Isitwalangcengce are carnivorous animals from Zulu folklore which appear similar to hyenas, but have a wide head similar to a basket. They appear at slaughtering parties to capture humans, then smash their heads open on rocks to eat the brains.
These animals look like hyenas, but their heads are broad and look like baskets. Their ears stick out like handles, and they can carry things in their heads, even adult humans.
Isitwalangcengce have excellent hearing with which to locate their prey. They scoop up victims in their basket heads and then dash them onto rocks, smashing their skulls open so that they can lick up the brains. They leave the rest of the body to scavengers.
In times of famine, they live close to villages and listen for slaughtering parties, where a bull is killed and its meat shared throughout the village. They wait for children by the sides of houses, and when one walks by with the bull's meat, they catch them and run off before the child has a chance to cry. This way, they can eat both the bull's meat and the child's brains.
They are capable of speech, but are easily outwitted. Myths involving them usually feature a human tricking them by telling them to walk a path where they can escape on overhead branches.
The Isitwalangcengce Outwitted
Once, an isitwalangcengce was brave enough to steal a man while he was asleep, and when he awoke he asked the creature where it was taking him. It replied, "We are going by the path of rocks", because it remembered there was a large stone there that was good for breaking heads open. They came to a path with bushes, and as they walked the man filled the bottom of the basket with branches so that the isitwalangcengce wouldn't notice the lightness in its head if he escaped. Once it was full enough, he reached up and hoisted himself out of the basket by a thick tree branch, and when the isitwalangcengce continued unaware, he returned home.
When the isitwalangcengce came to the large stone and emptied out its basket, it found that all it was carrying were sticks and leaves. Enraged, it raced back to the village in search of the man who had tricked it, but instead came upon a little girl whom it ran off with. However, the man had told the whole village of what had happened, and that the bush path was the way to outwit the monster, and the little girl had listened well. The isitwalangcengce asked her, "Which way do you say we shall go?", and she replied "O, sir, the good way is that of the bush." And so they walked the bush path, and the girl filled the basket with branches and escaped. The isitwalangcengce came again to the large stone and emptied its basket, but was again met with sticks and leaves, outwitted by the girl.
The creature came back to the village many times, but each time it was tricked and its prey escaped. It moved on to find a different source of food, and it has since been reduced to a nursery bogey - "If you cry, you will be carried off by the isitwalangcengce!"
The History of Udhlokweni
An isitwalangcengce took Udhlokweni, the chief wife of a great village, into its head and carried her away. It came to a forest and asked her, "Udhlokweni, by which path shall we go?", and she replied, "Let us go by the path of the narrow pass". Soon after she took hold of a branch and tried to escape, but the isitwalangcengce took notice and caught her again.
"Udhlokweni, your funeral lamentation makes the ground thunder. How great a person were you, that your funeral lamentation should be so great!" said the monster.
"I was great, being the great queen; and I used to treat kindly all the people of my village," Udhlokweni replied.
Again, the monster spoke, "This is your funeral lamentation. How great a person were you! The people are distressed by your death. You were great, Udhlokweni. I perceive you were great. You used to order the people well, now the children are crying."
"Yes," said Udhlokweni, "I used to love the children much; and I gave the women many things, both the women and the men; I regarded nothing; I used to give them everything."
"Yes, Udhlokweni, I too perceive that the people are grieved for you. But I have now taken you from the people of your village forever." As it spoke, Udhlokweni once again lifted herself from the basket by a branch, and this time it did not notice. It came to a river and tried to throw her down onto the stones, but instead it smashed its own skull there. It lamented, "Woe is me, Udhlokweni! I wonder where you are gone, I have killed myself, thinking I was throwing down Udhlokweni." Udhlokweni returned safely to her village, where her people had been mourning her.
Henry Callaway, in Nursery Tales, Traditions, and History of the Zulus, notes an alternate name for isitwalangcengce as isidawane. This is apparently the word for "fox" in Zulu, or according to one source, the word for "aardwolf" in an unspecified South African language.
- Knappert, Jan. Bantu Myths and Other Tales, Brill Archive (1977). Pg 171-2.
- Callaway, Henry. Nursery Tales, Traditions, and History of the Zulus, J.A. Blair (1868). Pg 343-347.
- Roberts, Charles. An English-Zulu Dictionary, K. Paul, Trench, Trübner (1904). Pg 102.
- Lydekker, Richard. The Royal Natural History, Frederick Warne & Co. (1893). Pg 479.