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Newspaper headline, 7 December 1955

In Zulu mythology, Tikoloshe, Tokoloshe or Hili is a dwarf-like water sprite. It is considered a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by drinking water. 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 n'anga (witch doctor), who has the power to expel it from the area.


Another explanation is that the Tokoloshe resembles a zombie, poltergeist, or gremlin, created by South African shamans who have been offended by someone. The tokoloshe may also wander, causing mischief wherever it goes, particularly to schoolchildren. Other details include its gremlin-like appearance and gouged out eyes.[1]

The Tokoloshe, according to the Zulu shaman Credo Mutwa, has been known to take on many forms. One form is as described above, but others have portrayed the Tokoloshe as being a bear-like humanoid being.[2]

"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 wizard to harm his enemies (also … known to rape women and bite off sleeping people's toes)."[3]

According to legend, the only way to keep the Tokoloshe away at night is to put a brick beneath each leg of one's bed. However, this will not protect anything but the person whose bed it is along with the bed itself, as it may instead cause havoc not involving said people. They get their power from a hot poker thrust into the crown of the body during creation.

Western practical explanation of overnight mysterious deaths : This goes back many years to people who died mysteriously in their huts, where cattle-dung was burned for warmth in the traditional Zulu mud-huts. These huts had little or no ventilation once the opening was sealed in cold weather. Carbon monoxide released from the fire would accumulate inside the hut. Because carbon monoxide is heavier than air, it builds up from the floor in a layer of deadly gas. The old Zulu's discovered that a person sleeping higher would survive longer than another person sleeping at a lower height from the floor - hence the mistaken belief that they had 'escaped the tokoloshe' ( a mythical short killer demon ). This led to the folklore and their using bricks to raise their beds from the floor to 'escape the Tokoloshe'. To avoid such asphyxiation, refrain from making open fires in a confined space OR ensure adequate ventilation using vents & chimney.[citation needed]


  • Running gags about Tokoloshes are common in the South African daily comic strip Madam & Eve[4]
  • "Tokoloshe Man" was a pop hit by John Kongos,[5] 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.[6]
  • 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 3rd 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 gravelling 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[7]
  • Several Tokoloshe appear in the dark fantasy novella "The Flame's Burden" by Australian author Matthew Karabache.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McNab, Chris. Mythological Monsters. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2007. (ISBN 0-439-85479-2)
  2. ^ Sabon.org
  3. ^ "Modern Zulu". Library.thinkquest.org. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Madam & Eve on-line". Madamandeve.co.za. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  5. ^ IOL.ie Archived 2 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "Director's Cut: Die Antwoord: "Evil Boy" | News". Pitchfork. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Steve Toshk's DJ profile on Wickedspinsradio Website
  8. ^ "The Flame's Burden". Matthew Karabache. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]