Dark Origins – The Sotho-Tswana and the malevolent Tokoloshe #southernAfrica #myths&legends

The Sotho-Tswana people of southern Africa comprise of the South Sotho (Basuto and Sotho), the West Sotho (Tswana) and the North Sotho (Pedi) people.

Most Sotho people were historically herders of cattle, goats and sheep and growers of grains and tobacco. The Sotho people were also recognised for their metal and leather work as well as their wood and ivory carving.

The Sotho people live largely in Lesotho and South Africa and as a combined group are the second largest ethnic group in South Africa.

Religious beliefs

The Sotho traditionally believe in Modimo who created the world and then withdrew to Heaven. He no longer concerns himself with life on earth. Modimo is not worshipped directly but though the ancestors.

The belief in ancestors is central to Sotho traditional religion. The ancestors are believed to have an influence over the daily lives of their direct descendants. Each family is under the direct guidance of its own descendants while the tribe, as a whole, is under the guidance of the ancestors of the chief.

Cultural differences

The Sotho-Tswana people have several linguistic and cultural characteristics that distinguish them from other Bantu speaking peoples of southern Africa.

  1. In Sotho-Tswana society each member has a totem which is usually an animal. Totems are inherited from the father and are passed down like surnames;
  2. A pre-emptive right for men to marry their maternal cousins;
  3. an architectural style characterized by a round hut with a conical thatch roof supported by wooden pillars on the outside;
  4. Cloaks made of skin;
  5. A preference for dense and close settlements; and
  6. A tradition for large-scale building in stone.

Tokoloshe myth

The Tokoloshe is an evil spirit that shaman create to to torment others as a form of punishment or revenge for a perceived slight. The Tokoloshe is dwarf-like, shriveled and hairy and, in some descriptions, has gouged-out eyes. When called, the Tokoloshe can be used for something as simple as scaring children, or can cause illness or even death to those it is tasked with tormenting.

The Tokoloshe is able to become invisible by drinking water or swallowing a stone.

The myth of the Tokoloshe is believed to have come about to explain why people mysteriously died while sleeping in their rondavels at night. Traditionally, people slept on grass mats on the floor encircling a wood fire during the winter. The fire depleted the oxygen levels in the huts and left behind noxious carbon monoxide with sank to the floor. A connection was eventually made that people who slept in elevated positions escaped the curse of the Tokoloshe. Some people still elevate their beds by placing bricks beneath the legs.

Picture credit: https://www.news24.com/citypress/trending/how-to-get-rid-of-the-tokoloshe-20180827

This is short reading from Myths and Legends of Southern Africa by Penny Miller called Catching the Tokoloshe:

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has 2 published novels, Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy, and A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has 11 children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written 7 publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5


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47 Comments on “Dark Origins – The Sotho-Tswana and the malevolent Tokoloshe #southernAfrica #myths&legends”

  1. Thanks Robbie for this interesting blog on the Sotho people.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Staci Troilo says:

    I know nothing about the Sotho culture, so this was fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Christy B says:

    The Sotho culture is new to me so I found this one very informative, Robbie!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A new culture to learn about. Nice one Robbie. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:

    I am over at Writing to be Read with this month’s Dark Origins post featuring the Sotho Tswana and the malevolent Tokoloshe. I have also shared a short story about the Tokoloshe … Thanks for hosting, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Clive says:

    A very interesting piece, Robbie. At last I understand what John Kongos was singing about all those years ago!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Norah says:

    What an interesting myth and story about catching the Tokoloshe. I enjoyed listening to Robbie read it. I felt sorry for the Tokoloshe and its fate though. It’s funny how some of the myths, of many cultures, are created to explain phenomena that later science has a more rational explanation for. But creatures designed to scare children? I wonder why that was thought by so many to be necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Norah, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I suppose the idea was to scare the children into behaving. Western cultures do that too with our scary creatures. I firmly believed a witch lived under my bed for years and used to jump onto it from the doorway. One day the bed collapsed. It is interesting that many South Africans are Christians but they believe firmly in the Tokoloshe and raise their beds on bricks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Robbie, the witch under your bed is very similar to U.S. children’s belief in a monster under the bed, or often, in the closet. These things are way too easy to believe in as a young child, maybe just waking up in the middle of the night. Even the Grimm fairy tales were used to make children behave here in the states. I grew up with Hanzel and Gretel to teach me to mind my elders, and Little Red Riding Hood to make me wary of strangers. I guess it worked.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is how our parents kept us in line. My son, Greg, was reading newspaper headlines from age 9 and that was enough to terrify him. Hansel and Gretel is very grizzly. My parents gave me struwwelpieter as a girl so they could never judge what I gave my sons to read. Mom was disapproving when Greg read the fourth Harry Potter at age 9. It’s funny how the older generation view scary fairytales as completely acceptable.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        I think you’re right about that being the reason for the scary stories. I’m just not sure that it was necessary, but it does seem to be universal. It’s hard to defeat those ancient myths. You must have been good at jumping. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Fascinating, Robbie. I love learning about how different populations understand creation. Thank you for sharing! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A fascinating legend! I look forward to the next one.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I find these tales fascinating, Robbie. It’s interesting about the carbon monoxide poisoning and how that influenced the legend. And great to hear you read too. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to Kaye Lynne for hosting!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The Tokoloshe certainly has a frightening appearance. Gouged-out eyes? Yikes!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. memadtwo says:

    Myths are really attempts at explaining the unknown. It’s hard to release them, even when science offers a more complete picture. And scaring children into good behavior has never worked well I think, although we still try. Thanks, as always, for sharing these stories. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Kymber Hawke says:

    Thank you, Robbie. There is a lot to digest here, but it’s all fascinating to me. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. An interesting culture. The belief in a distant god who doesn’t seem to affect them–I’ve never heard of that before.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Kind of a blood-thirsty way to rid yourself of a Tokoloshe! Thanks for sharing this short story, Robbie. I think I’ll avoid the herbalist’s hut though 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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