The fear of something nasty under our beds or hiding in our cupboards is a primal fear most of us suffer from as children, and oftentimes into adulthood.
Most of us are jumping at shadows, but if you live in South Africa, there is a very real possibility that you may find something there in the shadows. Something with teeth.
That thing is the tokoloshe, and it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
It has been variously described as having the appearance of a baboon, a water sprite, a bear or a gremlin but most eyewitness accounts seem to lean towards a small muscular hairy scuttling creature with pronounced teeth and claws, and small dark eyes so deep-set they appear as facial holes.
Hieronymus Bosch painted many creatures of this type, and Henry Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare pictures a tokoloshe-type demon.
Zulu mythology considers it to be a malevolent water spirit which can become invisible by drinking water, and it is generally agreed that its dealings with people are usually at the bidding of a witchdoctor or a shaman seeking revenge, either on their own behalf or at a clients request.
“So on his Nightmare through the evening fog
Flits the squab fiend o’er fen and lake and bog;
Seeks some love-wilder’d maid with sleep oppress’d,
Alights, and grinning sits upon her breast” – Erasmus Darwin
It comes at night, when its victim is sleeping, and favours biting off fingers and toes and/or raping women.
M.R. James may have been thinking of the tokoloshe when he wrote in his classic short story “Casting The Runes” that his unlucky protagonist reached beneath his pillow and feels “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”.
According to local lore, the only way to stay safe from the tokoloshe at night is to raise up your bed by putting a brick under each leg, as described by John Kongos in his song Tokoloshe Man:
“Make your bed up high
Pray into the sky
Close the window close the door
Makes no difference if you’re rich or poor”
This is not, however, to be advised if you have loved ones in the house, as when the tokoloshe finds itself stymied by this method, it may very well turn its savage attentions to anybody else it can find.
If the tokoloshe was a cocktail, it would be a Snakebite & Black.
I know that when asked what the drink with the worst reputation is, some people would say off the top of their heads, a Jägerbomb or White Lightning Cider (colloquially known as Tramp Juice). Some might suggest moonshine or absinthe. But the most notorious of them all is Snakebite & Black.
Snakebite & Black
Half a pint of cider
Half a pint of lager
Half a shot of blackcurrant cordial or “squash”
Combine in a straight pint glass. Drink….but….very carefully.
“After two of those babies, the dullest, most by-the-book Vogon will be up on the bar in stilettos, yodeling mountain shanties and swearing he’s the king of the Gray Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine” – Douglas Adams
These are semi-illegal in the UK, due to their contribution towards antisocial behaviour. Many pubs refuse to serve them, although they may provide you with the separate ingredients and let you mix your own. It’s also known as “diesel”, and if a shot of vodka is added – “turbo diesel”.
In the USA, stout beer is sometimes substituted for lager.
On a visit to Yorkshire in 2001, American president Bill Clinton ordered a snakebite & black in a pub, and was refused by the landlord – when I was at college, a number of pubs specifically refused to serve it to the student community.
Due to its gory, blood-like appearance it was popular with the Goth community in the 1980’s, who dubbed it a Pink Panther. This did nothing to enhance its reputation.
Nobody has found a scientific explanation for why this combination of fruit alcohol and grain alcohol is so potent and dangerous, but decades of “field research” speak for themselves.
Perhaps the most black magic aspect of the Snakebite & Black is that it’s deceptively drinkable.
“That is the path of wickedness, though some call it the road to Heaven”- Sir Walter Scott
If you see the tokoloshe, RUN.
And if you unwisely wish to invoke his spirit by awakening the tokoloshe within, mix yourself a Snakebite & Black and live dangerously.
“Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head; Because he knows, a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread”- Samuel Coleridge