Khoisan God

ǀKaggen

Dying Eland San Rock Art by San artist (n.d).

San Rock Art, from caves in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, depicting a dying eland, by San artist (n.d).

Bradshaw FoundationCopyright

Overview

Kaggen is a Khoisan god, worshipped by the various San tribal groups who live in the Kalahari Desert (Southern Africa). Though he has many names and attributes, he is primarily known as a creator and trickster deity, often appearing in the form of a praying mantis or eland (antelope). Indeed, Kaggen possesses the ability to transform into any animal.

Kaggen is a dynamic god with sometimes contradictory characteristics. He is both creative and destructive, divine but also capable of human error.[1]

In mythology, Kaggen appears as both a trickster figure and a savior. Though he once walked the earth with humans, he became frustrated with stubborn humanity and therefore retreated from the earth.[2] His sacred animal is the eland—the only creature that can locate Kaggen.

Pronunciation[3]

  • English
    Xam
    KaggenǀKágge̥n
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [cg’- AH-g-uhn]/ǀ͡kag.gən/

Kaggen, the Moon, and the Origin of Death

Left foot sandal made of hide (gemsbuck) by San artist (n.d).

Left foot sandal made of a gemsbuck hide from Southern Africa, by San artist (n.d).

British MuseumCC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In San tradition, Kaggen is responsible for the creation of the moon. There are two versions of this story. In one account, Kaggen’s children killed the eland, the god’s sacred animal. In anger, Kaggen pierced the eland’s gallbladder, which blinded him; this created the night. Kaggen then wiped his eyes with an ostrich feather and threw it into the sky, where it became the moon.

The second version states that Kaggen became frustrated one night while trying to walk in the dark. To solve this problem, the god threw his shoe into the sky, where it transformed into the moon. In some traditions, the moon is considered one of Kaggen’s many aspects or forms; when he appears as the moon, he is known as Kho.

The moon is also central to the San myth on the origin of death. According to this myth, Kaggen (in the form of Kho, the moon) sent an insect to earth to tell the humans that the moon had died and been reborn. Because of this, humans would also have to die and be reborn. But a hare stopped the insect and offered to carry the message for him since he was faster.

Upon reaching the humans, the devious hare changed the message, saying that the moon had died and was gone forever, and that humans would therefore also die. Angered by this deliberate miscommunication, Kho/Kaggen struck the hare in the face, splitting his lip. For the San people, this explains why death is permanent and why hares have split upper lips.[4]

References

Notes

  1. Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010), 55.

  2. Harold Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 40.

  3. The vertical bar symbol (transcribed as cg’) indicates a dental click; see Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek, Lucy Lloyd, and George McCall Theal, Specimens of Bushman Folklore (London: George Allen & Co., 1911), viii. Also 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. Lynch and Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z, 56.

Secondary Sources

  • Bleek, Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel, Lucy Lloyd, and George McCall Theal. Specimens of Bushman Folklore. London: George Allen & Co., 1911.

  • Hammond-Tooke, W. D. “Whatever Happened to /Kaggen?: A Note on Khoisan/Cape Nguni Borrowing.” The South African Archaeological Bulletin 52, no. 166 (December 1997): 122. https://doi.org/10.2307/3889077.

  • Hewitt, Roger. Structure, Meaning and Ritual in the Narratives of the Southern San. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2008.

  • Lewis‐Williams, David. “The Mantis, the Eland and the Meerkats.” African Studies 56, no. 2 (January 1997): 195–216. https://doi.org/10.1080/00020189708707875.

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

  • Scheub, Harold. A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • Wessels, Michael. “The Universal and the Local: The Trickster and the /Xam Narratives.” English in Africa 35, no. 2 (October 2008): 7–34. https://doi.org/10.4314/eia.v35i2.42845.

  • 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. “ǀKaggen .” Mythopedia, September 25, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/kaggen.

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

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

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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