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 the Girl Who Disregarded the Custom of Ntonjane, The

THERE was once a chief's daughter who had reached the age when it was necessary for her to observe the ntonjane. She was therefore placed in a hut, in which she was to remain during the period of the ceremony. One day her companions persuaded her to go and bathe in a stream near at hand, though this was against the custom of the ntonjane. When they came out of the water, they saw a snake with black blotches, called the Isinyobolokondwana, near their clothes. They were very much afraid, and did not know what to do at first. But by and-by one of them commenced to sing these words:

Bring my mantle!"

               The snake replied:

"Take it,
And pass on."

               The companions of the chief's daughter, one after the other, asked the snake for their mantles in this manner, and obtained permission to take them. Last of all was the chief's daughter. But instead of speaking to the snake respectfully as the others had done, she said mockingly,"Ngcingcingci, ngcingcingci." [1] So the snake became very angry, and bit her, when she immediately became of the same hideous colour as it was. Her companions were so frightened that they left her and ran away home. They put another girl in the hut, and pretended that she was the chief's daughter. The girl, thus left alone, went to a forest close by, and climbed up a tree to hide herself.

               About this time the chief was killing an ox on account of his daughter, and so he sent a young man to the forest to get pieces of wood with which to peg out the skin. The young man was cutting sticks, when he heard some one crying: "Man cutting sticks, tell my father and mother that the sinyobolokondwana bit me." He heard this repeated twice, and, without looking to see what was crying, he ran home and told the chief. Two young men were then sent back with him to see what it was, one of these happening to be the girl's brother. These two were told to hide themselves and listen while the other cut the sticks. They did so, and heard the voice crying as before. Then the brother of the girl knew the voice of his sister, and they all went to the tree where she was, and took her home with them.

               The chief was very much surprised to see his daughter in that state, and was so angry with her companions for taking her to the river, and then for substituting another girl so as to deceive him, that he caused them all to be killed.

               Then he sent some of his men with forty cattle to take his daughter to a distant country, where she was to remain far away from him. They did as they were told, and built huts in that place to live in. After they had been there a long time, they found that the cows which the chief sent with them were giving more milk than they could consume, so they poured what was left in a hole in the ground. To their amazement, the milk rose, and rose, and rose, higher and still higher, till at last it stood up out of the ground like a great overhanging rock. They called the girl to see this wonderful thing that was happening. In her curiosity she went close to the precipice, when it fell down on her, and, as the milk ran over her, all her ugly blotched skin disappeared, and she was again beautiful as at first.

               Soon afterwards a young chief who was passing by saw the girl, and fell in love with her. He thought she was the daughter of one of the men who were there to protect her, but when he made inquiries they told him she was the daughter of their chief. Then he went to her father, and some of the men went also to tell how the milk had cured the girl. The young chief had very many cattle, which he offered to her father. So the old chief agreed to let him marry the girl, and she became his great wife, and was loved by him very dearly.


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.


[1] Words without meaning, but used to express contempt, being merely a repetition of the sound ngci.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of the Girl Who Disregarded the Custom of Ntonjane, 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: unclassified

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