Dirty Fingers on Him' can also refer to...


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(Ewe/Benin, Ghana, Togo)

Mawu, whose name has the meanings of sky and rain, is the spirit of the firmament, the deified canopy of the heavens. He is the all-wise creator and giver of all good things. He is thought of as having human form, but he lives far away, in the invisible sky, and seems remote from mankind, though he is responsible for sending rain and for the food supply. There is a group of pantheons that, among the great gods, are divided into the sky, the earth, and the thunder pantheons; these in turn are succeeded by series of pantheons of lower orders down through the ancestral spirits, personal spirits, and powers.

Mawu originally lived very close to the humans he had created. Because he was so close, he was, as far as they were concerned, a convenient towel, and the people would wipe their dirty fingers on him. This so annoyed him that he moved out of reach of humanity. And the golden age disappeared.

In Togo, it is said that children wiped their greasy fingers on the sky when they had finished their meals.

In Benin, a woman is said to have thrown a pot of dirty water out of her house door into the face of the sky. For these reasons, the sky moved away in anger and lived in the distant place where it is today.

Men grew tired of dying, and sent messengers to God to ask that they might live forever. They sent a sheep first, but he delayed on the way. A dog was later sent to confirm the message, and he outran the sheep. But the dog gave the wrong message, asking that men might remain dead and not return to earth. The sheep tried to correct this when he arrived, but God had given his decision in accepting the dog's request, and he would not change it.

Dada-Segbo tried to obtain fire to give it to men. The fire was guarded by a giant, and Dada-Segbo sent the animals one by one to fetch it. The lion tried first, and stole the fire from the sleeping giant, but a bird gave the alarm and the giant snatched back the fire before it reached heaven. The same happened to the monkey, the elephant, and all the other animals. When the effort was given up in despair, the tortoise offered to go. Even though the other animals mocked him, he set out. The tortoise stole the fire and was pursued by the giant. But the tortoise hid the fire in his shell and the giant could not find it. The tortoise kept putting his head in his shell to warm the coal, as he does today. Finally he produced it, and God was able to give fire to men.

Subjects: Religion.

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