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Ngai and the Message of Life


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(Kamba/Kenya)

Ngai (Engai, Mulungu, Mumbi), the supreme being, dwells in the skies an indefinite distance away; he is well-disposed toward human beings, but beyond that has nothing to do with them. Ngai is in the sun. Prayers, especially for rain, are sometimes addressed to him. The original ancestor, Mulungu created the first men: the maker, he existed before death came into the world. He is thought to dwell in the sky among the clouds, while the Aimu, spirits, dwell in the earth or upon it.

The first men are said to have been thrown from heaven onto a mountain in Kilungu district in southern Ulu.

A frog, a chameleon, and a thrush were sent by Ngai to search for human beings: they would die one day and come to life again the next. The chameleon was in those days a very important person, and he led the way. They went on their mission, and presently the chameleon saw some people lying apparently dead. As they approached the corpses, he called out to them softly. The bird asked what he was making that noise for. The chameleon said he was calling the people who have gone forward to come back. The bird said that it was impossible to find people who come back to life. But the chameleon said it was possible, pointing out that he himself goes forward and comes back—referring to the movements of his body. The three reached the spot where the dead people were lying, and in response to the calling of the chameleon they opened their eyes and listened to him. But the bird told them that they were dead and must remain dead; they would not rise to life again. The bird then flew away, and the frog and the chameleon stayed behind. The chameleon told the dead that he was sent by Ngai to raise them, they should not believe the lies of the bird. But the spell was broken, his entreaties were of no avail. They returned to Ngai, and the chameleon told him what had happened. Ngai asked the bird if this was so, and the bird said that the chameleon was making such a mess of his errand that he felt obliged to interrupt him. Ngai believed the story of the bird, and, vexed with the way the chameleon had executed his commands, reduced him from his high estate, ordaining that ever after he would only be able to walk very, very slowly, and should never have any teeth. The bird came into high favor, Ngai delegating to him the work of waking up the inhabitants of the world. The thrush therefore to this day wakes up and calls out about 2 a. m., whereas the other birds awaken at only about 4 a. m.

A young man asked his father for livestock for a dowry. When his father refused, the youth ascended to the heavens, as his father watched. He remained there two days, and on the third he returned to earth. But the father agreed to provide livestock only at the end of the year. Not satisfied with this, the youth charged at a rock, hit it with his head, and disappeared into the rock. Then he again returned and asked his father for livestock. His father agreed, and the youth took all his father's cattle except for one cow. See also: Mulungu.

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Subjects: Religion.


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