South African Folk Stories                                                                     Home

The Shipwreck That Began The Tradition Of "Women And Children First"
The Captain of the sinking ship, HMS Birkenhead, shouted "every man for himself", but the troops stood on the doomed ship
and calmly waited their fate as they knew that if they stormed the three serviceable lifeboats, the women and children in them would surely drown. They stood in their ranks even as the ship split in two. The ship then tilted and the soldiers were thrown overboard. Some drowned and others faced an even worse fate as the waters were infested with sharks. Of the 638 people who sailed on the HMS Birkenhead, only 193 survived. And that is where the saying "women and children first" comes from. Gold reputed to be worth in excess of 300,000 pounds went down with the ship, but to this day if any of it has been found, it has not
been reported to the authorities.

Eternal Voyage Of The Flying Dutchman
When the wind howls and the waves crash against the coast, the ghost of the Flying Dutchman is said to haunt the waters
around the Cape of Good Hope. Tales have filtered down through generations of a phantom ship with broken masts, flying be-
fore the gale and doomed to battle forever to round the Cape. Some say the legend goes all the way back to Bartholomew Dias,
The Portuguese navigator who drowned when his ship sank off the Cape two years after he successfully rounded it. However,
the most often told tale is that of Captain van der Decken, a Dutchman, who on his homeward journey ran into a storm in 1641.
It is said that while his ship was sinking he vowed that he would round the Cape if he had to keep sailing until doomsday. It is
said that whoever catches a glimpse of the Flying Dutchman, will perish, just as Van der Decken did. Keepers of the lighthouse
at the tip of the peninsula have often reported seeing a sailing ship at the height of a storm. Perhaps the most famous sighting
was on 11 July 1881 when a young midshipman, on the Royal Navy ship, Bacchante, recorded that at 4 am the Flying Dutch-
man crossed their bows. The lookout man in the forecastle reported her as being close to the port bow. Also the officer of the
watch saw her as a strange red light of a phantom ship all aglow. Soon afterwards the lookout man fell from a mast to his death,
but the curse of the Flying Dutchman did not touch the midshipman, who later became King George V.

The Ghost With Red-Hot Handshake
According to the legend, in about 1880, a farm owner died and his farm was taken over by his brother-in-law who was an un-pleasant character. He began to mistreat the dead man's wife and daughter. The daughter was being courted by a young man
from Wellington and after visiting her one evening he was untethering his horse when he felt that there was someone watching
him. The young man asked the stranger to identify himself. The shadow answered that he was the previous owner. The young
man argued that this was not possible since he had been dead for a year. The ghost chuckled and moved into the light, and
there was no doubt as to who it was. The ghost told the young man to tell his brother-in-law to treat his wife and daughter better
or it would be the worse for him. As proof that he had been there he told the young man to wrap his hand in his saddle blanket.
The ghost then firmly shook his hand. There was a puff of smoke and the imprint of the dead man's hand was clearly burned
into the blanket. This was enough to send the brother-in-law packing and leave the family in peace.

Huberta The Wandering Hippo Who Went On A Three-Year Ramble
No-one will ever know what made Huberta leave her muddy home n Zululand, but in November 1928, she started on one of the
most dotty animal adventures of all time. For the next three years she wandered over 1600 km through South Africa. She wan-
dered across railway lines, golf courses and gardens and popped up in cities and towns. Her fame spread quickly and soon she had a contingent following her, who thinking she was a he, wanted to capture her as a mate for a lonely female hippo in the Johannesburg Zoo. The public began to love the adventurous hippo and the Natal Parks Board proclaimed her royal game and
the zoo men were ordered to leave her alone. Early in March, Huberta's footprints were found on a housing estate, and rumor
had it she was looking for a house, but none had a sufficiently large bathroom. After a brief stop at a reservoir in Pinetown,
Huberta pulled her most dangerous stunt, she gate crashed a party at the Durban Country Club. In the ensuing confusion, she charged off across the golf course and a policeman found her in the doorway of a chemist's shop in the city. When she reached
the Wild Coast, the Pondo people overlooked the fact that she was eating their crops because they thought she was the reincarnation of a legendary diviner. In March 1931 Huberta had reached East London and was spotted sleeping on the main
railway line. An engine driver, who failed to wake her with his whistle, edged the train forward and gently nudged her off of the
tracks. In April 1931, Huberta's luck finally ran out, three hunters shot her. There was a national outcry and her killers were
tracked down. They pleaded ignorance and were fined R 25 each for destroying royal game. The body of Huberta can be seen
at the Kaffrarian Museum in King William's Town.

Secrets Of Modjadji The "Immortal" Rain Queen
During disturbances in the 16th Century a princess of the karanga people in Zimbabwe, fled to the fertile valley of the Molototsi River, east of Duiwelskloof. The princess became the most famous rain-maker in Africa. She called herself Modjadji and with-
drew from public view. People began to believe she was immortal and the book "She" by Sir Henry Rider Haggard is based on
her. Even the savage warriors, the Swazi's and Zulu's held her in awe. The mystique of Modjadji remains to this day. The capital
of the present successor to the original rain queen is situated on a hill slope, below which is a weird forest of trees known as Modjadji cycads. Gifts are still sent to Modjadji as an inducement for her to make rain.

Jock Of The Bushveld
"Jock of the Bushveld" written by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, ranks as a literary classic of South Africa. It is essentially a true story covering Sir Percy's years as a transport rider and is rich in episodes of hunting , real-life characters and adventures in the
haunts of big game. During these years he acquired Jock, the runt of the litter who became the bravest of hunters and the most resourceful of companions. Today a number of commemorative plaques and cairns can be seen along the old transport routes.
In the Barberton Park is a statue of Jock of the Bushveld and outside the town is a large acacia tree under which Jock and his master often camped. Inside the Impala Hotel is a mural frieze scenes from the Jock of the Bushveld story.

Tales Of The Rip Van Winkle Of Zastron
Tales about Renier du Wapenaar are part of the folklore of Southern Africa. Renier lived on a farm on the site of what is now the
town of Zastron. With his long flowing beard, ragged trousers and peaked cap, he looked like Rip van Winkle. It is said that one
day when food was short because of a drought, he fired into a flock of pigeons and killed so many that the overjoyed people of Zastron had to cart them away in six ox-wagons. In the Zastron area is an odd-looking peak named "Vulture Mountain" which
has a great big hole beneath its summit. According to Renier he was out hunting one day when he met the devil. The devil eyed
his ancient gun and asked what it was. Renier replied that it was a pipe. The devil, being a keen smoker, asked if he could
sample Renier's tobacco. Renier warned him that the tobacco was strong, but the devil nevertheless insisted. Renier then
loaded his gun with a triple charge of gun powder and a variety of projectiles and give it to the devil. He told the devil to put the
one end in his mouth and he lit the fuse. There was an enormous explosion and the devil's head went hurtling through the air
and knocked a hole in the mountain. "Damn it!" came the voice of the devil in the distance, "that tobacco of yours is on the
rough side!".

Dick King's Epic Journey
In the early hours of 25 May 1842 began one of history's epic journeys. Dick King and his 16-year-old servant, Ndongeni, slipped across Durban Bay to the shore to race towards Grahamstown for reinforcements and supplies for the British garrison who were besieged by the Voortrekkers. Dick crossed nearly 1000 km of wild country, with 122 rivers and streams to ford.. He reached Grahamstown in ten days and reinforcements were hastily shipped from Port Elizabeth. On 26 June the siege was broken and
both Dick and Ndongeni were granted land as a reward. The equestrian monument to Dick King on the Victoria embankment in Durban was erected in 1915.

The Nation That Committed Suicide
At a pool in the Gxara River, the strange predictions of a 14-year-old girl called Nongquawuse, virtually led her people to commit suicide. One day in 1856, she was sitting at the pool and looked down and thought she saw the faces of her ancestors. She told her people that their ancestors were prepared to return to earth to drive out the Europeans, but first the people had to commit an
act of faith which would prove their belief in the spirit world. They would have to kill all their cattle and burn all their crops. Those
who refused would be turned into frogs, mice and ants and would be blown into the sea by a mighty whirlwind. For ten months
they destroyed their provisions waiting for the day of their salvation that Nongquawuse predicted, 18 February 1957. On that
day a blood-red sun would rise, stand still, and then set again in the east. As the great day dawned the people waited in anticipation, but the sun rose and set as normal. About 25 000 people died of starvation. Others survived only with the help of neighboring communities and Europeans. As for Nongquawuse, she would have been killed by her people had she not fled to
King William's Town and was kept for a while on Robben Island for her own safety.
How The Cape Doctor Lays The Tablecloth
The Cape Doctor refers to the howling South-Easter, this wind makes the city's atmosphere one of the healthiest in the world by blowing away pollution, dust, and insects. It also creates the scenic wonder of Table Mountain's tablecloth, a strangely neat cap
of cloud which, in summer months, rolls across the flat summit and drapes itself over the edges in a neat straight line.
By Gerald Crawford

Gerald Crawford was born in South Africa, studied electronics, telecommunication, eco-travel and african travel concepts. He taught responsible tourism in South Africa. If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me on. E-mail Address: Website Address: