Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “tokoloshes”

Saving a tokoloshe and jumping the shark

Tokoloshe SongTokoloshe Song by Andrew Salomon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me quite a while to get into this book, because the characters and their roles in the story are introduced in separate chapters, with no apparent connection between them. Richard Nevis helps out at a shelter for abused tokoloshes. Toby is intimidated by Kras (who appears to be very rich) into stealing something for him. Two midwives wander round in long coats. A bloke is conducting surveillance on someone (who has nothing to do with the story) in Mumbai. Another bad guy has a couple of hangers on who are not midwives.

When the characters come together and you see how they connect, the story starts to move a bit, and eventually moves out of Cape Town to Nieu Bethesda, though it doesn’t stay there for long. What was quite nice about that was that I could actually picture several of the places, having been to some of them, though following the directions in the book will not get you to Nieu Bethesda from Graaff Reinet.

The tokoloshes in the book are not the fairy-like creatures of popular folklore, but rather shy and rare animals that are calmed down by singing, hence the title.

I was enjoying it and was getting ready to give it four stars, but then in the penultimate chapter it jumped the shark, literally as well as figuratively, so I gave it three instead.

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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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