The Lwanda Magere fable I think is the most well-known fable of all the African fables that I heard growing up in Kenya. I came across it in school, at home, in libraries and on television. It’s the story that every kid knew and told whenever they had a show and tell session in school. I think the reason it is so popular is that it has all the essential elements of drama tied up within it. For instance, several African fables, particularly the ones to do with animals, ogres, monsters, and the inevitable unexpected hero who journeys out and defeats them in battle, often have a very rudimentary narrative structure. Now, this is not to put down African stories. Even the Greek myths tend to have a very basic narrative structure: Introduction of the character and the problem, climax, end of the story. So, with the Lwanda Magere fable, I was surprised to find you have within the story a reluctant hero, a love interest, a subplot that involves that said love interest, and a climax and a tragic ending. Not to mention that the guy is kick-ass. Imagine a superhero, with indestructible skin, who goes around kicking bad guys butts. Centuries before Luke Cage!
So I think this fable has all the ingredients for exciting drama. Here it is as retold in the book “African Mythology A-Z mythology by Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts.”
“[Lwanda Magere was]… a mythic hero who led the Luo to victory over their enemies. According to legend, in ancient times the Luo were at war with the Lango and the Nandi. Repeatedly the Luo were defeated until the hero Lwanda Magere emerged. His courage and skill at warfare changed the course of the war. The Luo defeated the Lango and Nandi every time they met in battle.
The Lango elders discussed ways to overcome Magere. At last they came up with a plan. Pretending to desire peace, the Lango offered Magere a beautiful Lango princess as a wife. Her true purpose was to discover the secret of Magere’s power. The Luo elders suspected trickery by the Lango and warned Magere against accepting the woman. Ignoring their advice, he took her as his wife. In time, she learned his secret: He could be harmed only through his shadow. Spears aimed at his body could not harm him, but if a spear struck his shadow, he would die. For this reason, he fought only at night.
The woman reported back to her people. The Lango challenged Magere to a daytime battle. The Luo elders warned him not to go, but Magere’s pride was too great to allow him to refuse the challenge. During the battle, the Lango aimed their spears at Magere’s shadow rather than his body. They struck the shadow, Magere died on the battlefield, and they defeated the Luo.”
– Excerpt from “African Mythology A to Z” by Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts.
How’s that for intrigue, drama and a tragic ending? Wouldn’t you like to see this hero reprised?