Hyenas are both predators that kill other animals for food and scavengers that live off carrion, or dead meat. Their sloping hindquarters and sparse, spotted or striped fur give hyenas a strange appearance that is matched by their eerie voices, which in the spotted or laughing hyena sounds like maniacal laughter. In myths of the Khoikhoi of South Africa, hyenas are frequently the butt of tricks played on them by a jackal. In the following tale, the hyena’s moth-eaten coat led to her misfortune.
Jackal saw a wagon loaded with fish and was determined to get some of it. When he could not climb onto the wagon, he ran ahead of it and lay in the road, pretending to be dead. The driver admired Jackal’s beautiful fur, so he threw him into the wagon to bring home to his wife. As the wagon rolled along, Jackal threw fish off the back of it and then jumped off himself to claim his meal. He suggested that Hyena do the same thing, warning her to lie still no matter what happened. So Hyena lay down in the road in front of a wagon, pretending to be dead. The driver, however, remarked on how ugly Hyena was and kicked her again and again to get her off the road. Poor Hyena moaned to Jackal that it was too bad her fur was not as beautiful as his.
In some accounts, Hyena’s nature as a scavenger was responsible for the origin of death. In a tale told by the Gogo of Tanzania, humans told Hyena that they wanted to live forever. Hyena responded that this could not be, because hyenas needed dead bodies to eat. Therefore, humans died in order to meet Hyena’s wishes. According to the Meru of Kenya, the Supreme God Murungu sent a Mole to tell humans that people would be reborn after they died. On the way, the mole met a hyena, who asked him where he was going. When the mole explained his mission, the hyena said that if this happened, hyenas would have nothing to eat. It threatened to swallow the mole if it delivered that message. Frightened, the mole told humans that they would die and not come back to life.
In a myth of the Madi of Uganda, a hyena was responsible for severing the Link Between Heaven and Earth. At one time humans could maintain contact with the Creator in the sky by means of a cowhide rope. Unfortunately, a hungry hyena bit into the cord and severed it. Humans were unable to repair the link to the heavens, so the Creator remained distant. The Nuer of Sudan have a similar myth in which a hyena severed the rope that linked heaven and Earth.
Taken from : African Mythology A -Z by Patricia Ann Lynch ( second edition )
Last updated: November 27, 2013 at 13:18 pm
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