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African Myths of Origin

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African Myths of Origin

The Bottom Line

The more than 70 traditional stories in African Myths of Origins deal with how the world was shaped and cultures established. The myths were chosen for their cultural importance and are retold in the author’s own words in a way that makes them accessible to a modern, urbanized audience. This book will add to the world’s appreciation and understanding of the depths of the continent’s cultures.
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  • Contains more than 70 traditional stories about the origins of humans from across the continent
  • Historical background is given with each myth
  • The versions selected are the oldest available, before colonization, modernization, and independence
  • Map showing where on the continent the myths come from
  • Would make excellent bedtime stories


  • A glossary of characters / terms would’ve been useful


  • Paperback book, 468 pages, ISBN 0140449450, published by Penguin, www.penguinclassics.com
  • Stephen Belcher has a PhD in comparative literature and teaches at the University of Kankan, Guinea.
  • Myths are divided in two types: general themes (hunters, tricksters) and kingdoms (e.g.Great Lakes).

Guide Review - African Myths of Origin

A nation’s myths are important, especially when its people remain close to their cultural heritage. Nowhere is this truer than in Africa, but if you’ve been put off African mythology in the past because you couldn’t get your head around the language or concepts, don’t worry. Author Stephen Belcher has used straightforward, modern language in his retelling of more than 70 African myths in African Myths of Origin.

The myths have been collated from around the continent, fromt the Tuareg in the Sahara to the Pygmies of the Central African forests, to the Shona of Zimbabwe. The author says he consulted as many published versions of each as he could find, then rewrote each “aiming at a clear and engaging English narrative which gives the content and details that seem significant”. Together with the historical context outlines with each, this creates myths that are accessible to a modern, urbanized audience.

As Belcher says, myths are “valuable keys for the observer from outside the culture” and it is through them that we can “explore what it is to be human ... and both the implicit questions and answers supplied in the stories have an appeal and interest for all of us”. His book is an important in placing the continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage on a world stage.

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