African Goddesses

Aha Njoku, Lady of Yams Aja, Lady of Forest Herbs Ala, Earth Mother
Dziva, Lady Creatrix Gbadu, Holy Daughter Inkosazana, Lady Heaven
Mawu, Lady Supreme Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Lady Rainbow Mella, Courageous Daughter
Minona, Protectress Oshun, Lady of Sweet Waters Oya, Lady of the River
Sela, Beloved of the Sun Songi, Mistress of Wealth Wagadu, Lost to the World

According to generally accepted evolutionary theory, Africa is the ancient home of all human kind--all homo sapiens can trace their descent from the peoples who first walked upright across Africa's mountains and plains. Their footprints have been found in the ash of volcanic explosions.

Civilizations great and small arose and fell on this continent. Egypt, for instance, profiled in a separate section. Great Zimbawe, Meroe, Christian Ethiopia, Benin, Mali, Ghana, the Muslim cities of the north, Timbuktu, Bono and Ife were all thriving political states. Many grew rich on trade with the north: great caravans of camels crossed the barrier of the Sahara, carrying gold, ivory, rare animal skins, ostrich feathers and cola nuts. Interestingly, the stability of the entire European and Northern African economic system depended on a steady supply of gold from the Sub-Saharan south. There are also the Ban (or Bushmen), the Zulu, the Yoruba, the Bantu, the Songhai, the Berber and so many, many others whose names and ways have been forgotten, erased or simply considered unimportant.

As the oldest inhabited continent, Africa should present us with a rich tradition of mythology, folklore, hero tales and ritual. And, to an extent, it does so: the Goddess tales presented here reflect the surviving diversity. These are tales of creation and forewarning; they extol virtues and vices of peoples long dead and still extant; they reveal ways of living, nomadic, pastoral, aggressive and peaceful.

But much of African culture has been lost or altered. Some was lost through natural processes: cultures changed, and so rituals and tales which no longer communicated a society's mores were abandoned. Climates changed--the Sahara was once a great grassland dotted with lakes and forests--and so the tales and lifestyles of the people altered as they adapted. Cultures died because of disease or invasion, and so their ways passed into the mists. Many African cultures had no written language, and so when the people died, the heritage died with them; other cultures, such as Meroe, produced a written language which has yet to be deciphered. But so much more of African culture was lost or altered in response to other stimuli: Arab Muslims swept across the northern portion of the continent in the seventh and eighth centuries of the common era, converting and conquering; along the eastern coast, also, Arab Muslims converted, conquered or enslaved. (It is now speculated by African historians that, as many Africans converted to Islam out of religious conviction, perhaps an equal number converted to avoid enslavement or augment trading relations.) A significant portion of the contemporary Muslim population is African or of African-descent. By the fifteenth century of the common era, perhaps sooner, European Christians had arrived. And with them, centuries of exploitation, enslavement and death.

This is not to say that native Africans were apathetic or weak, and were simply swept along by the "superior" Arab Muslims and Europeans. Far from it. And while there is no doubt of the negative impact of these contacts, there was also the great blooming in commerce and culture which arose out of the intermingling of diverse peoples. Western historians have recently begun to take an interest in the African perspective of that era. They have discovered that enemy African tribes often sold prisoners of war to Arab Muslims and Europeans, and so directly influenced the development of the slave trade; they have found tales of queens leading warriors against Europeans and Arabs; of great trade routes and sophisticated trading networks stretching the length of the continent; of merchants grown rich on trade in gold and ostrich feathers; of kings welcoming scholars and bureaucrats from the north and east to help govern kingdoms. As the centuries passed, native governments were overthrown or became puppets. Europe entered an era of empire building; competition was fierce, and Africa one of the primary battlegrounds. Foreign economic, political and societal structures were imposed over native structures. Peoples were divided into artificial political units which did not coincide with existing linguistic and ethnic lines. Some nations, with their independence from Europe, gained great natural wealth because of those artificial lines, while others were left poor.

And so we come to today. Africa is a continent riven by ethnic hatred; class, wealth, linguistic, religious, and geographical divisions; illiteracy; ecocidal deforestation and poaching; famine and drought; and a population explosion. Yet it is also home to soaring mountains, deserts that bloom in spring, elephants and cheetahs, and, above all, a people courageous, determined and imaginative. Those of us of European and Arabic descent do, to an extent, have a responsibility to make amends for what our ancestors did: Africa needs our economic, political and spiritual support. But Africans themselves--shopkeeper, engineer, teacher, nurse, shaman, shepherd, general, farmer, professor-- must ultimately guide their continent into a more stable, equitable, prosperous and peaceful future.

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Aha Njoku, Lady of Yams

This popular Goddess is worshipped by the Ibo people of Nigeria. She is responsible for yams, a central ingredient in the Ibo diet, and the women who care for them.

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Aja, Lady of Forest Herbs

This forest Goddess is honored by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. She teaches Her faithful the use of medicinal herbs found in the African forests.

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Ala, Earth Mother

This much-loved Earth Mother is the highest Goddess of the Ibo pantheon of Nigeria. She is responsible for many aspects of civilization, as well as guardianship of women and children in general.

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Dziva, Lady Creatrix

Dziva is the generally benevolent Creatrix Goddess of the Shona people of Zimbabwe--but there is also an awful aspect to Her nature....

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Gbadu, Holy Daughter

Gbadu is the daughter of Mawu (profiled below). She is the Goddess of Fate of the Fon (or Dahomey) people of modern Benin, Who is saddened by the fighting among Her Mother's mortal children.

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Inkosazana, Lady Heaven

She is a popular and much-loved Goddess of the well-known Zulu people of Southern Africa. She is responsible primarily for cereal grains, an important element of the Zulu diet.

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Mawu, Lady Supreme

Mawu is the Supreme Deity of the Fon (or Dahomey) people of modern Benin. With Her husband, Lisa, She created the universe. They are sometimes presented as Mawu-Lisa the great androgymous Creator. One of Her daughters is Gbadu (profiled above).

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Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Lady Rainbow

Mbaba Mwana Waresa is a beloved Goddess of the Zulu people of Southern Africa, primarily because She gave them the gift of beer. The story of Her search for a husband is well-known, and recently appeared in a beautifully illustrated children's book.

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Mella, Courageous Daughter

Mella's story is as much folklore as it is myth. She is a deified Queen honored by the Buhera Ba Rowzi people of Zimbabwe.

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Minona, Protectress

This Protectress of Women is honored by the Fon (or Dahomey) people of Benin. In some tales, She is the Mother of Mawu and the Grandmother of Gbadu (both profiled above).

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Oshun, Lady of Sweet Waters

Oshun is one of the few native African Goddesses whose name is recognized in the West. She is honored by the Yoruba people of Nigeria primarily as a Goddess of fresh water, an element important to any people. She is also responsible for fertility, love and divination.

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Oya, Lady of the River


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