Chiwele and Dimo


[originally told in Setswana but translated to English]

There was a girl named Chiwele who lived with her grandmother in a village. In a lot of Setswana stories there is a recurring character called Dimo. He is a scary giant who eats children. Chiwele and her grandmother lived a happy life until kids began to go missing in the middle of the night. The people of the village believed it was Dimo that was terrorizing their village by stealing children when the adults were asleep. Every night, more and more kids went missing. Eventually, people began leaving the village because of the danger. But Chiwele’s grandmother had a very beautiful home, with large rooms, big windows, and lovely sturdy doors, therefore Chiwele didn’t want to leave the house. Chiwele didn’t believe in Dimo anyway since she had never seen him. She thought all of the adults were being dramatic and loved the house too much to leave it. The granny was too scared to stay with Chiwele so they came up with a plan so that Chiwele could stay. They agree’d that Chiwele would stay inside and never open the doors to anyone, however, Chiwele was young and couldn’t cook food for herself. Therefore, every morning the grandmother would return with food for Chiwele. When the grandmother arrived she would sing a secret song as a code so that Chiwele knows it is okay to open the door. Chiwele was to only open the door if she heard her grandmother sing this song. The song goes:

[Original Setswana]

Chiwele, Ngwanawangwanake.

Ke rile a re tsamae,

Wa re o salela ntlo e.

Ntlo se agwa ka ditshipi,

Mabati antse marangrabane.

[Translated to English]

Chiwele, my granddaughter.

I said we should go,

You wanted to stay for this house.

This beautiful sturdy house,

With beautiful doors.

The plan worked successfully for weeks. But eventually, there was no more kids in the village left for Dimo to eat. He figured he would try this beautiful house even though it looks like no one is home. In the morning he saw the grandmother leave so he knew there was a child in there. He knocked on the door and no one answered. The next morning Dimo followed the grandmother as she came back to the house and heard the song she sang. Once the grandmother left, Dimo went to the door and sang the song.

[song is sung again but in a gruff voice this time]

Still no one answered. Dimo realized it was because the grandmother had a sweet and melodious voice. He went to the bush to get advice on how to change his voice. The rabbits told him that if he swallowed a hot rock from the fire, it would make his voice nice and smooth. Dimo listened to the rabbits and swallowed the rock and screamed in pain! But when the pain was gone, the rabbits were right, and Dimo’s voice sounded like the grandmother’s.

The next day, with his new voice, Dimo tried singing the song one more time.

[song is sung how it was originally]

Dimo sang the song exactly like the grandmother and this time Chiwele opened the door. Dimo scooped Chiwele up and no one heard from her again.


“This story is to teach children to listen to adults. If we say leave with us, you should listen. We are here to be able to protect you, and we are wiser than you think. If she had left with the grandmother, she would not have been taken and would have been protected. In Botswana culture, they were always teaching us to be respectful and follow instructions without nagging. This story also sparks a conversation with everyone around the fire. The kids join the conversation saying whether they would have stayed or left with the grandmother.”

K is a middle aged woman from Botswana. She first heard the story as a little girl from her father. She interprets the story’s moral to be that one must get too attached to material objects and to listed to those wiser than you.


The grim nature of this tale is more in line with traditional fairy tales, before the sanitized, PG version that modern stories are typically known as. In present day Its quite jarring to have a story aimed at children that has such a morbid ending. There’s even a colloquial term now for happy endings as “fairytale endings” however, if we go to the origins of traditional fairy tales, back to the brothers’ grimm stories, they are often macabre and morbid. This story is quite reminiscent of that. Perhaps it is a universal method to use fear as a teaching tool for children. The moral is to listen to the wisdom of elders and not be stubborn.