Tag Archives: South Africa

The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena

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KK: “One of them was called The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena and that story essentially goes there was this lion named Simba, um, not from the Lion King, but you know he had gotten injured on a hunt and he was living in his cave and he was, you know, starving to death because he couldn’t really go out and get anymore food. And eventually this hare, um, came up to him and was like ‘Hey, you know, I’m a really well-renowned doctor around these parts. I can heal you up, just you know, I can lure some animals in here and you can hunt them because I can’t really get my own food and we can help each other out.’ And the lion was hesitant at first because he was a solitary creature, his pride wasn’t really with him anymore. But eventually the hare moved into the lions cave and they started helping each other out. The lion would hunt whenever he could and provide food for the both of them, while the hare nursed his wound. And then eventually this hyena, who was kinda a notorious trickster around the area, walked up and was like ‘Oh hey, Mr. Lion. I noticed that you’re, like, a little injured. Have you been getting treatment?” So the lion explained that he was getting treated by the hare who was famous around as like a doctor. And the hyena said ‘Well, you know, if he’s that good then I feel like your leg should have been healed a lot quicker.’ And the lion thought for a second and he was like ‘Yeah, you know if he is that good my leg should have been healed way quicker.’ The hyena was then like ‘You know, maybe me and you could go out hunting together sometime and I could help you out with your leg. And at this point the lion kind of sussed out that something was going on so he sent the hyena away. And the hyena came back the next day, but the hare was also there, and so the hyena said ‘Oh Lion, like, you wanna go hunting? I can help you out, you can help me out, etcetera.’ And he was eyeing up the hare in a really kind of predatory way, you know like he wanted to eat him. And the lion noticed and was like ‘No. Get out, you need to leave.’ Hyena came back the next day while the hare was out doing something and he said ‘Hey Lion, you know, like I promise you this guy’s a really good doctor and he could have healed your leg in a couple of days, but I think he’s keeping you injured so you two, um, so you can keep supporting him.’ And then what happened was the hare came back. and the hyena left, and the lion explained to the hare, he was like, ‘Hey, you know, if you’re such a good doctor, why, haven’t you healed me quicker?’ And the hare, and the hare was like ‘Well, where’d you hear this from, you know, I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to help you out.’ And the lion said ‘Oh, from the hyena he keeps coming to visit.’ And then the hare kind of got the idea. He said ‘Oh, okay, well that’s actually really convenient, because if I get the skin off the back of a hyena, I can use it to patch your leg up instantly. I just haven’t had the chance to get it.’ So the hyena came back the next day and was like ‘Hey, lion!’ And he saw the hare next to him. He was like ‘We don’t have any need for this stupid hare anymore. We should just eat him, and you know I can heal your leg.’ And the the lion just immediately clocked what was going on and just jumped on the hyena, you know, tore the skin off his back and gave it to the hare. The hyena ran away embarrassed and you could tell that’s kind of like an origin story, for why hyenas have those like coarse hairs along their back, because the lion ripped it out and so the the hare was like ‘Hey I’ll patch your leg up all good’ and with the power of magic, and the hyenas skin the lion was healed, and they lived happily ever after.”


KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. KK heard this story for the first time as a child still living in South Africa from his grandmother. He says that it was one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite folk tales, and it has since become one of his.


KK says that this tale is most commonly told as a bedtime story for children and that it also serves as a myth for the origin from the raised hairs running along the backs of wild hyenas. This story also serves to impart a moral onto its listeners that lying has bad consequences and telling the truth is always the noble path.

Interviewer Analysis

I could not find the ATU type number for this story exactly but there are plenty of folktales out there that carry similar themes and morals. Hyenas and jackals are often trickster characters in these stories, trying to convince the stronger, sometimes less clever, lion into helping them in some way. These stories usually end in the same way as well, with the lion realizing he has been tricked and then punishing the hyena thus showing the listener of the story, most often a child, that lying is an undesirable trait and that it leads to your own downfall. Stories with morals for children are not groundbreaking novelties, but the added bonus that this story also serves as an origin for a natural phenomenon is interesting.

The Sultan’s Daughter

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KK: “The next one is called the Sultan’s Daughter. Yeah, it’s called the Sultan’s Daughter, and it’s about, the main character is not the Sultan’s daughter, it’s the son of a king in one, in one country, and he sets out on a journey. His father wants to know if he’s you know responsible, and worthy of becoming king when he grows up. So he gives the Prince a bag of of money, and gives the Prince a sword, and he says ‘Okay, you know, go out and figure out what’s happening.’ So the Prince leaves, with him he has a bag of money, a sword, and a horse. And so he treks through a couple of different countries, and eventually the horse dies of starvation or dehydration, one of the two. But the Prince is in great spirits, you know, he has a general love of life and a love of the world. He loves exploring, so he just keeps walking by himself, and eventually he stumbles across this old ruin of like a temple, and he sees these two men with pickaxes digging up a grave. And they take out a skeleton from the grave, and so he he pulls out his sword, he’s a very righteous person, and he points it at them he says ‘Hey, stop! You know you can’t do that, you’re, that’s sacrilege.’ And the two bandits they say ‘Well, no, this man in his life owed us a great debt, and now that he’s dead, you know, we’re just coming to collect.’ The Prince said ‘I understand that you were owed a debt, but you know the man is dead now, and you can’t just defile his grave. I mean he’s probably not at peace with the fact that he never got to pay that debt himself, so let that be his punishment.’ The two men were like ‘Okay, well, sure, but we still need our money.’ So the prince said ‘Well, how about I pay you? and if I do, you have to promise to put those bones back and cover the grave with the utmost respect.’ And so the Prince paid them, and they put the bones back and covered it up, and once the Prince paid them, he realized ‘Oh, I’m out of money.’ So he had now no horse, no money, but he still just kept walking and he was still having a great time. He was loving life. And then he met this, this man who we’ll just refer to as friend for the rest of it. And this friend approached him and was like ‘Hey, wow! you’re traveling! I could travel with you for a bit.’ And he had a good, you know, he had an honest looking face, so the Prince was like ‘Yeah, of course, you know, come along with me.’ So the prince and his friend kept traveling, and then they stumbled upon the city. And as they walked into the city there was this beautiful, beautiful woman, the most beautiful that the prince had ever seen. And so he turned to his friend and was like ‘Wow! Who’s that?’ And his friend goes ‘Oh, that’s the sultan’s daughter but if you want her hand in marriage you have to, you know, solve her riddle correctly. Thousands have tried, but if you fail, you get put to death.’ The Prince was like ‘Man you know even though that’s a little cruel I’m in love. This is the woman for me. I’m gonna solve the riddle.’ So then the friend was like ‘You know, Why don’t we just go to bed, and well, when you have a fresh mind tomorrow you can go tackle the riddle.’ So they went to bed, and the friend woke up in the middle of the night, and he fashioned some wings out of just loose hay in the barnyard they were staying at and he took some of the hay as well and fashioned like a little bracken whip. And so he he flew out to the Sultan’s palace, and he waited for the daughter, who also had golden wings Just by the power of magic and she flew out of the palace like in the dead of night, and she flew to this witch’s cave. But the whole time she was being followed by the friend and the whole time the friend was, you know, beating her back with the the bracken whip. She didn’t notice she thought it was just the raindrops hitting her back in like a painful way and it didn’t leave any marks. So she gets to the witch’s hut, or the witch’s cave, and she goes and is like ‘Hey, like you know I need a new riddle this man is gonna come ask for something.’ So the witch is like ‘Okay, well, he’ll never get this. Tell him to, tell him to like answer: what am I thinking about right now? what is the princess thinking about? and the answer should be your gloves.’ So the next day they wake up and the friend goes ‘Hey, you know, if the princess asks you what she’s thinking about, say her gloves.’ And he goes in, and he gives the correct answer, and the princess is mad. She’s like ‘It shouldn’t be this easy, you know. No, come back tomorrow.’ Then the Prince is, he’s a good guy so he’s like ‘Oh, I mean I thought it was only a one time deal, but sure I like you so much I’ll come back tomorrow.’ So he he goes to bed, and the same thing happens. The next night the friend follows her to the witches hut, beating her with the lashes, and she, the witch gives a new riddle, and the new riddle is again: what am I thinking about? And the answer is the crown on top of my head. And so the next morning the friend says to the Prince ‘Hey, If again, she asks what you’re thinking about say the crowd on top of her head.’ So he goes in, gives the riddle correctly and the the Princess is furious. She’s like ‘There’s no way. This should not be this easy, come back tomorrow.’ So again, same thing happens. she flies out, and she gets beaten with the lashes. So she flies back for the third time, and the witch says ‘Okay, this time he’ll never get this. Tell him that you’re thinking about my head, the witch’s head. And so the princess flies back, and as she’s flying back, she’s like ‘Wow, you know my back is cut so much from this rain I’m never visiting this witch again.’ So then the friend has been waiting outside the witches cavern the whole time, and he draws a sword, and as the witch pokes her head out he cuts it off and he puts the head in a bag, and he goes back to the prince. And the next morning the prince wakes up, and the friend is like ‘Hey when the Princess asks what she’s thinking about just show her whatever is in this bag, but don’t open it till you get there’ and he gives him the bag with the head in it. The good prince goes in once again, and the Princess asks ‘What am I thinking about?’ And he he doesn’t say anything because he’s like ‘Okay? Well, I wasn’t given anything to say.’ And the guards draw their swords and the executioner has the axe at the ready and he’s like ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait one sec’ and he reaches into the bag and pulls out the witch’s head, and you know, in classic fairytale fashion the princess is wooed and falls into his arms and is like ‘Yes, this is him. This is the man that I’m gonna marry.’ And the Prince is super stoked. He’s like ‘Oh, yes, I just got, you know, the prettiest girl in the whole land.’ So then he goes back to his friend and he’s like ‘Yo like it worked I mean’ and his friend is like ‘Oh, that’s great for you.’ And the Prince is like ‘So, you know, I gotta go back home to tell my dad, but when can I see you again?’ And his friend goes ‘Well, actually you know you’re not gonna ever see me again. Like I’m done here.’ And the prince is like ‘What do you mean?’ The man says ‘Do you remember when you stopped those two men from defiling that grave?’ And the Prince is like ‘Yeah, yeah, I mean I just thought it was the right thing to do.’ The man’s like ‘Actually that was my grave and you know I’m just here to help you out because you helped me out.’ Yeah, that’s the end of the story.”


KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. KK heard this story for the first time as a child still living in South Africa from his grandmother. It was his favorite and would ask for this story to be told to him over and over again. He thinks it is his favorite because he connects so well with the overall moral of the story.


KK says that the Sultan’s Daughter is another traditional South African folktale that would be told to children as a bed time story. The moral of this story in his words is that if you do good things, good things will come unto you and that you should have no desire for material goods. But you should use your resources to help others, and they will help you in return.

Interviewer Analysis

I found this story very interesting and over the course of the telling became wrapped up in the plot and the success of the main character, not just in analyzing the text. It is most often the most interesting tales that are carried on, as they are more memorable and more likely to be retold. This story certainly supports that hypothesis although it is admittedly quite long. As an emic observer this story makes perfect sense not only in its moral but also in its purpose.

Bunny Chow

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KK: “So there’s this dish in South Africa called bunny chow like colloquially, we just call it a bunny. It’s big enough that you would, it’s a big deal. There are restaurants that like specialize in bunnies, and essentially the the recipe is just you take a loaf of bread and you cut out the inside, and then you fill it with a curry of your choice. So like mutton curry, chicken curry, potato curry, beans, whatever. And the origin of it was, you know, Indian people from, like their homeland India, were taken by the British to South Africa to cut the sugar cane. They would be eating their lunch and would be eating curry, but they didn’t have anywhere to like put it or store it, and they didn’t have rice like easily accessible to them. So what they would do is just take the loaf of bread, like the British style bread, and fill it up with the curry. And then like nowadays, it’s just a really popular meal among the Indian South African community.”


KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. Bunny Chow is obviously a fusion dish borne out of necessity, made by these displaced Indian sugar cane workers. It has since become so popular, according to KK, that he eats it at his home in America and restaurants specialize in serving it back in South Africa.


KK eats this meal regularly with his family at home in New York and says that the context this meal is served in is certainly a family style sit down dinner. Because of the size of a full loaf of bread, Bunny Chow is usually shared with multiple people which makes it a staple meal for Indian families with ties to South Africa.

Interviewer Analysis

Food traditions are very easy to share and that is why so many people have family recipes or dinner traditions that mean so much to them. I find it so interesting that this dish is a cultural fusion however, Indian style curry served inside British baked bread and served in Africa. This dish is obviously not something that came from a fancy written cookbook, but from the needs and innovation of everyday people. Bread bowls and Chalupas spring to mind as similar recipe variations on bread bowl with meat and vegetables inside, but it is obvious they do not share a common origin.

South African Slang and Sayings (Voetsek, Sweet Like a Lemon, Yoh, Aiyoh, Shame)

Informant Context:

Otis’ parents immigrated separately to America from South Africa in the 1980’s, during apartheid. Otis’ extended family now lives in the Bay Area, California and near Johannesburg, South Africa. Otis often visits his family in South Africa.


OTIS: I can think of like, some slang that my family uses a lot. Um…


OTIS: A lot of it is like… [laughs] a lot of it will be like, toned-down South African swear words. 


OTIS: I don’t really know how most of them are spelled, but you could probably find… I don’t really know, but uh, one I thought of is… is “Voetsek!” [both laugh]. And that… it—it means “get away” in Afrikaans. And it… like, it’s mainly like, a thing that you say to dogs, ’cause there’s a lot of stray dogs in like, the kind of poorer areas where my family grew up. So they would be like, if a dog is coming near them, and if the dog looks dangerous, they’d like—yell “Voetsek!” And all the dogs *know* it by now, so the dogs—

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Wow! [laughs]

OTIS: —Scatter. 

INTERVIEWER: They all—they all scatter?

OTIS: But… so when you say it to a person, [laughs] it’s kind of rude. You’re like, calling him like, a dog.


OTIS: Yeah. And… like, my family will like, jokingly say it to each other. When like, one of my aunts is teasing one of the other aunts, they’ll be like, “Eh, voetsek” 


INTERVIEWER: Like, joking. Um… [both laugh] There’s this thing my dad like, taught me to say whenever I was visiting family in South Africa. But I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but my dad’s like, “Oh yeah, me and all my friends always say this”. It—It just means “cool”, but it’s “sweet like a lemon”.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Oh! 


INTERVIEWER: [voice broken by laughter] I haven’t heard that… either. Lemon’s aren’t really sweet!

OTIS: It makes zero sense! But, uh… my dad might be just like, messing with me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [both laugh]Do people respond when you… ’cause he—he told you to say this in front of other family. Did they understand it? 

OTIS: They’ll just be like, “Oh yeah OK” [laughs].

INTERVIEWER: Oh. [joins]


OTIS: And then like, there’s a lot of like, exclma—exclamations um [laughs]… there’s like, “yoh”! Which means [laughs]—and I-I don’t know how you gonna spell all this stuff so… 

INTERVIEWER: I try to spell it out phonetically, but [laughs].

OTIS: Y-y-yeah. It’s like “yoh”!—which means, uh… like “Whoa”! And then there’s “Aiyoh!” which is like, “that’s crazy!” And I’ll hear my dad say that stuff a lot when he’s watching his soccer games [both laugh]. And… um… Oh! OK, a lot of South Africans will say [elongated] “Shame!” But it like…! It means—it kind of means the same thing as like “it’s a shame,” like how Americans will say. But it’s kind of different. Like, they’ll mean it in like, a… they’ll say it when like, a kid does something cute. Or like, someone’s being naïve, almost? 


OTIS: Like, if they say like—if they say like, “Oh this… kid like my, my son like didn’t make the soccer team. He was too short.” 


OTIS: Or something. I guess that’s like “it’s a shame”. 


OTIS: But like, if they say something like, “Oh! The… the little kid made like, a… made like a fort, and told everyone that’s his new house.” They’d all be like “Uh! A shame, man!” They’s say that. [both laugh] 

INTERVIEWER: Oh interesting. So it’s around kids or something cute.

OTIS: Mhm.

INTERVIEWER: But also kind of something unfortunate. 

OTIS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So like… so like if I told somebody that I backed into a car in the parking lot, would they say “Shame” to that? Probably not? 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughs]. Whereas— 

OTIS: If you said something like… like, “Oh, I need to go get gas right now”. They’d probably said like “Oh, shame”.  


Informant Commentary:

The informant recalls two levels of folk sayings: one that appears cultural (or at least, regional to Pretoria), and one that appears familial. On a large scale, interjections with origins in Afrikaans or  Asian languages (in the case of “aiyoh”) are easily recognizable among those in the South African Indian culture. They might even be understandable to those outside this culture, given the right context. To use Otis’ example, the meaning term “aiyoh” might be decipherable by someone watching the same soccer game as Otis’ father. The term “shame” might be decipherable to someone watching a child build a fort in front of the family. Other sayings, such as “sweet like a lemon” are idiosyncratic to Otis’ family, in his experience.


A small detail Otis mentioned about the dogs in South Africa give the term “voetsek” a deeper significance. Otis stated that “all the dogs know it by now,” implying that over time, the dog population came to gather the same meaning from the word “voetsek” as humans. In this way, the dogs seems to be part of the in-group who understand this term. If the term was said to a group of dogs from the region and a group of humans from outside the region, in “scatter[ing]”, the dogs would demonstrate a better understanding of this folk term than the humans would. This is a post-humanist analysis of this one, particular saying: folklore shared among non-humans. As for the collection of sayings as a whole—there is a significant amount of evidence online to suggest that these are widely used terms, not only among South African Indians, but South Africans of other ethnicities as well. “Aiyoh” appears more idiosyncratic to Asian (particularly Indian and Chinese) cultures, and “sweet like a lemon” might have a wider usage than Otis suggests, but is obscure compared to the rest. 

The Baobab Tree


“The Baobab tree, also known as the upside-down tree, is a strange looking tree that grows in low-lying areas in Africa and Australia. The Baobab is also called the upside-down tree because when bare of leaves, the spreading branches of the Baobab look like roots sticking up into the air, as if it had been planted upside-down. Legend holds that god Thora took a dislike to the Baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it out over the wall of Paradise on to Earth below, and although the tree landed upside-down it continued to grow. Another story goes that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving. Bushmen believed that any person who plucks the flowers will be torn apart by lions, because there are spirits in the flowers. When water is drunk, in which the Baobab’s pips have been soaked, this serves as protection from crocodiles and the drinker will be mighty.”


The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), heard all of these stories about the Baobab trees from the trackers who would lead the safaris she went on in South Africa. The trees did not grow where she grew up near Johannesburg.


In the first two stories about the tree, I see an expression of the traditional subject of minor myths; explaining why things are the way they are. In the folk beliefs of the bushmen, however, I see an intense tie to their surroundings. The tree, for them, is an extremely important part of their relationship with nature. In addition to these stories, the informant sent me some factual information about the tree: “The Baobab has a special role in Africa. Elephants, monkeys and baboons depend on its fruit (the vitamin C content of one fruit is the equivalent of 4 oranges); bats pollinate them by crashing into the flowers while chasing insects; bush babies also spread the pollen; the pollen can be used as glue; the seeds are rich in protein, calcium, oil and phosphates – they can also be roasted and ground like coffee beans; young leaves have a high calcium content and can be used as spinach; the trunk is fibrous and can be woven into rope mats and paper; beer and tea can be made from the bark, but you need a strong constitution to drink either.” These facts demonstrate the many ways in which the tree is used, by humans and animals alike. That said, all of these things the tree does augments the tie between it and the bushmen that is expressed in the stories.