West African mythology is the body of myths of the people of West Africa. It consists of tales of various deities, beings, legendary creatures, heroes and folktales from various ethnic groups. Some of these myths traveled across the Atlantic during the period of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to become part of Caribbean, African-American and Brazilian mythology.[1]

Mami Wata, a prominent figure from West African mythology

Written myths from West Africa were not established until the 1800s.[2] Most myths were passed from one generation to another orally. These myths were told by storytellers and grandparents. It is also told by griots in Mali and Senegal, Niger and northern Nigeria.[2] Elements and figures of West African mythology might sometimes be regarded as part of West Africa Traditional religion.

By Country


Mythology from Benin mostly comes from Dahomey. Several gods exist in the Dahomean Religion, with each having its own mythology. Myths of the Fon and Ewe people feature Aziza, fairy like creatures who live in the forest. According to legend, they provide good magic for hunters, and are also known to have given practical and spiritual knowledge to people. Common descriptions of Aziza people state that they are hairy people, and are said to live in anthills and silk-cotton trees.[3]


In the Gambia, most folklore proposes the existence of Ninki Nanka; descriptions of this creature vary, but most contend that the animal is reptilian and possibly dragon-like. The Ninki Nanka lives in the swamps. It attracted mainstream attention when in 2006, a group of "dragon hunters" from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) went to Gambia to investigate the Ninki Nanka and take testimony from those who have claimed to have seen the mythical creature.[4]


In the Ewe folklore of Togo and Ghana, the Adze is a vampiric being that takes the form of a firefly, though it will transform into human shape upon capture. When in human form, the adze has the power to possess humans. In firefly form, the adze would pass through closed doors at night and suck blood from people as they slept. The victim would later fall sick and die.[5]

A similar mythology from the Akan people of southern Ghana, as well as Côte d'Ivoire, Togo[6] and 18th century Jamaica features creatures called Asasabonsam. These are vampire like beings who live in the forest and feed on people that wander around their home. An Asasabonsam is said to have iron teeth, pink skin, long red hair and iron hooks for feet. It lives in trees, attacking from above while in its humanoid form. It possesses bat-like features, including wings.[7][8]

Obayifo is a vampire/witch-like mythological creature from the folklore of the Ashanti. In Ashanti folklore, obayifo are very common and may inhabit the bodies of any man or woman. They are described as having shifty eyes and being obsessed with food. When travelling at night, they are said to emit a phosphorescent light from their armpits and anus. The obayifo is similar to the Asiman of the Dahomey people, a creature that can shapeshift and fly, turning itself into a ball of light and hunting for prey in the night sky.[9]

Anansi, a trickster spider god from the Akan mythology, is also prevalent. He is often depicted in folktales interacting with the Supreme Being and other deities who frequently bestow him with temporary supernatural powers, such as the ability to bring rain or to have other duties performed for him. Some folkloric traditions portray Anansi as the son of the Earth Mother Asase Yaa. In others, Anansi is sometimes also considered an Abosom (lesser deity) in Akan spirituality, despite being commonly recognized as a trickster.[10][11]


Malian mythology comes from a variety of ethnicities; among the Dogon people, Nommos are usually described as amphibious, hermaphroditic, fish-like creatures. Folk art depictions of Nommos show creatures with humanoid upper torsos, legs/feet, and fish-like lower torsos and tails. Nommo are the first living creatures. According to Dogon Astrology, the Nommos were inhabitants of a world circling the star Sirius. The Nommos descended from the sky in a vessel accompanied by fire and thunder. After arriving, the Nommos created a reservoir of water and subsequently dove into the water. The Dogon legends state that the Nommos required a watery environment in which to live.[12][13]


In Niger mythology, Hira is a mythical monster which occurs in epic and folklore tales of the Songhai people, particularly the Bozo people;[14] its greatest opponent is Moussa Gname.

Zin are mythical water spirits that inhabit rivers and lakes in the mythology of the Songhai people, it is similar to the Zin Kibaru - a blind, river-dwelling spirit who commands fish.[15][16]


The mythology of Nigeria is diverse because of the various ethnic groups that share the country. Elements of Yoruba mythology overlaps with Yoruba religion and include the Orisha, a pantheon of gods who are also venerated in the Candomble, Santeria, and Haitian Vodou religions in the African diaspora.

Another category of supernatural entity in Yoruban mythology is the Abiku, children from the spirit world who die before reaching puberty. Abiku also refers to the spirits which historically are said to inhabit trees.[17][18]

Egbere are malevolent spirits that inhabit bushes and forests. They are seen at night. An Egbere is said to be short, own a small mat, and cry all the time. According to legend, anyone who takes the mat from it will become rich.[19][20]

In the mythology of the Igbo people from southeast Nigeria, Ogbanje are evil spirits that are disguised as children, spirits who cause misfortune and grief.[21] It was believed that within a certain amount of time from birth (usually before puberty), the ọgbanje would deliberately die and then be reborn into the next child of the family before then repeating the cycle, causing much grief. The evil spirits are said to have stones called Iyi-uwa, which they bury somewhere secret. The Iyi-uwa serves as a talisman for the ọgbanje to return to the human world and to find its targeted family; destroying the Iyi-uwa cuts the connection of the ogbanje and frees the family from the torment.[22][23]

In northern Nigeria, among the Kanuri people of the Borno Emirate in the Lake Chad region, beliefs of a form of werehyenas referred to as bultungin which translates into "I change myself into a hyena" exist.[24] It was once traditionally believed that one or two of the villages in the region was populated entirely by werehyenas,[25] such as Kabultiloa.[26]

Mami Wata are spirits or creatures that dwell in rivers and oceans. They are often described as mermaid-like figures, with a woman's upper body (often nude) and the hindquarters of a fish or serpent. In other tales, Mami Wata is fully human in appearance; though never human. The existence and spiritual importance of Mami Wata is deeply rooted in the ancient tradition and mythology of the coastal southern Nigeria. Mami Wata often carries expensive baubles such as combs, mirrors, and watches. Large snakes frequently accompany them, wrapping themselves around them and laying their heads between their breasts. Other times, a Mami Wata may try to pass as completely human, wandering through busy markets or patronising bars. She may also manifest in a number of other forms, including as a man.[27][28][29]

Hausa mythology stems from the indigenous Bori religion in Hausa land. Dodo is a mythical monster or bogey most times believed to Inhabit baobab and tamarind trees. He is described as a giant and has very long hair, and a tail. He is capable of swallowing full humans and animals.[30] Zankallala, is a tiny creature resembling a mouse, he carries a snake in his hand as a walking-stick, he wears a pair of scorpions as spurs, and a swarm of bees as a hat. He rides upon the jerboa, and flocks of birds attend him, to sing his praises, and to worry those with whom he fights. The zankallala is a folk hero who helps people attacked by Dodo.[30]

Tortoises (Yoruba: Ijapa, Igbo: Mbeku) are also part of Nigerian mythology, as they are considered to be tricksters and feature heavily in folklore of southern Nigeria while the hare (Hausa: Zomo) and Spider (Hausa: Gizzo) features heavily in northern Nigeria.[31][32][33]


In the mythology of the Wolof people and Lebou people, Yumboes are supernatural beings who closely resemble European fairies. They are also called Bakhna Rakhna, which literally means good people. They are completely of a pearly-white colour. They are sometimes said to have silver hair. They stand about two feet tall.

The Yumboes live beneath the Paps hills and come out to dance in the moonlight. They feast on large tables, waited on by servants who are invisible except for their hands and feet. Yumboes eat corn, which they steal from the humans and fish. They invite both natives and foreigners to their feast.[34][35]


See also


  1. ^ Lynch, Patricia Ann (January 2004). Patricia Ann Lynch - Google Books. ISBN 9781438119885.
  2. ^ a b "African Mythology | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2021-11-09.
  3. ^ Fon and Ewe Religion Summary.
  4. ^ "Hunt for Gambia's mythical dragon". 2006-07-14. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  5. ^ Bunson, Matthew (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 0-500-27748-6.
  6. ^ Bunson, Matthew (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 11. ISBN 0-500-27748-6.
  7. ^ Long, Edward (1774). The History of Jamaica: Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of the Island: with Reflections on Its Situation Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government ... T. Lowndes.
  8. ^ Konstantinos (1996). Vampires: The Occult Truth. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 978-1-56718-380-1.
  9. ^ "Africa, Vampires in". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  10. ^ Debrah, Ameyaw (2016-01-13). "FEATURE: Ananse - Ghana's Amazing Spider-Man". Yen.com.gh - Ghana news. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  11. ^ The Greenwood encyclopedia of folktales and fairy tales. Internet Archive. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-313-04947-7.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  12. ^ "Sacred Sites of the Dogon, Mali". Sacred Sites: World Pilgrimage Guide. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  13. ^ "Cosmology and Living Among the Dogon". 2011-10-03. Archived from the original on 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  14. ^ "Journal of Folklore Research", Wikipedia, 2021-10-05, retrieved 2021-11-16
  15. ^ Coulter, Charles Russell; Turner, Patricia (2013-07-04). Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-96390-3.
  16. ^ Stoller, Paul (2010-02-16). Fusion of the Worlds: An Ethnography of Possession among the Songhay of Niger. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-77549-4.
  17. ^ "Abiku - mythical creature". 2016-10-25. Archived from the original on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  18. ^ "From Past to Present and Future: The Regenerative Spirit of the Abiku". www.gale.com. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  19. ^ Crowther, Sammuel Adjai; Vidal, Owen Emeric (1852). A vocabulary of the Yoruba language. University of California Libraries. London : Seeleys.
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  23. ^ Beneduce, Roberto; Taliani, Simona (2006). "Embodied Powers, Deconstructed Bodies. Spirit Possession, Sickness, and the Search for Wealth of Nigerian Immigrant Women". Anthropos. 101 (2): 429–449. doi:10.5771/0257-9774-2006-2-429. ISSN 0257-9774. JSTOR 40466707.
  24. ^ Tylor, Edward Burnett (1920). Primitive culture. John Murray. p. 301.
  25. ^ Woodward, Ian (1979). The Werewolf Delusion. p. 256. ISBN 0-448-23170-0.
  26. ^ Massey, Gerald (2007). The Natural Genesis – Vol.1. Cosimo, Inc. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-60206-084-5.
  27. ^ "Mami Wata of Nigeria". Retrieved 2021-11-03.
  28. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Caputo, Joseph. "The Many Faces of Mami Wata". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  29. ^ "Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas | Fowler Museum at UCLA". Retrieved 2021-11-16.
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Further reading