Monyohe: A South African Folktale

They say there was a chief’s son called Masilo; there was a dearth in his village. Masilo invited many men, saying that they must come to a hunting expedition to kill game. They went and hunted for game, but they did not get any rain. Many months passed on without them getting rain. The people began to die of thirst. They had lots of dogs; every day their dogs were coming back after having dipped themselves in water. The people sucked the skin of the dogs, but it did not help them much, because they were so many.

Once they said: Let us go after them. They departed, and went with them; as they were going on, they found a big pool of dark green water. They rejoiced greatly, saying: today we have found water. They began to lift it with their hands, but when they were bringing the water to their mouths, the water dried up in their hands. They did so for a long time, but the dogs were coming out of the water wet. Then the chief began to speak, saying: Chief (he was speaking to the chief who was in the water), what shall I give you? I will give you a hundred cattle. The chief of the water said: I do not want them. — I will give you a hundred wives. He said: I do not want them. Now the chief Masilo was silent, he wondered; he said again: I will give you my sister Senkepeng. The chief of the water said: Yes, that is right.

Now they began to drink water, they all drank heartily. The chief who was in the water said: When I shall come to fetch my wife, you will know by a cloud of red dust. Now Masilo said to the people of the hunting expedition: I beg you, do not tell my father that we have bought water with my sister, because he will kill me. They returned home.

A year passed; they forgot all that. The second year they saw a cloud of red dust appearing. The men who knew about it began to be frightened. All the people wondered what it was. They saw an object like a serpent appear, but it was a very long one. It arrived at the village; it went to the chiefs court, it entered it and found there men who were sitting down dressing a skin. They jumped over the walls of the court, they ran away, because they wondered what that thing could be. But as for Masilo and those who had gone with him to the hunting expedition, they began to be frightened because they knew what it was coming for. They brought strong beer for it in the court; it absorbed it all at once.

When the sun set, the maidens went to their sleeping place, because they slept by themselves in their own hut. The serpent left the court; it arrived and coiled itself up in the reed enclosure of the hut where the maidens were sleeping. The maidens began to be frightened; they tried to find how to get out. One of them went first, she walked out very slowly; the second one came and did the same; it was so till all of them had gone out.

There remained Senkepeng. She also started going out very slowly. As she was just outside the door of the hut, she stumbled on the serpent. It rose, saying: Where are you going, my wife? She went out, she ran; it went on, pursuing her, she weeping loudly all the time, and the serpent striking her continually with its tail. It was saying:

Oo ! whose is the water ?

She was saying:

I am Senkepeng, Masilo's sister,

I have been married by a serpent,

I have been married by what is not to be seen.

She went on running through all the village, still weeping loudly, till she arrived at her paternal uncle's. All the people had come out of their huts wondering what it was. She entered the hut. It entered the reed enclosure, it coiled itself up, and it filled the whole of the reed enclosure. She went out; when she was outside the door, she stumbled on it. It said: Where are you going, my wife? It turned round and went after her. She went away from her paternal uncle's still weeping loudly.

On the way she broke her string of beads; it remained picking them up. She went on a short distance. It came up to her again; it struck her with its tail, saying:

Oo ! whose is the water ?

She said:

I am Senkepeng, Masilo's sister,

I have been married by a serpent,

I have been married by what is not to be seen.

She arrived at her maternal uncle's. The people at her maternal uncle's also came out of their huts, wondering what it was that was coming. When she appeared, they saw it was Senkepeng, pursued by a thing like a serpent, but such a one as had no end. She entered the hut; it entered the reed enclosure, it coiled itself up. It was a heap which filled the reed enclosure.

Her uncle then sent the people to the village to procure him ten strong bulls. They arrived; they were put into the kraal (enclosure). Then he said to the serpent: Chief, go into the kraal and choose for yourself the one you like. It entered the kraal. The bulls began to jump up and down, being afraid of it; they trampled upon it while it was biting them; then it died.

Now Senkepeng began to be very ill from her fright; she nearly died. They had even to make her drink through a reed. Her father asked the men where that serpent came from. The men began to tell him that it was her brother Masilo who had bought water with her when they had gone on the hunting expedition. The father ordered them to seize Masilo and to kill him. Senkepeng recovered completely.

It is the end of the tale


· This folktale was spun off from the collection, Folk-tales of the Ba-Suto, collected by E. Jacottet. It is a transliterated conversion from the oral presentation; thus, it is pristine and rudimentary. It has been made available to republish without copyright.

· Folktales are passed down orally and therefore do not have a single author. They are early forms of folk literature and equally the earliest form of literature, which drew inspiration from the cultural background of autochthonous societies. They are essentially didactic, rhetoric, symbolic, reflexive and expressive.

· The essence of this folktale does not only lie in its entertaining abilities, but in its educating dimensions as virtues are rewarded, truth is vindicated and vices are punished. In other words, they have didactic underpinnings and teach morals to both children and adults. Moreover, folktales lend credence to the imaginative intensity of the African during the period of paradise on earth, the precolonial period.

· Indeed, many African American stories and music today and the modern African literary exposure as we know it owe their antecedence to this oral expression. The themes of these stories are filled with intrigues, vices, virtues and morals. They, as a matter of fact, concretize human experiences and existence in boldly imaginative themes.

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