Khoisan God

Gaona

Khoisan Rock Art by unknown artist (1989).

Image of Khoisan Rock art from Lewis-Williams, David and Thomas Dowson. Images of Power: Understanding Bushman Rock Art. Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers, by an unknown artist (1989).

World History CommonsCC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Overview

Gaona is a Khoekhoe trickster figure and a cultural hero with supernatural powers. In some traditions, he is also considered the creator god, named either Hishe (“The One Whom No One Can Command”) or Gauwa (|Gauwa). As a god, he created himself and all the lesser gods, as well as the earth and all its inhabitants.

Gaona can assume many different shapes. He can also change humans into animals and bring the dead back to life. It is said that when humans die, they become IIgauwasi (“spirits of the dead”) and join Gaona in the sky.[1] The god then controls these spirits, sending them to earth “to bring death or good fortune.”[2]

Gaona possesses a potion that he uses to renew himself and all those who live in the sky with him. In this way, human spirits remain immortal.

Pronunciation[3]

  • English
    Khoekhoe
    GaonaǂGao!na
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [Tc’au-q’na]/ǂaʊ.!na/

Gaona Creates the Earth and Humankind

Khoikhoi in a Storm by unknown artist, (1700 - 1730)

A reproduction of a drawing found in the National Library of South Africa, by unknown artist, (1700 - 1730).

Library of CongressPublic Domain

According to Khoekhoe mythology, Gaona was responsible for creating the earth and the sky above it, including water, rain, the sun, the moon, and the stars.[4] After forming the earth, he populated it with plants and animals.

When it came time to create humanity, Gaona made a woman first, whom he named Khwova, followed by a man named Gao (after himself).[5] These first two humans became husband and wife. Khwova is known as the “Mother of Bees,” and all those who gather honey must pray to her.[6] In some accounts, Khwova is actually the wife of Gaona himself.

In a different version of the creation story, Gaona (referred to as Gauwa in this legend) lived in a large hole in the ground with two entrances. One entrance faced the east, where the sun rises, and the other faced the west, where the sun sets. The first humans and animals emerged from these holes to inhabit the earth.[7]

References

Notes

  1. Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010), 42.

  2. Harold Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), s.v. “G.”

  3. The ǂ symbol represents an alveolar palatal click, wherein the “tip of the tongue is pressed against the alveolar ridge and adjacent palate, then released sharply downwards.” The ! symbol, meanwhile, represents a click, wherein the “tongue is pressed against the upper palate and released sharply downwards, something like when a cork is pulled from a bottle.” For more on African click languages, see Shelagh Willet, “Khoe-San Names (African Click Languages),” The Indexer 25, no. 4 (October 2007), https://doi.org/10.3828/indexer.2007.45.

  4. Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology, s.v. “G.”

  5. Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology, s.v. “G.”

  6. Lorna Marshall, “!Kung Bushman Religious Beliefs,” Africa 32, no. 3 (July 1962): 221–52, https://doi.org/10.2307/1157541.

  7. Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology, s.v. “G.”

Secondary Sources

  • Denbow, James Raymond, and Phenyo C. Thebe. Culture and Customs of Botswana. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

  • Lee, Richard B. The Dobe !Kung. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1984.

  • Lewis-Williams, J. D. Myth and Meaning: San-Bushman Folklore in Global Context. New York: Routledge, 2016.

  • Lynch, Patricia Ann, and Jeremy Roberts. African Mythology, A to Z. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010.

  • Marshall, Lorna. “!Kung Bushman Religious Beliefs.” Africa 32, no. 3 (July 1962): 221–52. https://doi.org/10.2307/1157541.

  • Scheub, Harold. A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

  • Willet, Shelagh. “Khoe-San Names (African Click Languages).” The Indexer 25, no. 4 (October 2007). https://doi.org/10.3828/indexer.2007.45.

Citation

Mackay, Danielle. “Gaona.” Mythopedia, October 02, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaona.

Mackay, Danielle. “Gaona.” Mythopedia, 2 Oct. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaona. Accessed on 17 Jul. 2024.

Mackay, D. (2023, October 2). Gaona. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaona

Authors

  • Danielle Mackay

    Danielle Mackay is a writer and scholar who received her MA in Classical Studies from Rhodes University in South Africa

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