Kikuyu - Fables and Legends

The Origin of Death (1)

From Rose Mwangi's "Kikuyu Folktales: their Nature and Value" (1970, 1983: Kenya Literature Bureau, PO Box 30022 Nairobi, Kenya). See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

The Origin of Death (1), collected by Rose Mwangi

Now there was a time when men rose again as soon as they died. One day Ngai sent the chameleon to tell people that they would never die. Ngai wanted people to multiply on the land. He said:

'Go. Tell the people that from now one they will not die. They will bear more children and the land will be populated.'

The Chameleon went on his errand but he walked very very slowly, treading very softly. He did not want the vault of the earth to collapse. Now when he reached the earth, he found that the people were waiting to hear the message he had brought. And the chameleon started to deliver his message in this manner:

'I wa-was-was to-told, I wa-wa-was to to-told...'

And the people waited to hear what the Chameleon wanted to say.
   Now as the people were waiting for the message, Ngai sent the swift flying Nyamindigi. The latter came and found that the Chameleon had not finished his message and the bird said:

'What is this you are telling the people?'

'I was-was-was-to-to-told, were they not told to die and vanish from the earth?'

And the bird flew away. The Chameleon was left humiliated and feeling guilty because he did not deliver his message soon enough. Now from that day people died and never returned again to earth.
   When people saw the Chameleon, they mocked and despised him saying:

'Get thin and thinner and let me grow fat and healthy.'

And the Chameleon constantly grew thinner and wasted away. The story ends there.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
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