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TALES OF THE TOKOLOSHE (article first published : 2004-09-14)

If you don’t have any young people in your family who enjoy reading, then find some! Pieter Scholtz’s Tales of the Tokoloshe will make the most enchanting gift for Christmas. Or birthdays, get-well gifts, acknowledgement of good exam results – dream up any excuse!

The book contains 12 fantasy tales about the sprite called a Tokoloshe, a spirit entrenched in Zulu culture as being responsible for strange and upsetting occurrences. Pieter Scholtz has chosen to look at the Tokoloshe as a mischievous and engagingly naughty character, not one that will cause destruction for destruction’s sake.

The stories are full of humour and deal with an enchanted cow and ilobola to how the tortoise got its shell or the bee its sting or the goat became sure-footed. Life is never dull for a Tokoloshe and one adventure deals with the day when he was “so bored that he was even bored with being bored” before he finds himself staring into a crocodile’s jaws and discovering the meaning of crocodile tears!

Just when things seem to be going the mischievous sprite’s way, he meets his alter-ego, the Evil Tokoloshe but he gets back on track by sorting out a poisoned stream and helps a mad old woman called Esther. One wouldn’t normally expect to see a story about coffins in a publication for youngsters but the tale has a fun side as a consignment of coffins fall off the back of a bakkie into a stream, providing a fascinating new type of water transport for the Tokoloshe as they float merrily downstream.

Part of the book’s charm lies in the lively, humorous and fantastical illustrations by artist Cherie Treweek. There are delightful images of Tokoloshe floating on a dandelion puffball, riding a bee or sliding down a rainbow. The images are filled with humour while retaining a dark sense of mystery. Aimed at an age group of 9 to 14, the book also contains an 'activity' section and a glossary for those unfamiliar with Zulu terms.

While a highly respected actor and director, Pieter Scholtz is no stranger to entertainment for youngsters. He has written 25 plays for young audiences which have been published under the title of Plays for Young Africa published by Spotlight Enterprises. Who could forget his delightful Samantha Seal, Dinah the Dinosaur and Miranda and the Magic Sponge? Not to mention the Tambootie series for which he received the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award in 1979 and 1980.

After retiring from his long-serving position as Professor Emeritus and Head of the Department of Speech and Drama at the University of Natal in Durban (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus), Pieter Scholtz set about converting a century-old Methodist Church building in Greyville. This was opened as the Kwasuka Theatre in 1997. Now run by Greg King, it has retained its reputation as being one of the few venues in Durban offering excellent theatre.

Published by Struik, Tales of the Tokoloshe is available at leading bookshops at a cost of R99.95. – Caroline Smart




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