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Newspaper headline, 7 December 1955

In Nguni mythology, Tikoloshe, Tikolosh, Tokoloshe, Tokolotshe, Thokolosi, or Hili is a dwarf-like water spirit. It is 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. Protection against them includes traditional methods such as raising beds off the ground and interventions by spiritual figures like pastors with an apostolic calling or traditional healers (sangomas), who are seen to possess the power to banish them. The Tikoloshe is often referenced satirically to critique the influence of superstitions on behaviour and society.


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.[citation needed]


The client – usually a jealous person – will approach an evil witch doctor 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.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

  • 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]
  • Tokoloshe is mentioned several times in the 2003 film The Bone Snatcher by Titus when the team encounters an ant-like demonic creature.
  • "Hosh Tokoloshe" is a pop/rap song influenced by the Tokoloshe by South African rapper Jack Parow.
  • Belief in the Tikoloshe is a major part of Gavin Hood's 1999 film A Reasonable Man.
  • 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.
  • DJ and musician Steve "Toshk" Shelley got his stagename as a derivation of Tokoloshe.[5]
  • 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 an 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

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]