Tokoloshe: meet his cousins

The tokoloshe is feared all over southern Africa. There are creatures around the world that are also diminutive creatures with magical or spirit powers. This is a quick look at some of the tokoloshe’s cousins from around the world.

The Tokoloshe is well-known in this country. Or, rather, the legend and mythology is well-known in South Africa. While some experts claim to know definitively what the tokoloshe is, there are varying descriptions of this malevolent half-man creature. Sometimes he is depicted as hairy, but always with pronounced sexual features. While every person may draw the tokoloshe differently, one thing is certain – everyone has a clear picture of the tokoloshe in their mind.

What everyone doesn’t know, however, is that we are not alone in our haunting. The rest of the world is also haunted by dwarf-like creatures that strike fear or fun in the hearts of the superstitious and the young. What follows are a few of the tokoloshe-type creatures from around the world. Like the tokoloshe, so much of what is known about these creatures is either passed down through the generations or contained in dense literature on culture. Thankfully, in this day and age, Wikipedia is there to give us a tiny taste of the tokoloshe’s family tree from around the world. This is what Wikipedia says about the little creatures that have terrorised, helped and inspired the rest of the world. After reading about these creatures, it would take a brave person to say that any one of these creatures holds a candle to the sheer fear factor of the tokoloshe – except maybe the Tiyanak of the Philippines.

 

Barbegazi are mythical creatures from Swiss and French mythology. A barbegazi resembles a small white-furred man with a long beard and enormous feet. They travel in the mountains that are their home by skiing with their massive feet, or using them as snowshoes. The word barbegazi comes from the French barbe-glacée, meaning “frozen beard”. Because of their penchant for high altitudes and low temperatures, they are rarely sighted by humans, but sometimes help shepherds round up lost sheep. Their greatest known excitement is surfing on avalanches with their remarkably large feet, but they are said to give low whistling cries to warn humans of the danger above, sometimes they will give their best effort to dig humans out from the snow. These guys are so hard to find, we couldn’t track down a picture.

The clurichaun is an Irish fairy-type creature which resembles the leprechaun. Some folklorists describe the clurichaun as a night “form” of the leprechaun, who goes out to drink after finishing his daily chores. Clurichauns are said to always be drunk. Many fables say clurichauns enjoy riding sheep and dogs at night. If you treat them well they will protect your wine cellar, and if mistreated, they will wreak havoc on your home and spoil your wine stock. In some tales, they act as buttery spirits, plaguing drunkards or dishonest servants who steal wine; if the victim attempts to move away from their tormentor, the clurichaun will hop into a cask to accompany them.

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Eloko is a dwarf-like creature that lives in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are believed to be the spirits of ancestors of the people living there. Legend has it that they haunt the forest because they have some grudge to settle with the living and are generally quite vicious. Biloko (plural) live in the densest and darkest part of the rain forest in the former central Zaïre, jealously and ferociously guarding their treasures: the game and the rare fruits of the forest. Only intrepid hunters are said to enter the deepest forest and survive, because in order to be successful, hunters have to possess strong magic, without which they would never see any game at all. There are many tales about wives who insist upon joining their husbands in the forest only to faint as soon as they see their first Eloko. The Biloko live in hollow trees and are dressed only in leaves. They have no hair; only grass grows on their bodies; they have piercing eyes, snouts with mouths that can be opened wide enough to admit a human body, alive or dead, and long, sharp claws.

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Gnomes  are small, celestial creatures which were prudish women in their past-lives, and now spend all of eternity looking out for prudish women (in parallel to the guardian angels in Catholic belief). Other uses of the term gnome remain obscure until the early 19th century, when it is taken up by authors of Romanticist collections of fairy tales and becomes mostly synonymous with the older word goblin.

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Koro-pok-guru are a race of small people in folklore of the Ainu people of the northern Japanese islands. The Ainu believe that the koro-pok-guru were the people who lived in the Ainu’s land before the Ainu themselves lived there. They were short of stature, agile, and skilled at fishing. They lived in pits with roofs made from butterbur leaves. Long ago, the koro-pok-guru were on good terms with the Ainu, and would send them deer, fish, and other game and exchange goods with them. The little people hated to be seen, however, so they would stealthily make their deliveries under cover of night. One day, a young Ainu man decided he wanted to see a koro-pok-guru for himself, so he waited in ambush by the window where their gifts were usually left. When a koro-pok-guru came to place something there, the young man grabbed it by the hand and dragged it inside. It turned out to be a beautiful koro-pok-guru woman, who was so enraged at the young man’s rudeness that her people have not been seen since. Their pits, pottery, and stone implements, the Ainu believe, still remain scattered about the landscape.

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A leprechaun is usually depicted as a little bearded man, wearing a coat and hat, who partakes in mischief. They are solitary creatures who spend their time making and mending shoes and have a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If captured by a human, the leprechaun has the magical power to grant three wishes in exchange for their freedom.] Leprechaun-like creatures rarely appear in Irish mythology and only became prominent in later folklore. Modern depictions of leprechauns are largely based on derogatory 19th century caricatures and stereotypes of the Irish.

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Menehune, in Hawaiian mythology, are said to be a people, sometimes described as dwarfs in size, who live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the Hawaiian Islands, far from the eyes of normal humans. Their favorite food is the maiʻa (banana) and they also like fish. The Menehune were said to be superb craftspeople. Legends say that the Menehune built temples, roads, canoes and houses. Some of these structures that Hawaiian folklore attributed to the Menehune still exist. They are said to have lived in Hawaii before settlers arrived from Polunesia many centuries ago.

 

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A nuno is a dwarf-like creature in Philippine mythology.It is believed to live in an anthill or termite mound, hence its name, literally ‘Ancestor/Grandparent living in the anthill’. The nuno is described to be a small old man with a long beard. The nuno is a goblin easily angered and will do harm to those who damage or disturb his mound. If an invader destroys the nuno’s home by kicking it, the offender’s foot will become swollen. Nuno sa punso are also believed to inhabit places such as underneath large rocks, trees, riverbanks, caves, or a backyard.

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The pech were a type of gnome-like creatures in Scottish Mythology. They were of short height but extremely strong. They brewed heather ale and battled against the Scots. In one fairy tale, an old blind pech is on his deathbed. He asks his sons if he can feel their arm muscles, to feel how strong they’ve grown. His sons play a prank on him, giving him a metal cup instead of one son’s arm. He snaps the metal cup with his fingers, shattering it, to the amazement of the sons. Even sick on his deathbed, he is stronger than his young healthy sons. The Pech were thought to be one of the aboriginal builders of the stone megaliths of ancient Scotland, along with giants.

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Saci  is a character commonly considered the best known character in Brazilian folklore.  He is a one-legged black youngster with holes in the palms of his hands, who smokes a pipe and wears a magical red cap that enables him to disappear and reappear wherever he wishes. Considered an annoying prankster in most parts of Brazil, and a potentially dangerous and malicious creature in others, he nevertheless grants wishes to anyone who manages to trap him or steal his magic cap. However, his cap is often depicted as having a bad smell. Most people who claimed to have stolen this cap say they can never wash the smell away.

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Sheka in Polish mythology is field spirit that appears as a deformed dwarf with different coloured eyes and grass instead of hair. It appears either at noon or sunset and wear either all black or all white suits. According to local beliefs it leads wandering people in a field astray, give them diseases or ride them over with horses if they are found asleep. It enjoyed pulling the hair of peasants working in the midday. It also helped little children to get lost in the cornfields. If it catches a person, forces to sing. And that lasts for hours.

The Tiyanak  is a vampiric creature in Philippine mythology  that imitates the form of a child. It usually takes the form of a newborn baby and cries like one in the jungle to attract unwary travelers. Once it is picked up by the victim, it reverts to its true form and attacks the victim. The tiyanak is also depicted to take malevolent delight in leading travelers astray, or in abducting children.  While various legends have slightly different versions of the tiyanak folklore, the stories all agree on its ability to mimic an infant, with its ability to imitate an infant’s cries for luring victims. In some legends, the Tiyanak may take the form of a specific child.

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