Kaffir Folk-Lore [Xhosa] | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications. Kaffir has acquired a negative connotation but is unfortunately the title of this book. The Kaffir referenced in the book in modern times is best known as Xhosa.

Story of Five Heads, The

THERE was once a man living in a certain place, who had two daughters big enough to be married.

               One day the man went over the river to another village, which was the residence of a great chief The people asked him to tell them the news. He replied, that there was no news in the place that he came from. Then the man inquired about the news of their place. They said the news of their place was that the chief wanted a wife.

               The man went home and said to his two daughters: "Which of you wishes to be the wife of a chief?"

               The eldest replied: "I wish to be the wife of a chief, my father." The name of that girl was Mpunzikazi.

               The man said: "At that village which I visited, the chief wishes for a wife; you, my daughter, shall go."

               The man called all his friends, and assembled a large company to go with his daughter to the village of the chief. But the girl would not consent that those people should go with her.

               She said: "I will go alone to be the wife of the chief."

               Her father replied: "How can you, my daughter, say such a thing? Is it not so that when a girl goes to present herself to her husband she should be accompanied by others? Be not foolish, my dauahter."

               The girl still said: "I will go alone to be the wife of the chief."

               Then the man allowed his daughter to do as she chose. She went alone, no bridal party accompanying her, to present herself at the village of the chief who wanted a wife.

               As Mpunzikazi was in the path, she met a mouse.

               The mouse said: "Shall I show you the way?"

               The girl replied: "Just get away from before my eyes."

               The mouse answered: "If you do like this, you will not succeed."

               Then she met a frog.

               The frog said: "Shall I show you the way?"

               Mpunzikazi replied: "You are not worthy to speak to me, as I am to be the wife of a chief."

               The frog said: "Go on then; you will see afterwards what will happen."

               When the girl got tired, she sat down under a tree to rest. A boy who was herding goats in that place came to her, he being very hungry.

               The boy said: "Where are you going to, my eldest sister?"

               Mpunzikazi replied in an angry voice: "Who are you that you should speak to me? just get away from before me."

               The boy said: "I am very hungry; will you not give me of your food?"

               She answered"Get away quickly."

               The boy said: "You will not return if you do this."

               She went on her way again, and met with an old woman sitting by a big stone.

               The old woman said: "I will give you advice. You will meet with trees that will laugh at you: you must not laugh in return. You will see a bag of thick milk: you must not eat of it. You will meet a man whose head is under his arm: you must not take water from him."

               Mpunzikazi answered: "You ugly thing! who are you that you should advise me?"

               The old woman continued in saying those words.

               The girl went on. She came to a place where were many trees. The trees laughed at her, and she laughed at them in return. She saw a bag of thick milk, and she ate of it. She met a man carrying his head under his arm, and she took water to drink from him.

               She came to the river of the village of the chief. She saw a girl there dipping water from the river. The girl said: "Where are you going to, my sister?"

               Mpunzikazi replied: "Who are you that you should callme sister? I am going to be the wife of a chief."

               The girl drawing water was the sister of the chief. She said: "Wait, I will give you advice. Do not enter the village by this side."

               Mpunzikazi did not stand to listen, but just went on.

               She reached the village of the chief. The people asked her where she came from and what she wanted.

               She answered: "I have come to be the wife of the chief."

               They said: "Who ever saw a girl go without a retinue to be a bride?"

               They said also: "The chief is not at home; you must prepare food for him, that when he comes in the evening he may eat."

               They gave her millet to grind. She ground it very coarse, and made bread that was not nice to eat.

               In the evening she heard the sound of a great wind. That wind was the coming of the chief. He was a big snake with five heads and large eyes. Mpunzikazi was very much frightened when she saw him. He sat down before the door and told her to bring his food. She brought the bread which she had made. Makanda Mahlanu (Five Heads) was not satisfied with that bread. He said: "You shall not be my wife," and he struck her with his tail and killed her.

               Afterwards the sister of Mpunzikazi said to her father: "I also wish to be the wife of a chief."

               Her father replied: "It is well, my daughter; it is right that you should wish to be a bride."

               The man called all his friends, and a great retinue prepared to accompany the bride. The name of the girl was Mpunzanyana.

               In the way they met a mouse.

               The mouse said: "Shall I show you the road?"

               Mpunzanyana replied: "If you will show me the way I shall be glad."

               Then the mouse pointed out the way.

               She came into a valley, where she saw an old woman standing by a tree.

               The old woman said to her: "You will come to a place where two paths branch off. You must take the little one, because if you take the big one you will not be fortunate."

               Mpunzanyana replied: "I will take the little path, my mother." She went on.

               Afterwards she met a cony.

               The cony said: "The village of the chief is close by. You will meet a by the river: you must speak nicely to her. They will give you millet to grind: you must grind it well. When you see your husband, you must not be afraid."

               She said: "I will do as you say, cony."

               In the river she met the chief's sister carrying water.

               The chief's sister said: "Where are you going to?"

               Mpunzanyana replied: "This is the end of my journey."

               The chief's sister said: "What is the object of your coming to this place?"

               Mpunzanyana replied: "I am with a bridal party."

               The chiers, sister said: "That is right, but will you not be afraid when you see your husband?"

               Mpunzanyana answered: "I will not be afraid."

               The chief's sister pointed out the hut in which she should stay. Food was given to the bridal party. The mother of the chief took millet and gave to the bride, saying:,You must prepare food for your husband. He is not here now, but he will come in the evening."

               In the evening she heard a very strong wind, which made the hut shake. The poles fell, but she did not run out. Then she saw the chief Makanda Mahlanu coming. He asked for food. Mpunzanyana took the bread which she had made, and gave it to him. He was very much pleased with that food, and said: "You shall be my wife." He gave her very many ornaments.

               Afterwards Makanda Mahlanu became a man, and Mpunzanyana continued to be the wife he loved best.


 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.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Five Heads, The
Tale Author/Editor: Theal, Georg McCall
Book Title: Kaffir Folk-Lore [Xhosa]
Book Author/Editor: Theal, Georg McCall
Publisher: S. Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowrey
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1886
Country of Origin: South Africa (Xhosa)
Classification: ATU 433B: King Lindorm

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