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 Tangalimlibo, The

THERE was once a man who had two wives, one of whom had no children. She grieved much about that, till one day a bird came to her and gave her some little pellets. The bird said she must eat of these always before she partook of food, and then she would bear a child. She was very glad, and offered the bird some millet.

               But the bird said: "No, I do not want millet."

               The woman then offered an isidanga (an ornamental breast-band which women wear), but the bird said it had no use for that. Then she got some very fine gravel and placed before the bird, which it received at her hands.

               After this the woman had a daughter. Her husband knew nothing of what had happened, because he never went to her house. He did not love her at all, for the reason that she bore no children. So she said:

               "I will keep my daughter in the house till my husband comes; he will surely love me when he sees I have such a beautiful child."

               The name given to the girl was Tangalimlibo.

               The man went always to the house of the other wife, and so it happened that Tangalimlibo was grown to be a young woman when her father first saw her. He was very much pleased, and said:

               "My dear wife, you should have told me of this before."

               The girl had never been out of the house in the daytime. Only in the night-time she had gone out, when people could not see her.

               The man said to his wife:

               "You must make much beer, and invite many people to come and rejoice with me over this that has happened."

               The woman did so. There was a big tree in front of the kraal, and the mats were spread under it. It was a fine sunny day, and very many men came. Among them was the son of a certain chief, who fell in love with Tangalimlibo as soon as he saw her.

               When the young chief went home he sent a message to the father of the girl that he must send her to him to be married. The man told all his friends about that. He told them also to be ready at a certain time to conduct his daughter to the chief. So they came and took her, and the marriage feast was very great. The oxen were many which were killed that day. Tangalimlibo had a large and beautiful ox given to her by her father. That ox. was called by her own name. She took off a piece of her clothing and gave it to the ox, which ate it.

               After she had been married some time, this woman had a son. She was loved very much by her husband, because she was pretty and industrious; only this thing was observed of her, that she never went out in the daytime. Therefore she received the name of Sihamba Ngenyanga (the walker by moonlight).

               One day her husband went to a distant place to hunt with other men. There were left at his home with this woman only her father-in-law, her mother-in-law, and a girl who nursed the little child.

               The father-in-law said:

               "Why does she not work during the day?

               He pretended to become thirsty, and sent the girl to Tangalimlibo to ask for water, saying:

               "I die with thirst."

               The woman sent water to her father-in-law, but he threw it on the ground, saying:

               "It is water from the river I desire."

               She said:

               "I never go to the river in the daytime."

               He continued to ask, saying again

               "I die with thirst."

               Then she took a milk-basket and a calabash ladle, and went weeping to the river. She dipped the ladle in the water, and it was drawn out of her hand. She dipped the milk-basket in the water, and it was drawn away from her. Then she tried to take some water in her mantle, and she was drawn under the surface. After a little time the girl was sent to look for her, but she came back, saying:

               "I found her not who is accustomed to draw water only in the night."

               Her father-in-law drove oxen quickly to the river. He took the big ox that was called by her name and killed it. He put all the flesh and everything else that was of that ox into the river, saying:

               "Let this be instead of my child."

               A voice was heard saying:

               "Go to my father and my mother and say to them that I am taken by the river."

               That evening the little child of Tangalimlibo, was crying very bitterly. Its father was not yet home. Its grandmother tried by every means to keep it from crying, but in vain. Then she gave it to the nurse, who fastened it on her back. Still the child continued to cry. In the middle of the night the nurse went down to the river with the child, singing this song:

"It is crying, it is crying,
The child of Sihamba Ngenyanga;
It is crying, it will not be pacified."

               Then the mother of the child came out of the river, and wailed this song:

"It is crying, it is crying,
The child of the walker by moonlight.
It was done intentionally by people whose names are unmentionable.
They sent her for water during the day.
She tried to dip with the milk-basket, and then it sank.
Tried to dip with the ladle, and then it sank.
Tried to dip with the mantle, and then it sank."

               With the name as a chorus at the end of each line.

               Then she took her child and put it to her breast to suck.

               When the child had finished sucking, she gave it back to the nurse, telling her to take it home. She commanded the nurse never to say to any one that she came out of the water, and told her that when people asked where the child got food she must say she gave it berries to eat.

               Thit continued for some days. Every night the nurse took the child to the river, when its mother came out and suckled it. She always looked round to see that no one was present, and always put the same command on the girl.

               After a time the father of the child returned from hunting. They told him of Tangalimlibo's going to the river and not returning. Then the nurse brought the child to him. He inquired what it ate, and was told that berries were given to it.

               He said: "That cannot be so; go and get some berries, and let me see my child eat them."

               The girl went and brought some berries, but they were not eaten by the child. Then the father of the child beat the girl until she told the truth. She said she went at niaht to the river, when the mother came out and caressed her child and gave it of her milk.

               Then they made a plan that the husband of Tangalimlibo should hide himself in the reeds and try and catch his wife when she came out of the water. He took the skin of an ox and cut it into a long riem, one end of which he fastened round his waist. The other end he gave to the men of that village, telling them to hold it fast and to pull hard when they felt it being drawn from them.

               At night the man hid himself in the reeds. Tangalimlibo came out of the water and looked all round while she was singing her song. She asked the girl if any one was there, and when the girl replied that there was no one she took her child. Then her husband sprang upon her, clasping her very tight. She tried to pull back, but the men at the village drew upon the riem. She was drawn away, but the river followed her, and its water turned into blood. When it came close to the village, the men who were pulling at the riern saw it, and became frightened. They let the riem. go, when the river at once went back, taking Tangalimlibo with it.

               After that her husband was told of the voice which came from the water, saying:

               "Go to my father and my mother and tell them I am taken by the river."

               He called his racing ox, and said:

               "Will you, my ox, take this message to the father and mother of Tangalimlibo?"

               The ox only bellowed.

               He called his dog and said:

               "Will you, my dog, take this message to the father and mother of Tangalimlibo?"

               The dog only barked.

               Last of all he called the cock.

               He said: "Will you, my cock, take this message to the father and mother of Tangalimlibo?"

               The cock answered: "I will do so, my master."

               He said: "Let me hear what you will say."

               The cock answered: "I will sing--

"I am a cock that ought not to be killed-Cock-a-doodledoo!
I have come to intimate about Tangalimlibo-Cock-adoodle-doo!
Tangalimlibo is dead-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
She dipped water for a person that cannot be named-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
It was tried to send an ox; it bellowed-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
It was tried to send a dog; it barked-Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

               The chief said: "That is good, my cock, go now."

               As the cock was going on his way, some boys who were tending calves saw him.

               One of them said to the others: "Come here, come here, boys; there is a cock for us to kill."

               Then the cock stood up, and sang his song.

               The boys said: "Sing again, we did not hear you plainly."

               So he sang again:

"I am a cock that ought not to be killed-Cock-a-doodledoo!
I have come to intimate about Tangalimlibo-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
Tangalimlibo is dead-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
She dipped water for a person that cannot be named-Cock-a-doodle-doo!
It was tried to send an ox; it bellowed- Cock-a-doodle-doo!
It was tried to send a dog; it barked--Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

               Then the boys let him go on his way.

               He travelled far from that place and came to a village, where the men were sitting in the kraal. He flew up on the back of the kraal to rest himself, and the men saw him.

               They said: "Where does this cock come from? We thought all the cocks here were killed. Make haste, boys, and kill him."

               The cock began to sing his song.

               Then the men said: "Wait, boys, we wish to hear what he says."

               They said to him: "Begin again, we did not hear you."

               The cock said: "Give me some food, for I am very hungry."

               The men sent a boy for some millet, and gave it to him. When he had eaten, he sang his song.

               The men said: "Let him go;" and he went on his way.

               Then he came to the village of the father of Tangalimlibo, to the house of those he was seeking. He told the message he was. sent to carry. The mother of Tangalimlibo was a woman skilful in the use of medicines.

               She said to her husband: "Get a fat ox to go with us."

               They arrived at the river, and killed the ox.

               Then that woman worked with her medicines while they put the meat in the water. There was a great shaking and a rising up of the river, and Tangalimlibo came out. There was great joy among those people when they took her home to her husband.


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.

               Among 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.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Tangalimlibo, 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 403: The Black and the White Bride

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