Although he can't be seen, this is what a tokoloshe could possibly look like!

South African

Myths and Legends


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~ The Tokoloshe ~

Tokoloshe or Tikoloshe. From the Xhosa word uthikoloshe.

The tokoloshe is a short, hairy, dwarf-like creature from Bantu folklore. It is a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by swallowing a pebble. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At it’s least harmful a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but it’s power extends to causing illness and even death upon the victim.

The penis of the tokoloshe is so long that it has to be slung over his shoulder. Thus sexually well-endowed, the duties of the tokolosh include making love to its witch mistress. In return, it is rewarded with milk and food. In common with European myths and legends concerning familiars, salt must not be added to food offerings for tokoloshes. The witch keeps the tokoloshe docile by cutting the fringe of hair that hangs over its eyes.

In South Africa, where many white families have maidservants, the maids would often raise their beds by placing the legs of their beds on bricks. It was an almost universal belief, among white people, that this was to keep the occupant of the bed out of reach of the tokoloshe.

The way to get rid of him is to call in the n’anga or witch-doctor who has the power to banish him from the area.



Source of information With thanks.


Look out here comes the Tokoloshe
be sure you don’t annoy him
he’s evil and he’s hard to see
and you never will destroy him

He’s eaten a pebble but you know that he’s there
because strange things are occurring
there’s a rattling in the rafters
and the cat has ceased his purring

The fire’s gone out and a cold wind swirls
and a window is flapping about
then suddenly everything’s quiet
a silence as loud as a shout

You’d best call the n’anga now
he’s the only one who can save you
he’ll exorcise the tokoloshe
before he can enslave you


Poem courtesy of



~ The Legend of Savuri and the Rain Bull ~

  There was drought upon the land. The clouds that carried the rain sailed high above, not seeming to notice the suffering of Africa. No fruits, no fodder and hardly anything to drink.

But then came a day that the rain sniffed at the scents of the earth and he sensed the enticing fragrance of a young woman, Savuri. He looked down on her. Savuri's skin looked like shining wet rock, her hair was as dark as dew-moist berries and the rain desired her. So the rain made himself in the shape of a bull, though he had the thoughts of a man. On the shaft of lightning, the great Rain Bull came down from the sky and he trod the earth like rippling thunder. He stood by the low hut where the young woman slept, and the place became misty with his breath like cloud heavy with moisture. The sweet smell of rain filled the hut and Savuri woke. She watched as the Rain Bull laid his ears back, lowered his lashing tail and bent his forelegs to kneel before her. She gathered up her kaross, made of the soft skins and covered herself with it, tying it around her body. Savuri could smell the Bull's sweat of desire.

Legend of the Rainbull, featured on a South African stamp

The Rain Bull stamped his hoof and the earth rumbled with thunder. He wanted to take Savuri away, his eyes were dark and clouded. Somewhere, behind the bull's shape and the man's mind, she caught the sweet smell of rain - and Savuri knew that any hope of rain must be welcomed with love, she smiled and climbed up on his back. The Rain Bull trotted away and the sound of his hooves was like rain pattering on dry ground. Across the field he went with her, trotting, trotting, trotting towards the far distant mountains where the rain comes from. As the rain fell lightly on the thirsty earth, life-giving rain that filled up the empty waterholes, Savuri's people admired her. She had not angered the Rain Bull when he was a man, but she had given herself to him and for the hope of rain.


~ Van Hunks and the Devil ~

  As the story goes Jan van Hunks, a Dutch pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil's Peak, South Africa. To escape from his wife's sharp tongue he often walked up the mountain where he settled down to smoke his pipe. One day a mysterious stranger approached him and asked the retired pirate to borrow some tobacco. After a bit of bragging, a smoking contest ensued, with the winner's prize a ship ful of gold. After several days, Van Hunks finally defeated the stranger, who unfortunately turned out to be the devil. Suddenly, thunder rolled, the clouds closed in and Van Hunks disappeared, leaving behind only a scorched patch of ground. Legend has it that the cloud of tobacco smoke they left became the "table-cloth" - the famous white cloud that spills over Table Mountain when the south-easter blows in summer. When that happens, it is said that Van Hunks and the Devil are at it again.  

~ The Flying Dutchman ~

  Captain Hendrik van der Decken had just offloaded his cargo in Cape Town and was anxious to get back to sea again in his ship, the Flying Dutchman. His crew, however, begged to to stay in port, as the weather was turning foul and they were scared to sail in the dangerous Cape waters in such conditions. Van der Decken would not listen and he sailed out of Cape Town straight into a hurricane. For days he fought against the elements, even lashing himself to the wheel, so that he would not be swept overboard. His crew pleaded with him to turn back, but he would not listen. He was like a madman – pitching his small vessel against the mighty storm.

He cursed God, saying that even He could not make him change his mind and swore that he would sail on until he met the ends of the earth. As he said this, the storm seemed to instantly die down and a ghost appeared on the ship. All the crew instantly fell down dead, but van der Decken fired his gun at the figure. His arm immediately withered and became useless. The ship glowed a red colour and disappeared forever into the storm.

The legend says that the Flying Dutchman continues to sail forever, as a ghost ship, trying still to sail around the Cape of Storms.

Over the years many people claim to have seen the Flying Dutchman off our shores, but no sensible captains will take their ship near the ghostly ship, because they believe that something terrible will happen aboard their ship if they do.

~ The Ghosts at the Cape Town Castle ~

  The Lady in Grey is one of the most often seen ghosts in the Castle. She is often seen with her hands covering her face, as though she is weeping. Sightings of her have also been made at Government House and some people say that there was once a passage linking the Castle and Government House. Recently the skeleton of a women was found during excavations – perhaps those of the Lady in Grey – as she hasn’t been seen since those bones were found!

The ghost of Governor Noodt is also thought to haunt the Castle. He was a very strict governor of the Cape and disciplined his soldiers harshly for any wrong-doing. Four soldiers who were caught trying to escape were tried and sentenced to a beating and the deportation to Batavia. Without warning, this sentence was changed to the death sentence by Governor Noodt. Everyone thought that this punishment was far to harsh and very cruel, but van Noodt would not be moved. Just before their execution, the four men were visited by their minister and they prayed together. The following morning, the governor did not attend the execution, rather keeping to his own rooms. As the last man was being led forward to be hanged, he cursed Governor van Noodt and challenged him to appear before God and answer for what he had done. Then he too was hanged. When the officers went to tell Governor van Noodt that his sentences had been carried out, they found him dead – apparently of a heart attack – in his chair, an expression of fear on his face. It is said that his ghost still prowls the Castle at night.

~ The Legend of Hole in the Wall ~

  Near Coffee Bay is a prominent rock formation with a big hole in the middle, which has become a symbol for the Xhosa of a great historical tragedy, the "Great Cattle Killing".

It is a unique structure with a huge detached cliff that has a giant opening carved through its centre by the waves. The local Xhosa call this place "izi Khaleni", which means "place of thunder". At certain seasons and water conditions (high tide) the waves clap is such a fashion that the concussion can be heard throughout the valley.

A young girl called Nongqawuse had seen a messenger from the realm of the ancestors at a waterhole. She told her uncle Mhlakaza about her vision. As he was an important Xhosa priest, his social rank granted a great impact to the prophecy he derived from his niece's vision. He announced that soldiers who were incarnations of the souls of dead Xhosa warriors, would arrive on the 18th of February over the sea, come onto land through the "Hole in the Wall" and defeat the hated British. But, he continued, the Xhosa had to make a sacrifice to help the warriors by destroying all their cereals and killing all their cattle. After the victory, there would be food in abundance for everybody. The Xhosa followed the instructions in his prophecy and killed their whole stock of cattle. The catastrophe took its course. Thousands of Xhosa starved and the British had an easy time conquering the remaining people.

Jonathan Elliott sent me the following article:

Love made that 'hole in the wall', they say
By Brian Msebe

ON the road to the coastal resort of Coffee Bay, there is a turn that leads to the Hole in the Wall, one of the most beautiful spots on the southern African coast.
The creation of the natural phenomenon of the Hole in the Wall has, according to legend, a far more romantic explanation.
Many tales have been told about the impressive arch that was named in 1823 by the crew of the British survey ship, the Barracouta, because of the portal carved through an island rock castle with sheer dolerite walls.
The Portuguese had called the rock Penido das Fontes (rock of fountains), while the rock's Xhosa name is esiKhaleni (the place of sound), a name derived from the waves that continuously crash through the hole.
The hole lies directly in the path of the Mpako River and it is this, rather than the surf, that has created the hole.
Xhosa mythology tells of the water or sea people, semi-deities who resembled humans but with supple wrists, ankles and flipperlike hands and feet.
They were kind people, although sometimes a little mischievous, delighting in teasing mere mortals.
Legend tells of a beautiful girl who lived in a village on the Wild Coast near a great landlocked lagoon.
The girl was so fair that one of the sea people fell in love with her and persuaded her to come and live with him in the sea.
Her people were land people who speared fish in the river and swam in the lagoon where giant milkwood trees, with their dark, shiny leaves and comforting shade crowded the water's edge.
Long ago, they had decided that the sea was cruel and dangerous and had warned the young girl not to go there.
"Beware the sea people. They are born of the salt spray and are as cruel as the sea. They envy us because we rule the land and the sunny pastures," they advised her.
But the elders' words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Not even her angry father, who after discovering the unnatural liaison forbade his daughter from seeing her lover or leaving the village, could deter the young maiden, who found the sea endlessly attractive.
So attracted was she by the beauty of the sea that one night she slipped away in the dark of the night and met with her sea lover, who after hearing of the maiden's father's disapproval of the affair reassured her and asked her to watch and see what he would do to prove his undying love for her.
And so as the sun dipped low beyond the wall of the rock, the young beautiful lady watched with amazement as thin, willowy figures appeared on the top of the rock.
Excited and defiant, she started to run towards the lagoon, followed by the village folk who sensed that something strange was going to happen.
The sea people had brought with them an enormous sea serpent with green, glittering scales and a mighty head.
Using its enormous head, the monstrous creature (fish) rammed a gaping hole in the wall. A great spout of water gushed through with all the force of the tide behind it and on the wave came hundreds of sea people, singing, shouting and waving their arms with joy.
At the front of them all was the man who had come to claim her.
He rode the wave right to her feet, stretched out his arms and she moved to join him.
Then, as the wave retreated, forming and frothing its pleasure, she went with the people of the sea -- back through the hole in the rock wall and the villagers never saw her again.
That is the tale the Xhosa people tell. They say the sea went on eating away at the curved rock wall until it no longer formed a barrier between the sea and the river mouth.
They say on the nights when the tide is high, the sea people can still be heard above the noise of the waves, streaming through the Hole in the Wall in their search for a bride.
So intriguing are tales about the Hole that legend has it that boastful swimmers have attempted to go through the Hole, but the incredible force of the waves makes this impossible.
A trooper of the Cape Mounted Rifles tried it to win a bottle of whisky in a bet but was never seen again -- so the locals will tell you. Fragments of ships wrecked on that part of the Wild Coast are often found in the sheltered shore pools.
The truly awesome spectacle of Hole in the Wall, now an angler's paradise, is one of five of South Africa's myths and legends reflected on the new set of stamps due out on January 24.
Explaining why the Post Office chose to feature South African myths and legends on stamps, Philatelic Services communications specialist Louis van Niekerk said it was because of country's rich cultural heritage and diversity.
"It was decided that myths and legends would be an appropriate topic for a set of stamps, especially because this is the first time they are featured on a set of South African stamps."


 ~The Witch of The Hex River Valley ~


Thank you Zuri

  The Hex Valley is surrounded by high mountains. The highest peak is Matroosberg, where, on the lower crags a lovely young woman makes her appearance on certain moonlit nights, crying and wringing her hands. But she has been dead for many long years.

She was Eliza Meiring, daughter of a farmer whose homestead was not far from the foothills where Matroosberg rises from the vineyards. She lived in the middle years of the 19th century. She had many suitors because she was very beautiful. But she was also a bit spoilt and self-centred. She fell in love with a young man (some say his name was Frans but no more is known about him). To satisfy her pride she demanded that, to marry her, Frans must first go and pick her a red disa in the kloofs of the Matroosberg. The disa is a beautiful flower, but unfortunately it grows only in the most inaccessible places: against steep, mossy cliffs in shady ravines and gorges. So to pick a disa is an almost impossible task without mountaineering equipment, which did not exist in those days.

Frans promised to bring her a red disa, for he loved Eliza with all his heart too. He went into the Groothoek kloof alone, saw the disas where they glowed in their beauty against a wet and mossy cliff, and tried to reach it. But as he reached for a precious flower he slipped and fell to his death.

When they brought Eliza the news that her lover had fallen to his death with a disa in his hand, she was beside herself with grief and remorse. In fact, she was so overcome because she had caused the death of her only love with her demand that she became mentally ill, and her parents kept her locked in her bedroom to watch over her. She scratched her name on the wooden windowsill: "Eliza. 1868".

But one moonlit night she broke out and escaped. Wearing only her long white nightgown, she went into the foothills and then up the trail Frans had taken. There, somewhere on a rocky outcrop, she sat down and sobbed. But the outcrop crumbled beneath her and she, too, fell to her death.

Now Eliza still wanders the crags of the Matroosberg when the moon is full: a pale ghost in her long white dress. She is known in Afrikaans as the "Heks van Hexrivier" (witch of the Hex River). A few decades ago the old farmstead was demolished. Eliza's name and the date were still on one of the windowsills.

Many brides-to-be expect their suitors to bring them beautiful Avas Flowers every time they visit. Giving an Avas Flowers bouquet is much safer than chasing a rare flower on a steep cliff too.



~ Nyaminyami ~


With thanx to Narina Exelby of Getaway Magazine

  Howick, set at the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, has long been on the tourist map for its spectacular falls, where the Umgeni River drops 99 metres into a gorge below. Many stop off at the falls to admire the view, but few tourists know about Inkanyamba.

Inkanyamba, according to the Zulu people, is a snake-like creature with a head similar to that of a horse. He is said to live in the turbulent waters at the base of the Howick Falls and many believe only sangomas can approach the pool without being attacked by the creature. Inkanyamba is, according to tradition, very active during the summer months and his anger is associated with many of the destructive storms. It's said he takes to the skies to find a mate or to defend his territory and when he sees a shiny roof on the earth, he thinks it is a body of water. When he gets closer and realizes he has been tricked, he takes his revenge by tearing the roofs off houses, uprooting trees and sending gale-force winds and hail.

If this sounds a little too story tale-ish, there is, er, proof. People swear they've seen a creature at the base of the falls - too big to be an eel, they say - and other people who claim their relatives have been eaten by the creature. Of course, there are the obligatory blurry photographs, too.

But I have my own story. Five years ago, I was at the top of the Howick Falls when I heard a group of women singing in Zulu. I was told they were asking Inkanyamba to release the body of a relative so they could hold a funeral - he'd fallen the falls four days earlier, and there was no trace of his body. Early the next morning, the man's body was found lying on a rock on the side of the pool. Was it just a result of the currents, or did Inkanyamba listen to the women? I know what the locals believe.

Nyaminyami is also known as the The Zambezi River Spirit

Nyaminyami (also known as the Zambezi River God, or Zambezi River Spirit) is believed by the river Tonga (or Batonga) to control life on the Zambezi.
The Tonga themselves have inhabited both banks of the Zambezi River in what was known as the Gwembe Trough (from Kariba Gorge upstream to Devil's Gorge) for centuries and in themselves have an interesting history. Prior to David Livingstone's work in the area around 1855/7 the Tonga were at the constant mercy of slaving parties and wild animals. Between then and the mid 1950's they lived in relative peace with very little outside influence - their contact with the "outside world" was limited to prospectors, hunters, surveyors and the local District Commissioners. In the mid 1950's life changed with the decision to proceed with the construction of the Kariba dam wall. Another chapter in the Tonga history was started.

Nyaminyami has supposedly been seen on occasion by locals - much like the Lochness Monster however, hard evidence is elusive. He is described by some as looking like a whirlwind - the majority say he's dragon-like with a snake's torso and a fish's head.
The legend of Nyaminyami has several tales.

According to local folklore, during hard times, the Tonga had free access to his flesh and were thus sustained by removing strips of meat.
The story of the dam wall construction and the floods in 1957 and 1958 are well documented. The local story goes as follows:
Whilst the waters of Lake Kariba were only just rising and the Tonga were being relocated they invoked Nyaminyami in a spirit of resistance. Although he was never used as a political symbol it was generally agreed that he disapproved of the white man's plans to build the dam. In 1957 when a 1000 year flood was recorded on the Zambezi, construction was halted and set back by flood damage. The locals nodded knowingly and waited for the final destruction during the next rainy season. This of course nearly happened with the 1958 flood which was only slightly less violent than the previous year. Elders today claim that it was only their intervention which placated Nyaminyami.
We in Kariba still have occasional earth tremors from the load of the lake on the earth's surface. Locals claim that this is Nyaminyami who at the time of the sealing of the dam wall was philandering down stream towards Mana Pools. He's now very lonely and only the destruction of the dam will reunite him with this wife.


The Legend of the Rain Queen

  Modern meteorology and politics have robbed the mysterious Modjadjis of the awe that once protected their tiny tribe, the Lobedu.

Legend has it that during the 16th Century, a princess of the Karanga people under chief Monomotapa from Zimbabwe, fled south, taking with her the rainmaking power of the family. Princess Modjadji and her followers settled in a grove of cycads near Duiwelskloof, where the royal kraal of the Rain Queen is still maintained.  For generations the Lobedu were left unmolested by the more powerful neighbours, the Zulu and the Swazi, for fear of their queen's power over the rains. Believed to be immortal, the Rain Queen inspired H. Rider Haggard's novel She, which was published in the 1880's, drawing the world's attention to this legendary ruler.

According to custom, the Queen must eschew public functions and communicate to her people through a male councillor. For years her secrecy brought her greatest fame. Later queens were no stranger to politics, though, and Modjadji V is still famous for having kept President Nelson Mandela waiting at their first meeting in 1994.  In 1996, Modjadji granted interviews to the media. At the time she told them that the devastating drought of the last three years was the result of the angering of the ancestors after some young people burnt down the traditional palace  and with it some very important cultural items.  Because of this she built a new palace, of which each brick was laid with her own hands. When the palace was finished, the rains came.

Modjadki V, the last direct descendant of the once powerful royal house of Monomotapa, passed away in June 2001.  Her eldest daughter who was to succeed her, had died just three days before.

Unseasonal rains hit Johannesburg that day, and continued into the evening.

Jun 11, 2004: I have just heard that the town of Duiwelskloof has been renamed Modjadjiskloof - Peter


The Ghost of Uniondale 

She is probably South Africa’s most well known highway ghost. 

On our recent vacation, we passed through Uniondale and we were told the following story, the inhabitants swear it is true: 

The story starts on the evening of 12th April 1968 when a recently engaged couple, Maria Roux and G.M. Pretorius were travelling from Graaf Reinet to Riversdal.  They however never made their destination , Pretorius lost control of the vehicle just outside Uniondale and they were involved in a horrible accident. Pretorius was injured and when the wreck was found by a local farmer the next morning Maria was dead. 

A few years later, in 1976 motorists started seeing a woman in white alongside the road where the accident took place. Some motorists picked her up, minutes later they would hear a shrill laugh , the sound of a door closing and an icy chill would be felt inside the car. This became known as the ghost of Maria Roux.  It is also said that the local police department kept some sugar water available to calm tourists who came in to report seeing a ghost. 

The story further goes that Pretorius got married a year after the tragic accident and that is why Maria became restless, the fact that her fiancé had found love in the arms of another woman. 

When Pretorius himself died in a car accident in 1984, Maria stopped appearing, she was at peace at last.