Nyikang Throws an Adze at the Sun

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Shilluk kings are descended from Nyikang (Nyakang), the leader of the Shilluk during their heroic age, the mythic ancestor who led them into their present homeland, conquering it from its inhabitants. Nyikang, or the spirit of Nyikang, is believed to be in every king. He is a mythic personification of the timeless kingship that symbolizes the national structure, a changeless moral order. The kingship is the common symbol of the Shilluk people and, Nyikang being immortal, an abiding institution that binds the generations. It is not the individual at any time reigning who is the king, but Nyikang who is the medium between man and God (Juok) and is believed in some way to participate in God as he does in the king. The Shilluk believe in a supreme being who is greater than Nyikang or any other king. He is the creator of the world, but is far distant. The people feel the need to have someone to stand between them and God: Nyikang is that intermediary, a divine or semidivine being. He did not die but disappeared in a whirlwind during a festival. The spirit of Nyikang is present in certain places, men, and animals.

In ancient times, the people came to the country of Kerau. Here Nyikang and his brother, Duwat, separated. Duwat asked him where he was going, and told him to look behind him. Nyikang looked back, and saw a stick for planting sorghum, which Duwat had thrown to him. Duwat told him that it was a thing with which to dig the ground of his village. Nyikang came to the country of Turo, the country of his son, Dak, who used to sit on the ashes of the village and play the tom, a stringed instrument. His uncles, the brothers of Nyikang, were jealous of Dak as the sole ruler of the country. They sharpened their spears. But Dak was warned about the danger he was in. Nyikang got an ambach, hewed it, and made hands for it, so, that it looked like a man. Dak sat in the same place and played his instrument. His uncles came and stabbed him—actually, they stabbed the ambach statue, and Dak went unhurt into his enclosure. Nyikang said, “My son has been killed by his uncles.” His uncles, afraid, set a period of mourning for Dak. People came to mourn. Suddenly, Dak came out from his enclosure and danced. His uncles saw this and fled, and the mourning was finished.

Nyikang went to a river, and the people settled on this river. The cow of Nyikang ran away because her calves were speared by him: whenever Nyikang came to a new place, he killed a calf. The cow came to the country of the sun. Ojul, the grey hawk, went to search for her. He found her among the cows of the sun. Garo, the son of the sun, asked Ojul what he was seeking. He said he sought the cow of Nyikang. Garo said there was no such cow there. But Ojul returned, and told Nyikang that the cow had been found among a herd of cows owned by a man who was very tall, just like Dak, wearing silver bracelets. Nyikang ordered an army to find the cow. Dak attacked Garo, threw him on the ground, cut off his hands, pulled the bracelets off them, and chased the enemy's army. He came to the sun. But there the army of Nyikang was chased, and it was destroyed. Nyikang himself came; he took an adze and aimed it at the sun. He hit the sun, and it returned to the sky. Nyikang took the bracelet. With it, he touched the dead of his army, and they returned to life. When the people came to the source of a river, they found it full of sudd. Nyikang wondered where it came from. Their way was barred. Obogo told Nyikang to put him under the sudd, then stab him, and he would part the sudd. So Obogo was stabbed under the sudd, and the sudd parted. They came to their place, and Nyikang settled with his people. Dak ruled, and, when he died, his son, Odak, ruled. He died while hunting game. Nyikang returned, and prepared a bier. Duwat ruled after him. See also: Gila, Juok, Ukwa.


Subjects: Religion.

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