Mmegi Blogs :: Legend of Tadi-mothwana: a myth unpacked
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Thursday 22 February 2018, 23:12 pm.
Legend of Tadi-mothwana: a myth unpacked

Although every nation or race or tribe in the world confidently speaks of ancient gods (ba-dimo), the modern tendency is to regard such assertions as primitive and ill-informed.
By L M Leteane Fri 09 Dec 2016, 15:06 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Legend of Tadi-mothwana: a myth unpacked

Though not everything said in ancient times can, of course, be taken literally, many researchers, myself included, have seen more to these tales than meets the eye – especially where Sumerian, Egyptian, European and American versions are corroborated by African versions of the same tales. One such ‘myth’ is the Setswana belief that lightning – called Tadi or Tladi – is caused by a bird that lays an explosive egg while in the air! 

Last week, we demonstrated that the ‘monster’ in the Legend of Godumo-dumo was actually the god Ninurta’s transport plane, called the IM.DU.GUD in Sumerian. According to Zecharia Sitchin in The Wars of Gods and Men, this flying contraption is perhaps best described in the second tablet of thirteen in a long epic known as Lugal e Ud Melam-bi, translated by Samuel Geller. Now, IM.DU.GUD is typically rendered “Great Storm Bird” by translators…but we will soon see that this best fits another ‘bird’ of lore – the Tadi – which we unpack this week.

Indeed, I on the other hand translate IM.DU.GUD as ‘the Abductor’, or even ‘the Mugger’ (i-m’thukhuthi): ‘that which harasses and then robs’. Its wingspan, calculated from archaic drawings, is estimated at seventy feet (21 metres)…but I suggest that it was bigger. Indeed, we saw last week that when the LU.LU (‘mixed creature’: lo-ile is indeed ‘of rich mixture’ in Setswana) realised that they were expected to get inside this huge, noisy, flying ‘monster’ – which they named godumo-dumo (godumo means ‘swallowing’ and dumo means ‘noisy one’ thus: ‘Noisy Swallower’) – they bolted in fear. Enlil, Ninurta’s father, had them rounded up again, and they were herded inside the plane. As the engines roared to life, a brave and observant boy had seen how the rear hatch door was secured, so, taking a spear he forced open the door and all broke free. And that is how the Legend of Godumo-dumo came to be, which I related – and dovetailed – with the Sumerian Myth of the Pick-axe.

But Ninurta, we also noted last week, had an even more feared flying contraption, whose dreaded name still rings in Bantu minds to this day. This airplane was evidently much smaller as it was given the Sumerian name NIN.GIR.SU “Little Black Machine” – the name later becoming synonymous with Ninurta himself: Nin means ‘smaller’ (thus nin-ane in Setswana, now nyenyane). NIN.UR.TA thus literally means “Little (Nin) Earth (Ur), comes (ta) ; GIR means ‘machine’ and it is an onomatopoeic name for the sound a machine makes, hence ‘gears’ – which name derives from ‘gir’ – alludes to the noise these machine parts make when they mesh’. SU or ZU means ‘black/dark’ – tsho in Setswana, as in su-ed (soot: the proper etymology of which literally means ‘blackened’), thus AB.ZU (Black Depths: a name suggesting both Africa and the deep mine shafts that characterised Africa,


the ancient Land of the Mines.

Now, what did we in Africa call this ‘Divine Black Bird’ – as Sitchin correctly names it in The Wars of Gods and Men? It seems that this is the famous TA.DI of Sumerian legend. By all accounts, this plane carried awesome weapons that struck like ‘thunderbolts’…in other words a warplane. And like most warplanes, they are much smaller than transport aircraft. Although not described in great detail in Sumerian epics, these ‘thunderbolts’ appear to have been egg-like in shape…quite like a bomb or hand-grenade would appear. There are indeed many references to ‘exploding rocks’ that rain from the sky, hurled by the god Ninurta – Enlil’s foremost warrior. It is almost definitely the case that Africans had witnessed its feared firepower at some point. Up to today, most southern Africans believe in a fearful ‘lightning bird’ called tladi that lays an explosive egg while still in the sky. ‘TA.DI’ is made up of Ta! and Di!—and this means Wham! Down! in Setswana. According to Sitchin, TA.DI is described as: ‘That Which Strikes and Fells (Brings down)’—exactly as in Sotho and Tswana! So, the feared ‘explosive egg’ of Tladi is but a cluster bomb…

Ancient forebears of Batswana were thus not so ‘foolish’ to say that lightning is caused by a bird that lays an explosive egg…and that it can be sent by a knowledgeable person. Of course, parts of this have been embellished by the effect of having storyteller after storyteller recounting this ancient tale, each one tempted to add his own colourful touch to the legend until the original story is all but unrecognisable. But with the aid of Sumerian epics, we are able to reconstruct what this ‘bird’ really was from the now-hazy outline. So, when Setswana reinforces Sumerian, and Sumerian reinforces Setswana, a more complete picture can be drawn of what seems like pure myth.  Another ancient Setswana clue that tells us that this was no mere ‘bird’ is the fact that it is sometimes called – more fully – as tladi-mothwana: literally, ‘the lightening bird that is also a little person’. Now, why ‘little person’? I suggest that it is because when the warplane swooped down sufficiently low, the terrified people could just about make out that a person was in the ‘head’ (cockpit) of the ‘bird’ and was actually directing it. From a distance, the figure of the pilot would, naturally, appear small – hence the appendage of ‘little person’. This then further reinforced the idea that this frightful bird could be directed by people…and a now well-entrenched belief is that a lightning strike is no mere accident of nature. Of course, in Bantu lore, the ‘knowledgeable person’ who directs this bird is now deemed to be a sorcerer – a wizard or a witch – rather than a pilot!

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