Nakili, The Miskitu Man Who Went To The Land Of Dead & Back

Nakili, The Miskitu Man Who Went To The Land Of Dead & Back November 13, 2017

A while ago I wanted to bring Mythology Monday back. I wasn’t able to do so in a way that I liked. Now I feel something close to satisfied with the way I plan on bringing it back: by intertwining Patheos and YouTube! I plan on creating brief (after this one anyway) videos about myths, monsters, and more from Latin-America and on creating brief posts like this. So for my first myth let me introduce you to Nakili, an Orpheus-like figure from the Miskito people of Honduras and Nicaragua who managed to safely venture to the afterlife powered by love for his wife and back and unlike Orpheus had a happy ending.

Nakili had to jump over this but one that was three times as big and filled with water.
Nakili had to jump over this but one that was three times as big and filled with water.

The Myth:

Our protagonist is a loving husband and devoted father, useful traits which enable him to go on this wacky adventure safely and eventually return unharmed. He loved his wife so much that when she died he was overcome with sorrow and mournfully wished to see her again most likely not imagining that he’d get to do so until he saw her soul while visiting and attending to her grave. He pleaded with her to allow him to accompany her to the land of the dead and eventually she gave into his heartful pleas.

Nakili and his wife’s soul (basically a very tiny mirror of herself in life) left her grave together onto a narrow path that Nakili had never seen before. After walking down this path they came across birds of prey that terrified the soul of Nakili’s wife but Nakili scared away these birds of prey and together they continued onwards. The next obstacle was one Nakili couldn’t get through two trees very closely together which his wife’s miniature form could pass through but he couldn’t so he walked around it instead. The penultimate obstacle blocking their way was an extremely narrow bridge which Nakili was unable to use due to his size (as a normal, living human) atop a massive pot of boiling water overseen by dangerous birds. Our protagonist crosses the gap by jumping and his wife crosses using the thin bridge. The final obstacle in their path was a massive (for spirits) river guarded by deadly fish who’d eat the souls of the unworthy which Nakili swam across and which his wife was ferried over by the other inhabitants of the river: toads who paddled across the river using canoes. Nakili’s wife was deemed worthy and when she crossed the river atop a toad-paddled canoe she wasn’t eaten by the fish guarding the river. Our protagonist merely swam across the river, unbothered by deadly fish and managed to make it the land of the dead.

The carefree paradise of the Miskito people’s land of the dead was guarded over by Mas Alla a woman/spirit/goddess/entity with many breasts who oversaw the land of the dead and served as both a mother-figure for the Miskito worthy dead to sake their thirst (I didn’t mention that part in the video) and as a guardian of the land of the dead was displeased with Nakili’s appearance in her home and ordered him to leave. It was his love for his wife that enabled him to persuade Mas Alla to be granted the right to stay in the land of the dead. He stayed there for an undisclosed amount of time before he became overwhelmed by how he missed his children and went to Mas Alla to be allowed to return to his rightful place: the land of the living.

Mas Alla agreed that he should go back and placed Nakili on a sturdy plant before placing that plant on a river. Nakili’s plant eventually floated to the ocean where it was hit by a massive wave, knocking him off and out. He awoke back in front of his home and would eventually die and reunite with his wife, but presumably only after telling his children about the land of the dead.

Nakili As A Character:

Our protagonist is a brave and loving fellow. He jumps across deadly gaps without any real hesitation and he loves his wife enough to go to the afterlife with her, and his love for his children is enough that he willingly separates from his wife for a time to be with them, even when she herself couldn’t convince him to stay away and a supernatural entity ordering him to leave didn’t make him go either. He’s smart enough to walk around obstacles that he couldn’t cross over or through. He’s also a rational character in a wacky situation facing something that to us would seem funny at various points, with toads paddling across a river and basically going on an adventure with someone the size of a small child, and having to protect her from something as relatively harmless to adults as birds of prey.

Some Final Notes:

A brief setting in Indigenous Honduran & Central American myths being on top of a massive pot of boiling water is nothing new or exclusive to Miskito culture. The Tawahka have a myth where a deadly encounter with a devil goes down atop a pot of boiling water as well, and it’s a myth I’ve mentioned before.

If you enjoyed this post check out the video and let me know what myths you’d like to hear about next week!

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