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 Hlakanyana, The

ONCE upon a time there was a village with many women in it. All the women had children at the same time except the wife of the chief. The children grew, and again all the women gave birth to others. Only the wife of the chief had no child. Then the people said: "Let us kill an ox, perhaps the wife of the chief will then bear a child."

               While they were killing the ox, the woman heard a voice saying: "Bear me, mother, before the meat of my father is all finished."

               The woman did not pay any attention to that, thinking it was a ringing, in her ears. The voice said again: "Bear me, mother, before the meat of my father is all finished."

               The woman took a small piece of wood and cleaned her ears. She heard that voice again. Then she became excited. She said: "There is something in my ears; I would like to know what it is. I have just now cleaned my ears."

               The voice said again: "Make haste and bear me, mother, before the meat of my father is all finished."

               The woman said: "What is this? there was never a child that could speak before it was born."

               The voice said again: "Bear me, mother, as all my father's cattle are being finished, and I have not yet eaten anything of them." Then the woman gave birth to that child.

               When she saw that to which she had given birth, she was very much astonished. It was a boy, but in size very little, and with a face that looked like that of an old person.

               He said to his mother: "Mother, give me a skin robe." His mother gave him a robe. Then he went at once to the kraal where the ox was being killed.

               He asked for some meat, saying: "Father, father, give me a piece of meat."

               The chief was astonished to hear this child calling him father. He said: "Oh, men, what thing is this that calls me father?" So he continued with the skinning, of the ox. But Hlakanyana continued also in asking meat from him. The chief became very angry, and pushed him, and said Get away from this place."

               Hlakanyana answered: "I am your child, give me meat."

               The chief took a little stick, and said: "If you trouble me again, I will strike you with this."

               Hlakanyana replied: "Give me meat first, and I will go away;" but the chief would not answer, because he was very angry.

               Hlakanyana continued asking. Then the chief threw him outside the kraal, and went on with his work. After a little time, the child returned, still asking.

               So the chief said to the men that were with him: "What strange thing is this?"

               The men replied: "We don't know him at all."

               The chief asked of them also advice, saying: "What shall I do?"

               The men replied: "Give him a piece of meat."

               So the chief cut off a piece of meat and gave it to him. Hlakanyana ran to his mother and gave the meat to her to be cooked.

               Then he returned to his father, and said again: "Father, give me some meat."

               The chief just took him and trampled upon him, and threw him outside of the kraal, thinking that he was dead.

               But he rose again and returned to his father, still saying: "Father, give me some meat."

               Then the chief thought to get rid of him by giving him meat again. The chief gave him a piece of liver. Hlakanyana threw it away. Fat was then given to him. He put it down on one side. Flesh was then given to him, and a bone with much marrow in it.

               Hlakanyana said: "I am a man to-day." He said This is the beginning of my father's cattle."

               At this time the men were saying to each other: "Who will carry the meat to our huts?"

               Hlakanyana answered: "I will do it."

               They said: "How can such a thing as you are carry meat?"

               Hlakanyana replied: "I am stronger than you; just see if you can lift this piece of meat."

               The men tried, but could not lift it. Then Hlakanyana took the piece of meat and carried it out of the kraal. The men said That will do now, carry our meat for us."

               Hlakanyana took the meat and carried it to the house of his. mother. He took blood and put it on the eating mats at the houses of the men. The men went to their houses, and said: "Where is our meat?" They called Hlakanyana, and asked him what he had done with the meat.

               He replied: "Surely I put it here where the blood is. It must have been taken by the dogs. Surely the dogs have eaten it."

               Then those men beat the women and children because they did not watch that the dogs did not take the meat. As for Hlakanyana, he only delighted in this trick of his. He was more cunning than any of the old men.

               Hlakanyana said to his mother, that she must put the meat in the pot to cook, but that it must not be eaten before the next morning It was done. In the night this cunning little fellow rose and went to the pot. His mother heard something at the pot, and struck with a stick. Hlakanyana cried like a dog. His mother said: "Surely a dog is eating the meat." Hlakanyana returned afterwards, and left nothing but bones in the pot. In the morning he asked his mother for meat. His mother went to the pot, and found nothing but bones. The cunning little fellow pretended to be astonished.

               He said: "Where is the meat, mother?

               His mother replied: "It has been eaten by a dog."

               Hlakanyana said: "As that is so, give me the bones, for you who are the wife of the chief will not eat from the same pot with a dog."

               His mother gave him the bones.

               Hlakanyana went to sleep in the same house with the boys. The boys were unwilling to let him sleep with them. They laughed at him.

               They said: "Who are you? You are just a child of a few days."

               Hlakanyana answered I am older than you.

               He slept there that night. When the boys were asleep, he got up and went to the cattle kraal. He killed two cows and ate all their insides. He took blood and smeared it on one of the boys who was sleeping. In the morning the men found those two dead cows.

               They said: "Who has done this thing?"

               They found the boy with blood upon him, and killed him, because they thought he was the robber.

               Hlakanyana said within himself: "I told them that I was older than they are; to-day it is seen who is a child and who is a man."

               Another day the father of Hlakanyana killed an ox. The head was put in a pot to be cooked. Then Hlakanyana considered in his mind how he could get that meat. So he drove all the cattle of the village into a forest, a very thick forest, and tied them by their tails to the trees. After that he cut his arms, and legs, and breast, with a sharp stone, and stood on a hill, and cried out with a loud voice: "The enemy has taken our cattle; the cattle are being driven away. Come up, come up; there is an army going away with the cattle."

               The men ran quickly to him.

               He said to them: "Why are you eating meat while the enemy is going away with the cattle?

               "I was fighting with them; just look at my body."

               They saw he was covered with blood, and they believed it was as he said. So the men took their assagais and ran after the cattle, but they took the wrong way. Only one old man and Hlakanyana were left behind.

               Then Hlakanyana said to the old man: "I am very tired with fighting; just go to the river, grandfather, and get some water."

               The old man went; and as soon as he was alone, Hlakanyana ate the meat which was in the pot. When the old man returned with the water he was very tired, for the river was far for an old man to go to, therefore he fell asleep. When he was sleeping, Hlakanyana took a bone and put it beside the old man. He also took some fat and put it on the mouth of the old man. Then he ran to the forest and loosened the cattle that were tied by the tails.

               At this, time the men were returning from seeking the enemy. Hlakanyana was coming also from the other side with the cattle.

               He shouted: "I have conquered the enemy." He also said: "The meat must be eaten now."

               When they opened the pot they found no meat. They found only dung, for Hlakanyana had filled the pot with dung.

               Then the men said: "Who has done this?

               Hlakanyana answered: "It must be the old man who is sleeping there."

               They looked, and saw the bone by the side of the old man, and the fat on his mouth. Then they said: "This is the thief." They were intending to kill the old man because he had stolen the meat of the chief.

               When the children saw that the old man was to be killed, they said that he did not eat the meat of the chief.

               The men said: "We saw fat on his mouth and a bone beside him."

               The children replied: "He did not do it."

               The men said: "Tell us who did it."

               The children answered: "Hlakanyana ate the meat and put dung in the pot. We were concealed, and we saw him do it."

               Hlakanyana denied. He said: "Let me go and ask the women; perhaps they saw who ate the meat of the chief."

               The men sent a young man with him to the women; but when they were a short distance away, Hlakanyana escaped.

               The chief sent an army after him. The army pursued, and saw Hlakanyana sitting by a bush. They ran to catch him. When they came to the bush, only an old woman was sitting there.

               They said to her: "Where is Hlakanyana?"

               The old woman replied: "He just went across that river. See, you must make haste to follow him, for the river is rising."

               The army passed over the river quickly. Then that old woman turned into Hlakanyana again. He said in himself: "I will now go on a journey, for I am wiser than the councillors of my father, I being older than they."

               The little cunning fellow went to a village, where he saw an old woman sitting beside her house.

               He said to her: "Would you like to be made young, grandmother?"

               The old woman replied: "Yes, my grandchild; if you could make me young, I would be very glad."

               Hlakanyana said: "Take that pot, grandmother, and go for some water."

               The old woman replied: "I cannot walk."

               Hlakanyana said: "Just try, grandmother; the river is close by, and perhaps you will be able to reach it."

               The old woman limped along and got the water.

               Then Hlakanyana took a large pot and set it on the fire, and poured the water into it.

               He said to the old woman: "You must cook me a little first, and then I will cook you a little."

               The old woman agreed to that. Hlakanyana was the first to be put in the pot. When the water began to get hot, he said: "Take me out, grandmother; I am in long enough."

               The old woman took him out, and went in the pot for her turn. Soon she said: "Take me out now, my grandchild; I am in long enough."

               Hlakanyana replied Not yet, grandmother; it is not yet time."

               So the old woman died in the pot.

               Hlakanyana took all the bones of the old woman and threw them away. He left only the toes and the fingers. Then he took the clothing of the old woman and put it on. The two sons of this old woman came from hunting.

               They went into the hut, and said Whose meat is this in the pot?"

               Hlakanyana was lying down. He said in a voice like that of their mother: "It is yours, my sons.

               While they were eating, the younger one said: "Look at this, it is like the toe of mother."

               The elder one said: "How can you say such a thing? Did not mother give us this meat to eat?"

               Again the younger one said: "Look at this, it is like the finger of mother."

               Hlakanyana said: "You are speaking evil of me, my son."

               Hlakanyana said in himself: "I shall be discovered; it is time for me to flee." So he slipped quietly out of the house and went on his way. When he got a little way off, he called out: "You are eating your mother. Did any one ever see people eating their mother before?"

               The two young men took their assagais and ran after him with their dogs. They came to the river; it was full.

               The cunning fellow changed himself into a little round stone. One of the young men picked up this stone, saying: "If I could see him, I would just throw this stone at him." The young man threw the stone over the river, and it turned into Hlakanyana again. He just laughed at those young men.

               Hlakanyana went on his way. He was singing this song:-

Ndahlangana Nonothloya.
Wapekwa wada wavutwa.

I met with Nonothloya.
We cooked each other, 
I was half cooked
She was well cooked.

               Hlakanyana met a boy tending some goats. The boy had a digging stick with him.

               Hlakanyana proposed that they should pursue after birds, and the boy agreed. They pursued birds the whole day.

               In the evening, when the sun set, Hlakanyana said: "It is time now to roast our birds."

               The place was on the bank of a river.

               Hlakanyana said: "We must go under the water and see who will come out last."

               They went under the water, and Hlakanyana came out last.

               The cunning fellow said: "Let us try again."

               The boy agreed to that. They went under the water. Hlakanyana came out quickly and ate all the birds. He left the heads only. Then he went under the water again. The boy came out while he was still under the water.

               When Hlakanyana came out he said: "Let us go now and eat our birds."

               They found all the birds eaten.

               Hlakanyana said: "You have eaten them, because you came out of the water first, and you have left me the heads only."

               The boy denied having done so, but Hlakanyana said: "You must pay for my birds with that digging-stick."

               The boy gave the digging-stick, and Hlakanyana went on his way.

               He saw some people making pots of clay. He said to them: "Why do you not ask me to lend you this digging-stick, instead of digging with your hands

               They said: "Lend it to us."

               Hlakanyana lent them the digging-stick. Just the first time they stuck it in the clay it broke.

               He said: "You have broken my digging stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

               They gave him a pot.

               Hlakanyana carried the pot till he came to some boys who were herding goats. He said to them: "You foolish boys, you only suck the goats, you don't milk them in any vessel; why don't you ask me to lend you this pot?

               The boys said: "Lend it to us."

               Hlakanyana lent them the pot. While the boys were milking, the pot broke. Hlakanyana said: "You have broken my pot, the pot that I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

               The boys gave him a goat.

               Hlakanyana came to the keepers of calves.

               He said to them: "You foolish fellows, you only sit here and eat nothing. Why don't you ask me to let you suck this goat?"

               The keepers of calves said: "Allow us to suck this goat."

               Hlakanyana gave the goat into their hands. While they were sucking, the goat died.

               Hlakanyana said: "You have killed my goat, the goat that I received from the boys that were tending goats, the boys that broke my pot, the potthat I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

               They gave him a calf.

               Hlakanyana came to the keepers of cows.

               He said to them: "You only suck the cows without letting the calf suck first. Why don't you ask me to lend you this calf, that the cows may be induced to give their milk freely?"

               They said: "Lend us the calf."

               Hlakanyana permitted them to take the calf. While the calf was in their hands it died.

               Hlakanyana said: "You have killed my calf, the calf that I received from the keepers of calves, the keepers of calves that killed my,oat, the goat that I received from the boys that were tending goats, the boys that broke my pot, the pot that I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

               They gave him a cow.

               Hlakanyana continued on his journey. He saw a young man going the same way.

               He said: "Let us be companions and travel together."

               The young, man agreed to that. They came to a forest.

               Hlakanyana said: "This is the place for picking up kerries."

               They picked up kerries there.

               Then they reached another place, and Hlakanyana said: "This is the place for throwing away kerries."

               They threw the kerries away.

               Again they came to another place, and Hlakanyana said: "This is the place for throwing away spoons."

               The companion of Hlakanyana threw his spoon away, but the cunning little fellow only pretended to throw his away. In fact, he concealed his spoon. They went on.

               They came to another place, and Hlakanyana said: "This is the place for throwing knives away."

               It happened again as with the spoons. Hlakanyana concealed his knife, when his companion threw his away.

               They came to a certain place, and Hlakanyana said This is the place for throwing away izilanda (awls used to make holes in skins when they are sewed together, and also for taking thorns out of the bare feet and legs of pedestrians).

               His companion threw his isilanda away, but Hlakanyana kept his. They went on and reached a place where they had to walk on thorns. Afterwards they looked at their feet, and saw many thorns in them.

               Hlakanyana said: "Let us sit down and take out the thorns."

               His companion replied I cannot do so, because I have no isilanda."

               Then Hlakanyana took the thorns out of his feet, and the other was obliged to walk lame. They came to a village.

               The people said to them: "Tell us the news."

               Hlakanyana replied: "just give us something to eat first; look at our stomachs and behold the pinchings of hunger."

               The people of that village brought meat.

               Hlakanyana said to his companion: "Now let us eat."

               The companion of Hlakanyana answered: "I have no knife."

               Hlakanyana said: "You are just a child; I shall not lend you my knife.'

               The people of that village brought millet and put before them.

               Hlakanyana said to his companion: "Why do you not eat?"

               He answered: "I have no spoon."

               Hlakanyana said: "You are just a child; I shall not lend you my spoon."

               So Hlakanyana had all the meat and the millet to himself.

               Hlakanyana met a girl herding some goats.

               He said: "Where are the boys of your village, that the goats are herded by a girl?"

               The girl answered: "There are no boys in he village."

               He went to the father of the girl and said: "You must give me your daughter to be my concubine, and I will herd the goats."

               The father of the girl agreed to that. Then Hlakanyana went with the goats, and every day he killed one and ate it till all were done. He scratched his body with thorns.

               The father of the girl said: "Where are all the goats?"

               Hlakanyana replied: "Can you not see how I have been fighting with the wild dogs? The wild dogs have eaten the goats. As for me, I will stay here no longer."

               So he went on his way.

               As he was going on, he saw a trap for catching birds. There were some birds in it. Hlakanyana took the birds out and ate them. The owners of the trap were cannibals. They saw the footprints of Hlakanyana, and said: "This is a little boy that is stealing our birds." They watched for him. Hlakanyana came again to the trap and saw a bird caught in it. He was just going to take the bird out when the cannibals caught him. They made a big fire and put a pot on for the purpose of cooking him. Hlakanyana saw two oxen. One was white, the other was red.

               He said to the cannibals: "You can take which one of these oxen you like instead of me."

               The cannibals said: "We will take the white one, because it is white inside also."

               Then Hlakanyana went away with the red ox. The cannibals ate the white ox, and then pursued after Hlakanyana. They came up to him by a big stone. He jumped on the stone, and sang this song:-

Ndaharnba ndayakuva indaba  
Zemvula ku mankazana.

I went to hear the news,
About rain from the girls.

               The cannibals began to dance when they heard him sing. Then he ran away, and the stone continued to sing that song.

               As he was journeying, Hlakanyana came to a place where some baboons were feasting. He asked them for some food.

               The baboons replied: "If you will go for some water for us, we will give you food."

               He agreed to that. When he returned with the water, the baboons refused to give him food. Then Hlakanyana shouted loudly and said: "At my village there is a marriage of baboons to-day."

               When the baboons heard that they fled, old and young. So Hlakanyana remained there, and ate all the food.

               As he was going along, he saw a hyena building a house, having cooked some meat.

               Hlakanyana asked the hyena to give him some.

               The hyena said: "No, I will not give you any; it is too little even for me."

               Hlakanyana said: "Will you not have me to assist in building?"

               The hyena replied: "I would have you without delay if you are intending to help me."

               While they were fastening the thatch, Hlakanyana sewed the hair of the tail of the hyena fast. Then he took the pot and sat down.

               The hyena said: "Let that pot alone, Hlakanyana."

               He replied: "I am going to eat now."

               The hyena wanted to come down, but he found his tail was fast, Hlakanyana ate all the meat, and threw the bones at the hyena. The hyena tried to frighten him by saying there were many hyenas coming quickly to devour him. He just answered: "That is false;" and continued eating till the meat was finished. Then he went on his way.

               Hlakanyana came to a river. He saw an iguana that was playing on an ugwali (a simple musical instrument).

               Hlakanyana said to the iguana: "Lend me your ugwali for a little, please."

               The iguana said: "No, you will run away with my ugwali."

               Hlakanyana replied: "How can I run away with a thing that is not mine?"

               So the iguana lent him the ugwali. When Hlakanyana saw that he could play upon the instrument nicely, he ran away with it. The iguana pursued him. Then Hlakanyana changed himself into a rush. The iguana took that rush and threw it across the river, saying: "If I could only see him, I would throw him like this." Then the rush turned to be Hlakanyana again, and he went on his way playing on the ugwali of the iguana.

               Hlakanyana came to the house of a leopardess. He proposed to take care of her children while the leopardess went to hunt animals. The leopardess agreed to that. There were four cubs. After the leopardess had gone to hunt, Hlakanyana took one of the cubs and ate it.

               At the time for giving food, the leopardess came back and said: "Give me my children that I may suckle them."

               Hlakanyana gave one.

               The mother said: "Give all at once."

               Hlakanyana replied: "It is better that one should drink and then another."

               The leopardess agreed to that. After three had drunk he gave the first one back the second time. Then the leopardess went to hunt again.

               Hlakanyana took another of the cubs and ate it. He also made the door of the house very small so that the mother of the cubs could not come in, and then he made a little hole in the ground at the back so that he could go out. The next day the leopardess came to give her children suck. There were only two left now. Hlakanyana gave them both back the second time. After that the leopardess went away as before.

               Hlakanyana ate another of the cubs, so that only one was left. When the mother came, he gave this one four times. When he gave it the last time the leopardess said: "Why does my child not drink to-day?" It was already full, and did not want to drink more.

               Hlakanyana replied: "I think this one is sick."

               The mother said: "You must take good care of it."

               Hlakanyana promised to do so, but when the leopardess was gone he ate that one also.

               The next day when the leopardess came there was no cub left to give her. She tried to get in the house, but the door was too small. She sat down in front to watch. Then Hlakanyana went out through the hole he had made in the ground behind. The leopardess saw him and ran after him. He went under a big rock, and cried out loudly for help, saying the rock was falling.

               The leopardess said: "What is that you are saying?"

               Hlakanyana replied: "Do you not see that this rock is falling? just hold it up while I get a prop and put under it."

               The leopardess went to hold the rock up, and Hlakanyana did not return. He just ran away from that place.

               Hlakanyana came to the village of the animals. The animals had trees that bore fruit. There was one tree that belonged to the chief of the animals only. This tree was a very good one, bearing much fruit on it. One day when all the animals were assembled, Hlakanyana asked them the narne of the tree of the chief. They did not know the name of that tree. Then Hlakanyana sent a monkey to the chief to ask the name of the tree. The chief told the monkey. As the monkey was returning he struck his foot against a stone and fell down, which caused him to forget the name of the tree.

               In the night when all were sleeping, Hlakanyana went up the tree of the chief add ate all the fruit of it. He took a branch of the tree and fastened it to one of the monkeys. In the morning when the animals awoke and found that the tree of the chief was finished in the night, they asked each other: "What became of the fruit of the chief's tree? What became of the fruit of the tree of the chief?"

               Hlakanyana looked at the monkey with the branch on him, and said: "It is eaten by the monkey, it is eaten by the monkey; look at the branch on him."

               The monkey denied, and said I don't know anythin,g about it. I never ate the fruit of the tree of the chief."

               Hlakanyana said: "Let us make a plan to find out who ate the fruit of the tree of the chief."

               All the animals agreed to this.

               Hlakanyana said: "Let us put a rope froin one rock to another, and let all go over it. He that has eaten the fruit of the tree will fall down from that rope."

               One of the monkeys went over first. The next was Hlakanyana himself. He went over carefully and avoided falling. It came to the turn of that monkey with the branch on. He tried to go, but when he was in the middle he fell down.

               Hlakanyana said: "therefore I have told you that it is this monkey."

               After that he went on his way.

               Hlakanyana came to the house of a jackal. He asked for food, but the jackal said there was none. Then he made a plan.

               He said to the jackal: "You must climb up on the house and cry out with a loud voice, 'We are, going to be fat to-day because Hlakanyana is dead.'"

               The jackal did so. All the animals came running to hear that news. They went inside the house, because the door was open. Then Hlakanyana shut the door, and the animals were caught. After that Hlakanyana killed the animals and ate.

               Hlakanyana returned to the home of his father again. He was told that his sister was gone away for some red clay. When she was returning he shouted: "Let all the black cattle which have white teeth be killed. The daughter of my father is coming who has white teeth."

               The chief said: "What is the matter with you, Hlakanyana?"

               He just repeated the same thing.

               The chief said: "Let a black ox be killed, but you must not break any of its bones, because it belongs to the daughter of a chief."

               So Hlakanyana got fat meat to eat that day.

               Hlakanyana went one day to tend the calves of his father. He met a tortoise.

               He said: "Where are you going to, tortoise?"

               The tortoise answered: "To that big stone."

               Hlakanyana said: "Are you not tired?"

               The tortoise replied: "No, I am not tired."

               Hlakanyana took it and put it on his back. Then he went to the house of his mother.

               His mother said: "What have you got there, my son?"

               Hlakanyana answered: "just take it off my back, mother."

               The tortoise held fast to Hlakanyana, and would not be pulled off. His mother then heated some fat and poured on the tortoise. The tortoise let go quickly, and the fat fell on Hlakanyana and burnt him, so that he died. That is the end of this cunning little fellow.


I have greatly reduced this story in bulk by leaving out endless repetitions of exactly the same trick, but performed upon different individuals or animals. In all other respects it is complete. The word Hlakanyana means the little deceiver.

SurLaLune Note

ATU 37: The Fox as Nursemaid for the Mother Bear

ATU 1530: Holding up a Rock


Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Hlakanyana, 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 37: The Fox as Nursemaid for the Mother Bear

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