Nyame and the Message of Death

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(Akan/Burkina Faso, Ghana)

Nyame, the supreme being, is eternal, infinite, and the creator of the universe; he is remote from men and unconcerned with their daily life. He is one of the sources of fertility and father of the lesser spirits, or Abosom. A spark of fire enters the bloodstream of every individual from Nyame and so animates him. Man is the offspring of Nyame, the first member of the triune deity—Nyame, Odomankoma, and Nyankopon. Nyankopon is regarded as the great ancestor, source of all wisdom, bestowing on each man his unique talents. Odomankoma is the ultimate ancestor. Nana is the pattern and paradigm, mediator and exemplar, of the supreme ideal. Human life is one continuous stream flowing through all men. Man has to die to discover his completeness in the undying god. Daughters of Nyame include Asaase Afua, the goddess of fertility, and Asaase Yaa, the mother of the dead.

In ancient times, men grew weary of dying and therefore decided to send a messenger to Nyame to complain. They selected a sheep to take the message. To assure that the messenger took the message correctly, they sent a second; for that purpose, they selected a dog. The dog, knowing that he was much swifter than the sheep, did not leave with the sheep but delayed for a time. As the sheep went along the road to Nyame's town, he came to where an old woman lived. She had found that some of her salt supply had been damaged by water, and it was not possible to dry it. She had therefore thrown the salt into the bushes outside the village. As the sheep moved along, he was eating the grass where the salt had been thrown, and, liking the taste, remained there a long time. In the meantime, the dog came along the same road but did not see the sheep in the countryside. He hurried on and reached Nyame's village first. He told Nyame that he and the sheep had been sent by men to deliver a message to him. When Nyame asked what the message was, the dog told him that men said that they wished to remain dead when they died and not to return here. Nyame said that it would be as they requested, and the dog returned. Along the way, he met the sheep and told him what he had done. The sheep explained that a mistake had been made, and they both returned to Nyame. But Nyame refused to alter his initial decision, which is why men die and do not come back again. See also: Aberewa, Odomankoma, Tano.

Subjects: Religion.

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