Thank you for visiting my site with Bushmen Stories. Most of these stories were translated from Von Wielligh's work with a similar name and some ideas came from the Bleek collection. Most of these stories will be used in the chapter about the Bushmen in the book Camelthorn Giants.
[ Note to researchers and historians: these stories are of a fictional nature and any truth that could be found in it is purely coincidental. ]
The Bushmen believe that in the
beginning there was only a shadowy darkness all over the world. The
sun, moon and stars didn't even exist. Therefore it was night or what
they call “Ga” all the time. The darkness they called “Gagen”
and it was present all over. But Night (Ga) and Darkness (Gagen)
existed as “ou volk” or beings from the ancient times. Nobody
knows how old they are and where they came from. What we do know is
that old Night and his wife Darkness live in a cave deep in the Ghost
Mountains of the Kalahari Desert. They never had a son, only three
daughters. They lived their quiet life deep in the stone cave while
the whole world was covered in cold and darkness.
The three daughters were called
Mountains, Plains and Waters. These daughters loved to dance and
their parents enjoyed watching them. Often people from far away would
come and visit them just to watch the girls dance. Their trickster
god was called Kaggen and he existed in the form of a insect, the
praying mantis. This insect has a round tummy with long stick-like
limbs and it likes to hold its thick front limbs together like
“hands” in prayer. One day the praying mantis was sitting on a
bush watching the girls dance. He wanted to get a better look at them
and changed himself into an antelope the size of a Gemsbok (Kalahari
Oryx). He walked closer and watched the girls with curious eyes.
“Ga” saw the buck and crawled
behind a bush with his bow and arrows. There he waited until the buck
got very close. Kaggen in the form of a buck was watching the girls
dance and pretended not to see “Ga”. Old “Ga” was very good
with a bow and arrow and at that distance this buck's name was
“braaivleis”, which means meat on the fire. The poisoned arrow
hit him right in the neck and after a few steps of running away it
staggered and then dropped dead in its tracks.
The whole family gathered around their
next meal and proceeded to gut it and cut it into more manageable
pieces. The father (Ga) took one of the hind quarters and the skin up
on his shoulders and started to carry it home. The mother (Gagen)
took up the other hind quarter and the intestines and followed her
husband home. The oldest daughter (Mountains) took one of the front
quarters and put that on her shoulders. The other daughter (Plains)
took the other front quarter and the youngest (Waters) carried the
head with the backbone still attached to it.
Next thing the head starts blinking its
eyes and groaned painfully: “Why did you hurt me so badly?”
Waters got a fright when the head started talking to her and shouted
at the others that the head was talking to her! The others didn't pay
any attention to the youngest daughters stories and carried on
walking. Again she shouted at her family that the head was coming
alive, look it is blinking its eyes and it is talking to me! Again
they made it off as her imagination and just kept walking towards
their home. The third time she shouted with a lot more urgency in her
voice that the head was talking to her and blinking his eyes. When
she threatened to throw it down and leave it just there the father
stopped and turned around to see what the commotion was all about.
When they reached the youngest girl
they all got a fright when each of the different parts turned towards
each other. They quickly put the pieces down and stepped back
carefully. Right in front of their eyes the four quarters wriggled
towards the head and each one of the quarters attached itself to its
correct place on the backbone. The family stood back even further
when the intestines slithered back into the buck and attached itself
to the animal. They watched in fear as the naked buck got to its
knees and crawled back into its own skin. The buck took a final good
look at them, shook itself back into shape and ran off into the
distance. There it changed back into its insect form and became again
the praying mantis, what the Bushmen call “Kaggen” and the Boers
call a “Hottentotsgod”.
This was their first encounter with the
“trickster” god “Kaggen” and they became very respectful of
his powers and magic. “Kaggen” liked the looks of these girls and
decided to come back when they were bigger.
When the first daughter grew up her
mother “Gagen” caught some baby tortoises, took the meat and
intestines out of the shells and made small holes at the front end of
the shells. Once the skin dried in the shell she filled the shells
with small pebbles to make a noise when you shake them. These little
shells she strung together with a thin strip (or riempie) of baboon
skin and made it into a necklace for “Kou” or Mountains, the
oldest daughter. The mother hung the necklace around her daughter's
neck as a blessing and to make a nice shaking noise when she dances.
Always remember to wear this necklace and there will never be a
shortage of food where you live.
Once “Kaun” the second daughter
(called Plains in English) grew up, the mother took small calabashes
(seed pods of a creeper) and emptied them out. Once they were dry she
filled them with hard shelled seeds and strung them together with a
piece of bark from the acacia tree. This served as a beautiful
decoration and made a rhythmic shaking sound when Plains used to
dance. The necklace came with a blessing that as long as she wore
this there would always be plenty of food in the veld where she
When “Khwa” the youngest daughter,
also called Waters was old enough the mother took three pairs of
springbok ears and cut the hairy skin off it. She stitched the inner
cartilage of the ears into pods with the sinieue of a springbok and
left it to dry. She then took some of the hard bony pieces that can
be found in the eyes of a springbok and filled the ears with it. The
mother strung the ears together with a string made from springbok
skin and hung it around “Khwa's” neck. She received a similar
blessing and the same caution never to remove the necklace or she
will have a shortage of food for her family.
When “Kaggen” saw the three young
women dance and heard the lovely rhythm from their necklaces, he
changed three of his sons into three strong young men and brought
them to the women. They watched with big curious eyes while the girls
were dancing and started to clap their hands with the rhythm of the
necklaces. With their dancing and their eyes they each got the
attention of the young man she fancied. The strong young men fell in
love with the beautiful young maidens and asked to marry them. It was
a joyous occasion with lots of food and dancing. Old “Ga” and his
wife were very proud of their three daughters and very happy with the
three young men that joined their family.
Each couple made their own hut to stay
in and they lived very happily because there was lots of water and
plenty of food just as their mother promised them. The family lived
in love and harmony every day of their lives. With plenty of water
and lots of food they had enough time for dancing and celebration.
They were truly living in a “Bushmen utopia” - as long as the
daughters kept their necklaces around their necks!
Was this wonderful lazy life of
abundance too good to last?
Mountains lived happily with her
husband (the son of Kaggen) and her young daughter in this land of
plenty. She never took the necklace off and she was blessed with an
abundance of her favourite food which was tortoise meat. There were
lots of tortoises in the veld around her hut and she could eat as
much tortoise as she wanted to. She became so fond of the tortoise
meat that eventually that was all that she did the whole day – to
eat tortoise meat. She became very big but like a tortoise also
started moving slower. It would take her all day just to catch a
tortoise in the veld right outside her hut.
Eventually she stopped doing any thing,
her husband had to go and collect the tortoises for her and cook and
feed it to her. She didn't take care of her daughter any more and
when her husband shouted at her he could just as well have been
shouting at the little dead tortoises around her neck. All she wanted
to do, is eat tortoise meat and nothing else. The husband had to take
care of himself and their daughter and he would go and collect other
food for the two of them because they didn't just want to eat
tortoise meat all day.
One day while he was away hunting and
“Mountains” and her daughter were at home alone, a big male
baboon walked up to the child and asked where her mother was. He
demanded the strip of skin that held the baby tortoise shells in a
necklace around Mountain's neck. This baboon was also one of the “ou
volk” and he wanted that “riempie” back because the strip of
skin was cut from his brothers hide. The child didn't want to speak
to him and he told her that he will be back the next day. If they
don't give him the “riempie” that was cut from his brother's
skin, then he will rip it from her neck with brute force.
The girl was very scared of the baboon
and when her father got home that afternoon she begged him to stay
home with her the next day. As expected the baboon returned the next
day and repeated his demand for the “riempie” to be returned to
him. The man grabbed his bow and arrows and threatened to shoot the
baboon if he didn't leave them alone. The baboon walked away
reluctantly but promised that he will be back the next day with the
rest of the troop and then they will be really sorry. The man rushed
to collect some food for the house and extra water for the next day.
He strengthened the hut and got his bow and arrows ready for the next
day's fight. They couldn't run away because his wife was to big and
too slow by then.
Early the next day a troop of angry
baboons headed straight for their hut and “Kaggen” watched the
whole thing from a distance. He changed his son into the Storm Bird
and his grand daughter into Echo. Storm Bird started flapping his
wings to cause a strong wind that blew towards the baboons and with
his feet he dug up stones and soil that blew into the wind. Some
baboons got hit in their sides by branches breaking off the trees and
others got hit against the head with stones. Dust and sand got into
their eyes and mouths and they couldn't see where they were going.
All the time Echo made a terrible noise in their ears and they got so
scared that they all ran away in fear. While running away the old
baboon shouted his threat to them that they would never leave them
alone and even in her grave they will come and look for their
brothers strip of skin.
Big male baboon
Every day “Kou” the oldest sister
got bigger and lazier until eventually she could not even move any
more. One day she fell into an eternal sleep and changed into the
mountains that we know today. Her husband Storm Bird went to stay
high up in the mountains to be near his wife and her daughter Echo
went to stay in the deep valleys as close to her mother as possible.
If you listen carefully to the mountains you can sometimes hear her
stomach rumble and that is how we know she is not dead but just
The baboons never gave up on their
quest for their brother's skin. Even to this day most of them live in
the mountains and every day they look all over for that strip if
skin. Others even dig in the soil to see if it was not buried
somewhere on the mountains where they live. They are true to their
greatest grandfathers promise that they would not even leave her
grave alone and as long as there is a baboon left on this world it
will not leave a stone unturned in its search for that strip of
“Kaun” or Plains was the second
daughter of “Ga” and “Gagen”. She went to live with her
husband in a nice hut that they made from carpets that she weaved.
The little calabashes that her mother put around her neck had a
magical influence on the abundance of plants that grew near them.
Tall grasses and reeds were growing everywhere and she was very good
at weaving many of these fibres into beautiful carpets. These carpets
made up the roof of their hut and kept the family dry and comfortable
inside the hut.
Many edible plants, fruit, bulbs,
berries and nuts could be found close to their hut and she didn't
have to go very far to gather lots and lots to eat. Unfortunately she
also started getting lazy like her older sister and eventually didn't
want to walk anywhere for food or water. She was more of a vegetarian
and eventually didn't eat any meat any more. Her husband (the son of
Kaggen the mantis) went out to hunt for him and their daughter that
still ate meat. On the way back from the hunt he would collect fruit
and edible plants for the family. Eventually Plains got so lazy that
she didn't even move out of the hut any more, her husband had to take
care of her and the child.
One day while he was away on a hunt a
tree came by looking for “Kaun”. This tree was also one of the
“ou volk” and asked the child where her mother was. The child
didn't trust the angry looking tree and told him that her parents
went into the veld to gather food for them. The tree told her that he
wants the strip of bark that hold the calabashes around Plains neck.
That strip of bark was torn from his brothers trunk and it damaged
his brother so badly he might die. The child must tell her parents
that he and many of his friends, will be back the next day to demand
that strip of bark and if they don't give it to him they will rip it
from her neck with force. They need that strip of bark to fix the
open wound on his brothers trunk otherwise he might die.
When the husband returned later that
day the child told his parents about the threat made by the tree. She
also begged her father to stay home the next day because she was
afraid of that scary tree. The husband quickly went out to get enough
water for them to drink and food to eat for the next few days. They
would have enough water and food, in case the trees decided to
surround them in their hut. They nervously waited for the arrival of
the trees the following day.
The child first saw the cloud of dust
kicked up by a small forest of trees that were heading their way. She
called her father and the two of them watched the trees form a circle
around their hut. “Where is “Kaun”, the angry tree asked? The
husband told him that she was sleeping inside the hut. Again the tree
demanded the string that was made from the bark of his brothers
trunk. The trunk is starting to rot where that strip of bark was
removed and they need that string around “Kaun's” neck to fix the
bark. The husband explained that the string of calabashes was a gift
from “Kaun's” mother and that they will never give it back to
This made the trees very angry. They
shook their branches violently and it made such a loud rustle that
Kaggen (the praying mantis), came to look what was going on. While he
was watching from a dead camelthorn tree nearby, the angry tree
repeated his threat. If you don't hand us that strip of bark we will
swat you and the child aside and rip the string from her neck with
force. The trees started thumping their roots on the ground so hard
the Bushmen's hut started shaking badly. The child held onto her
father as the two of them stood in front of the hut, looking up at
the angry tree that was now towering over them. The situation looked
helpless for the poor Bushmen.
The next moment the husband burst out
in flames and picked his daughter up, high above his head. Kaggen
changed his son into a huge fire and his grand daughter into a mirage
that flickered above the fire. The raging fire burned the grass and
the mirage moving above the fire, made the fire look even more
threatening. The trees got such a fright that they stumbled a few
steps back. They were scared but still very angry and threatened to
get back at “Kaun” any way possible even in her grave they will
not leave her alone. With the fire licking at their roots and the
smoke blowing between their leaves the trees got so scared that they
all ran away in a thundering cloud of dust that soon disappeared over
Plains or “Kaun” got more and more
lazy every day and spent most of her time sleeping. One morning she
woke up with a pain in her neck – they discovered that the seeds in
the calabashes (that made the shaking noise) started to grow. These
pips and seeds have grown through the calabash shells and send their
roots into her neck and upper body. There was nothing they could do
for her, she fell asleep and the roots kept growing through her whole
body and into the ground. The curse of the trees had come true –
she fell into a never-ending sleep and the trees and grasses send
their roots through her body and claimed most of her as their own.
She kept sleeping until today where we know her as the Plains that
trees and grass grow on every day.
“Kaun” or Plains is not dead but
only sleeping. To this day trees, shrubs and grass grow on her and
suck their nourishment out of her but kill her is impossible. As long
as there is a world to live in, there will be Plains and as long as
there are plains there will be trees, grass and all sort of plants
getting their nourishment from her.
All the time the trees are still trying
because every day millions of seeds fall on the plains and germinate
in the soil. Just like the seeds in the calabashes around “Kaun's”
neck that started to grow and sent their roots deep into her body,
every day these seeds send their roots deep into the soil on the
plains of mother earth.
Wind used to be a man, one of the “ou
volk”, a Bushman from the old generation. In the olden days he used
to live and walk around like a Bushman, he used to hunt and dance
like any one of them. He was the husband of Mountain and his father
“Kaggen” (the praying mantis) allowed him to change his human
form if necessary. That is why he changed into a strong wind when the
troop of baboons threatened him and his family. When his wife “Kou”
fell into an eternal sleep and became the mountains that we know
today, he changed into a bird-like shape that looked like a giant
secretary bird. He flew high up into the mountains and went to live
in a cave deep in the mountain tops.
There is a constant howling of wind in
that cave and if someone would dare to get close to it a strong gust
of wind will burst out of the cave and blow that person away. It has
happened where people were picked up in a strong twister and carried
away for miles before being dumped in another place. When Storm Bird
gets cross like that, he would blow up dust and sand an flatten the
Bushmen's huts and scatter there belongings far and wide. That is why
it is important to stay away from his cave and not to anger him.
When Storm Bird is flying around
looking for food, he just needs to flap his wings lightly and
therefore a gentle breeze will be blowing that can be very pleasant.
The Bushmen say that when Storm Bird sits on the ground and starts to
scratch the soil with his claws he will flap his wings very hard and
a strong wind will come up carrying dust and sand with it. That is
why it is important not to anger him because if someone does, he
could be kicking up dust and found flapping his wings hard for a few
days until his anger subsides. Therefore it is much better to leave
Storm Bird alone and not to give him a fright or to anger him. He
will then sleep peacefully in that hole in the mountain until
somebody bothers him. Sometimes on a hot day he can also be seen
turning round and around in the same spot with his wings spread out
to cool himself. This results in a whirlwind or twister that picks up
the dust caused by his feet and carries it in a column high into the
Storm Bird also sends his wind into the
chests of man and beast and without this wind we will not be able to
breathe. Once this wind leaves our bodies it can never return into
our noses again and we die. Wind is the spirit or “umoya” that
live inside of us and keeps all of us alive, even when we sleep. Out
of respect it is better to not even mention Storm Birds name because
if he is nearby and hear his name, he might think that you are
talking badly of him.
One day there were two Bushmen children
that were talking about Storm Bird and how they hate him because of
the dust that blows into their eyes. He heard his name being
mentioned and settled down nearby to listen to what they were saying
about him. When they saw him they shouted at him and tried to chase
him away. When he didn't leave one of them took his bow and arrow and
tried to shoot him. He kept missing the target and his friend started
throwing stones at Storm Bird. It is impossible to hit him but their
attitude and actions made him very angry. He flew a short distance
away and started scratching on the ground with his powerful claws.
Then he flapped his wings with long powerful strokes and the wind
started to get stronger and stronger.
First a thick red bank of dust started
to form, so thick and high up in the sky that it turned the sun into
the colour of warm blood. Then he aimed this cloud of dust straight
at the two children to teach them a lesson. As the dust hit them full
in the face, they have to lean into the wind just to stay on their
feet. Disorientated and with sand in their eyes and noses they
struggled to breathe. The whirlwind picked them up and turned them
onto their heads, then spun them around with their arms and legs
flapping around like useless strips of skin. When Storm Bird let up
just a little they ran to the nearest trees to try and hide from him.
He was still furious at them and
started to break the branches from the trees. When he couldn't see
them any more, he uprooted every tree in his way to see where they
were hiding. He cast the trees aside and blew them away like tumble
The children got very scared and ran
faster than a springbok to hide amongst the rocks of a nearby koppie.
Wind followed them around the huge boulders and began to throw sand
and stones into their faces. Again they had to make a run for it and
this time they ran into a small cave that ran deep into a cliff at
the top of the koppie. Storm Bird couldn't blow the sand and stones
that high up into the koppie and they thought they would be safe
there. Then the wind started to blow into the cave with such force
that they were struggling to breathe. They had no-where else to go
and when the wind started blowing their breath out of their noses,
they thought their last day had come.
In the mean time their mothers started
looking for them and when they saw the dust storm and their children
that were nowhere to be found, they got very worried. They realized
that Storm Bird could be angry at the children for something that
they did. In an effort to calm him down they started burning some
nice smelling weeds and threw finely ground boegoe into the air to
please him. At the same time they started making nice soothing music
and sang softly to make Wind calm down and get into a better mood.
Storm Bird enjoyed the pleasant aroma and the music and song slowly
calmed him down. The raging wind slowed to a breeze and noise
subsided to a deadly silence.
Stormbird in flight.
Once he was in a friendly mood again
and feeling tired from flapping his wings for many hours, he returned
to the cave high up in the mountains. Feeling a lot better he decided
to take a nap and only then the children could risk leaving their
hiding place in the koppie. Everybody was very relieved and the
mothers were overwhelmed to see their children alive again. These
children learned an important lesson that day, one they and their
families would never forget.
Their mothers explained to them that
Storm Bird was a lot like a dog. If you called its name it would
listen to you, if you spoke to it in a friendly tone of voice, it
would wag its tail. However if you shout at it or use a harsh tone of
voice it may growl. If you then throw it with stones or beat it with
a stick, the dog might feel threatened and suddenly turn and bite
They were told that Storm Bird was a lot like that.
From that day people learned to respect
Storm Bird and not to shout his name or anger him!
Next time a story about Echo, the daughter of Storm Bird and Mountain...
You can read this story about Tatsie or download it into your eReader from this link: