Gone are those days when at night; us - rural children sat around a huge bonfire which brought light to the darkness that surrounded us due to lack of electricity; something we did not care about cause we didn’t know there was electricity. We would gather as if we had an important business meeting just to listen to our grandmothers’ pass their wisdom unto us, to teach us their life experiences in order to guide us. In Xitsonga; my language, we call these stories “Mintsheketo”; seemingly known as folktale in English.
Before telling the story; our grandmothers would start by saying: “Garingani wa Garingani” and all of us would yell “Garingani!!!!” in thin little squeaky voices filled with excitement and anticipation of listening to melodramatic events unfold. Most of the stories were very scary considering that we were very young, imagine a world where normal human beings would live with a “xigono” – phonetically pronounced “she-go-no”; it was a half human being with one-eye, one-arm & one-leg? It was terrifying to listen to these tales bearing in mind that it was also at night.
Please save yourself the trouble of trying to be smart and term this half-person as “disabled” or “alien” or “tokoloshe” because it is not – it just was a half human being, which always took liking in torturing people for no reason. Its purpose was just to torture the characters in the story or even us before we went to coil our bodies like millipedes and sleep. I can say it had superpowers but I cannot confirm it, the reason being that at some point it would chase after a normal human being with its one leg and catch them – in the life of me - how on earth that happened – I now sit and wonder as an adult because there is no way that would happen if there were no superpowers involved. This concept of storytelling is on the same level as that of Nollywood movies I think – where people are able talk to mystic fish by the river and never ask why on earth a fish is talking to them in the first place – we never bothered to ask why “xigono” was such a superhuman but we loved tormenting ourselves with its brutalizations unto others, we loved "enjoying" the pain from our own wounds and of course…the characters’ wounds.
In the Western convention, parents would normally grab a book of fairytales from the bookshelf and read to their children about wonderland. The purpose is to help them escape into this mythical yet phantasmagorical place where angels with big white feathers at the back of their shoulders sparkle like diamonds. In the kid’s eyes – it is a place where one is safe and allowed to explore as much as they can, as there were protectors, i.e. Angels. These stories helped children sleep…peacefully. As much as the purpose of the African folktales were to instill knowledge unto us and teach us how to reason as some stories would outline the causes a donkey has no horns – they were lullabies. Mintsheketo also helped us sleep – on the contrary with the West – we slept…horrifically!!!
In my critical and analytical mind, I could be right – I could be wrong – I think that “Xigono” represented that bogus disease capable of destroying little people’s lives or the youth, that which considered “bad” by society, the one would destroy the young generation into becoming a good generation of that certain society. It was a way to stop us children from engaging in anything immoral or incriminating by using “xigono” to scare us so we head straight to bed right after the story.
We would do this to shake the horror off by winking forty times before falling into deep sleep. It was a great way to keep us grounded and at home at all times without them worrying about whether we are being mischievous or not. For instance, before we would go hunt for wild fruits in the bushes that oke – xigono would cross our minds before plunging into the jungle. They stopped us from exploring unknown turfs because it is never safe out there. Mintsheketo together with their superhuman character Xigono that vehemently rushed us to siesta served as an aide-mémoire to shun zones that could’ve brought us to the demise....
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