OF late years a great deal of interest has been taken in the folklore of uncivilized tribes by those who have made it their business to study mankind. It has been found that a knowledge of the traditionary tales of a people is a key to their ideas and a standard of their powers of thought. These stories display their imaginative faculties; they are guides to the nature of the religious belief, of the form of government, of the marriage customs, in short, of much that relates to both the inner and the outer life of those by whom they are told.
These tales also show the relationship between tribes and peoples of different countries and even of different languages. They are evidences that the same ideas are common to every branch of the human family at the same stage of progress. On this account, it is now generally recognised that in order to obtain correct information concerning an uncivilized race, a knowledge of their folklore is necessary. Without this a survey is no more complete than, for instance, a description of the English people would be if no notice of English literature were taken.
It is with a view of letting the people we have chosen to call Kaffirs¹ describe themselves in their own words, that these stories have been collected and printed. They form only a small portion of the folklore that is extant among them, but it is believed that they have been so selected as to leave no distinguishing feature unrepresented.
Though these traditionary tales are very generally known, there are of course some persons who can relate them much better than others. The best narrators are almost invariably ancient dames, and the time chosen for story telling is always the evening. This is perhaps not so much on account of the evening being the most convenient time, as because such tales as these have most effect when told to an assemblage gathered round a fire circle, when night has spread her mantle over the earth, and when the belief in the supernatural is stronger than it is by day. Hence it may easily happen that persons may mix much with Kaffirs without even suspecting that they have in their possession a rich fund of legendary lore.
There is a peculiarity in many of these stories which makes them capable of almost indefinite expansion. They are so constructed that parts of one can be made to fit into parts of another, so as to form a new tale. In this respect they are like the blocks of wood in the form of cubes with which European children amuse themselves. Combined in one way they present the picture of a lion, another combination shows a map of Europe, another still, a view of St. Paul’s, and so on. So with many of these tales. They are made up of fragments which are capable of a variety of combinations.
It will surprise no one to learn that these tales are already undergoing great changes among a very large section of the natives on the border. Tens of thousands of Kaffirs have adopted the religion of the Europeans, and the facility with which such changes can be made as were alluded to in the last paragraph has encouraged them to introduce ideas borrowed from their teachers. Thus with them Satan of whom they had no conception before the advent of Europeans-is now the prompter to evil, and morals are drawn that never could have entered their heads in days of old. Their tales are thus a counterpart of the narrators, in possessing an adaptability to growth and a power of conformation to altered circumstances.
It is necessary to say a few words concerning the care that has been taken to give absolutely not a single sentence in any of these tales that has not come from native sources. Most of them have been obtained from at least ten or twelve individuals residing in different parts of the country, and they have all undergone a thorough revision by a circle of natives. They were not only told by natives, but were copied down by natives. The notes only are my own. I have directed the work of others, but have myself done nothing more than was necessary to explain the text. For this I can claim to be qualified by an intimate knowledge of the Kaffir people, gained through intercourse with them during a period of twenty years, and while filling positions among them varying from a mission teacher to a border magistrate.
Alost of the tales collected in this book have already appeared in various South African papers and magazines, some as far back as 1874. They were arranged for publication in a volume which was to have been issued from the press of the Lovedale Missionary Institution, and the first sheet was already printed, when the disturbances of 1877 took place. I was then called away to perform work of a very different kind, and the publication was necessarily suspended. The book is now issued, in the hope that it may be found useful, as throwing light upon the mode of life of a people who differ from ourselves in many respects besides degree of civilization.
Geo. M. Theal
Long before the Europeans arrived on the coast of South East Africa, the Arabians were trading along this coast, mostly for slaves and gold. Indeed they had a major trading centre at Delagoa Bay, now Maputo, and the slave pen ruins on the Island of Zanzibar are testament to that loathsome trade. It is also well known that they even travelled inland as far as ancient Monomotapa and the citadel of Great Zimbabwe to trade for that lustrous metal. Both empires were centred on the Zambesi valley.
It is also known that the Arabic word for the Nguni (negro) tribes of the region, was Kafir. This translates as unbelievers.
Over time this translation was westernised to become Kaffir, a term which was initially used to describe the Nguni (negro) peoples as a whole.
However, the word kaffir changed, over time, to become a derogatory term applied to only the Nguni peoples meaning second, or even, third-class citizens, with all the connotations this status implies. This change was more pronounced under the Apartheid (apart-ness) system, in place in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
History lesson aside, this is a collection of folk tales from the South African Xhosa people, the tribe to which Nelson Mandela belonged. Please note that the original title of the book uses an appellation for the Xhosa, Kaffir, which today is understandably considered disrespectful. That said, this is also a scholarly collection of Xhosa tales; it is a primary source on the subject. As such, this book is part of the cultural heritage of South Africa and is both entertaining and informative.
NOTE ON PRONUNCIATION OF XHOSA WORDS
The Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Sotho and other African languages spoken in South Africa were first written down from the late 18th C. onwards. Because of this, the language was written phonetically, hence you pronounce the word before you as you see it.
Of note: words beginning with, or containing, the letters HL. The HL is pronounced as SHL hence Hlakanyana is pronounced SHLA-KAN-YAH-NAH.
Words beginning with DL, or containing, DL are also pronounced with an SHL, but with a harder intonation at the start of the sequence.
For a more complete list of how to pronounce Xhosa words, see: https://www.wildcoast.co.za/xhosa-phrasebook
Introductory Chapter Regarding the Kaffirs (Xhosa)
The Story of The Bird That Made Milk
The Story of Five Heads
The Story of Tangalimlibo
The Story of a Girl Who Disregarded the Custom Of Ntonjane
The Story of Simbukumbukwana
The Story of Sikulume
The Story of Hlakanyana
The Story of Demane and Demazana
The Story of the Runaway Children; or, the Wonderful Feather
The Story of Ironside and His Sister
The Story of the Cannibals Wonderful Bird
The Story of the Cannibal Mother and Her Children
The Story of the Girl and the Mbulu
The Story of Mbulukazi
The Story of Long Snake
The Story of Kenkebe
The Story of the Wonderful Horns
The Story of the Glutton
The Story of the Great Chief of the Animals
The Story of the Hare
The Story of Lion and Little Jackal
Proverbs and Figurative Expressions
Introductory Chapter Regarding The Kaffirs (Xhosa)
IN South Africa the word Kaffir is often used in a general way to signify any black native who is not the descendant of an imported slave, but on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony the term ususally restricted to a member of the Amaxhosa tribe. It is from individuals of this tribe that the following stories have been collected.
Europeans have designated these Kaffirs ever since the discovery of the country, though they themselves cannot even pronounce the word, as the English sotmd of the letter is waning their language. R, in Kaffir words, as now written, represents the same guttural sound as g does in Dutch, or the Scotch sound of ch in loch; thus Rarabe is pronounced Khah-khah-bay. They have no word by which to signify the whole race, but each tribe has its own title, which is usually the name of its first great chief, with the plural prefix Ama or Aba.
A very large portion of South Africa is occupied by people of this race. All along the eastern coast, as far south as the Great Fish River, the country is thickly populated with Kaffir tribes. On the other side of the mountains, the Bechuanas, their near kindred, are found stretching almost across to the Atlantic shore, from the heart of the continent southward to the Orange River.
The country lying between the present colonies of the Cape and Natal was first explored by Europeans in the year 1655, and was then found to be occupied by four great tribes,-the Amampondomsi, the Amampondo, the Abatembu, and the Amaxhosa,-who formed nations as distinct from each other as are the French and the Italians. Their language was the same, and their laws and customs varied very slightly; but in all that respected government they were absolutely independent of one another. It has since been ascertained that the tribes further northward do not differ materially from these.
The Amaxhosa were the farthest to the southward in 1688, as they have been ever since. On the coast they had then reached the Kciskama River, and there is good reason to believe that inland their outposts extended westward as far as the site of the present village of Somerset East. They were thus in contact with Hottentot tribes along an extended line, and an amalgamation of the two races had probably already commenced. It is certain that during the latter half of the last century a great many Hottentots were incorporated with the Amaxhosa.
The mode of incorporation was in most instances a selection of Hottentot females after the destruction of their clan in war; but in at least one case a Hottentot tribe became gradually a Kaffir clan by mixture of blood through adoption of Kaffir refugees. The people of this tribe, a pure Hottentot one in 1689 and then called the Gqunaqua, were found by a traveller a century later to resemble Kaffirs more than Hottentots in appearance, and, except a few families, they are now undistinguishable from other members of the Amaxhosa. Their original language has been lost, but their old tribal title is yet retained in the Kaffir form Amagqunukwebe.
This large admixture of Hottentot blood has not affected the mode of government or the general customs of the Amaxhosa, as is seen on comparing them with other tribes to the north but it has affected their personal appearance and their language. Many words in use by the women, though appearing in a Kaffir form, can be traced to Hottentot roots. Owing to this, their traditional stories may have been modified to some, though not to any great, extent.
In a condition independent of European control, each Kaffir tribe is over by a great chief, whose government is, however but little felt beyond his immediate clan, each petty division being under a ruler who is in reality nearly independent. The person of a chief is inviolable, and an indignity offered to one of them is considered a crime of the gravest nature. Such offshoots of the ruling house as are not of themselves chiefs are of aristocratic rank, and are exempt from obedience to the laws which govern the commonalty. With regard to the common people, the principle of the law is that they are the property of the rulers, and consequently an offence against any of their persons is atoned for by a fine to the chief. Murder and assaults are punished in this manner. Thus in theory the government is despotic, but in practice it has many checks. The first is the existence of a body of councillors about the person of each chief, whose advice he is compelled to listen to. A second is the custom that a man who can escape from a chief whose enmity he has incurred will be protected by any other with whom he takes refuge, so that an arbitrary or unpopular ruler is in constant danger of losing his followers.
The chief in council makes the law and administers it, but from the courts of the petty chiefs there is an appeal to the head of the tribe. Only two kinds of punishment are known: fines and death. Lawsuits are of frequent occurrence, and many Kaffirs display great ability and remarkable powers of oratory in conducting them. The judges are guided in their proceedings by a recognised common law and by precedents, though some of them are exceedingly venal. They will sit, however, with exemplary patience, for days together, to hear all the details of a case, and, where bribery is impossible, their sentences are usually in accordance with