Sunday, 03 February 2008

Legends of the Tokoloshe #1:
A monster ate my homework

People from the district of Ohrigstad say they chased a man from their village after finding evidence that he kept a Tokoloshe. The witch then approached a white farmer and suggested that he fire all the black labourers on the estate as he could do their work alone. This the farmer promptly did, but his curiosity was aroused. One night he visited the fields, and found a large number of small creatures tilling the land, with his new employee acting as the supervisor. - Weekly Mail & Guardian, 27 January 1995

This story is told by Lazarus Seitsho, a lecturer who collected the tale while researching witchcraft beliefs in Mpumalanga province.

If it is comical in its absurdity, it also represents a lighter side to the darkness of beliefs in the paranormal. More often, tales of the tokoloshe are replete with sexual violence and fear-filled nights.

“Social workers receive frequent complaints in this region from people who say they were raped by a tokoloshe,” says Seitsho. “When a woman wakes at night with wetness between her legs, she will probably believe that she has been sexually accosted by this supernatural being.”

The implication: it is more about belief in the creature than about its existence. Indeed, if the creature could be proven to exist, it would probably be far more benign than the hideous beliefs that surround it:

“A tokoloshe is believed to have an uncanny power called ‘moshoshopansi’: to make it go under. It can extend its penis to any length and send it underground into the genitals of a sleeping or unsuspecting woman… many of my informers tell me that divorce… is caused by tokoloshes raping wives of migrant labourers. When a woman loses interest in her husband, it is often interpreted as being the result of rape by the tokoloshe.”

In that brief observation lurks a world of meaning. It speaks of scapegoats, refusal to face reality, inability to accept responsibility when it all goes wrong.

Just two weeks ago the lurid tabloid newspaper, Daily Sun, carried yet another story that contained every one of these ingredients, under the headline:

There’s a tokoloshe in my tummy!

Angel Makhaba (30) of Solomondale in Limpopo, didn’t complete her BCom Accounting degree at the University of Limpopo because of a tokoloshe which constantly moves from her stomach to her throat.

“I feel like vomiting it but it will not come out. I feel tired, dizzy, and I am like a mad person. It doesn’t give me peace when I concentrate on my books, it takes my memory. I don’t know why I am living,” said Makgaba.

I went to different pastors for prayers, but nothing has changed.

“I am living in fear because a local prophet told me there is somebody who wants to change me into a zombie,” Makgaba said. - Daily Sun, 22 January 2008

Did someone say scapegoat?

* The first part of the above post first appeared in Arthur Goldstuck's current collection of urban legends, The Ghost that Closed Down the Town: The story of the haunting of South Africa (Penguin, 2006). Click here to read the title story.

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Steve Hayes said...

I'd be very interested in making contact with Lazarus Seitsho, or anyone else who is researching witches and witchcraft beliefs in Southern Africa. Can you help?

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