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South African folklore: The tiny terror that is the “Tokoloshe”

I love hearing strange traditional tales from foreign lands, so I thought I might introduce you to some eccentric South African stories that people grow up with here.

I distinctly remember a time swimming at Muizenberg when some swimmers started screaming and shouting that there was a Tokoloshe in the water.


The Tokoloshe is a small man-like creature, sporting a giant “male appendage” which it has to carry on his shoulder. The Xhosa people are highly superstitious and take they’re folklore quite seriously. A common sight is for Xhosa men and women to raise their beds with bricks above the height of this mischievous little man, whom also spreads HIV and many African nations share this fear.

“A Zimbabwean monthly newspaper, Vic-Falls News, reports that counsellors at an AIDS workshop have agreed that evil spirits called “tokoloshes” probably spread the HIV virus by sexually abusing women during the night. Tokoloshes exist, in one guise or another, in the minds of the people throughout Africa. Africans raise their beds on bricks to prevent tokoloshes, tiny spirits less than three feet tall with only one buttock and an extraordinarily long penis slung over the shoulder, climbing up and getting under the sheets beside them. Frigidity in a woman is claimed to be the work of a tokoloshe lover. As an explanation for the 4 million Zimbabweans who are HIV-positive, it takes some beating.”

He 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).

For more info and accounts of the Tokoloshe take a look at this very well written article.