Why the Sun and Moon Sometimes Meet- A Venda Myth.

Submitted into Contest #245 in response to: Imagine an origin myth that somebody might use to explain an eclipse, or some other celestial event.... view prompt


Indigenous Fantasy Bedtime

Long ago, before the sky was split into day and night, there was a kingdom in Africa called Venda. In the heart of the kingdom was the Chief Palace and in it, a lonely and selfish chief called Mmbengwa.

Chief Mmbengwa was an ugly king with an ugly heart and so he did not have a queen. Despite this, out of all the women in the land, his eyes were set on a beautiful seamstress called Masana. She had long hair and gorgeous eyes and every day the Chief and his horsemen passed by her shop.

“I must have you as my wife,” the Chief would say while passing.

“No, great Chief Mmbengwa, my love has already been found,” she would respond and wave to the handsome baker across the street, Tshedza. 

Chief Mmbengwa soon grew very angry and impatient at his loneliness and Masana's rejections and one day arranged for both the lovers to be put in a prison under the palace until Masana agreed to be his bride. If she didn’t, he would kill the couple. 

The Chief visited the dungeon every day for many weeks and the same response was given from Masana every time. 

“Marry me, Masana.” The Chief would say. 

“No, great Chief Mmbengwa, my love has already been found in Tshedza,” Masana would simply reply.

Chief Mmbengwa grew even angrier and understood that Masana's feelings were not likely to change unless he sought help beyond what he himself could do.

As a last hope, he turned to Ma’thavha- the old woman of the mountain. She was known to all the land as a wise counsellor of nature who was able to grant the wish of anyone deserving of it. After some days of travelling up Thavha ya Muno (Mountain of Salt), he found the old woman stooped in the middle of the top plateau stirring a clay pot slowly and muttering to the birds.

“What brings you to me?” She asked, turning around and Chief Mmbengwa saw that the woman was blind. 

“Ma’thavha, you know me as the father of this land but I have no wife beside me. No one can love a face like mine. Please give me guidance on how to make the only woman I love love me too. If you cannot, I fear I might kill her and the one she calls her lover.”

 The old woman smiled, baring her rotting teeth and gums. “My eyes no longer work but the birds whisper to me that you haven’t a hope without my intervention. Okay, then. Take this pot and head down to Lake Fundudzi. Make a large flame near the edge of the waters with the branches of a baobab tree and place the pot in the middle. Stir the vhuswa in this clay pot slowly fifty-two times then push it into the lake once you are done. Your soon-to-be bride will think you are the most handsome man she has ever seen and fall in love with you in time for your return to your palace."

Chief Mmbengwa couldn’t have been happier with the news.

“Thank you, Ma’thavha,” he beamed. 

“But wait,” the old woman cried, “please may you bring up to me the vhuswa to eat before you push the clay pot into the Lake? I am very old and cannot see well enough to make the journey down myself. I rely on wishers such as you to grant me this wish in conjunction with your own.”

The Chief, overjoyed with the newfound solution to his woes, promised to do so and climbed down the mountain with the ancient clay pot to Lake Fundudzi. 

Once he had reached Lake Fundudzi, the Chief called upon his servants to make a large fire with the branches of a baobab tree and ordered one of them to stir the pot fifty-two times. The servant, who hadn't heard Ma’thavha’s warning to do so slowly, stirred the vhuswa so fast that great plumes of smoke and floating embers from the fire rose way up into the sky. The smoke we now know as the clouds and the embers the stars. 

The vhuswa cooked well and set firmly after a large amount of time. After the fire had died down, the Chief hastily pushed the pot into the Lake and in his excitement to see his soon-to-be bride, forgot Ma’thavha’s request for the vhuswa to eat and he began the long journey back to his palace. 

At his great palace, Chief Mmbengwa slept unrestfully and awoke early to put on his best clothes and head to the palace prison.

Upon reaching the prison, however, he found that both Masana and Tshedza were nowhere to be found.

“No!" He exclaimed, “where have they gone?”

On the top of Thavha ya Muno, the old Ma’thavha sat ruefully and thought about the Chief and her forgotten request. The great clouds of smoke from the clay pot she had given the Chief wafted around the mountaintop and the intoxicating smell tugged at her empty stomach.

“Oh Sky,” she begged, “I have not judged the heart of the Chief well. The birds tell me of his incompetence toward my instructions. Please protect those whom the Chief seeks to harm and grant him nothing of what he wishes.”

The sky, having heard Ma’thavha’s great plea, felt such sorrow that it cracked into two (day and night) and took up Masana and Tshedza, who would have otherwise died in the Chief’s prison, and placed them as Great Lights in each skyhalf to signify their purity:

Masana was now the Sun among the billowing clouds of day and Tshedza the Moon among the burning stars of night. 

It is said that now that there was sunlight and moonlight, Chief Mmbengwa's ugliness was displayed prominently in front of all his subjects and he locked himself in his Chief Palace for the rest of his lonely and miserable days, unable to look at the sky’s Great Lights in regret of what he had done. He never found a wife to love him. 

Ma’thavha, tortured by the clouds that smelled like delicious vhuswa, fixed herself a cane from the mountain trees with the help of the birds, and she, to this very day, walks down Thavha ya Muno very, very slowly in the hope of reaching the bottom of the mountain, so that she may retrieve her pot and eat once more.

Every time she takes a break while walking warily down the steep slopes, the sky is greatly moved by her persistence and compassion. So much so that it sometimes pulls at the corners of the universe so that the two lovers Ma'thavha saved, Masana and Tshedza, can meet and be close again.

Today, we call the meeting of the Great Lights (or Lovers) eclipses.  

Meaning of the Tshivenda language used:

Masana (mah-sah-nah)- Sunshine.

Tshedza (ched-zah)- Light (in the context of darkness).

Mmbengwa (em-beng-gu-wah)- The one who is hated.

Ma’thavha (mah-tah-wah)- Mother of the mountain.

Vhuswa (wu-shu-ah)- Mealie-meal porridge.

April 12, 2024 23:45

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