Songs from the Sky – Africa


pp. 281-292 Allen F. Roberts : "Monotony and Surprise in Tabwa Cosmology". [in eastern Katanga (southeastern Zaire) & northeastern Zambia, west of lake Tanganyika and east of lake Mweru]

pp. 282-283 monsters of wonder




In the lake, "monsters prevail, such as turtle "the size of basins," striped frogs and enormous fish that can swallow dugouts


... should one see a mwigiza "thing of wonder" such as light beams that appear and disappear, or great serpents which do the same, s/he will say nothing to fellow travelers ... Not everyone sees such things".

p. 283-285 souls of the dead




"Mwila, the great divide running north-to-south parallel to the lake, along the chain of mountains to its west. Mwila ... is "path of God (Mungu)," that is followed by the dead as they wend their way to the cavern of Kibawa, the great chthonic spirit who will keep them. As such, Mwila ... [as route for the living] is only taken with the greatest care : if the dead should be encountered, they may take the living with them. Some of the dead ... linger along Mwila, accosting careless passer[s]by. It is they who appear as half-beings, divided down the middle, and it is they who are the most terrifying." {In the Fiji islands, souls of the dead are likewise believed to travel to their afterlife destination along the height-of-land hillock-range dividing the land.}


"Kibawa’s cavern" : "the dead ... can be heard speaking, pounding maize ... when one visits the cavern, a place near the Luvua River where the Mwila Divide ... intersects the river. ... The dead reach Kibawa’s cavern via the path of Mwila".


"the dead travel southward to reach Kibawa’s {cf. the [Astika] belief in the southward travel of souls of the dead toward their place for being judged by Dharma} ... down to their resting place."

p. 285a "Luba-Kasai ... believe the dead travel along the Milky Way itself, to a juncture where they receive a reckoning."

pp. 283-284 cosmology




sky : "BaTabwa consider the firmament to be an immense and solid dome supported at the extremities of the Earth by columns ... of copper, in the way a roof lies on a house" of the round construction.


subterraneously-accessed [from the viewpoint of sky-dwellers] city of light : "an anthropomorphic aardvark (Orycteropus afer) hunted small game with his pack of dogs, in a world silent, dark, cold, and without human fellowship. On one occasion the dogs began chasing a cane rat (Thrynomys spp.), and when this ... descended a "seemingly endless tunnel," the dogs and Aardvark followed. At the end of this "endless" path, they came to the Almighty’s (Leza) city of light. Aardvark complained of his loneliness in a barren world, and Leza gave him a man and woman who carried back up the "endless" tunnel baskets containing Sun, Moon, and stars. These were released ..., whereupon Aardvark fled forever".


"the three stars of Orion’s Belt as a hunter following his dogs chasing a cane rat.

... the Galaxy ... may represent the "endless tunnel" of Aardvark." [Inasmuch as the same term, /mulalambo/, is given (p. 285a-b) both meaning of ‘galaxy’ and of ‘aardvark-burrow’, the "endless" quality of the tunnel would be the circularity of the galaxy around the ordinary observer’s vantage-point.]


"has the anti-hero attempt to seize the Moon, but the venture fails ["builds a tower ..., but ... the tower crumbles"] ... a father builds a tower to seek the "Moon" for a prepubescent daughter".

pp. 285-286 headless divinity




" Nfwimina is ... "as big as a road," and ... swaying and glittering (kumermeda) in the sunlight ... a kiwiliwili, a headless being ...

Nfwimina ... put in the Earth such as copper, gold, and the other precious metals that are mined ...

Nfwimina’s breath ... may seep from the ground and cause ... coughs ... Nfwimina’s breath, when emitted from the plunging tunnels of a termitary, also produces the rainbow."


"The rainbow is said to be ... the serpent itself, "flying" {cf. [Kemetian] winged serpent-god; [<ibri^] flying winged s`rap serpent} to a distant stream where it will "drink water" : such a place will become totally red {cf. transforming the river S^ih.o^r (Nile) into blood, by the serpent-rod of Mos^eh} and will dry up."

"Others ... say that the rainbow is composed of two serpents of opposite sex, which unite in the sky. ... A secondary rainbow, called "the serpent’s wife" by neighboring Zela, may "unite" with the primary rainbow as two celestial "serpents" lying belly-to-belly, their backs [should be : "bellies"] crimson arches."


"A magical medicine bundle (nsipa) is ... placed at the point in the woods intended to become the fire’s center. Game animals will be attracted to that spot by the medicine bundle, and ... they will "forget" to flee ... "A swirling column of smoke [from kitumpa bush-fire intended to flush game-animals for hunters] ... is said to be Nfwimina itself, standing upon the tip of her tail". {cf. "pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night" to guide refugees during the Exodos-wandering}

p. 287 bodily-interior as supernatural landscape




"Within the body, there is another, albeit invisible "landscape," resonant with that of the world without. This interior landscape is inhabited by several "serpents," including Muzhoka ... and ... Kisumi, a snake-like entity with the head and teeth of a mole. {cf. mole as vahana (vehicle) of god Rudra, according to the Veda} Kisumi regulates the fertility of women, and a woman will die {actually, she is uninjured by this condition, which will last only a few hours anyway} should Kisumi decide to leave her subsequent to childbirth (in what we would term uterine prolapse). When Kisumi ... gnaws the inside of a woman ..., the blood of menstruation is produced. ... When it capriciously decides to do so, Kisumi can "close" a woman’s "path" (vagina {actually, "womb"}) to ... retain the "rain"(sperm) so that conception will occur."


"Bait of a fresh mole was used by intrepid Tabwa magical practitioners to capture Nkuba, the fiery-winged celestial ram that produces thunder and lightning. ...


"Rain" (sperm) is accompanied by lightning (... ejaculation). Kisumi, part "mole," attracts this "lightning" and then oversees the developing pregnancy that ensues. Kisumi lies next to the fetus, and is its "counterpart" or playmate (mwenzake). As the two cavort in the mother’s belly, she perceives this in what we would call "kicking." "

pp. 287-288 spirit-possession




"Bulumbu {cf. the name of the /LUMBi/ (Lumbee) tribe in south-central North Carolina} is said to have been introduced to or borrowed by the Tabwa in the 1930s, from neighboring Luba." {cf. the [Zapotec] name /LyoBAA/ of the city of souls of the dead}


myth of the origin of the bu-lumbu cult : "A human hunter ... comes upon a clearing in the forest where a mputo covered basket ... sits beside a hole in the ground. At the hunter’s approach, the animated basket flees down the plunging tunnel, eventually to reach the abode of Kibawa {with this name /ki-BAWA/ cf. that of [Skt.] /BHAWA/, god of ghosts of the dead}, keeper of the dead. The hunter follows, and at Kibawa’s learns to communicate with his ancestral spirits and Earth spirits associated with Kibawa, a skill he brings back to those on earth. Thereafter, the hunter is a kitobo or guide to those who would speak with the spirits through possession (trance)."


spirit-possession ritual : "The suppliant sits before a Bulumbu adept, and places his or her hands on the top of the adept’s mputo basket, underneath the overarching handle. Musicians, led by the adept’s kitobo or "guide," play drums and rattles behind the suppliant, and the audience join in songs led by the adept. As the suppliant shows signs of becoming entranced, such as trembling of the hands and forearms, the adept leans forward and traces lines of chalk up the suppliant’s arms, providing an avenue up which the spirit can mount. As possession is achieved, the spirit leaves the inside of the covered basket, "takes" (kukamata) the person, and causes him or her to fall over backwards in a trance. This process is called kutentama, a verb referring to one thing perching upon another".


"The pattern of juxtaposed isosceles triangles woven about the basket rim is called balamwezi, ... New Moon. ... The cover of the mputo basket represents the surface of the female earth ... The overarching handle ... is the Milky Way

... the mputo basket ... was used to store clothing." {ritual clothing? Among the Maori of New Zealand, /putea/ is a ‘basket for storing clothing’, while /Takataka-putea/ is the name of a god.}

p. 289 meteors & comets




"Lyang’ombe [Lian-ombe], the shooting star, is said to be what ordinary mortals can perceive when sorcerers (bandozi, walozi) travel from place to place on their ... errands. ... The lyang’ombe [" ‘Lyang’ombe’ ... is ... Ryangombe, the mythical hero of Rwandan {cf. /LUANDA/, name of city in Angola, with similar /l/ instead of /r/} epic" (p. 292, n. 51)] shooting star ... is ... a device prepared by sorcerers from ... either a tortoise {with the shape of a tortoise-shell, compare that (oblate spheroid) of a flying-saucer} or a Giant African Land Snail shell. The most potent magical medicines are packed into such a shell, and then sorcerers can themselves enter, several at a time if they so desire ...


They then travel in the lyang’ombe to attack their victim."

"Tabwa might taunt a young person who had dressed for a dance and swaggered or sashayed through the village, by referring to the comet.

... comets are remembered for the chiefs said to have died soon after their appearances. Tabwa names for comets ... kapata makolo ("the stifler of chiefs"), reflect this."


pp. 293-297 Dominique Zahan : "The Moon Besmirched".

locations of tribes




northeastern Zambia


upper Zambezi river valley

comological myths






"God is the father-in-law of Thunder. The rumble of thunder is the son-in-law clapping his hands as a sign of respect."



"The Evening Star is called "sister’s son (awepwa) of the Sun, while the latter is the wamwynshyo, maternal uncle of the Evening Star".

"The Moon hurls his darts at the Sun and they are seen sticking into him; then the



Sun retaliates by throwing mud at the Moon, the dark pathces being clearly visible on him."


pp. 298-309 Clive Ruggles & David Turton : "The Haphazard Astronomy of the Mursi". [south-west Aithiopia-Abyssinia, in middle Omo valley]

p. 306b ˝ month







p. 307, Table 2 -- phases of moon


event of Moon



new Moon

tagi nyerekti (‘Moon appeareth’)





riseth at dusk

s^odigai (‘full’)



mur when (‘mur child’)


riseth just before the Sun

ungogas^o (‘sleepeth in the open’)


is not seen

ore biony (‘cattle see it’)


ARCHAEOASTRONOMY : THE JOURNAL OF THE CENTER FOR ARCHAEOASTRONOMY, Vols. XII-XIII = Von Del Chamberlain; John B. Carlson; M. Jame Young (eds.) : Songs from the Sky. Ocarina Books, Bognor Regis (W. Sussex, U.K.), 2005.