Chapter 20

The Mwindo Epic

This chapter deals with the story of the hero Mwindo from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. In the course of the epic, Mwindo develops from a powerful but boastful young man to a moderate and responsible leader who has become an acceptable chief to the Nyanga people. The story was collected during an actual storytelling performance and can therefore provide a valuable view of the communal practice and its actual relationship to the story itself. Daniel Biebuyck, who transcribed and translated the epic, reports that the audience was made uncomfortable with Mwindo's boasting but that, through all the trials and tribulations he undergoes heroically, Mwindo finally becomes moderate in thought and deed.

As you read the epic and the marginal notes, you see that such a story reflects the social and moral values, as well as the everyday activities, of the people involved in the storytelling ritual. You also see how the audience participates in this communal activity, as the storyteller frequently interrupts the narrative with songs and the reasons for including them. You may want to compare this experience with other accounts of this kind of storytelling as a way of transmitting myths. See Chapters 3 and 28 for accounts of this tradition in Greece and Chapter 24 for a narrative of an oral storytelling session in St. Vincent.

You may want to compare Mwindo as a hero to the Greek Heracles (Chapter 32): both achieve greatness only after struggle and maturity. Heracles is opposed by his stepmother Hera, whereas Mwindo must defeat, and come to terms with, his father. As you read, note that the story provides clues about the everyday activities of the society telling it. Do you see any similarities between the story of Mwindo and the other African stories in this book, the creation stories in Chapter 9 and the trickster tales in Chapter 24?

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