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Newspaper headline, 7 December 1955

In Zulu/Xhosa mythology, Tikoloshe, Tokoloshe, Tokolotshe, or Hili is a dwarf-like water sprite. It is considered a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by drinking water or swallowing a stone. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At its least harmful, a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but its power extends to causing illness or even the death of the victim. The creature might be banished by a pastor (especially with an apostolic calling), who has the power to expel it from the area. It is also considered a part of superstition and is often used in a satirical manner as a reference to overcome.


The advent of the phantom Tokoloshe came about through Bantu folklore to explain why people inexplicably died while sleeping in their rondavels at night. Traditionally, these people slept on the floor on grass mats encircling a wood fire that kept them warm during sub-freezing cold winter nights on the highveld in the rarefied air. They never realized the fire was depleting the oxygen levels, leaving noxious carbon monoxide, which is heavier than pure air and sinks to the bottom. Eventually it was realized that anyone who happened to be sleeping in an elevated position escaped the deadly curse of Tokoloshe, which was described as a short man about hip high who randomly stole one's life in the night unless they were lifted to the height of their bed.[citation needed]

"Some Zulu people (and other southern African tribes) are still superstitious when it comes to things like the supposedly fictional tokoloshe—a hairy creature created by a witch doctor to harm his enemies (also … known to bite off sleeping people's toes)."[1]

According to legend, the only way to keep the Tokoloshe away at night is to put a few bricks beneath each leg of one's bed.


The client - usually a jealous person - will approach an evil witch doctor, shaman or Sangoma to take vengeance on someone. The client has to promise the soul of a loved one, but cannot choose who, as the Tikoloshe will choose the soul it decides to take. The Witch Doctor locates a dead body to be possessed, piercing the eye sockets and brain with a hot iron rod so that it cannot think for itself. and sprinkling it with a special powder, shrinking the body. The Tikoloshe is then let loose to terrorise its target, taking its payment of the soul of the client's loved one Weeks, months, or maybe years later.


  • Running gags about Tokoloshes are common in the South African daily comic strip Madam & Eve.[2]
  • "Tokoloshe Man" was a pop hit by John Kongos,[3] later covered by Happy Mondays and released on the Elektra compilation album Rubáiyát.
  • The video for Die Antwoord's song "Evil Boy" features a Tokoloshe.[4]
  • On the Late Show with David Letterman, when Die Antwoord performed "I Fink U Freeky" they replaced the English swear word "mother fucker" with "Tokoloshe".
  • Tokoloshe is mentioned several times in film The Bone Snatcher (2003) by Titus when the team encountered an ant-like demonic creature.
  • "Hosh Tokoloshe" is a pop/rap song influenced by the Tokoloshe by South African Rapper Jack Parow.
  • Malevolent creatures called tokoroths appear in Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.
  • Belief in the Tikoloshe is a major part of Gavin Hood's film A Reasonable Man.
  • The Tokoloshe is referred to several times by the characters in the British crime thrillers "Ritual" and "Skin" by Mo Hayder.
  • Serial killer Elifasi Msomi claimed to have been influenced by a tokoloshe.
  • A Tokoloshe appears in every episode of the third series of the British TV show Mad Dogs, although only one character can see it and it is left unclear as to whether it is real or a hallucination. At one point the characters are told that if you see a Tokoloshe, it means somebody will die.
  • Tokoloshe is the full name of Tok, the mascot for the English surfing and clothing company Saltrock.
  • The graveling creatures in Dead Like Me are influenced by these.[citation needed]
  • DJ and musician Steve "Toshk" Shelley got his stagename as a derivation of Tokoloshe[5]
  • Several Tokoloshe appear in the dark fantasy novella "The Flame's Burden" by Australian author Matthew Karabache.[6]
  • In her book "Taming the Tokolosh: Through Fear into Healing - A Trauma Survivor’s True Story", Mandy Bass recounts how she became a victim of violent crime when a college athlete on LSD broke into her home and brutally assaulted her. In this book she shares details of the attack and her journey through healing – both for herself and the man who attacked her.[7]
  • In Gene's Wolfe's "The Shadow of the Torturer," Severian is considered to be a tokoloshe by the zulu shaman, Isangoma, he encounters in aerial hut in the Botanic Gardens.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Modern Zulu". Library.thinkquest.org. Archived from the original on 18 October 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  2. ^ "Madam & Eve on-line". Madamandeve.co.za. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. ^ IOL.ie Archived 2 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Director's Cut: Die Antwoord: "Evil Boy" | News". Pitchfork. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  5. ^ Steve Toshk's DJ profile on Wickedspinsradio Website
  6. ^ "The Flame's Burden". Matthew Karabache. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Taming the Tokolosh: Through Fear into Healing". MidTown Publishing Inc. Retrieved 5 December 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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