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 Runaway Children; or,
The Wonderful Feather

ONCE in a time of famine a woman left her home and went to live in a distant village, where she became a cannibal.

She had one son, whose name was Magoda. She ate all the people in that village, until only herself and Magoda remained. Then she was compelled to hunt animals, but she caught people still when she could. In hunting she learned to be very swift of foot, and could run so fast that nothing she pursued could escape from her.

Her brother, who remained at home when she left, had two daughters, whom he did not treat very kindly. One day he sent them to the river for water, which they were to carry in two pots. These pots were made of clay, and were the nicest and most valuable in the village. One of the girls fell down on a rock and broke the pot she was carrying. Then she did not know what to do, because she was afraid to go back to her father. She sat down and cried, but that did not help, the pot would not be whole again.

Then she said to her sister: "Let us go away to another place, where our father will not be able to find us."

She was the younger and the cleverer of the two, and so she persuaded her sister. They walked away in the opposite direction from their home, and for two days had nothing but gum to eat. Then they saw a fire at a distance, and went to it, where they saw a house. It was the house of their aunt, but they did not know it. They were afraid to go in, but Magoda came out and talked to them. Wlien he heard who they were, he was sorry for them, and told thern their aunt was a cannibal, giving them advice not to stay there. But just then they heard her corning, so they went into Magoda's house and hid themselvesl for he lived in one house and his mother in another.

The woman came and said: I smell something nice; what is it, my son?

Magoda said there was nothing.

She replied: "Surely I smell fat children."

But as she did not go in, they remained concealed that night.

The next morning, Nomagoda [so called because she was the mother of Magoda] went out to hunt, but she did not go far, so the children could not get away. They went into her house, where they saw a person with only one arm, one side, and one leg.

The person said to them: "See, the cannibal has eaten the rest of me; take care of yourselves."

When it was nearly dark, Nomagoda came home again, bringing some animals which she had killed. She smelt that children had been in the house, so she went to her son's house and looked in.

She said to Magoda: "Why do you not give me some? Do I not catch animals for you?"

Then she saw the children, and was very glad. She took them to her house, and told them to sleep. They lay down, but were too frightened to close their eyes. They heard their aunt say,"Axe, be sharp; axe, be sharp;" and to let her know that they were awake, they spoke of vermin biting them.

After a while the cannibal went to sleep, when they crept out, first putting two blocks of wood in their places, and ran away as fast as they could. When Nomagoda awoke, she took the axe and went to kill them, but the axe fell on the blocks of wood.

As soon as it was day, the cannibal pursued the children. They looked behind, and saw clouds of dust which she made as she ran. There was a tall tree just in front of them, so they hastened to climb up it, and sat down among the branches. Nomagoda came to the tree and commenced to cut it down; but when a chip fell out, a bird [Ntengu] sang-

"Ntengu, ntengu,
Chips, return to your places,
Chips, return to your places,
Chips, be fast."

The chip then went back to its place and was fast again. This happened three times; but Nomagoda, who was very angry, caught the bird and swallowed it. Then she put it in her mouth, one of the feathers dropped to the ground. Then she began to chop at the tree again; but as soon as a chip was loose the feather sang-

"Ntengu, ntengu,
Chips, return to your places,
Chips, return to your places,
Chips, be fast."

The chip then stuck fast again. The cannibal chopped till she was tired, but the feather continued to keep the tree from receiving harm. Then she tried to catch the feather, but it flew about too quickly for her, until she sank down exhausted on the ground at the foot of the tree.

The children, up in the branches, could see a long way off; and as they strained their eyes, they observed three dogs as big as calves, and they knew these dogs belonged to their father, who was seeking for them. So they called them by name, and the dogs came running to the tree and ate up the cannibal, who was too tired to make her escape.

Thus the children were delivered, and their father was so glad to get them back again that he forgave them for breaking the pot and running away.

End Notes

These notes originally appeared at the end of the book and also appear on the Notes page of this ebook.

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 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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