Khoisan God

ǀǀgaunab

Khoisan engaged in roasting grasshoppers on grills, by Samuel Daniell (1805).

A reproduction of 'Khoisan engaged in roasting grasshoppers on grills', by Samuel Daniell (1805).

Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain

Overview

Gaunab is the Khoekhoe god of darkness and death; all sickness and disease are said to come from him. He is the archenemy of Tsui-Goab, the Khoekhoe supreme being. Each night, Tsui-Goab defeats Gaunab in an eternal battle to bring light to the earth. Gaunab is said to live in the “Black Heaven,” while Tsui-Goab occupies a beautiful heaven made of light.[1]

Gaunab is a dreaded and feared deity. Many believe he is the personification of death and evil, and his servants are considered practitioners of witchcraft.[2] After Christian missionaries arrived in southern Africa, Gaunab became associated with the Judeo-Christian figure of Satan, with Tsui-Goab taking on the role of God.[3] The two deities are said to continuously battle for possession of the earth and its people.

Pronunciation[4]

  • English
    Khoekhoe
    Gaunab||gaunab
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [xow-NAHB]/||aʊ.næb/

Tsui-Goab Battles Death

An illustration of Khoekhoe huts by John George Wood, (1878).

A reproduction of "The uncivilized races of men in all countries of the world: being a comprehensive account of their manners and customs, and of their physical, social, mental, moral and religious characteristics", by John George Wood, (1878).

Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain

According to legend, there was once a village that suffered from a severe drought. One of the villagers—a man who later became known as Tsui-Goab—feared for his community’s fate due to the lack of rain.

One day, a disguised traveler arrived in the village and stood in front of the house of one of the elders. Tsui-Goab asked the traveler where he came from and if the drought had brought death there as well. The traveler replied that death followed him wherever he went. The man then took off his coat, and Tsui-Goab realized it was Gaunab—Death himself.

Tsui-Goab, however, did not fear the god; in fact, he challenged him to a fight. If Tsui-Goab won, Death would be banished from the village. But if Gaunab (Death) won, he could take Tsui-Goab and all the other villagers to the afterlife.

A battle ensued, and Tsui-Goab was wounded in the knee by Gaunab.[5] But in the end, he managed to banish Death from the village. Even so, it is said that Death always lurks close by—a reminder of the inevitability of death.[6]

References

Notes

  1. Jan Knappert, Namibia: Land and Peoples , Myths and Fables (Leiden: Brill, 1981), 90.

  2. Theophilus Hahn, Tsuni-Goam: The Supreme Being to the Khoi-Khoi (London: Trübner & Co., 1881), 60.

  3. Hahn, Tsuni-Goam, 21.

  4. The symbol || (transcribed as x) represents a lateral click, “the click sound produced at the side of the tongue when the tongue is held pressed against the palate.” See Theophilus Hahn, Tsuni-Goam: The Supreme Being to the Khoi-Khoi (London: Trübner & Co., 1881), 26, and Shelagh Willet, “Khoe-San Names (African Click Languages),” The Indexer 25, no. 4 (October 2007), https://doi.org/10.3828/indexer.2007.45.

  5. Tsui-Goab’s name is often translated as “Wounded Knee,” a reference to this injury.

  6. Philip Ardagh, African Myths & Legends (London: Belitha Press, 2006), 15–17.

Secondary Sources

  • Ardagh, Philip. African Myths & Legends. London: Belitha Press, 2006.

  • Dyer, Charles G. Abatwa. New York: Book Country, 2013.

  • Hahn, Theophilus. Tsuni-Goam: The Supreme Being to the Khoi-Khoi. London: Trübner & Co., 1881.

  • Knappert, Jan. Namibia: Land and Peoples , Myths and Fables. Leiden: Brill, 1981.

  • 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. “ǀǀgaunab.” Mythopedia, September 25, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaunab.

Mackay, Danielle. “ǀǀgaunab.” Mythopedia, 25 Sep. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaunab. Accessed on 17 Jul. 2024.

Mackay, D. (2023, September 25). ǀǀgaunab. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/gaunab

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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