Ireland,  Zimbabwe

An African Leprechaun in Zimbabwe?

With St. Paddy’s day fast approaching.. I thought I’d share a little tale about a tiny, supernatural, leprechaun-like creature that resides in Africa.*

A Tale of the African Leprechaun

Once upon a time in a rural village in Zimbabwe…..

African leprechaun

A bunch of Western tourists sat in a mud hut, huddled around an 81-year-old almost naked chief. He was a friendly fellow, wanting to know about each and every one of us  visitors and where we came from. One person was from Ireland.

To give the chief a cultural point of reference, our guide explained the concept of leprechauns to him. You see, the village has their own version of a leprechaun, but in their culture, it manifests as a hairy, black, dwarf-like creatures called a Tokoloshe.

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A village chief in Zimbabwe

In Zulu tradition, these water sprites are evil, mischievous spirits who become invisible by swallowing a pebble. If you do happen to catch a glimpse of the hairy creature, make certain that you don’t upset him by speaking to or pointing at him. Apparently, he’s shy.

The belief is that when you have a tokoloshe living in your house, you have to appease it by worshiping and feeding it. In other words, you must leave food and drink out for it like Western children do for Santa Clause. I guess the main difference is that Santa leaves you presents, but the Tokoloshe will only stop harassing you if you leave it milk and cookies (or goat’s milk and rabbit) for him. The only way to get a Tokoloshe out of your house is to have a shaman remove it (like an exorcism).

Our guide told us an interesting story. He grew up in the bush and played with the kids in the village, therefore spoke their language fluently. He spent a lot of time with the tribe, seeing a lot of interesting things. One time while he was in the village, a woman approached the chief with an issue. Every time she got pregnant, she would miscarry. She tried visiting a Western medical doctor, who thoroughly examined her. Everything checked out normal; she was physically fine.

African leprechaun

The chief suggested that she see the town’s shaman. After she consulted him, he determined that she had a Tokoloshe under her house. He declared that he would remove it. Only then would she be able to have children.

Ian, our guide, said- and he swears by this- that he was sitting on the ground outside while the shaman was inside the woman’s house, chanting and doing his thing to remove the tokoloshe. He was just sitting there waiting for someone, minding his own business. Suddenly, a little black being ran out of the house, the shaman in pursuit. He threw some powder at it, yelling something indecipherable, and it burst in to a puff of smoke!

A Tokoloshe rendering

A Tokoloshe rendering

I know the story sounds ridiculous, but Ian did not strike me as a BSer. He truly believed what he saw, even though he does not, to this day, understand it.  He thinks that things are happening all around us every day that we don’t actually see because we choose not to or don’t want to believe it. I think he may be right!

Trip Details: I went to Zimbabwe with G Adventures on the “Cape Town to Joburg Adventure.” In Matobo National Park, the group spent a couple of days touring with Ian Harmer, guide and owner of The African Wanderer. Ian’s tours are extremely unique and informative. His passion for his country, the people, and nature is infectious. He offers bespoke as well as prearranged tours.

African leprechaun

*This story, written by me, was originally published on The Polar Route.

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