Nkulunkulu Emerges from the Reeds

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(Zulu/South Africa)

Nkulunkulu, the supreme being, the ancient one, is the Zulu creator.

Nobody knows where he is now; he came originally—that is, he broke off—from some reeds. Some say that he was the reeds, because the word for them, uthlanga, means source. It was he who broke off the people from the reeds and then the cattle and other peoples. He also broke off medicine men and dreams. He was really the first man and the progenitor of other men. A woman followed him out of the original reeds, then a cow and a bull, then the other pairs of animals. Nkulunkulu created everything that is—mountains, cattle, streams, snakes. He taught the Zulu how to hunt, how to make fire with sticks, and how to eat corn. He named the animals for them. Nkulunkulu is in everything; he is in the corn, the tree, the water.

In another version of the myth, Nkulunkulu was the first man and there was nothing before him; he broke off from the source. He cut the little tree named uluzi and kindled fire by friction and told the people, “Be warm. Cook with it.” Nkulunkulu cooked the first corn and ate it himself, to show the people how. He identified the wild animals for the people. Nkulunkulu broke off the stones and men, too, from the bed of reeds. The corn grew, and the first man said to the first woman, “Let's eat it.” The woman said, “How?” “Cut it. Thrash it,” said the man. “Find a stone. Go find another stone. Grind the corn between the stones.” And this has been the way of mankind with corn ever since.

Nkulunkulu sent a chameleon to tell men they would not die. The chameleon went slowly, loitering. Nkulunkulu sent a lizard after the chameleon, giving him the message that men would die. The lizard made great haste. The lizard arrived first with its message of death. When the chameleon finally arrived, the people would not hear its message of life.

Subjects: Religion.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.