OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS
There’s something about books that’s always scared kids away, well, the kids I went to school with. Maybe your school was different and you all loved books. The majority of primary school and high school pupils I went to school with preferred doing other things to reading, reading for pleasure that is. At school, when I started being into books, reading for pleasure I mean, I was quickly christened a Bookworm.
It got worse when I went to boarding school when I turned thirteen. The new school had a library! What a treasure that was. But loving a library and its contents at my boarding school set you apart as one of those special kids, your peers pitied you.
I used to read all the time, and I guess I still do. I came to learn later that this was a form of escape for me. Anyway, kids my age frowned upon this indulgence, so much so that being the little shy guy that I was, I would try to read without being noticed. I still got comments like, “you keep that up and your eyes will be buggered by the time you’re 30” or my personal favourite, “guys like you never really get the girls, you’ll never get married”. At 15 that didn’t sound like such a bad thing. Needless to say I’m well past 30, with what I regard perfect vision and very married(with kids too). Just amazing what sort of stuff little minds can come up with in their teens. Some of these little myths and legends stay for generations.
Young minds are very impressionable, quick to reach “logical” conclusions. As a nine or ten year old, I couldn’t swim. One December evening there was a torrential downpour, the kind that’s accompanied by loud scary thunder, and before you know it, we had to turn off the television and radio. I got a bit worried when water started seeping into our council house under the metal kitchen door, the kind that went with your old-school apartheid Matchbox houses.
We had a visitor that night and he looked at my disquiet as something amusing. He casually asked me if I could swim and I quickly answered in the negative. His small eyes grew quite large and he let out one of those soft little whistles, the kind that tell you the brown stuff’s gonna hit the fan. The water came into the house relentlessly now. The visitor suggested that we wait for my dad who was out before arranging to sleep because even though he could swim he couldn’t figure out how he could save himself and me because the water would be waist-high at some point during the night. I never slept a wink that night and of course there was no flood. I’m not quite sure I’ve forgiven the gentleman for that.
Some myhths downright silly of course. High school seems to be the breeding ground for these sort of “teenage” wisdoms. It was in high school that I first heard the one about the most popular cola in the world being such a potent contraceptive. The trick, I was led to believe, was the lady had to drink quite a bit of this cola before, you know, the deed. If the guy drank this cola before the deed it would lead to failure to launch! To a 15-year-old’s curious mind this was absolutely believable. And when I happened to come across some pregnant teenager I used to think, “you couldn’t wait till you could afford the cola could you, look at you now”!
I was born in a rural village in Limpopo and before the advent of “locations” or urban settlements, there were vast amounts of lands between homesteads. You had to walk a kilometer or two to have a quiet chat with your neighbour. There was a disused piece of land which was said to be haunted by a ghost. People told stories of their encounters with this gentleman. He would apparently ask you for a smoke and if you didn’t have a cigarette he would slap you silly and pull you by your legs on your backside till your pants were worn out.
I absolutely believed in the existence of this ghost. Sadly, there was no way of avoiding this place to get home from another part of the village. Curiously, he’d never appeared to two people at once, so whilst people told similar stories, none had ever been slapped black and blue together, at the same time. I personally never encounterd him but when I had to pass through this area I would always pretend to be two people having a conversation, using different tones of voice. It appears to have worked because I was never asked for a cigarette by this ghost, let alone be slapped for no reason.
Funny how the more educated you become, the sillier the stories sound. Or is it the older you become? Ever heard the one about driving over a snake? Well, I knew from a very young age that you should never, ever drive over a snake crossing the road. If you did, the snake would coil itself up the insides of your car and you might just find yourself with an unwelcome mamba by your foot pedals, imagine experiencing that at 120km/h! I’ve neve had to choose between driving over a black mamba and taking to the gravel at high speed but the jury’s still out on which one I’d choose.
On a recent family trip to Limpopo, my birthplace, my dad shared a few stories from his generation. This family trip was necessitated by the passing on of one of our family members back there. Anyway, my dad kept coming up with these little gems of stories. One that I cannot get out of my head is about two of the village delinquents. These are the sort of guys who were always the oldest in whatever class you found them in. Back then there was no age restriction in schools, so it was perfectly normal to have an 18yr old in a class of eleven-year olds. John and Archie were two such students, they were so naughty that they smoked, cigarettes that is! Back then smoking cigarettes was a sign of serious rebellion. To top it, they drank, alcohol!!
One Saturday evening on their way back from a local drinking hole,as they walked past the school principals house they decided to solve their hunger pangs by helping themselves to one of the chickens feeding in his yard. They made a bonfire and proceeded to barbaque the chicken, head and all. Putting the roasted chicken between them, they methodically worked their way starting with one wing each, one drumstic each and so on. Because their fire had died down, eating in the dark whilst slightly tipsy proved to be a challenge. Soon there was only the head left and they found themselves going for it at the same time. Archie’s hand got there first and he quickly chucked the whole head in his mouth. John was not impressed.
Now, chickens in the villages in those days were left to roam the yard and eat freely, free-range for you. It wasn’t uncommon to find a chicken feeding on baby poo.Disgusting I know, but hey, such was life. Pit toilets were considered unsafe for toddlers so it was not totally uncommon for kids to help themselves in the fields a little distance from the house, this contributed to the organic compost in the vegetable gardens. The chicken Archie and John had captured and roasted had just had generous helpings of baby poo. As soon as Archie realized that the chicken head in his mouth was what shall we say, foul, he let out an “mmmhmhmhm” that startled John who asked, “what is it, is the pepper too hot for you”. “Mmmm” Archie responded. John immediately extended his hand, saying, “bring it here, let me show you how it’s done” . Archie gladly obliged. He wasn’t going to eat that foul head alone.
When my dad finished recounting the story, everyone in the car was in stitches, it took a while for me to pull myself together I never really asked him whether this was a true story or just one of those village stories that got passed down over the years. Either way, it just reminded me of the rich heritage that all villages around our country has. What myths, legends and other stories do you remember from your youth?