Do you know how in the West parents just grab a fairytale book from the bookshelf and read to their children about wonderland until they sleep? Xitsonga people sit around the fire and listen to their grandparents tell stories.
Gone are those days when at night; we sat around the fire in the village and listened to our grandmothers pass their wisdom to us, teaching us about their life experiences in order to guide us. In Xitsonga, we call these stories “Mintsheketo” known as folktales in English.
Before telling the story, our grandmothers would start by saying: “Garingani wa Garingani” and all of us would shout “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.
Xigono’s purpose was torment the characters in the story being told or sometimes 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 and catch them with its one leg while they have two!
We never bothered to ask why “xigono” was such a superhuman and we loved listening to how the characters were suffering. Just like fairytales, these folktales helped us escape into a mythical place. Contrary to fairytales that help children sleep peacefully, we slept very frightened because of Xigono. Looking back, we realise that the purpose was to instill knowledge and teach us to stay out of trouble. “Xigono” represented that bogus disease capable of destroying children’s lives or the youth, and that is anything considered “bad” by society. It was a way to stop us as children from engaging in anything immoral or incriminating acts. “Xigono” was used to scare us so that we head straight to bed right after the story instead of staying up all night. 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 mountains – “xigono” would cross our minds before we start our journeys then we’d think twice about going hunting. These stopped us from exploring unknown yet dangerous places. Who needs an electric fence in the village when there are folktales?