by Mineke Schipper, Humanity’s End as a New Beginning: World Disasters in Myths
8. Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa
In the beginning there was nothing, nothing at all, neither man nor beast, nor plants nor sky nor earth, nothing but God only. God was one and he was three. How to explain that? I don’t know, it was my father who told me and he had heard it somewhere. We call this God Nzame mam and the three who make a single Nzame we call Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa.
In the beginning Nzame created the earth and the sky, and kept the sky for himself. He blew over the earth and out of his breath was born the land and the water. Nzame created everything: the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the
animals, the plants, everything. But Nzame wanted to do better yet and the three of them created a being in their likeness. One of them gave him strength, the other power and the third beauty. Then they said to him: “Take the earth,
you are henceforth master of every living thing. And like us, you will live forever.” Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa went back up to their dwelling in the sky and the new creature remained alone below. His name was Fam which means “strength”. Fam was proud of his strength, his might and his beauty, and he surpassed the elephant in wisdom, the leopard in force, and the monkey in malice. And because he was superior to all, Fam, this first human creature, became bad and proud. He refused to adore Nzame and even despised him.
Yeye, oh la, yeye,
Nzame up there
Man on earth,
Yeye, oh la, yeye,
Nzame is Nzame
Man is man,
Each in his house,
Each for himself.
Nzame had heard the song. “Who is singing?”
“Who is singing?”
“Yeye, oh la, yeye…”
“Who is singing?”
“Well, it’s me,” Fam shouted.
This enraged Nzame. He called Nzalang, the thunder, who arrived roaring and rumbling. And the fire of heaven set the forest ablaze. Fuui, Fuui, fuui, everything went up in flames. The trees burned, the plants, bananas, cassava, even the green almonds, all was laid in ashes. Animals, birds, fish, they were all dead. Everything had been destroyed.
Unfortunately, Nzame had given Fam immortal life. And whatever God gives, he does not take back. The first human creature burned but is still alive. Where? I don’t know, although, well, just wait…
The earth was waste and empty. What to be done? Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa deliberated and this is what they did: on the dark carbonized earth they put a new layer of earth. A tree sprouted, grew and grew, and one of its seeds fell down, so that another tree was born. When a leaf fell from the tree, it grew and grew, it began to walk, and became an animal, an elephant, a leopard, an antelope, a tortoise, all sorts. When a leaf fell down on the water, it began to swim. It swam and swam, and became a fish, a sardine or a mullet, a crab, an oyster, a mussel, all sorts.
And Nzame did not completely give up on humanity. Sadder and wiser, he once again made a creature in his image, but he had learned a lesson. This time he made man less powerful than the immortal Fam had been. The new creature had the same divine shape, but no immortality. That man, my friends, was like you and me.
So, the earth became once again as she had been, and as she is now. My words are true, for sure. And the proof is that if you dig the earth, or even on the surface, you will find hard black rock that easily breaks. If you throw that kind of earth on the fire, it is going to burn. Those rocks are the carbonized waste of the ancient forests, the forests that burnt down in ancient times, soon after the first beginning.