Dr. Alice C. Linsley
In the beginning…
phrase "In the beginning" is common in African creation stories and
songs, such as this song of the Mbuti Pygmies:
the beginning was God
will be God.
can make an image of God?
has no body.
is as a word which comes out from your mouth,
word! It is no more,
is past and still it lives!
So is God.
Akan of Ghana tell this story: “In the beginning the heavens were closer to the
earth. First man and first woman had to be careful while cultivating and
grinding grain so that their hoes and pestles would not strike God, who lived
in the sky. Death had not yet entered the world and God provided enough for
them. But first woman became greedy and tried to pound more grain than she was
allotted. To do this, she had to use a longer pestle. When she raised it up, it
hit the sky and God became angry and retreated far into the heavens. Since then,
there has been disease and death and it is not easy to reach God.”
narrative is told by the Fang of Central Africa: “At the beginning of Things,
when there was nothing, neither man, nor animals, nor plants, nor heaven, nor
earth, nothing, nothing, God was and He was called Nzame.”
Bantu account is similar: “In the beginning there was only darkness, water, and
the great god Bumba."
the beginning, the Gikuyu of Kenya say, "There was no sunlight... the
whole land was in darkness."
Egyptian creation story closely parallels Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning there
was only the swirling watery chaos."
common theme among Africans is the power of the divine word to generate life.
The Nilotic Luo have a saying: Wach en gi teko which means "a word
Bambara bards of Uganda recite this song in praise of the divine Word:
Word is total:
or directly kills
excites or calms souls.
created all things.
African theme is expressed in the merism "the heavens and the
earth...", meaning all things. All created entities owe their existence
directly to the Creator.
Abraham’s Nilotic ancestors believed that the Creator created alone. In ancient Egyptian texts, God declares, "I cast a spell with my own heart to lay a foundation in Maat. I made everything. I was alone. I had not yet breathed the divine one Shu, and I had not yet spit up the divine one Tefnut. I worked alone."
concept of “Maat” involves equilibrium and harmony between constituent parts, including
the cycle of the seasons, celestial and planetary movements, honesty in social
and business interactions, and justice.
the African picture of God’s direct act of creation to the Babylonian
"Epic of Creation" in which Marduk creates. He is created to defend
the divine ones from attack by the sea goddess Tiamat. Marduk offers to save
them on the condition that he be appointed their permanent ruler. The gods
agree to Marduk's terms. Marduk kills Tiamat and he
fashions the earth and the skies from her severed corpse.
Somali called the Creator Eebe, and Eebe's divine messenger was Huur, another
name for Horus. In Luo, Horu' mo (horumo/orumo) means perfected,
realized, finished, or completed. Other peoples of Somalia call the Creator Waaqa
Tokkicha, meaning “the one God.”
Luo reference to God is Nyasaye, which is comparable to the biblical “I am Who
I am.” The Acholi Luos call the Creator Lacwec, and other Luos call the Creator
Jachwech, a linguistic equivalent of Yahweh.
separated the sea and the dry land.
Oromo name for the High God is Waaqa. According to their creation story, Waaqa
separated the body of water into two parts: the water above called “Bishaan
Gubbaathe”, and the water below called “Bishaan Goodaa”.
the Nilotic Luo “Dog Nam” refers to the great water or the waters of creation.
Luos consider God to be present at any great body of water, especially Lake
Chad, the Nile, and Lake Victoria.
to some mythologies, the Nile was where the work of creation began when the
Creator caused a mound to emerge from the primal water. The emerging dry land
the Egyptian Coffin Texts (2000 BC) we read, "I was the one who began
everything, the dweller in the Primeval Waters. First Hahu emerged from me and
then I began to move." Ha-hu (ruach in Hebrew) is the wind or
breath of God that separated the waters above from the waters below and the dry
land from the seas.
waters were called Nun, a word found among the Horite Hebrew chiefs. Joshua bin
Nun is an example. Nun represents the cosmic waters of the firmament above and
firmament below (Gen.1:6). In Heliopolitan cosmology the watery realms were
connected by the great pillars of the temple of Heliopolis (Biblical On).
is created through volcanism. The ancients observed this and attributed it to
God’s actions. The rising mounds were called pillars and the Hebrew conceived
on earth resting on pillars." I Samuel 2:8 says, "For the pillars of
the earth are the Lord’s and he had set the world upon them." Many
volcanic eruptions took place under the sea. Imagine volcanoes rising from the
sea. These are the "pillars of the earth" described in Psalm 72, Job
9:6, and I Samuel 2:8.
9 speaks of God "Who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars
tremble.” Among Abraham's Nilotic
ancestors the mounds that emerged from the sea were called TaTJeNuN which appears
to mean "twin pillars of God in the water."
marked sacred places and royal tombs. Ancient temples such as the one at Karnak
have entrance halls filled with massive pillars. In the Ugaritic creation story
the twin mountains are indicated by the sign T. The mountains Trgzz and Trmg
emerged from a universal ocean and held up the firmament.
Related reading: The Themes of Genesis 1-3; The Chaotic Waters Subdued; The Nilotic Context of Genesis 1-2; The Nilotic Substrata of Genesis 1