L is for Liongo

Published April 14, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


I’m not going to be able to do this one justice.  Liongo — or Fumo Liyongo — is a great hero celebrated in Swahili oral tradition.  Some of the material dates back to the neighborhood of the 13th century, so he’s a figure with considerable antiquity.  He’s probably also based on a real person, which makes him rather different from most (or rather all) of the other figures we’ll be looking at this April.

I wish I could say “yep, I’ve read English translations of all the major works about Liongo, and so I know exactly what I’m talking about.”

But I totally can’t say that.  I’ve read a few summaries, and that’s it.  So consider this post an enthusiastic “wow, this is stuff I’m going to have to read someday!”

Being the subject of a large amount of oral tradition, there’s a lot that could be said about Liongo, if I had more time (I’m only pre-writing a day ahead, sadly) and if I’d actually read the material itself.  Since I’m working off of summaries, I’m just going to hit a few highlights that caught my eye as being similar to figures from other parts of the world.

  1. Liongo is a master archer, and in one story his enemies set up an archery tournament as a trap for him.  He both outwits them and wins the tournament.
  2. He has the usual heroic features:  powerful warrior, extremely tall…probably good-looking, though the summaries I saw didn’t actually address that.  (But these kinds of figures usually are described as being the most handsome as well as the best in every other way.)
  3. Liongo is virtually invulnerable, and can only be killed by a copper pin to his navel.
  4. As he was dying, Liongo leaned against his trusty bow.

So, the points of comparison:

  1. Robin Hood, obviously.  (Like you needed me to tell you that!)
  2. Pretty much everybody, really…but let’s say “King Arthur” here, since he’s often assumed to have been based on a real person.
  3. You’re probably expecting me to say “Achilles,” aren’t you?  Actually, I was thinking “Sigurd,” personally.  (Achilles’ near-invulnerability was actually a very late addition to the myth.)
  4. Cu Chulainn.  It’s a little different, but the summary’s description made me think of his death, in which he used his spear to stay upright and keep fighting.  (Okay, actually that’s very, very different.  But…well, it’s still leaning against a weapon in death right?)



Okay, that was pretty weak.  I’m sorry.  But tomorrow will be better!  That I can promise!  (I’ve been looking forward to tomorrow’s post for a long time now.  And it’s going to have pictures.  Lots of them.)

2 comments on “L is for Liongo

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