Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Legends of the Tokoloshe

Arthur Goldstuck, the collector of South African urban legends, recently posted a couple of examples of tokoloshe stories.

Legends from a small country: Legends of the Tokoloshe #1: A monster ate my homework:

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.

The tabloid press abounds in tokoloshe and similar stories, of course, and the placards for Sunday newspapers often make the the most of them. One of my favourites was Zombie ate my soap. Unfortunately I forgot to buy the paper and never saw the full story.

Traditionally the tokoloshe (Zulu utikoloshe) was a fairly harmless trickster character in folklore, who played practical jokes on people. Such characters are found in many cultures around the world. But a tokoloshe can become dangerous if caught by a witch to become a familiar. In this role the tokoloshe legend has grown in the urban areas of South Africa far more than in the rural areas, and it is therefore very properly in Arthur Goldstuck’s sphere of interest as the source of numerous urban legends.

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