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


SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page


The Story of the Bird That Made Milk

[a] The word amasi, translated milk, means that kind of fermented milk which is used by the Kaffirs. When taken from the cow, the milk is put into a skin bag, where it ferments and acquires a sharp acid taste. When poured out for use by the master of the household, who is the only one permitted to touch the milk-sack, a portion is always left behind to act as leaven. Amasi is very nutritious; it forms one of the principal articles of food of the Kaffirs, and is relished by most Europeans in Kaffirland. In warm weather, especially, it is a pleasant and wholesome beverage.

[b] Among the Kaffirs the work of cultivating the ground fell entirely upon the women in olden times, The introduction of the plough has caused a change in this respect, but to the present day the planting and weeding is performed by females.

[c] lkùba, a pick or hoe. Before the advent of Europeans, the largest implement that was made was this instrument for breaking up the ground. It was of nearly the same shape as a European hoe; but in place of having an eye, into which a handle could be fastened, it was made with a top like a spike, which was driven into the large knob of a long and heavy club. It was at best a clumsy tool.

[d] Kaffir law recognises the right of individuals to possess landed property. The chief allots a piece of ground to a family, by whom it is retained and held in possession as long as it is cultivated. It is forfeited by abandonment for a long time without assigning sufficient cause. It cannot be sold. Pasture land is held in common.

[e] ltungoa, a basket used to milk the cows in. It is woven so nicely as to be watertight. The Kaffirs are expert in making baskets and mats, but never attempt to dye any of the materials of which they are composed, or otherwise to ornament them. They use mats as we use dishes, to eat from.

[f] The potter's art is now being lost by the Kaffirs. The large jars are being replaced by wooden casks purchased from Europeans, and iron pots have already come into general use.

[g] The Kaffir house has only one opening, which is low and narrow, but which serves for door, window, and chimney.

[h] The fireplace is a circle in the centre of the hut. It is made by raising a ring on the hard and smooth ant-heap floor. Round it the inmates sleep, while the back of the hut, or the side opposite the entrance, is used as a store room. There the jars and other household utensils would usually be placed.

[i] Intambo, a riem, or thong of untanned oxhide.

[j] Equivalent to saying that they journeyed for three days.

[k] There are no crocodiles in the rivers of the present Amaxosa country, but the reptile and its habits are well known to the people by hearsay. According to their traditions, the tribe migrated from the north-east. It is not unlikely that the Xosa belief in a water-spirit which has power to charm people and entice them into rivers to their destruction, may have originated in the fact of their having come from a country where these destructive animals were common, as the spirit and the reptile have the same name. In this story it is seemingly a crocodile that appears, but very shortly we learn that it is really a man who has been bewitched and forced to assume that appearance.

[l] Boys"enter manhood," or acquire the privileges of men, by a ceremony similar to the ntonjane.

[m] Up to this point there is nothing to indicate that the girl knew he was not in reality a crocodile, but here it is evident that she was aware he was a man under the power of a charm, for she uses a proper name when speaking of him, as is indicated by the prefix U.

[n] The inference from this is that his enemies had bewitched him and made him assume the appearance of a crocodile, but that the young woman on account of her good qualities and great love for him had power to dispel the charm, and by licking his face had enabled him to resume his proper form as a man.

The Story of Five Heads

In this story some liberty is taken with the Kaffir marriage ceremonies, a description of which will serve as a key to much that is contained in several of these tales. The wholc of the ceremonies are included in the term umdudo, a word. [derived from the verb ukudada, which means to dance by spinning up and down, as ukuxentsa means to dance by moving the upper part of the body. The dance at a marriage is considered of more importance than any of the others, and is therefore frequently practised until skill in its performance is attained.

The marriage of a young Kaffir woman is arrange by her father or guardian, and she is not legally supposed to be consulted in the choice of a husband. In point of fact, however, matches arising from mutual love are not uncommon. In such cases, if any difficulties are raised by the guardians on either side, the young people do not scruple to run away together, after which their relatives usually come to an arrangment. Yet instances are not wanting of girls being compelled against their wishes to marry old men, who have already perhaps five or six wives. Kaffir ideas of some kinds of morality are very low. The custom is general for a marricd woman to have a lover who is not her husband, and little or no disgrace attaches to her on this account. The lover is legally subject to a fine of no great amount, and the husband may give the woman a beating, but that finishes the penalty.

That which makes a Kaffir marriage binding in their estimation, is not the performance of a ceremony, but the transfer of a certain number of cattle, as agreed upon, from the husband or his friends to the father or guardian of the woman. In practice the umdudo is often deferred to a convenient season, yet the woman is considered not less a wife, and her children not less legal, provided always that the transfer of cattle has taken place according to agreement. This system of transfer of cattle is of great advantage to a Kaffir female. It protects her from gross ill-treatment by her husband, as violence gives a woman's relatives a right to claim her divorce without restoring the cattle. It creates protectors for herself and her children in the persons of all the.individuals among whom the cattle are shared. And lastly, it gives her the status of a married woman in the estimation of her people, whereas, if no cattle are transferred, she is not regarded by them as having the rank of a wife.

Marriages are absolutely prohibited between people of the same family title. This peculiarity seems to indicate that the tribes and clans of the present day are combinations of others that were dispersed before their traditional history commenced. A man may marry a woman of the same clan that he belongs to, provided she is not a blood relative; but he may not marry a woman whose father's family title is the same as his own, even though no relationship can be traced between them, and the one may belong to the Xosa and the other to the Pondo tribe. As an instance, we will take a man who belongs to, say, the Dushane clan of the Xosa tribe, and whose family title is the Amanywabe. Among the Tembus, the Pondos, the Zulus, and many other tribes, are people with this same family title. They cannot trace any relationship with each other, but wherever they are found they have ceremonies peculiar to themselves. Thus the customs observed at the birth of a child are exactly the same in every part of the country among people of the same family title, though they may never have heard of each other, while neighbours of the same clan, but of different family titles, have these customs altogether dissimilar. All the children take the family title of the father, and can thus marry people of the same family title as the mother, provided they are not closely related in blood.

Marriage proposals may come from the father or guardian of the young woman, or they may first be made by the man himself or the relatives of the man who wishes to take a wife. The father of a young man frequently selects a bride for him, and intimates his wish by sending a messenger to make proposals to the girl's father or guardian. In this case the mes, senger takes some cattle with him, when, if the advances are favourably received, an assagai is sent back, after which the relatives of the young people discuss and finally arrange the terms of the marriage. If the proposal comes from the girl's father, he sends an assagai, which is accepted if the suit is agreeable, or returned if it is not.

When the preliminary arrangements are concluded, a bridal procession is formed at the young woman's kraal, to escort her to her future home. It consists of her relatives and all the young people of both sexes who can get away. It leaves at such a time as to arrive at its destination after dark, and endeavours to reach the place without attracting notice. The bridal party takes with it a cow, given by the bride's father or guardian to confer fortune upon her, and hence called the Inqakwe. This cow is afterwards well taken care of by the husband. The party has also an ox provided by the same person, as his contribution towards the marriage feast. On the following morning at daylight the ox is killed, when a portion of the meat is taken by the bride's party, and the reinaincler is left for the people of the kraal. The bridegroom's friends then send messengers to invite the people of the neighbourhood to the feast, and as soon as these arrive the dancing commences.

In the dance the men stand in lines three, four, or more rows in depth, according to their number, and at a little distance behind the women stand in the same order, that is, they are ranged as follows:










The men stand with their heads erect and their arms locked together. They are nearly naked, but wear ornaments of brass around their waists. The trappings of the war dance are altogether wanting. The women are, however, in full dress, for their part consists only in singing. When all are ready, a man who has been selected for the purpose commences to sing, the others immediately join in, and at a certain note the whole of the men rise together from the ground. The dance consists merely in springing straight up and coming down with a quivering of the body but when the men warm to it, it gives them great satisfaction. The song is very monotonous, the same note occurring at every rise from the ground. This dancing, with intervals of rest and feasting, continues as long as the bridegroom's relatives supply oxen for slaughter. A day suffices for a poor man, but a rich man's marriage festivities may last a week or upwards.

On the closing day the bridegroom and his friends march from one hut, while the bride and her party march frorn another, so as to meet in front of the entrance to the cattle kraal. The bride carries an assagai in her hand, which she throws so as to stick in the ground inside the kraal in an upright position. This is the last of the ceremonies, and the guests immediately begin to disperse, each inan taking home the milk-sack which he had brought with him. In olden times ox-races usually took place on the closing day; but this custom is now falling into neglect.

The Story of Tangalimlibo

This is a favourite story, and is therefore very widely known. Sometimes it happens that native girls are employed as nurses by Europeans, and that little children are taught by them to sing, or rather chant the song of the cock, so that this story may even be like "an old acquaintance with a cheerful face" to many of our own race who have grown up on the frontier,

The original of the first songs is:--

Uyalila, uyalila, umta ka Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Wenziwe ngabomu Sihamba Ngenyanga,
Ngabantu abantloni. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Bamtuma amanzi emini. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngetunga, laza latshona. Sihamha Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngomcepe, waza watshona. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngexakato, laza latshona. Sihaniba Ngenyanga.

That of the second is:--

Ndiyi nkuku nje ndingebulawe. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ndize kubika u-Tangalimlibo. Kukulu ku-u-u.
U-Tangalimlibo ufile. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ukelele umntu ntloni amanzi. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ibe kutunywa inkomo, yakonya. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Yaba kutunywa inja, yakonkota. Kukulu ku-u-u.

Amon., the Kaffirs a childless woman finds little or no favour. In many cases she would be treated by her husband in exactly the manner described in this tale, so that by becoming a mother she might say from the bottom of her heart, with Elizabeth of old, that "her reproach was taken away from among men." Sometimes she is returned by her husband to her parents, a proceeding commonly adopted when she has a marriageable sister who can be given to him in exchange. The husband is required, however, before repudiating his wife, to go through the customary ceremonies, which are described in the following case tried before me when acting as a border magistrate in 1881:--A, a Kaffir, sued B, another Kaffir, to recover the value of a heifer lent to him two years before under these circumstances. B's wife, who was distantly related to A, had been niarried more than a year without bearing a child. B thereupon applied to him for a heifer, the hair of the tail of which was needed by the doctor of the clan to make a charm to put round the woman's neck. He had lent him one for the purpose, and now wanted payment for it. The defence was that A, being the woman's nearest relative who had cattle, was bound to furnish a heifer for the purpose. The hair of the tail was needed, the doctor had made a charm of it and hung it round the woman's neck, and she had thereafter given birth to a son. The heifer could not be returned after being so used. In this case, if the plaintiff had been so nearly related to defendant's wife as to have participated in the benefit of the cattle given by her husband for her, he could not have justified his claim under Kaffir law; but as he was very distantly connected, he got judgment. The feeling entertained by the Kaffirs about the court in this instance was that B had acted very ungratefully towards A, who had not even been present at the woman's marriage feast, but who had cheerfully acted in conformity with the custom which requires that a charm must be made out ot the hair of the tail of a heifer belonging to a relative of a childless wife, in order to cause her to bear children.

It will be observed that the woman speaks of those whose names are unmentionable. According to Kaffir custom no woman may pronounce the names of any of her husband's male relatives in the ascending line. She is bound to show them the greatest respect, and implicitly to obey their commands. She may not sit in the house where her father-in-law is seated, she may not even pronounce any word in which the principal syllable of his name occurs. Thus, a woman who sang the song of Tangalimlibo for me used the word angoca instead of amanzi for water, because this last contained the syllable nzi, which she would not on any account pronounce. She had therefore manufactured another word, the meaning of which had to be judged of by the context, as standing alone it is meaningless.

The beer-drinking company on the mats under a tree, the escort of the bride to her husband, and the wedding feast are true to the life.

The idea of the Kaffir with regard to drowning is also shown very distinctly in this tale. He believes that a spirit pulls the person under water, and that this spirit is willing sometimes to accept an ox as a ransom for the human victim. How this belief works practically may be illustrated by facts which have come under my own cognizance.

Some time in 1875, a party of Kaffir girls went to bathe in a little stream not far from the place where I was then living There was a deep hole in the stream, into which one of them lot, and she was drowned. The others ran away home as fast as they could, and there told a story how their companion had been lured away from their side by the spirit calling her. She was with them, they said, in a shallow part, when suddenly she stood upright and said, "It is calling." She then walked straight into the deep place, and would not allow any of them to touch her. One of them heard her saying, "Go and tell my father and my mother that it took me." Upon this, the father collected his cattle as quickly as possible, and set off for the stream. The animals were driven into the water while the man stood on the bank imploring the spirit to take the choicest of them and restore his daughter. The failure to get the exchange effected is still attributed by the relatives of the drowned girl to the absence of one skilful to work with medicines.

On another occasion, a Kaffir was trying to cross one of the fords of a river when it was in flood. He was carried away by the current, but succeeded in getting safely to land sonic quarter of a mile or so further down. Eight or ten lusty fellows saw him carried off his feet, but not one made the slightest effort to help him. On the contrary, they all rushed away frantically, shouting out to the herd boys on the hill sides to drive down the cattle, As might be supposed, the escape of the man from being drowned was then attributed to his being in possession of a powerful charm.

Besides these spirits, according to the belief of the Kaffirs, there are people living under the water, pretty much as those do who are in the upper air. They have houses and furniture, and even cattle, all of their domestic animals being, however, of a dark colour. They are wiser than other people, and from them the most skilful witchfinders are supposed to obtain a portion of the knowledge of their art. This is not a fancy of children, but the implicit belief of grown-up men and women at the present day. A knowledge of this is of great service to those who have to do with Kaffirs. As an instance, a woman came to me in July, 1881, to be., assistance. A child had died in her village, and the witchfinder had pointed her out as the person who had caused its death. Her husband was absent, and the result of her being "smelt out" was that no one would enter her hut, share food with her, or so much as speak to her. If she was in a path every one fled out of her way, and even her own children avoided her. Being in the colony she could not be otherwise punished, but such treatment as this would of itself, in course of time, have made her insane. She denied most emphatically having been concerned in the death of the child, though she did not doubt that some one had caused it by means of witchcraft. The witchfinder was sent for, and, as the matter was considered an important one, a larger number of Kaffirs than usual appeared at the investigation. On putting the ordinary tests to the witchfinder he failed to meet them, and when he was compelled, reluctantly, to admit that he had never held converse with the people under the water, it was easy to convince the bystanders that he was only an impostor.

The Story of the Girl Who Disregarded the Custom of Ntonjane

A large proportion of Kaffir tales have a similar termination with many English ones; the heroine gets married to a prince. These show that a desire for worldly rank is as great in the one people as in the other. Most Kaffir tales are destitute of moral teaching from our point of view. What recommendation, for instance, has the girl in this story to the favour of the young chief?

The custom which the chief's daughter disregarded is the following--

When a Kaffir girl arrives at the age of puberty, messengers are sent by her father to all the neighbouring villages to invite the young women to attend the "Ntonjane." The girl in the meantime is kept secluded in the house of an aunt, or other female relative, and her father does not see her. Soon parties are seen coming from all sides, singing as they march. The first party that arrives halts in front of the cattle kraal, where it is joined by those that come after. When the girls are all assembled, the father chooses an ox to be slaughtered. The rneat is cooked, and men and women come from all directions to the feast. The men then instruct the women to dress the girls for the dance, and when this is done they are ranged in rows in front of the cattle kraal. They ire almost naked having on only a girdle round the waist, and an apron, called cacawe, made for the occasion out of the leaves of a certain plant. In their hands they hold assagais, using them as walking sticks.

When all is ready, four of the girls stop out of the front row and dance, the rest singing; and when these are tired four others step out, and so on, until all the girls present have danced. The spectators then applaud the best dancer, or if they do not at once unanimously fix upon the same person, the girls dance until all present agree.

The girls then give room to the men and women, who form themselves in lines in the same manner, and dance until it is decided which of them surpass the others. The dancing is continued until sunset, when the men and women return home, leaving the party of girls [called the "jaka"] who remain overnight.

Next day dancing is resumed in the same order, the guests usually arriving very early in the morning.

If the girl's father is a rich man three oxen are slaughtered, and the ntonjane is kept up for twelve days. On the thirteenth day the young woman comes out of the house where she has all the time been living apart from her family. If the girl is a chief's daughter the ntonjane is kept up for twenty-four days. All the councillors send oxen to be slaughtered, that there may be plenty for the guests to eat.

The following ceremony takes place on the occasion of a chief's daughter coming out of the house in which she was concealcd during the twenty-four days:-

A son of her father's chief councillor puts on his head the two wings of a blue crane [the indwe], regarded by the Kaffirs as an emblem of bravery only to be worn by veterans in time of war. He goes into the house where she is, and when he comes out she follows him. They march towards the kraal where the dancing took place, the girl's mother, the jaka, or party of young women, the girl's father, and his councillors, forming a procession. More cattle are slaughtered for the "indwe," and then dancing is renewed, after which the girl drinks milk for the first time since the day when she was concealed in the house. Large skins containing milk are sent from different kraals to the place where the ntonjane is held. Some milk is put into a small vessel made of rushes, a little of it is poured on the fireplace, the aunt, or other fernale relative, in whose charge the girl was, takes the first mouthful, then she gives the milk to the girl, who, after having drunk, is taken to her mother's house. The people then disperse, and the ntonjane is over.

This ceremony is frequently attended with gross licentiousness. The girls of the jaka are allowed by immemorial custom to select sweethearts, and this liberty often leads to depravity.

The Story of Simbukumbukwana

Charms and medicines for the cure of diseases are classed together by the Kaffirs. Some of the women as well as of the men have really a wonderful knowledge of the properties of herbs and roots. They are acquainted with various vegetable-poisons and with their antidotes, and not unfrequently make use of them.

A case recently came before me for investigation, in which a Kaffir woman was suspected of having administered poison to another person. In her hut a great variety of roots and dried herbs was found. These were carefully separated, and then persons skilled in such matters were brought to give evidence as to their properties. Anything like collusion was impossible, yet each one without hesitation stated what each medicine was to be used for, and all agreed.

One plant was for curing stomach-ache, another acted as an emetic, a third cured the sting of a venornous insect, and so on. But among them was a plant to be chewed when crossing a stream, to prevent the river spirit from biting a person. Another was a root to be used to gain the favour of a judge during a trial.

The method of using this last was as follows:-

A portion of it was to be placed upon some coals, over which the man was to sit, covering himself and the fire with his mantle so as to be thoroughly smoked. During the trial another portion was to be kept in the mouth.

Not the slightest distinction was made by the witnesses between these different kinds of "medicines."

The Kaffir is a perfect slave to charms, and hardly ever undertakes any matter of importance without using them.

The Story of Sikulume

The game called Iceya is mentioned in this story as being played in the rock that became a hut. The games with which Kaffir boys are accustomed to amuse themselves are, as a rule such as require a large amount of exertion of legs, arms and lungs. In the European towns, and at Mission stations, they have generally adopted the English game of cricket, but at their own kraals they still practise the sports of their ancestors.

At a very early age they commence trials of skill against each other in throwing knobbed sticks and imitation assagais. They may often be seen enjoying this exercise in little groups, those of the same age keeping together, for there is no greater tyrant in the world than the big Kaffir boy over his younger fellows. Commencing with an ant-heap at a distance of ten or fifteen yards, for a target, they gradually become so perfect that they can hit an object a foot square at double and even treble that distance. The knobbed stick and the imitation assagai are thrown in different ways, the object of the first being to inflict a heavy blow upon the mark aimed at, while that of the last is to pierce it. This exercise strengthens the muscles of the arms, and gives expansion to the chest. The result is that when the boys are grown up and become men, they are able to use their weapons without any further training. When practising, they keep up a continual noise, and if an unusually successful hit is made the thrower shouts the common Kaffir cry of exultation, Tsi! ha! ha! ha! ha! Izikali zika Rarabe! [The weapons of Khàkhàbay].

Kaffir boys above the age of nine or ten years are fond of shamfighting with sticks. They stand in couples, each with a foot advanced to meet that of his antagonist, each with a cudgel elevated in the right hand. Each fixes his eye upon the eye of his opponent, and seeks to ward off blows as well as to inflict them. In these contests pretty hard strokes are sometimes given and received with the utmost good humour.

A game of which they are very fond is an imitation hunt. In this, one of them represents a wild animal of some kind, a second acts as a hunter, and the others take the part of dogs in pursuit. A space is marked off, within which the one chased is allowed to take breath, when he is said to be in the bush. He tries to imitate as closely as possible the animal he is representing. Thus if he is an antelope he simply runs, but if he is a lion he stands and fights.

The calves of the kraal are under the care of the boys, and a good dcal of time is passed in training thern to run and to obey signals made by whistling. The boys mount them when they are eighteen months or two years old, and race about upon their backs. When the boys are engaged in any sport, one of the number is selected by lot to tend the calves. As many blades of grass as there are boys are taken, and a knot is made on the end of one of them. The biggest boy holds the blades between the fingers and thumb of his closed hand, and whoever draws the blade with the knot has to act as herdsman.

They have also a simple game called hide and look for.

If they chance to be disinclined for active exercise, they amuse themselves by moulding clay into little images of cattle, or by making puzzles with strings. Some of them are skilful in forming knots with thongs and pieces of wood, which it taxes the ingenuity of the others to undo. The cleverest of them sometimes practise tricks of deception with grains of maize. They are so sharp that although one is sure that he actually sees the grain taken into the right hand, that hand when opened will be found empty and the maize will be contained in the left, or perhaps it will be exhibited somewhere else.

The above comprise the common out-door sports of boys up to the age of fourteen or fifteen years, At that time of life they usually begin to practise the different dances which they will be required to take part in when they become men. These dances differ one from another almost as much as those practised by Europeans.

The commonest indoor game of the Kaffirs is the one called Iceya. This can be played by two persons or any number exceeding two. The players sit in a circle, and each has a little piece of wood, a grain of corn, or something of the kind. It must be, so small that it can easily be concealed in a folded hand, and no player must have more than one. If there are many players they form themselves into sides or parties, but when they are few in number one plays against the rest. This one conceals the toy in either of his hands, and throwing both arms out against an opponent he announces himself either as an Inhlangano [one who meets], or an Ipambo [one who evades]. His opponent throws his arms out in the same manner, so that his right hand shall be opposite the first player's left, and his left opposite the first player's right. The clenched hands are then opened, and if the toys are found to meet, the first player wins if he has called himself an inhlangano, or loses if an ipambo. If the toys do not meet, the case is reversed. When there are many players, one after another is beaten until two only are left. This part of the game is called the Umnyadala [the winding up]. Those two then play against each other, and the one who is beaten is said to be left with the umnyadala, and is laughed at. The winner is greeted as the wearer of the tiger skin mantle. In playing, the arms are thrown out very quickly, and the words are rapidly uttered, so that a stranger might fancy there was neither order nor rule observed. Young men and boys often spend whole nights playing the Iceya, which has the same hold upon them as dice upon some Europeans.

Next to the Iceya, the most popular indoor game with Kaffir children is the Imfumba. One of the players takes a grain of maize, or any other small substance, in his hands, and pretends to place it in the hands of the others, who are seated in a circle around him. He may really give it to one of them, or he may keep it himself. One is then selected to guess in whose possession it is.[1]

The last of the Kaffir indoor games is called Cumbelele. Three or four children stand with their closed hands on top of each other, so as to form a column, They sing "Cumbelele. cumbelele, pang-alala," and at the last la they draw their hands back sharply, each one pinching with his thumb nail the hand above.

Toys, as playthings, are few in number. Bows and arrows are sometimes seen, but generally boys prefer an imitation assagai.

The nodiwu is a piece of wood about six or eight inches long, an inch and a half or two inches wide, and an eighth or a quarter of an inch thick in the middle. Towards the edges it is bevelled off, so that the surface is convex, or consists of two inclined planes. At one end it has a thong attached to it by which it is whirled rapidly round. The other end of the thong is usually fastened to a small round piece of wood used as a handle. The nodiwu, when whirled round gives forth a noise that can be heard at a considerable distance. Besides the use which it is put to by the lads, when a little child is crying inside a hut its mother or nurse will sometimes get a boy to make a noise with a nodiwu outside, and then induce the child to be still by pretending that a monster is coming to devour it. There is a kind of superstition connected with the nodiwu, that playing with it invites a gale of wind. Men will, on this account, often prevent boys from using it when they desire calm weather for any purpose. This superstition is identical with that which prevents many sailors from whistling at sea.

I have greatly reduced this story in bulk by leaving out endless repetitions of exactly the same trick, but performed upon different individuals or animals. In all other respects it is complete. The word Hlakanyana means the little deceiver.

[1. A Kaffir who went with the mission party from Lovedale to Lake Nyassa, and remained there several years, informs me that he found the Imfumba the commonest game of the children in that part of Africa. When he had learned the language of the people there, he was surprised to hear many of the common Kaffir folklore stories told nearly as he had heard them related by Gaka women when he was a boy.]

The Story of Demane and Demazana

Among the natives of South Africa relationship is viewed differently from what it is by Europeans. I have more than once heard Kaffirs accused of falsehood because they asserted one person to be their father or mother at one time and a different person at another time. Yet they were telling the truth according to their ideas. A common complaint concerning native servant girls is that they claim every other person they meet as a brother or a sister. Now, from their point of view, what we should term cousins are really brothers and sisters. It is not poverty of language, for they have words to express shades of relationship where we have none, but a difference of ideas, that causes them to use the same word for father and paternal uncle, for brother and cousin, etc. Bawo is the word used in addressing father, father's brother, or father's half-brother. Little children say Tata. But there are three different words for father, according as a person is speaking of his own father or uncle, of the father or uncle of the person he is speaking to, or of the father or uncle of the person he is speaking of. Speaking of my father, bawo is the word used: of your father, uyihlo; of his father, uyise. Malume is the brother of any one called mother. Ma is the word used in addressing mother, any wife of father, or the sister of any of these. The one we should term mother can only be distinguished from the others, when speaking of her, by describing her as uma wam kanye-i.e., my real mother; or uma ondizalayo-i.e., the mother who bore me. Speaking of my mother, ma is the word used: of your mother, unyoko; of his or her mother, unina. A paternal aunt is addressed as dadebobawo-i.e., sister of my father. Mnakwetu is the word used by females in addressing a brother, half-brother, or male cousin. Males, when addressing any of these relations older than themselves, use the word mkuluwa; and when addressing one younger than themselves say mninawe. Dade is used in addressing a sister, a half-sister, or a female cousin. Females, when speaking to any of these relations younger than themselves, usually say msakwetu. Mtakama is an endearing form of expression, meaning child of my mother. Bawomkula is the address of a grandfather. Makulu is grandmother. Mtshana is the son of a sister.

The Runaway Children; or, The Wonderful Feather

There are three or four versions of this story, but all agree in the main points. In one, it is the grandmother of the children who is the cannibal, in another, it is their mother, and in a third it is the husband of their aunt. One version makes Magoda escape with the children, and introduces a great deal of obscenity. The parts referring to the bird and the manner of the children's delivery are the same in all. So also is the episode of the broken pot, but the conversation between the two girls differs in some respects.

When a Kaffir woman is married, her husband's parents give her a new name, by which she is known to his family ever after. Upon the birth of her first child, whether son or daughter, she is frequently called by every one else after the name given to the child, "the mother of so-and-so."

The ntengu is rather larger than a swallow, and is of a bright bluish-black colour. It may often be seen on the backs of cattle, seeking for insects on which it feeds.

The Story of the Girl and the Mbulu

The mbulu is a fabulous creature, firmly believed in by little folks. It can assume the human form, but cannot part with its tail. One of its peculiarities is that it never speaks the truth wben it is possible to tell a falsehood.

The Story of Long Snake

In this story the girls are represented as taking fermented milk to the man. This is not in accordance with ordinary Kaffir usage, which prohibits females from serving out milk. But Long Snake, though a man, has been bewitched and obliged to assume the appearance of a serpent, retaining however the faculties of a human being.

Kaffir women grind, or rather bruise, millet by putting it on a flat stone, before which the worker kneels, and crushing it with a small round stone hold in the hands. When several are working near each other of an evening, they usually lighten their labours by a rude chant. The bruised substance is mixed with water, and formed into small loaves of very insipid bread.

The Story of Kenkebe

In the above story Kenkebe is represented as the personification of selfish greed. In this character his name has passed into a common proverb-

Sibayeni sonke, Kenkebe.
We are all bridegrooms, Kenkebe

This saying is used to any one who does not readily share food with others. It means, we are all entitled to a portion, you greedy one. A Kaffir, when eating, commonly shares his food with any others who may be present at the time.

The Story of Lion and Little Jackal

This story is very likely of Hottentot origin. It is generally told by the Kaffirs, but I have observed that it is a special favourite in places only where there is a very strong tinge of Hottentot blood.

It is capable of indefinite extension by the narrator, but the tricks of Little Jackal are always very silly ones. The above are among the best of them.

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

The Orphan Girl and Other Stories: West African Folk Tales by Buchi Offodile

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


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
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