Welcome to the second part of the Haunted Africa feature, as we journey once more deep into the heart of African mythology and spirituality. The first supernatural entity we will encounter this time is one of the most well-known of Africa’s haunts – the continent’s very own version of the bogey man. His name is the Tokoloshe and according to Zulu beliefs he can take the form of a wicked dwarf-like creature, although he has other appearances and can even become invisible upon inserting a pebble into his mouth. A Tokoloshe can cause all kinds of mischief, from the relatively benign to the truly terrible. He tries to steal away children, assaults women and has even been known to cause death to those he visits.
Sightings of the Tokoloshe have been recorded for years, orally and, more recently, on television and in newspapers. In one awful case from recent years an Umlazi medicine man in South Africa brutally murdered a child because he believed it was a Tokoloshe. The belief in – and fear of – these supernatural creatures is incredibly powerful, undoubtedly because of the negative connotations that surround it. There is a steadfast belief that the Tokoloshe can be summoned by witches and by those who use black magic and that they can use the sprite to visit sickness and harm on people they hold a grudge against. In return the Tokoloshe receives gifts of food and milk to drink, and is even used as a sexual servant by his witch mistresses because of his prodigious genitalia which he carries draped over one shoulder.
The Tokoloshe has been featured in novels, films and comics; notable examples include “Gem Squash Tokoloshe” by Rachel Zadok and “Tales of the Tokoloshe” by Pieter Scholtz. In Zadok’s novel she mentions one of the well-documented ways in which people protect themselves from this wicked spirit – by raising of their beds on bricks so that the Tokoloshe cannot reach them. If unfortunate victims are still troubled by the creature, however, then the only recourse is to call in a medicine man, known as a N’anga, who can banish the Tokoloshe using specially devised magic (‘muti’).
Another of Africa’s dangerous legendary creatures is the Kongamato (“breaker of boats”) which has been spotted in Zambia, Congo and Angola. Believed to be a surviving member of the Pterosaur species, the Kongamato has been seen by locals and foreign explorers alike and is described as having fearsome teeth, leathery wings and an elongated head. It is reddish-black in colour. No photographs or videos have been taken of this terrifying creature but it has been described in the 1923 book “In Witchbound Africa” by Frank Melland as being a danger to small boats and anyone who dared to venture through its territory.
Two famous sightings occurred in Fort Roseberry in Zambia. At dusk an engineer saw two prehistoric-looking birds flying through the sky over the fort. A year later a man turned up at the hospital with a bloody gash in his chest and said that it had been inflicted by massive bird – he drew a picture of the creature, but sadly the drawing has been lost and cannot be used as evidence.
While scepticism may be rife about the existence of a modern-day winged dinosaur, the fact remains that natives from the African countries where it was seen reacted with terror when they were shown images of pterosaurs and identified them as being Kongamato. The same people were unfamiliar with any other prehistoric creature however and did not react in the same way when shown pictures of other dinosaurs. Members of the Kaonde tribe even carried amulets to protect themselves from the Kongamato. As recently as 2010 a research team from Genesis Park plunged into the Bangweulu Swamps to search for the creature – sadly there were no sightings on that particular trip, but the idea that a pterosaur might still soar above the African plains is undoubtedly a compelling one.
Stories of vampires – those evil bloodsuckers of the night – have been recorded by cultures from all over the world, and the African countries are no different, although their vampire takes a slightly different form to the one we are familiar with in Europe. The Adze, or firefly vampire, is a mythological product of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It takes human form except during feeding, when it morphs into a firefly or some other small winged insect in order to suck blood from its victims. This trait it shares with European vampires, but unlike its northern cousins the Adze is more selective about the sources of its blood, preferring it to come solely from children. The Adze will not often kill its victim, needing only a little blood at a time – but if it has gone without food for many days it becomes insatiable – and deadly.
As well as being a bloodsucker the Adze poses another threat to the human population, as it has been known to possess hapless mortals, usually those who practise magic of some kind. Once a person has been possessed they will become a vampire themselves until the spirit of the Adze is caught and destroyed.
We will round off our tour of Haunted Africa with another look at some of its ghosts. In a barren canyon in the scrubby desert lands of Namibia you can supposedly still hear the footsteps of the German soldiers who fought there during WWII. A grim-looking man dressed in black and a little Victorian boy haunt the Old Parsonage Museum in Somerset East in South Africa and the town of Kimberley is surely the most haunted in the country, home to nearly 160 haunted buildings such as the 19th century stately home of Dunluce and Rudd House. The latter is home to a number of spectral occupants including a mournful lady in white and a baby, which manifests itself as the sound of disembodied crying echoing through the old nursery room.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, there have been stories of schools targeted by wicked and aggressive spirits and Egypt is said to be home to several haunted sites, such as Khufu’s Pyramid at Giza, Baron Castle in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings itself – hardly surprising really, when you consider all of the bodies that have been interred there. Supposedly, if you sit in the Valley at midnight you will see the apparition of a horse and chariot being driven by a man in Ancient Egyptian garb…Just one of many reasons to visit this incredible historical site!
That brings us to the end of our Haunted Africa feature – next time you pay a visit to this vast and fascinating continent, be on the lookout for more than just lions, elephants and herds of wildebeest!