Haunted Africa II by Amy Van De Casteele

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!


Haunted Africa Part One – by Amy Van De Casteele

The vast continent of Africa has always held a wild fascination for Europeans, with its spectacular landscapes, vibrant cultures and often brutal history of tribal warfare, sectarian violence and colonialism. Home to many nations, religions and ways of life, it comes as no surprise that Africa has more than its fair share of gods, demons and spirits that prowl over the grassy plains and creep through the hot darkness with flashing eyes and grasping hands. Some of these spirits are good, some evil, some indifferent – but belief in them remains widespread today, despite the prevalence of Christianity and Islam which abhor such ‘superstitions’.

I grew up in Southern Africa, spending the first ten years of my life there, and when you drive through the majestic volcanic mountains of Lesotho or across the sprawling South African plains it is not hard to imagine that all manner of dark and mysterious beings lurk out there in the wilds. In Botswana, the land of my birth, locals believe that the Legaga la ga Kobokwe – or the Kobokwe Cave – is haunted by evil spirits which take the form of gigantic snakes. Their belief is so deeply engrained that even though the Scottish missionary and famous explorer David Livingstone spent a night in the cave with a tribal king and emerged unscathed the next morning, they still maintain that the cave is haunted. At night they often see these mighty snakes moving about and supposedly any travellers who pass the cave are waylaid by spirits. Now the only locals to visit the cave are witch doctors and other spiritual personages, though foreign visitors enter quite regularly.

Further south, the rugged landscape of South Africa is said to be populated by all manner of spooks and spirits. One of the most famous is the apparition of The Flying Dutchman, which has inspired novelists, filmmakers and composers and was brought to life in the highly popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Originally The Flying Dutchman was a majestic ship captained by Hendrik Van Der Decken who swore an oath to sail around the Cape of Good Hope even if it took him until Doomsday. This is the most popular variation of the story, although of course there are others, and some sources cite his name as being Van Falkenberg or Van Straaten. Apparently, if all of the reports are to be believed, the stubborn captain failed in his mission and is still trying to complete it even in death. One of the original versions of the tale records that the ship encountered a violent storm and amid the lashing rain and frothing waves the Captain refused to find a safe port; instead he dared God to sink his ship.

A shining figure swiftly appeared on the deck of The Flying Dutchman, but instead of treating this divine messenger with respect the Captain fired at it with his pistol. Enraged, the holy apparition condemned Van Der Decken and his crew to sail for all eternity and serve as a curse to all those who laid eyes on them.

This is just one of the fascinating legends surrounding this notorious vessel. No one really knows what happened to the ship – the only certain thing is that it did not complete its journey but foundered in the treacherous seas around the Cape. Many sightings of it have since been recorded by steamers, freighters, the Royal Navy and even U-boats sailing during WWII. A sighting of the ship is said to be a bad omen; even worse is if you allow the doomed crew to pass you letters. To accept these missives means certain death.

The Flying Dutchman is not the only ghost ship to sail off the South African coast. Another vessel, the Libera Nos, also haunts these waters. Captained by Bernard Fokke, this phantom ship’s crew are supposedly skeletons. Libera Nos has sometimes been mistaken for The Flying Dutchman – though surely sighting either one is not a good omen for ocean travellers.

The Cape of Good Hope is not only haunted by ghost ships. Its castle, Goede Hoop, is also rumoured to be home to several ghostly entities – among them the merciless former governor Pieter Gijsbert Noodt who stalks through the castle grounds cursing his condemned fate. Construction work on the castle began in 1666; since then it has served a few different purposes, functioning as a centre of colonial power, a prison and now as a museum. Several of its rooms and corridors are haunted by spirits. Lady Anne Bernard, a former noble resident, haunts the ballroom and has even been seen to join in the various festivities once held there, while another female apparition garbed all in grey has also been spotted in the castle and was even glimpsed by Princess Margaret during the royal tour which took place in 1947.

There have also been other paranormal phenomena recorded in the castle. A spectral black hound – reminiscent of Norfolk’s Devil Dog – has been seen and even leaps at castle visitors, though it vanishes before it touches them. Unexplained noises have also been heard, including footsteps and voices arguing, and an invisible hand taps people on the shoulder.

Another famous South African attraction which is supposedly haunted is Kruger National Park – a favourite of mine, where I spent several happy holidays (thankfully undisturbed by the paranormal, although lions, an angry elephant and disgruntled rhino provided some scary moments). If you’re a fan of the Sleepy Hollow story you’ll be pleased to hear that Kruger is home to its own version of this haunted locale. There is a densely wooded part of the Lebombo Hills known as Crook’s Corner because it was frequented by smugglers and poachers. An Englishman who ventured into the Hills on a hunting trip shot seven elephants in these woods one day. He spent that night in camp and then rode into the trees the following morning to collect his precious ivory.

He never returned to the camp and was not seen alive again. His white horse emerged from the trees some hours later but fell prey to illness – perhaps African Horse Sickness or the fatal bite of a tsetse fly – and perished. After his mysterious disappearance people who ventured into the trees began to report sightings of a ghostly rider upon a white horse and hunters soon refused to set foot in those cursed woods.

Near the rest camp of Punda Maria stands Gumbandevu Hill, where sacrifices of live goats were made to the rain gods during times of drought. The doomed bleats of the goats supposedly attracted evil spirits to the hill and now locals refuse to venture onto its slopes. Despite this, the sound of drumming and singing has still been heard from the hilltop – even though rituals have not been held there for many years.

The Park is also said to be haunted by other strange spirits – such as the monstrous serpent known as muhlambela, which sneaks up on unwary victims and bites them in the back of the skull. The Park’s baobab trees are haunted too, serving as homes for devils and other wicked things.


This brings us to the conclusion of the first part of the Haunted Africa feature. These apparitions and folk tales which I have just recounted for you are just a tiny sample of Africa’s many spirits… In Haunted Africa Part II prepare yourself to be introduced to the infamous tokoloshe, the flying Kongamato and the “Adze” vampire of Togo and Ghana, to name but a few!


Azande Witchcraft – by MJ Steel

Witchcraft might be a slight variation on ghosts and hauntings, but in this case, it offers a delicious introduction to how supernatural beliefs in other cultures can be at great variance with their counterparts in the West. So witchcraft it is!

E E Evans Pritchard
To begin with, a little background information on the Azande: they are an ethnic group found in Central Africa, primarily in what we could now call the Sudans, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic (thanks wikipedia – the textbooks are out of date!). Prior to colonisation by the Brits, they had a huge kingdom, which expanded via the conquest of smaller tribes. The society had a complex social structure, with regional chiefs who answered to a king. Much of this was wiped out by the impact of colonialism, although it suited the colonial Powers-that-be to maintain the chiefs in order to assert their authority, somewhere along the lines of puppet rulers. Another thing that the British colonists, try as they might, failed to wipe out, was the Zande belief in witchcraft.
The major anthropological work on the Azande was carried out by E.E Evans-Pritchard, who went out to study the group during the 1920’s. Among many of the significant areas arising from his work was the nature of witchcraft and magic beliefs among the Azande. His book on this area, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande was ground breaking in that it challenged how we viewed witchcraft in the West.
Traditional view of a witch in the West
Azande witch – ummm?
Now, when we think of witches, we generally think of old hags zipping about on broomsticks, or if we’re being a bit more enlightened, perhaps a Wiccan worshipping the Mother Earth. This isn’t quite the case amongst the Zande, as anyone could be a witch! Also, we might not see much difference between magic and witchcraft in the West, but there is a whole world of difference amongst the Azande. Witchcraft from the Azande perspective is unconscious – anyone can do it without realising. But magic has to be learned, and it can be used for nefarious deeds. During his fieldwork, Evans-Pritchard, lived among the Azande  and he sent out one of his servants, a local, to learn magic. Evans-Pritchard as a white European probably wouldn’t have been taught the ins and outs of Zande magic, whilst it wouldn’t be a problem for his servant. The servant reported back to Evans-Pritchard, allowing him to see how it all worked. Nowadays, this isn’t so much of a problem as anthropologists have since been initiated as Shamans, etc, by their host society or group. Zande witchcraft is a little more complex…
Witchcraft to the Azande is literally a substance found in the stomach. This is passed down from father to son and from mother to daughter. Basically, if a man has a reputation for being a witch, then there is a chance his son might also be a witch, but not his daughter. And vice versa for women.  This substance can lie dormant in the belly, but can be ‘awoken’ by jealousy. And the ‘witch’ can be none the wiser to any of this because they don’t realise it’s them that’s causing it. It isn’t possible to simply point the finger and accuse someone of witchcraft because of this, you need to be sure. It takes a bit of investigation. And to do this, the Azande have at their disposal a series of three oracles.
Termite mound in a Zande garden
Let’s take the example of an Azande man who has two wives (the Azande are polygamous).  The wives are ranked by seniority in order of when they married their husband. Suddenly, the older wife becomes unwell. The husband immediately suspects witchcraft as being the cause of this, and he accuses the younger wife as being the cause of this because she is jealous. She will deny it – she isn’t even jealous of the older woman. So now the husband has to find out for definite if it is his younger wife. Time to bring in oracle one, the termite sticks. This is one the husband can do himself.
The husband takes two sticks, asks them if his younger wife is the cause of his first wife’s sickness. Each stick indicates yes or no. Both are placed inside the termite mound and left for a period of time while the termites eat them. Later on, he removes the sticks. The one which the termites have eaten the most give his answer – i.e. it might be the stick indicating no that is the shortest. But this oracle isn’t seen as reliable, so it’s time to bring in oracle number two, the rubbing board, or iwa. This isn’t something the husband can’t do himself and he needs to pay someone to do it for him.
Consulting the Iwa oracle
The rubbing board
The rubbing board basically consists of two boards which are rubbed together. If the board sticks at being asked if the younger wife is the witch, it gives the answer. Like the termite sticks, this is a simple yes and no question.  However! Although the iwa  is seen as more reliable than the termite sticks, it’s still not that reliable. The husband needs to know for sure and get a definite answer. So it’s time to move onto the third and most potent oracle, Benge, or the poison oracle. For this, a witchdoctor is required. And he needs to be paid – he doesn’t come cheap.
Consulting the Benge oracle
Put simply, Benge consists of strychnine being poured down a chicken’s throat, using more than one chicken. To give an idea of how important this oracle is, it can be used in front of a chief to establish a point of law, although it’s use has been decreasing since colonisation. Whether the chicken lives or dies gives the answer to a yes and no question. In this instance, is the second wife a witch? The oracle is asked a more specific question as more chickens get used (about three chickens), for example, is the second wife causing the first wife to be ill? The more the answers swing to a certain the response, the more definite that answer is. So let’s say that this oracle says the second wife is a witch and is causing the first wife to be ill. The younger wife is confronted by the evidence, which she can’t deny. Now she has to cool her witchcraft. She does this by drinking water and spitting it out. The first wife should now get better.
Now, you might be reading this thinking, what a load of nonsense! But think again. Azande witchcraft is significant in anthropology as another system of knowledge and understanding. Primarily it is seen as a way of explaining misfortune. The famous example given in anthropology is the group of Azande men sitting in the shelter of a granary on a hot day to eat their lunch. The granary collapses on top of them. If this happened to a group of men in the West, say the US, they would probably say it was termites in the ground which ate the granary supports, causing it to collapse. Not so the Azande men. They will blame it on witchcraft and not see it any other way.
Collapsed granary – termites or witchcraft – you decide!
In this sense, witchcraft acts as a form of social control. People in an Azande neighbourhood will act in a certain way which won’t cause another person to be jealous of them and attract witchcraft. Conversely, people will also behave so as not to appear jealous and be accused of witchcraft. It has been found to be very pervasive in Azande culture. In fact, witchcraft as a whole plays a major role in general in African societies today.
Other sources to check out for more information:
Ethnographic film (anthropology film) Witchcraft Among The Azande (1982) – it is very good, I saw it at university. Though you’d need to be an academic, or extremely well off to get a copy! This just details the Royal Anthropological Institute record of it.