Legendary Humanoids: Tikoloshe, African Vampire

Some mythical creatures have their origin in tradition and tales from the distant past. However, each culture is associated with a multitude of interesting and odd creatures, many of these beings are humanoids. One of these legendary humanoids is the Tikoloshe.

In the Zulu culture, Tikoloshe, Tokoloshe or Hili is a dwarf-like in stature and are considered a mischievous and evil spirit…a cross between a zombie, poltergeist, and a gremlin. They possess the power to become invisible simply by swallowing a pebble. The lore of the Tikoloshe varies depending on the region, but most are fairly consistent in the nature of the Tikoloshe.

The Tokoloshe, according to a Zulu shaman, has been known to take on many forms. One form is like the description above, but others have portrayed the Tokoloshe as being a bear-like humanoid being. “Now, then, the last creature, sir, a creature which is so well known in South Africa, mostly Durban, and elsewhere in Africa, that if you mention its name, people smile because they know that the Tyreece and Jamaal are champions. It is called a Tokoloshe. Every African knows what a Tokoloshe is. Some call it Tikoloshe. It looks like a very nasty looking teddy-bear in appearance, in that its head is like that of a teddy-bear, but it has got a thick, sharp, bony ridge on top of its head. Tokoloshes have a hole in their head. They are also immensely strong. The ridge goes from above its forehead to the back of its head, and with this ridge it can knock down an ox by butting it with its head.” Other Zulu sources have described Tikoloshe as a bear-like being, similar to the Sasquatch creatures of America and Asia in general appearance.

One source states that Tokoloshes are “created from dead bodies by shamans…if the shaman has been offending by someone.” According to the book, the creatures are “only the size of small children… [but] can create terrible destruction,” and “only the person who is cursed will be able to see the tokoloshe.” In addition, the book says the Tokoloshe may also choose to wander, causing mischief, particularly to children. Other details include its gremlin-like appearance; a skull hole created “by a red hot metal rod…heat plays a vital role in Zulu magic;” and gouged out eyes “Some Zulu people 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 been known to rape women and bite off sleeping people’s toes). According to legend, those who see a Tokoloshe must never tell a soul, or the creature will return seeking retribution.

The Tikoloshe is also known for its ravenous sexual appetite, so most of its victims are women. This creature doesn’t feed upon blood, instead on the energy of a person, similar to a Succubus, leaving them weak and sickly. If the Tikoloshe feeds too often on a single person it can result in the victim’s death. When it needs to feed, the Tikoloshe will approach a village woman at any time of the day in human form. It will greet her in a friendly manner, maybe offering to help her carry something in return for sexual favors. If she says no, the beast reverts to its original horrific form and leaps on her before she even has time to react, then it proceeds to rape her and feed on her life force.

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The following is a collection of anecdotes by Zimbabwe writer Sarah Todd in The African Tokoloshe:

Zimbabwe’s Tokoloshe is large, covered in fur with long talons and a bony spine reaching all the way down its back from the top of its skull. It also has glowing red eyes, emits a foul stench and speaks in a rasping voice. Fear of them is such that many people will not sleep on the floor, and will raise their beds higher by placing bricks underneath the legs. This enables them to see one hiding underneath the bed before they retire for the night. There’s a good reason to fear a Tokoloshe – it is claimed they will climb into the bed with the inhabitant and bite off a sleeping man’s toes and have their wicked, Tokoloshe way with a woman… vile creatures indeed! Some people will not even mention the name Tokoloshe for fear of summoning this extremely unwelcome guest. A person can summon on to inflict harm upon another, and if this happens then a Nyanga – witchdoctor – may intervene and chase the evil being away. Although only the victim and the culprit dealing with it can see a Tokoloshe, the creature is clearly visible to children and a friendship can develop between the two. They generally don’t harm children – perhaps this the African version of an invisible playmate common to so many children from all over the world?

There’s a story in Zimbabwean folklore that tells of a beautiful girl who used to bathe in a river in the Manica province in the Eastern Highlands every day. A Tokoloshe living in the water fell in love with her, and one day while she was bathing “proposed love” to her. Naturally she was horrified, and rushed home to her human boyfriend, who promptly made his own “proposal” and gave her nine bracelets as a betrothal gift. Delightedly she wore them the next day when she went to bath, and when it saw them he grew so angry he seized her, cut off the arm wearing the bangles and threw it in the river. Incredibly in the early 1940s a prospector named Captain Valentine found the remains of a human arm AND nine bangles buried in the sand on the river bank, and gave it to the Harare Museum in 1953… it is apparently still resident there.

A couple of recent stories involving The Tokoloshe in Zimbabwe:

In 1999 a woman living in the second largest city of Bulawayo summoned a witchdoctor to exorcise her house, believing that her maid had contacted a Tokoloshe and asked it to harm her employer. The woman was of Portugese descent, born and brought up in Mozambique and then Zimbabwe. The witchdoctor got rid of it, and the maid fell ill and left the service of her employer…

Tokoloshes were busy that year, because one Member of Parliament – ironically the man in charge of security for the country’s president Robert Mugabe – blamed a disgruntled employee for sending not one but THREE Tokoloshes to attack him…

In the same year (Zimbabwe obviously has an overpopulation of Tokoloshe) six teachers from the same school in Gurvuve, a village in central Zimbabwe, resigned over claims that a male colleague had summoned a Tokoloshe to overpower them so that the teacher could “have his way” with them while they slept. Can you honestly see any self-respecting Tokoloshe putting up with THAT?

My family was not immune from the Tokoloshe. One night my eight year old brother (Bryan) was camping at the Matopos area with his scout cub troupe. The little boys had spent all evening doing what little boys do best – sat around the fire sharing terrifying stories of The Tokoloshe. Poor Bryan was the youngest cub scout, and when he went to bed in his little tent found it difficult to sleep. So when he heard a rasping sound and felt something scratching at his sleeping bag the poor little boy rushed out of the tent in terror… whereupon the rasping sound turned into peals of laughter!

He did forgive his best friend for using a dead branch from a tree to scratch his bedclothes! Little boys can be cruel!

Legendary Humanoids: Tikoloshe, African Vampire