Kaffir Folk-Lore by Georg McCall Theal

Barking Black-Backed Jackal by Beverly Joubert

Kaffir Folk-Lore
by Georg McCall Theal


Introductory Chapter Regarding the Kaffirs

The Story of the Bird That Made Milk

The Story of Five Heads

The Story of Tangalimlibo

The Story of the Girl Who Disregarded the Custom of Ntonjane

The Story of Simbukumbukwana

The Story of Sikulume

The Story of Hlakanyana

The Story of Demane and Demazana

The Runaway Children; or, The Wonderful Feather

The Story of Ironside and His Sister

The Story of the Cannibal's Wonderful Bird

The Story of the Cannibal Mother and Her Children

The Story of the Girl and the Mbulu

The Story of Mbulukazi

The Story of Long Snake

The Story of Kenkebe

Another Story of Kenkebe

The Story of the Wonderful Horns

The Story of the Glutton

The Story of the Great Chief of the Animals

The Story of the Hare

The Story of Lion and Little Jackal

Proverbs and Figurative Expressions


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The Story of Ironside and His Sister

A LONG time ago a woman who went to cultivate her garden took her little daughter with her, and before she began to hoe the ground she laid the child down in the shade of a tree. About midday there came two birds and flew away with the girl. They carried her across a great river, and laid her gently down in a pumpkin field on a plain.

As the birds were carrying her away, she called to her mother, who took no notice of her cries, because she could not imagine her child was being carried away. In the afternoon the girl was missing, and her mother searched for her without success. She made inquiries of the neighbours, and some of them told her they had heard the child crying,"I am going away with the birds."

The plain on which the little girl was put down was near a town in which lived a nation of cannibals who had one leg much longer than the other. There she remained alone till the next day.

That night the chief of the cannibals dreamed that he saw a very pretty girl in that place; so in the morning he sent a party of men to look for her. When the girl saw them coming she was afraid, and hid herself among the pumpkins. But the men had already noticed where she was, so they easily found her, and took her home with them.

The chief was very much pleased with her appearance. He gave her to his mother to take care of, and when she grew up he took her to be his wife.

Afterwards she had two children, one very pretty, and with two legs like her own; the other ugly, and like its father, with one leg longer than the other. The cannibals saw the advantage of having two legs of equal length, and they became jealous of the woman and her child. They told the chief it would be dangerous to allow the child to grow up, because then a nation stronger than themselves might arise. They persuaded him to consent to her being put to death, and then they rejoiced greatly, because she was very fat, and they intended to eat her; but one of them, who had more compassion than the others, told the woman what they were about to do.

After the little girl had been taken away by the birds, her mother had a son, one of whose sides was flesh like other people's, and the other side was iron. His mother told him of his sister who was lost, and when he became a man he determined to go in search of her.

In his journey he came to a great river full of water. He had an iron rod in his hand, with which he struck the water, and at the same time he called out with a loud voice: "River, I have no sister. Be empty."

Then the river dried up, and he went safely across.

After this he came to the stream where the cannibals drew their water, and concealed himself among the reeds which grew on its banks. While there his sister came to get water, and he at once knew who she was. She, of course, did not know him, but he told her he was her brother. Then she said the cannibals would cat him if he went to their town without an introduction. So they arranged that he should smear himself with mud and go to the top of a high hill, and when he was coming down she would tell the cannibals who he was.

Ironside went on the hill, and as soon as he came in sight of the town, his sister said: "There is the servant of the wife of the chief of the cannibals." These words she repeated twice.

When Ironside reached the town, a mat was brought to him and spread in front of his sister's house; but after a time he was allowed to go inside, still covered with mud.

The next day they all went to hunt, and Ironside killed more game than the others, upon which they became envious of him. This was shortly before the cannibals agreed to kill and eat the daughter of their chief. When the one who had compassion made known what was about to be done, Ironside was present and heard what was told. He said to his sister that she must pluck the hair from her head and scatter it about in different directions. This she did, after which Ironside and his sister and her child left the town in haste.

The cannibals came, and when they could not find the child they called her loudly by name. Then the tufts of hair all answered in her voice, and the seekers became confused.

Ironside and his companions, having two legs, could walk much quicker than the cannibals, and soon they were on the other side of the large river. The child trembled, and was very much frightened; but Ironside told her not to fear at all. After they had crossed, Ironside struck the river with his iron rod, and said: "River, I have found my sister. Be full." Then the water rose very high, quite to the top of the banks.

A party of cannibals who were in pursuit came to the river after it was full, and Ironside made a long rope, and threw the end over to them. They caught hold of it, thinking that he would pull them across; but when they were in the middle of the river he let go the rope, and they were all drowned. Another party then came and asked where their companions were. Ironside said they had gone to a ford further down; but they knew that was not true, so they returned home. Afterwards they discovered who it was that gave warning of their intentions, and they killed and ate that one.

Ironside took his sister home to her mother, who received her with the greatest joy, never having forgotten her during that long time.

The text came from:

Theal, Georg McCall. Kaffir Folk-Lore. London: S. Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowrey, 1886. Buy the book in paperback.

Available from

Kaffir Folk-Lore by Georg McCall Theal

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African Folktales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore) by Roger Abrahams

The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst

Favorite African Folktales by Nelson Mandela

The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales From Africa by Alex McCall Smith


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