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 because we didn’t know there was electricity.
We would gather as if we had an important meeting just to listen to our grandmothers pass their wisdom to us, to teach us their life experiences in order to guide us. In Xitsonga, we call these stories “Mintsheketo” 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 lived with a “xigono” – phonetically pronounced “she-go-no”; a half human being with one-eye, one-arm & one-leg? It was terrifying to listen to these tales especially at night.
Please save yourself the trouble of trying to be smart and term this half-person as “disabled”, an “alien” or “tokoloshe” because it is not – it just was a half human being that always took pleasure in torturing people for no reason. Its purpose was just to torment the characters in the story being told or even us before we went to coil our bodies like millipedes and sleep. We’re pretty sure Xigono had superpowers although we cannot confirm it, the reason being that at some point it would chase a person with just its one leg and still catch them when they have two.
We believe this concept of storytelling maybe on the same level as that of Nollywood films where people are able talk to mystic animals and never question the ability of an animal to talk. We were bothered to ask why “xigono” was such a superhuman but we loved listening to how the characters were suffering. In the Western convention, parents 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 are to instill knowledge unto us and teach us how to reason, they are also lullabies. Mintsheketo also helped us sleep although very frightened.
“Xigono” represented that bogus disease capable of destroying children’s lives or the youth, anything considered “bad” by society, the one that would destroy the young generation into becoming a good generation of that certain society. It was a way to stop us as children from engaging in anything immoral or incriminating. “Xigono” was used to scare us so we head straight to bed right after the story. It was a great way to keep us safe at all times without the elders worrying about whether we are being mischievous or not. For instance, before we would go hunting for wild fruits in the bushes – “xigono” would cross our minds before plunging into the jungle. They stopped us from exploring unknown turfs. Mintsheketo together with their superhuman characters such as “Xigono” dramatically rushed us to sleep and kept us safe every night.