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Qamatha Sends the Chameleon with a Message


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(Xhosa/South Africa)

Qamatha is the creator. The Xhosa name for God is Mdali, the supreme being. Other names by which he is known are Thixo and Qamatha, a legacy from the Khoi and possibly the San. Qamatha, the creator of all things, controls all things. A Xhosa poet observed that in the absence of Qamatha, without the rules laid down by Qamatha, there would be confusion on the earth, madness, uncertainty. Qamatha was usually addressed through the spirits of the ancestors; these spirits provided necessary links between God and men.

Man and beast emerged from a subterranean hole or cavern; in some cases, the creator had a role in bringing them forth. Indentations on surrounding rocks are believed to be the footprints of the first men and their animals. Generally, the place is reputed to be either in the north or in the east, depending on the direction from which the people originally migrated, and linked for some with the rising sun. There is a cavern in the east, which is called uhlanga. This cosmological association with the east has a ritual significance because traditionally the entrance to the main house in the homestead faced east, and the chiefs were also buried facing east. The cattle emerged first, followed by mankind, and then various beasts and birds, in consecutive order. After many unsuccessful attempts, mankind eventually domesticated the cattle. They were lured to the cavern entrance by the smell of blood, and, as they stood around the spot bellowing, were surrounded and taken.

A certain man had three sons, whose names were Ibranana, Xhosa, and Twa. Ibranana was a keeper of cattle, sheep, and goats, as was also Xhosa, while Twa was satisfied with his honey bird and his game in the desert. Ibranana, the ancestor of the Khoi, was not a tall man, and his complexion was sallow. Twa, the ancestor of the San, was shorter and more slender, and also of a sallow complexion, but a shade lighter. And Xhosa was a tall, muscular man, and dark colored.

Qamatha sent the chameleon to earth to tell people that they would never die. The chameleon journeyed to the earth; on the way it got tired and rested. A lizard asked where the chameleon was going. Then the lizard ran and told the people that they would die. A big outcry erupted on the earth; people were crying because they were going to die. When the chameleon heard this outcry, it proceeded to the earth to tell the people that it would not be like that, they would never die. The people did not believe the chameleon, believing instead the word of the lizard. That is why people die.

Lightning was conceived as a bird, Impundulu or Intakezulu, the bird of heaven. Thunder was the beating of its wings. Impundulu was said to be dazzling in the brilliance of its different colors. It set its fat on fire and sent it down as lightning. Where this struck, it left its eggs. These resembled hen's eggs and were thought to bring bad luck to the neighborhood where they were laid. Another belief was that Impundulu was the servant of death of the supreme being, and was greatly feared as a messenger of death. See also: Mdali, Thixo.

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Subjects: Religion.


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