Folk Belief – Botswana

“The tokoloshe are like these small, evil little demons that come out and get you.  They’re evil spirits, and you can tell they’re close from little things, like wild dogs barking at night.”

Ruchira, or Rucci as he prefers to be called, said that while he was living in southern Africa, he first heard about the tokoloshe on a school camping trip with his classmates when he was twelve years old.  As they sat around a campfire sharing stories “out in the open, in the bush,” a pack of wild dogs started barking in the distance.  Rucci said that their camping guide then proceeded to explain to them that when wild dogs start barking at night, evil, dangerous spirits like the tokoloshe are close and waiting to prey.  Rucci said that since then, he still has a fear of the tokoloshe and attributes the howls of wild dogs at night to be significant of the presence of lurking demons.

Folk beliefs, then, play a serious part in determining a person’s identity and the beliefs themselves are unique to each individual—so much that perhaps they can even be considered a part of the individual’s religious beliefs.  According to Rucci, the people who are at most risk are those who do not believe in the tokoloshe.  In turn, those who do believe are more likely to pray to God and read the Bible; therefore, the best way to protect oneself is to believe in the evil spirits.  Rucci mentioned that there are also things people can do to prevent being approached by a tokoloshe.  People often visit witch doctors or put something underneath the legs of their bed to raise it and keep it out of reach of the small tokoloshe.  Yet once a person is approached by a tokoloshe, he basically falls completely under the spirit’s control and the tokoloshe will possess him.  Thus, belief in the tokoloshe can actually lead to increased practicing of religion and continue to affect one’s everyday life.

In T. Sharper Knowlson’s book The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs, this idea is further reiterated, explaining that some beliefs maintain that the sound of howling dogs is foreshadowing the misfortunes and dangers that are to come to those who hear it.  However, it also slyly points out that “the remarkable phenomenon is the number of people who live after listening to many howlings.”  Evidently, Rucci is one of those people, living to tell of his experiences in gaining new folk beliefs.

Annotation: Knowlson, T. Sharper.  The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs.  Detroit: Gale Research Company, Book Tower, 1968, pg. 172-73.