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 Simbukumbukwana, The

THERE was a man whose wife had no children, so that he was much dissatisfied. At last he went to a wise woman (Igqirakazi) and asked her to help him in this matter. She said: "You must bring me a fat calf that I may get its tallow to use with my medicine" (or charms-the Kaffir word is -Imifizi). The man went home and selected a calf without horns or tail, which he took to the wise woman. She said: "Your wife will have a son who will have no arms and no legs, as this calf has no horns and no tail." She told him, further, that he was not to inform any one of this.

               The man returned to his home and told his friends what was to happen. Not long after this his wife bore a child, but it was a daughter and had arms and legs. The man would not own that child, he said it was not his. He beat his wife, and commanded her to take the child away and leave it to perish. Then he went to the wise woman, and told her what had taken place. The wise woman said: "It was because you did not obey my command about keeping this matter to yourself, but your wife will yet have a son without arms and without legs."

               It was so. His wife bore another child, which was a boy without arms and without legs, therefore he was called Simbukumbukwana. He began to speak on the day of his birth. During this time the girl that was first born was growing tip in the valley where her mother left her; she lived in a hole in an antheap, and ate honey, and"nongwes," and gum.

               One day the mother of Simbukumbukwana went to work in her garden, and left the boy at home with the door fastened. While she was away the girl came; she stood at a distance and said: "Where are the people?"

               There came a voice from inside which said: "Here am I."

               She said: "Who are you?

               The voice replied: "I am Simbukumbukwana."

               She said: "Open for me."

               He answered: "How can I open? I have no legs and no arms."

               She said: "My mother's Simbukumbukwana, have legs and arms" (Simbukumbukwana sikama, yiba nemilenze nemikono).

               Then legs and arms came on the boy, and he arose and opened for his sister. She went in and swept the floor; then she took millet and ground it and made bread. She told her brother when his parents asked him who did these things to say that he did them himself, and if they should ask him to do them again to reply,"I have done it already." Then she said: "My mother's Simbukumbukwana, sink legs and sink arms" (Simbukumbukwana sikama, tshona milenze tshona mikono). Then his legs and arms shrunk up, and his sister went away.

               After a time his father and his mother came home; they went in and saw the clean floor and bread ready for eating. They were surprised, and said to Simbukumbukwana,"Who did this?"

               He replied: "I did."

               They said: "Do so again that we may see you.

               He answered: "I have done it already."

               The next day the woman went again to work in her garden, but the man hid himself to watch what would happen. After a time came the sister of Simbukumbukwana and said: 'Where are the people?" (Exactly the same conversation as before.) She went in and began to smear the floor; water was wanting, so she sent Simbukumbukwana to the river for some. His joy in walking was great, so that he did not stop at the river, but put the pot down there and continued to go forward. The girl thought he ought not to be so long absent, for the river was close by, so she went to look for him. She saw him walking up a hill far away, and she called to him to return. He would not. Then she sang, Simbukumbukwana sikama, tshona milenze, tshona mikono, and immediately his legs shrank up. Then she was going away, but her father came out and caught her; he kissed her, and said she must remain with him.

               Her mother was coming home, when she saw something moving on the hillside. She went to see what it was, and found her son. She said: "How did you come here?"

               He replied: "I came by myself."

               She said: "Let me see you go further."

               He answered: "I have done it already."

               Then she put him on her back and went home. She found her daughter there, and her husband much pleased. The girl said: Simbukumbukwana sikama, yiba nemilenze nemikono, and legs and arms came on him.

               One day his sister and some other girls went to get red clay, and he followed them. When they looked behind they saw him, and his sister got angry. She said to him: "What do you want here?"

               He replied: "I am going for red clay for my mother."

               His sister compelled him to sit down; but as soon as they went on, he followed; then his sister beat him, and left him in the path. After that there was a heavy storm of rain, but none fell where the little boy was. When the rain was over, the other girls said to the one who had beaten her brother: "Let us go and look after the little boy." They went and saw he was quite dry. He called to his sister: "You have beaten me," but she asked him to forgive her.

               Then he said: "I want my father's house to be here," and immediately it came.

               He said: "I want the fire of my father to be here," and there was a fire.

               He said to them: "Now go in; although you have beaten me, there is a house and fire for you."

               He said afterwards: "I want the cattle of my father to be here," and at once they were all there.

               That was a nice place, so they remained there ever after.


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.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Simbukumbukwana, 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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