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Modimo and the Origin of Death


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(Tswana/Botswana, South Africa)

The high god is Modimo, the one who goes into the heart of the things he has created, originated, or brought into being. The Badimo are not gods equal in being and power with the one God, but manifestations of him. Like God, they are classified as impersonal, though they have personal attributes. Two of these Badimo (singular, Medimo), Cosa and Nape, are emanations of the most high God: Cosa, the god of destinies, allots to man his life; he stood at the beginning of human history and mapped out the course, together with the events, that would befall men. From this god, Cosa, the Tswana begin their course of time. He existed before the days of Bilo (Bilwe), the firstborn son of man. Nape is the manifestation of the mind of God. There are also earthbound gods, deifications of heroes of a long-gone age: these include Tintibane, child of God and child of earth, and Thobege a phachwa, who is said to have only one leg. The Badimo are not gods or demigods; they are the spirits of the dead, sometimes beneficent but generally malignant. Their leader is Dimodimo, or Dinwe. The Badimo are personal spirits, so closely connected with human life as to share in it. They live in the spirit world nearer to the gods than man. Not only are they hostile to humans, they are the undoers of the things of God, the perverters of his purposes in creation. They incite man to turn away from God, with the result that man becomes an innovator, an originator of customs that were never intended by God.

There was a cave from which the original man emerged. This cave is called Looe or Lowe, and the dweller within it was called by the same name. Lowe was also called Tauetona, Big Lion. Lowe's footprints can be found at a place called Kopong. He lived in the cave with his dogs, and around him were the beasts of the field. When he came out of the cave, he saw the animals and other created things, and many of the created things were brought into being while he was there. Authority to name them was given to him; he gave a name to all, with the exception of the snake.

A myth tells of the creation of men and women, both youths in the prime of young manhood, and women, ripe for motherhood—the males living by themselves at a place called Thaea-banna, the originating of men, and the women by themselves in Motlhaba-basetsana, the plain of the women. After the people had been created, they were asked what they wished with regard to death. Should they return after death, or should there be a going away for good? The people were very slow in giving an answer; again and again the messengers came, presumably from God. At last, an answer was sent that the dead should return. This answer was sent by the chameleon, the slow-moving one, but he spent a very long time on the road. After his departure, the people changed their minds, and sent a message to the gods by Kgatwane, the two-legged lizard. He was to ask the gods to let women live and only men die, or, if that could not be, that all should die, saying, “Let death be a resting, and let there be no return of those who die.” Kgatwane hurried with his message and arrived long before the chameleon. As this was the unanimous desire of mankind, God agreed; hence, when man dies he does not return. After many days, the chameleon arrived at the abode of the gods and gave the message he had been given by man. God said, “I have already received the message from man, brought to me by the lizard, and I have agreed that man shall die and not return.” So it is that death seems to end all, and man does not return to the abode of men.

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Subjects: Religion.


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