The South African Tokoloshe

The Tokoloshe has acquired quite a lot of fame in Africa and most of us living here will be familiar with it, especially in Southern Africa.  The Tokoloshe resembles a zombie, poltergeist, or gremlin, created by South African shamans who have been offended by someone.  The tokoloshe may also wander, causing mischief wherever it goes, particularly to schoolchildren.  The Tokoloshe, according to the Zulu shaman Credo Mutwa, has been known to take on many forms.  One form is as a dwarf-like gremlin, but others have portrayed the Tokoloshe as being a bear-like humanoid being.

The Tokoloshe 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 tokoloshe 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 had 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.


The Xhosa people are also highly superstitious and take they’re folklore quite seriously.  The tokoloshe is supposedly friendly to children and mostly a nuisance to adults unless it is under the influence of a evil witch mistress.  He is mainly invisible and performs this by sucking on a stone.  If the presence of a Tokoloshe is suspected, a sangoma (witch doctor) is summoned to exorcize the area, with muti (traditional medicine).  According to Zulu mythology, Tokoloshes are also called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others.  It is believed he was created from dead bodies of shamans to rape women and sometimes attacks, abducts, or in other ways does harm to children.  It terrorizes children by scratching them as they sleep, leaving long, parallel scratches on a child’s back and upon a child’s thigh, scratches that become infected and itch terribly.

Traditional magic and superstition have always constituted an important part of Southern African folklore and culture, in which the Tokoloshe appears frequently.  Belief in the Tokoloshe is widespread and whenever something goes wrong, it is not uncommon to blame this creature.  We may regard the Tokoloshe as an imaginary creature from the rich and vivid African folklore, or as a creature which may have been invented to scare children; but here in Africa crimes are sometimes reported to have been committed by Tokoloshe.  Many people in Africa are still reluctant to discuss the Tokoloshe as they believe that even using its name will call him to you and cause trouble.  You can rest assured that Road Travel will make sure your trip to South Africa is “Tokoloshe Free”! 😉

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