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Angola: On the mermaid Kianda and other mythical beings

Angola has several stories, legends and mythical characters which, like a breath of fresh air, feed the imagination of young ones and adults alike, giving wealth to Angolan history and culture.

Kianda, for example, is a much loved character. Goddess of water, she is traditionally venerated with offerings. Pepetela, one of the leading exponents of Angolan literature, has written a book called “O silêncio da Kianda” [Kianda's Silence].

“Offerings to Kianda”, by Angolan artist Jorge Gumbe, a picture which illustrates many Angolan blogs

Denudado, author of A Matéria do Tempo [The Matter of Time, pt] blog, tells us a little bit about the fascination for this mermaid:

“Durante a convivência que tive em Angola com pessoas pertencentes às classes populares, foram-me contadas diversas lendas e contos tradicionais daquele país. Além de uma outra fábula com animais, a maior parte das narrativas que ouvi, envolveu a figura mítica da sereia. As gentes do povo em Angola acreditam convictamente na existência de sereias, que dizem ser dotadas de poderes sobrenaturais. Em quimbundo (uma das línguas nacionais) as sereias são chamadas ianda, no singular de Kianda. Cada meio aquático tem uma sereia, isto é, cada rio, cada lagoa, cada charco tem a sua kianda que toma o nome do rio, lagou ou cacimba. De certa forma, ela é a encarnação do próprio meio aquático.”

“During the time I met up with people from the most popular social classes in Angola I heard many traditional legends and tales from that country. Apart from another tale with animals, in most of the stories I heard there was the mythical figure of a mermaid. Common people in Angola firmly believe in the existence of mermaids, who they say are endowed with supernatural powers. In Quimbundo (one of the national languages) the mermaids are called ianda, which is Kianda in the singular. Each aquatic environment has a mermaid, that is to say, each river, lake, or pond has its own kianda who takes the name of the river, lake, or pond. In some ways, she is the embodiment of the aquatic environment”

In the same blog as above, the author shares one of the many stories he heard about Kianda:

“As histórias de sereias que mais ouvi frequentemente relatavam o aparecimento de uma sereia a um homem pobre, a quem ela revelava a existência de um tesouro. Subitamente enriquecido, o homem passava a comportar-se de modo egoísta, gastando toda a riqueza em seu proveito pessoal e não em benefício da comunidade. Como castigo, a sereia acabava por fazer desaparecer o tesouro, ficando o homem na mais completa miséria. Por vezes o castigo era mais duro e o homem ficava para sempre encantado no fundo do rio ou da lagoa. Há histórias de sereias em que é toda a aldeia que se comporta de modo egoísta ou avarento, sendo neste caso o castigo aplicado a toda a comunidade, que fica então encantada no fundo do lago ou do rio. Há angolanos que juram mesmo, pelo “sangue de Cristo”, que ouviram o som de mulheres a pilar, de cães a ladrar ou de galos a cantar vindo de uma aldeia condenada a viver para sempre no fundo da lagoa ou do rio”.

“The stories of mermaids that I heard most often reported the appearance of a mermaid to a poor man, to whom she revealed the existence of a treasure. The man, who had suddenly became rich, started to behave in such a selfish way, spending all the wealth for his personal benefit and not for the benefit of his community. As punishment, the mermaid then made the treasure disappear, leaving the man in absolute misery. Sometimes the punishment was harsher and the man was forever enchanted at the bottom of the river or pond. There are mermaid stories in which the whole village behaves in a selfish and greedy way, in which case the punishment is applied to the whole community, which is then enchanted at the bottom of the lake or the river. There are Angolans who do swear, by the “blood of Christ, that they have heard the sound of women grinding, dogs barking or roosters singing from a village condemned to live at the bottom of the pond or river forever.”

In addition to Kianda we also have the Jacaré Bangão tale. There are several versions of the story surrounding this character, but the most popular is this: the legend says that in Caxito city, capital of Bengo province, a certain alligator decided to pay tax to the head of the office, responsible for ensuring this tax was paid. It is reported that the head of the office was such a ruthless individual to the inhabitants of this region that the alligator, on seeing his attitude, decided to go himself to pay the tax and halt the guy's impetuosity. When he saw the great alligator out of the waters of the river Dande going to fulfill his mission, the collector was terrified and stopped dealing with the population in an impolite way. The author of the Olhar do Tempo [View of the Time, pt] tells us a different version:

“Pelo que me contaram, no tempo colonial eram todos obrigados a pagar impostos, assim a população do Caxito, reuniu todo o dinheiro dos impostos, colocando-o em seguida dentro da boca do jacaré e enviando-o ao governador para este receber os seus impsotos. Vendo tal situação o governador nem quis o dinheiro, nem exigiu mais impostos a essa população. Se é verdade ou não, boato ou lenda, sinceramente não sei, só acho que também devíamos ter jacarés em Portugal”.

“From what I was told, in colonial times everybody was required to pay taxes, so the Caxito's population got together all the tax money, put it inside the alligator's mouth and then sent it to the governor for him to receive their tax. On seeing this, the governor didn't want the money and stopped demanding taxes from that population. Whether it is true or not, rumor or legend, frankly I do not know, but I think we should have alligators in Portugal too.”

Pedro Cardoso tells us in his blog, Coisas D'Angola [Angola's Things, pt] a tale from Kimbundo folklore, called “The lion is as strong as friendship”:

“Dois amigos costumavam encontrar-se todos os dias, numa das conversas um deles comentou; – Os leões estão a aparecer nas redondezas. Tem cuidado com a tua casa, para evitares um desgosto.

- O Leão não poderá entrar. Tenho espingarda e lança.

- Enganas-te, porque não pode lutar com o Leão.

- Tenho a certeza que posso.

Ambos riram e continuaram a conversar até que por fim se separaram.

Passou-se um mês desde quando o rapaz tinha avisado o amigo, arranjou um meio de se transformar em Leão e resolveu atacar o camarada rugindo ferozmente.

Arranhou-lhe a porta de casa e encontrou o amigo a dormir. Levantou-o, bateu-lhe e desfez tudo aquilo que encontrou. Deixando o amigo em má situação, retirou-se e voltou à forma de homem.

No outro dia, foi visitar o amigo que atacara e este disse-lhe;

- Pobre de mim! O Leão veio aqui e destruiu tudo!

- Porque não fizes-te fogo ou lhe metes-te a lança?

- Meu amigo o Leão é forte como a amizade!”

“Two friends used to meet everyday and in one of their conversations, one of them commented:
– There are lions around. Be careful at home, to avoid trouble.
– The lion will not be able to get in. I have a gun and a spear.
– You are mistaken, because you can not fight a lion.
– I am sure I can.
They laughed and carried on chatting, until they finally parted.
A month went by since the guy had advised his friend, so he found a way to turn himself into a lion and decided to attack his friend, roaring ferociously.
He scratched his house door and found his friend to be sleeping. He woke him up, beat him and destroyed everything he found. Leaving his friend in a bad situation, he left and turned back into a human again.
Next day, he went to visit the friend he had attacked who said to him:
– Dear me! The lion came here and destroyed everything!
– Why didn't you shoot him or spear him?
– My friend, the lion is as strong as friendship!”

To bring this piece to an end, here is another popular legend, a story about the tortoise and the deer, from the confrariadecágados [tortoise brotherhood, pt] blog:

“Certo dia, o cágado e o bambi discutiam sobre qual dos dois seria o melhor corredor. Então, o cágado propôs um desafio ao antigo amigo bambi: fariam uma corrida, marcando o seu itinerário desde o ponto de partida até ao ponto de chegada. Começariam juntos e veriam quem era capaz de chegar primeiro. O bambi, após aceitar o desafio foi dormir. O cágado, ao contrário, foi ter com seus iguais, os demais cágados. Combinou com eles que cada um se colocaria em um ponto do trajeto a espera do bambi. No outro dia, o bambi atrasou-se, mas o cágado já estava a sua espera. Na largada, o bambi saiu em vantagem, correndo em desabalada carreira. Em determinado ponto da estrada, parou e olhou para trás a fim de ver se enxergava o companheiro. Porém, um dos cágados que o aguardavam na estrada passou a sua frente, dizendo que, enquanto ele olhava para trás, ele, o cágado já havia passado havia muito tempo. Isso se repetiu várias vezes durante o trajeto, até que, extenuado, o bambi reconheceu que o cágado corria mais que ele, ao que este respondeu: — Amigo, já sou velho, tenho a escola toda!”

One day, the tortoise and the deer argued about which of the two would be the best runner. So the tortoise proposed a challenge to his old friend the deer: they would race, marking their route from departure to arrival points. They would start together and see who would be able to get to the finish first. The deer, after accepting the challenge, went to sleep. The tortoise, on the other hand, met his pals, all tortoises. He arranged with them that each one would place themself at a point in the expected deer's path. On the following day, the deer was late, delayed, but the tortoise was already waiting for him. The deer left the advantage to start with, going off on an exaggerated run. At some point on the road, he stopped and looked back to see if he would see his mate. However, one of the tortoises who was waiting for him on the road went ahead of him, saying that while he looked back, he, the tortoise, had already  over taken him a long time ago. This happened repeatedly several times during the journey, until, exhausted, the deer acknowledged that the tortoise ran more quickly than him, to which his friend replied: – mate, I am already old, I have finished school!

More legends and haunts:

This post is part of a Global Voices series about ghosts, ghouls, myths and legends to coincide with Halloween, All Saints Day, and other spooky holidays in this season. Check out our special coverage page.

Originally written in Portuguese, translation by Paula Góes

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