In Chapter II: Where Man Came From, and How Death Came of Alice Werner's Myths and Legends of the Bantu we find the chameleon legend of the Bantu people. The legend explains how death came into the world:

It is said he (Unkulunkulu) sent a chameleon; he said to it, "Go, chameleon (lunwaba), go and say, 'Let not men die!'" The chameleon set out; it went slowly, it loitered in the way; and as it went it ate of the fruit of a bush which is called Ubukwebezane. At length Uhkulunkulu sent a lizard [intulo, the blue-headed gecko] after the chameleon, when it had already set out for some time. The lizard went; it ran and made great haste, for Unkulunkulu had said, "Lizard, when you have arrived say, 'Let men die!'" So the lizard went, and said, "I tell you, it is said, 'Let men die!'" The lizard came back again to Unkulunkulu before the chameleon had reached his destination, the chameleon, which was sent first-which was sent and told to go and say, "Let not men die!" At length it arrived and shouted, saying, "It is said, 'Let not men die!'" But men answered, "Oh, we have accepted the word of the lizard; it has told us the word, 'It is said "Let men die!'" We cannot hear your word. Through the word of the lizard men will die."

Why did Unkulunkulu change his mind? Why did he send the lizard after the chameleon?

1 Answer 1


Variations of this story appear to be very common in Africa and according to African Mythology A to Z no reason is usually given for the second messenger:

A common theme in many stories about the origin of death is the "failed message." In the basic story, two creatures are sent to humans, the first with a message of life and the second with a message of death. Either the first message does not get delivered or the second message is delivered first and people accept it. No reason is usually given for the sending of the second messenger. It may only have been to introduce the factor of chance. Possibly the Creator had not made up his mind and decided to let the issue depend on which messenger arrived first. In one myth in which a reason is given, Ngai - the Supreme God of the Kikuyu of Kenya - changed his mind. The idea behind the message of life was not that humans would be exempt from death but that they would return to life after death.

Most often the creature that carried the message of life was a chameleon. The second creature was frequently a lizard. Other creatures include a toad, hare, salamander, and birds of different kinds. Osawa, the Supreme God of the Ekoi of Cameroon, sent a duck with the message of life and a frog with the message of death. When a dog was the messenger of life, it was usually distracted by food and overtaken by another animal that carried the message of death. In some myths, the message of death was delivered deliberately and maliciously, not simply because a faster animal overtook a slower-moving one. Frequently a lizard, out of spiteful mischief, changed the message.

Lynch, P. A., & Roberts, J. (2010). African Mythology, A to Z. Penguin Random House.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.