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Chanti Niven

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The Tokoloshe
By Chanti Niven
Friday, June 15, 2007

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Recent stories by Chanti Niven
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An extract from an autobiographical account. A strange supernatural experience from my childhood...

Some of the things that I remember that I’d like to record because I think they’re pretty significant are events that may seem a little strange. At one point I started to wonder how much of this was concocted in my overly fertile imagination and how much was real. Today I can be a little more objective about the events of those years. The first of these experiences centers around a supernatural (for want of a better term) event.

Our nanny (child minder) used to tell us stories about the tokoloshe, which I believe is a part of Xhosa tradition. Many black Africans are terrified of the tokoloshe and prop their beds up high on bricks to keep from being attacked while they sleep. The tokoloshe is apparently some kind of malevolent dwarf zombie, which can make itself invisible to all but children. I heard these stories as a child but in spite of my vivid imagination and natural naivete didn’t give them much credence.  Apparently witchdoctors are able to control or exercise power over these creatures and I’m now inclined to believe that this might be true , or at least if what I saw was real. it is true . A Sangoma worked on the property next door to ours and Rupert and I used to spy on her a lot. We were morbidly fascinated by the strange rituals she performed, the chanting, throwing of bones and the mixing up of seemingly vile concoctions that we were convinced contained severed human pieces (now I know that this is entirely possible).

One day we saw something that I don’t think either of us ever forgot. I never told another living being this (before now) because I knew how ridiculous it would sound. The witchdoctor had made a fire and into this fire threw some sort of powder. The fire suddenly burned green. There is nothing strange about this now that I know what chemical substances can produce this effect. Still, to our young minds it was magic. Our eyes were as large as proverbial saucers and we were transfixed by the scene playing out before us. This is not the truly strange part, however. What happened next literally caused the hair on the back of our necks to rise and rendered us both temporarily immobile with shock. A creature, about 3 feet tall magically appeared. It was hairy from top to bottom and had large black evil-looking eyes. It was unlike anything we had ever seen. We were staring through a hedge at this weird apparition when it turned towards us and made some kind of unintelligible noise and then rushed us. We both leapt to our feet and raced back to our home in record speed. We talked about this event years later and agreed that it was most disturbing. Even more disturbing was that after we saw the tokoloshe, strange things started to happen around the home, for example unexplained noises and I often heard clawing sounds at my window. I would stay awake at night in abject terror, convinced that the tokoloshe was trying to break through my window. One night I actually saw a shadow outside my window and my curtains moved backwards and forwards. I couldn’t even muster up a scream. I have no idea how I fell asleep after this but I awoke in the morning with an entire shattered pane of glass lying on top of me from the huge picture window above my bed. If the glass had fallen out of the window by itself it would not have presented itself so neatly on top of my bed. Other than the fact that it was shattered, each piece was perfectly in place. I could not move. My mother was shocked when she entered the room but naturally explained the event away in rational terms. Things must have escalated after this point because eventually my father had to concede that there was something supernatural at play. He decided to consult with a ‘Sangoma’. Sangomas are considered to be ‘good’ witchdoctors but they still practice traditional healing and use magic to counter the effects of bad muti (magic). The Sangoma performed her rituals, chanted, made gooey red crosses in hidden places all over the house (not like a Christian cross but rather like an X), including under our beds. Muti-filled dolls were given to my parents to place in the cubbyholes of their cars. We then had to partake in a ceremony in the living room that included each member of the family having to jump one by one over a fire made in a coal bucket to which had been added some special muti for protection. We walked around in a circle as she chanted and then had to leap over the bucket.  I, of course, being a clumsy oaf even back then, tripped on the edge and spilled the contents all over the living room carpet, much to the consternation of the Sangoma and my parents. My father was furious that I had ruined the carpet. The Sangoma thought it was a bad omen. I was convinced that I was now in for it.

The next day I found the severed cow’s head down by the rocks, which was our favorite hideout.  It was skewered on a sharp stick and its eyes were missing. It was the most gruesome and grisly thing I’d ever seen. I screamed and went charging up to the house to report the find. I told my mother but for some reason she didn’t find the revelation very startling and ignored my rising hysteria. Eventually she told me to go to my room. When I finally ventured back down to the rocks with my brother in tow, the head was missing. We did find strange bloody remains on the ground, covered with flies.

After a time, we put all of the strange happenings behind us and Rupert and I continued on our erstwhile adventures through our large property and into the wilderness beyond. Our property bordered on the grounds of a medium security prison. It had huge grounds that were farmed by the prisoners and Rupert and I would watch from atop the huge rock at the bottom of our garden. I would make up stories about the prisoners and their escapes and terrify both of us in the process. Still, we were curious and determined to break into the grounds to explore. We eventually found a way and if it were not for the pesky guards, we would have had a glorious time there. We were discovered after only an hour and were chased off the property. Thankfully this incident was not reported or my stepfather would have tanned our hides.  We decided after this that maybe the prison grounds should be out of bounds and consoled ourselves with the fact that there was plenty to explore outside of it.

Our land had a river running through it and Rupert and I constructed rafts and would brave the violent rapids (in retrospect no more than a little turbulence I’m sure) in search of uncharted territory. We always returned home in time to have a bath and make the required appearance at dinner.  Rae was always very peculiar about his dinner ritual. We all had to be seated and sitting ramrod straight. He would carve the roast and my mother would serve the vegetables. No matter how hungry we were, we were not able to taste a morsel until everyone had been served and my father sat down, something he took his time doing. Finally he would lower his buttocks into his seat and announce that we may begin the meal. We had to observe proper table etiquette, which meant using the right knife and fork, keeping our elbows tucked in and never ever clinking our teeth with the cutlery. He had been known to lash out with a quick backhand across the face of the offender and so we usually adhered to the rules with little argument. He insisted that we eat every morsel on our plate and like parents throughout the centuries, would make us sit at the table all night if we refused. I remember many miserable occasions when I would sit staring at some unappetizing green goo on my plate turned cold, obdurately refusing to eat but knowing that I’d wrinkle and turn grey before he’d let me leave the table. Eventually I’d give in but it didn’t mean I had to like it.

One night after a bath, I sat down at the table, rosy in my soft pink dressing gown and fluffy slippers, hair neatly combed and held back with an
Alice band, to be greeted with a glowering look from Rae. “Where is your watch?” he asked sternly as though he had some psychic ability and had read my mind. I’d lost it during our daylight exploration down-river and was hoping nobody would notice.
“I…it’s in my room.” I lied but not very convincingly.
“Then go and fetch it.” He demanded.
“I put it in a safe place.” I tried feebly.
“GET IT NOW!!!” he shouted and I jumped up from the table and ran to the room where I wasted quite a few minutes looking for something I knew could not be found. Perhaps I hoped it would magically materialize.  I think I even prayed at that point. I feared Rae’s wrath in spite of much false bravado for my brother’s benefit. I always called on the baby Jesus when I was in trouble but he never seemed to do me any good and eventually I came to resent him and ignored him until circumstances called for higher intervention. Baby Jesus wasn’t doing me any good that night either and eventually after much procrastination and dawdling I had to return to the dining room and dejectedly admit that I couldn’t find my watch. I endured a scathing litany of insults but I stood under the force of that onslaught with a determination not to cry. I succeeded but only until he instructed me to get out of the house and find the watch or I would not be allowed back in.
“Oh please, not in the dark. The tokoloshe is out there.”
He ignored my pleas, wrenched me off by one arm and threw me out of the door. My dread was cemented by the sound of the lock turning. I was outside in the dark on my own. I took little comfort from the lights glowing warmly in the windows and saw instead the ominous shadows that loomed up around me, convinced each one was the tokoloshe and that I would be killed at any minute. I curled up on the ground for a while with my eyes tightly closed and tried praying once again. This time I promised the baby Jesus that I’d be a good girl forever if he’d just make my stepfather open the door and let me in. At that moment a window was flung open and I jumped as I heard his voice booming,
“What did I tell you Chantal? GO AND LOOK FOR THAT WATCH! I don’t want to see you hovering around this house and don’t come back until you find it or you’ll sleep outside tonight.” He generously passed a flashlight out of the window so that I could at least see where I was looking.

I began to shiver but I was too terrified to disobey him. He was likely to thrash me if I didn't listen. In spite of my terror, I walked slowly away from the house, feet dragging and tried to retrace my earlier steps, even then knowing how futile an exercise this was.  The flashlight offered little security because all it did was make shadows appear even more ominously frightening. I walked down to the rocks, startled by every noise, real or imagined. I eventually reached the bottom of the garden and walked through the trees to a clearing - a place that Rupert and I had visited often. We’d set up a seating arrangement with rocks and would sometimes have picnics there. I shone my flashlight into the center of the clearing and saw the blanket we’d left there and was grateful for our lapse. I convinced myself that the stone circle was a magical safety zone and that no harm would come to me while I was in the middle of it and I sat huddled up on the blanket there for at least an hour thinking about how I was going to eat if I wasn’t allowed back home. I hadn’t been able to eat dinner and my tummy was grumbling ferociously.  I was deep in thought when I heard it - the strange sound that I can only describe as a mixture between a growl and a hiss. At first I thought I’d imagined it but after a few seconds it started again and it seemed closer this time. I shone my flashlight in the direction of the noise. The creature was on its haunches and it was staring at me. My blood froze in my veins but somehow I was galvanized into action and I leapt over the rocks and ran frantically back up to the house where I banged and clawed on the door piteously beseeching my parents to let me in or I’d be killed. I heard my mother say, ‘This is ridiculous. Let her in. It’s not safe for a child outside’ and I heard his stubborn refusals.
“She has to learn her lesson. That child of yours is a complete scatterbrain. She’d lose her head if it weren’t attached. We paid good money for that watch and she doesn’t appreciate it. Perhaps she’ll appreciate the things we give her more after this.”

I listened to the heated argument going on indoors, while looking over my shoulder and expecting the creature to launch itself at me any moment and then I heard a whisper.
It was my brother Rupert at his bedroom window.
“Climb in the window here. You’ll be safe.”
I didn’t need to be asked twice. I squeezed my tiny frame through the window opening and fell in a heap on his floor sobbing.

That night I slept curled up on his bed, tip-to-toe and before dawn, arose and climbed back out of the window. There I sat in a lawn chair waiting for Rae to get up. He finally opened the door and barked that I should get inside and get ready for school. No further mention was made of the missing watch but I never forgot that terrifying night.

Copyright 2007 Chantal Niven


Folks, please don't get the wrong idea. I did not have a horrific childhood, quite the contrary. My stepfather was extremely strict and sometimes cruel but I have many wonderful memories that I could share as well. This just happened to be a rather frightening experience and naturally it was one that stuck to me. Life is a balance of black and white. I'm grateful for all the positive aspects that thread the tapestry of my life in bright colours. I did not post this to garner sympathy but simply to share something that I tried to ignore for many years because I could not explain it. The fact that I'm able to share it now is a good sign. It no longer has power over me. I have learnt how to walk in the light.




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Reviewed by D. Vegas 10/1/2009
~Chanti, Black/White and Gray---Love your writing.
Reviewed by P-M Terry Lamar 3/23/2008
Wow. I agree with John Salmon, very inspiring. You are courageous.
Reviewed by john salmon 3/14/2008
You remember it so vividly. Wonderful, inspiring write.
Reviewed by . ignis 7/22/2007
In Indonesian culture, tales of mythical drawves are well known. They are said to come out at night to play a game with marbles. One night before World War I, an uncle of mine heard them play in his backyard and snuck up on them. When he was close enough he jumped right in the middle of the gang, wildly grabbing around him to clutch their marbles, which are believed to bring luck. He got one and slept with it, holding it firmly in his hand under his pillow. When he woke up the next day his entire house had been searched, no door was left closed, no drawer unopened and his possessions were scattered all over the floor. He had angered the dwarves by causing them to lose their marbles. He booked a flight to Europe the same day and left the country, heading straight for the big casinos. He made a fortune in a few days, blowing the croupiers off their own tables, until he was no longer allowed to enter any of them. Then he went to Brazil where he bought a huge estate. His marriage went down the drain, his children never heard from him again, but his bank account was filled to the brim. None of the attempts of his kin in Indonesia and Europe to contact him was successful; he did not care to reply to one of them.

Reviewed by Poetess of The Soul Sheila G 6/21/2007
This story had me so intrigued!
Chanti~ right to the end!
YOu write excellent!
This story reminded me of one of my favorite movies, with the little creature who weiled a knife in his hands, as he ran around, I can't rememember the Name, Oh, wait.. It was Triology of Terror, NO shit, Google or it ... YOU will see - It's the same goulish creature, that gave me shivers!
Old movie but still can hold my attention, how he went after Ppl...
Warmest HuGs, WArrior Sprit Lady Sheeeoox
Stay POsitive!
YOu are so lucky and blessed to beable to exper. so much in your lifetime~! : )
Reviewed by Tinka Boukes 6/18/2007
Great story Chanti!!

Tokoloshy maak my bang...tokoloshy gaan my vang!!

Love Tinka
Reviewed by Felix Perry 6/17/2007
VEry real write Chanti that brings the reader all the chills and thrills of that long ago experience as if we had been there with you.

Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 6/16/2007
Wow, what a great story, Chanti'~ Very well penned; brava!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your Tx. friend, Karen Lynn. :D
Reviewed by H Cruz 6/15/2007
Great story. They say a childs imagination is a fertile breeding ground when stimulated, yet we all need to occaisionally question our definition of reality since it is born out of our belief's making a chomileon of physical change inevitable. Any physicist will tell you that reality is but an illusion!
Reviewed by Joyce Bowling 6/15/2007
WOW!!! What a kept my attention from the very beginning to the end. Even though we are from different places...the part about the witch doctor reminded me of some stange things that happened in our neighborhood, we had a neighbor who practiced black magic...boy some strange things happened near his house, and the stories that were told...whew! So we too, were always looking over our shoulder just knowing that satan or one of his helpers would knab us at any time...your memory is one that many grew up with back then...parents believed a firm hand was the only way to get and keep their children under control. Today, if people tried that the kids would be on their way to foster care in the blink of an eye! But, that's a horse of another color as we say...I do recall a song from the seventies about the Tokaloshe man...I always wondered what that was, well now I know! Boy did it make the hair on my neck stand up...please share more about your childhood, this kind of write is fascinating, a glimpse of different cultures is always a penned it very well, the imagery was powerful, it was a bit creepy, scary, humorous, and just down right good! Enjoyed...will be watching for more!
Joyce B.
Reviewed by Edwin Larson 6/15/2007
Mwuhahaha....GOTCHA!!! :) Wonderful write Snuggles!!! the cow head was disturbing...although probably to be expected if your neighbor is a witch doctor :) Shhh!! did you hear that?!! Theyrrr'e baack!!

Buford T Cuddleshivers
Reviewed by Tami Ryan 6/15/2007
Great story, my friend.

Reviewed by Chanti Niven 6/15/2007
Thanks to all for your comments. I've got to say that this happened in the 70's. Just goes to show that some things don't change. ;)

Reviewed by Stan Grimes 6/15/2007
Great story, Chanti. Memories, ah yes, there are so many...good and bad.
Reviewed by Terry Lattimer 6/15/2007
"Tokaloshe" caught my eye; there was a great early '70s song by John Kongos called "Tokaloshe Man", never quite new what it meant, now 30+ years later I do! Great story, really enjoyed it! No one knows the real weirdness (and special times)that were the '50s - unless you lived it!
I agree with Linda, let's hear more about the witchdoctors and "magic" in your "'hood".
Reviewed by Linda Wells 6/15/2007
I can totally appreciate your story Chanti. This was acceptable behavior on our parents part in the '50's. If parents treated their children that way today, they would be jailed! I too experienced many a scary night waiting for the boogie man to cut my head off and run away with it. I felt your fright and shared your fears as I read this. Very well written, kept me intrigued and infuriated at the same time. Hope you will follow up with more of these scary childhood demons from the past! Good job, mate!
Reviewed by Michelle Mills 6/15/2007
What a cruel so and so Rae was. I feel sick inside for what you had to go through. A terrifying experience, so well written. Love, Michelle

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