How Man Lost Eternal Life

Once up on a time there was a Venda king who lived high up in the Mukondeni mountains. The king was very sad because his mother was ill and he could see how she deteriorated day by day.

One night he looked up at the moon and he thought to himself:

“Why can man not be like the moon? The moon gets smaller and smaller, like my mother who is getting weaker and weaker, but after the moon had vanished altogether it will grow stronger again. Yes, why can’t we all be like the moon? Tomorrow I’ll send my two best messengers to the land of the gods. Perhaps they will grant me my request before it is too late to save my mother.”

The next morning the king called his two most trustworthy messengers. Centipede who had so many legs would definitely not stumble, and when all those legs got going he could move very fast. The second messenger was Chameleon. Chameleon had the advantage that he could change colour so that he could escape any form of danger.

The two messengers stood before the Venda kind to receive their message to the land of the gods.

“Centipede, go to the land of the gods and speak to them respectfull. Tell them that the Venda king implores them to allow man to rise again after death.”

“Chameleon, go to the land of the gods and tell them respectfully  that the Venda king implores them to let the moon to remain dead once it had gone down and for man to rise again after death.”

Off they went. Unfortunately centipede came across a tree full of ripe mbula (sand apples).  He couldn’t help himself, and ate and ate until he was so fat that all those hundreds of legs were of very little use, he could only drag himself along.

Chameleon in the mean time was hurrying along repeating the important message over and over.

At last chameleon arrived at the land of the gods, but a terrible thing happened when he saw the gods for the first time in his life. The moment was too great for the simple chameleon from Venda. He stood there staring at them and when he at last could get a word out he had the message all wrong. This is what he said: “Dear gods, our Venda king respectfully ask you to allow man to remain dead after he has died and for moon to rise again.”

Soon after that centipede lolled in and said: “Dear gods, our Venda king respectfully asks you to allow man to rise again after he had died and for moon to remain dead.”

The gods put there heads together and then said, “We are very sorry but we had already granted the request of the first messenger.”

That is how man lost eternal life and that is also why the Venda people have an aversion to chameleons.

Narrator: Rosina Magadani
Place: Padzima
Date: 21 September 1991

Copyright © Dr Ina le Roux


Man’s quest for immortality is a universal theme. Many folk-tales deal with man’s endeavour to defeat death and gain eternal life. Eternal life is in the hands of the gods but due to the ineptitude of the messengers all is lost. This Venda folk-tale explains the horror, inevitability and irrevocable nature of death.

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