The Mantis Family - San People Story
Although Mantis is a type of 'super-being', the Bushmen do not regard him as a god like the moon and sun. Indeed, he is all too human and in many ways personifies the Bushman himself. He is a kind of dream Bushman, and resembles the real mantis, with his small wedge-shaped face and intelligent look. The figures which primitive artists painted on the walls of their rock shelters prance along like Mantis himself.
Mantis is very much a family man and likes to have his folk around him. His wife is Dassie, the rock hyrax. His son is young Mantis, very like his resourceful father. Porcupine is an adopted daughter whose real father is a weird monster called the All-Devourer, with whom she is too frightened to live.
Porcupine is married to a being who is neither human nor animal but a part of the rainbow, called Kwammanga. They have two sons, one called Kwammanga after his father, and the other Mongoose or, as he is sometimes known, Ichneumon. The latter is a bossy young character who is always putting his grandfather Mantis in his place. Mantis also has a sister, a lovely lady called Blue Crane, of whom he is most fond.
Mantis, Ostrich and Fire
In addition to life, Mantis also brought the first fire to the people. Before this, they ate their food raw, just as they killed it, like the leopard and the lion, and they slept in their shelters at night, with no cheering light to brighten the long dark hours. Mantis had noticed that whenever Ostrich went to eat, his food smelt different and delicious. So one day he crept close to Ostrich to observe him as he ate. He saw Ostrich furtively take some fire from beneath his wing, and dip his food into it. When he had finished eating, he carefully tucked the fire back under his wing, and walked off.
Mantis knew that Ostrich would not give him any fire, so he decided to make a plan. One day he went to visit Ostrich. 'Come,' he called, 'I have found a tree with delicious yellow plums on it.' Ostrich was delighted. He began to eat the plums that were easiest to reach. 'No, higher, higher! The best ones are right at the top,' Mantis urged him. As Ostrich stood up on tiptoe and spread his wings to balance himself, Mantis snatched some of the fire from beneath his wing and ran off with it. This was how he brought fire to the Bushmen. Sinct then, Ostrich, terribly ashamed, has never flown and keeps his wings pressed to his sides, to preserve the little fire he has left.
According to the Bushmen, the ostrich has always been rather an odd
fellow. When the female makes her nest in a hollow in the warm sand, she
lays 20 to 30 round, creamy eggs, but invariably leaves one outside. Why?
Because she and her husband are so busy brooding on the theft of his fire
that they can be very absentminded. She is even liable to forget she is
sitting on a clutch of eggs, and so she puts one outside, just to remind
herself and her husband that they are there.