Ghost stories can be many things – entertaining, frightening, spiritual – but they can serve other purposes as well.
In an old story from the Bantu people of South Africa, a ghost from the land of death teaches the living how to live.
One day two boys were out for a walk when they came upon a beautifully tended banana tree with a perfectly gorgeous bunch of golden bananas. The boys were hungry and the bananas were ripe. So they plucked the bunch, sat under the tree, and ate every last one.
Late that night, when they were tucked in bed, they heard rapping on the door to their hut. They heard rapping on the walls of their hut. They heard the rapping of their nervous, frightened hearts. When they opened their eyes, they saw a one-armed, one-legged ghost standing in the doorway.
It roared at them. “You have no right to eat my bananas. And now you must die!” So saying, the Kinyamkela hurled stones and bones at the boys and the walls.
The boys ran screaming out of the hut, but the ghost, the Kinyamkela, chased after them, hopping on its only leg and using its only arm to pelt them with stones, bones, and clumps of dirt.
According to Bantu lore, a Kinyamkela is the ghost of a dead child or kind adult. But in death it is not so sweet. Perhaps it has something to do with its deathly transformation. You see, the Kinyamkela is a perfect half of its former self, as if it were sliced right down the middle. It has one arm, one eye, half a nose, half a torso, and one leg. Being one half of its former self might make it touchy. Or maybe it carefully guards banana trees the way it wishes it guarded the other half of its body. Whatever the reason, the Kinyamkela has a sour temper.
All through the night, the boys were chased by the Kinyamkela. In the morning, a village doctor gathered up the boys and other villagers.
“I know what to do. Follow me,” he said.
He gathered a basket of food – rice, vegetables, and bananas – as an offering to the Kinyamkela. When he set the food down at the base of the tree he apologized on behalf of the boys and promised that the village would leave the tree alone.
“Don’t ever let it happen again,” whispered an invisible voice from somewhere near the tree.
That was that. Everything was calm and back to normal. The people lived happily and left the tree entirely alone as promised. But then another member of the village, a woodcarver, returned from a trip. He heard about the haunted tree.
“Such utter nonsense, there is no Kinyamkela in the banana tree! It must be something else.”
That night, he readied himself for a vigil, for he wanted to find the culprit. Armed with a loaded gun, he sat down under the tree.
He was there for just a moment when he was pelted with stones and smacked with bones. The ghost was invisible that night, but its weapons were clear as day. And so was the pain.
“Aaaah,” cried the woodcarver as he stumbled away. But the Kinyamkela chased him for the rest of the night.
The next night began as a storm of rocks and bones chased after the man. Then the Kinyamkela tormented other villagers as well. The night was filled with the percussive sounds of stones and bones smashing into huts, trees, and people. Screams of fright and cries of pain were a grim melody to the percussive accompaniment of terror.
And nothing stopped the attacks.
After four days of being assaulted with stones, bones, and tufts of earth, the people could bear it no longer. The entire village upped and moved far away where their nights were quiet and safe once more.
Since the villagers promised to leave the ghost alone, the Kinyamkela found a way to make sure that they honored their promise.
The Bantu aren’t the only people to have such an unusually shaped creature. Although not a ghost like the Kinyamkela, the Arabic Nasnas is a human-like and split down the middle. Like the Kinyamkela, it also has half a head and torso, one arm and one leg. In contrast to the Kinyamkela, which is the spirit of a human being, the Nasnas is a spirit that is part human and part demon.
So I wonder what we would get if we put two and two together (or one and one, or half and half) – Nasnas + Kinyamkela = I wouldn’t want it as a stuffed animal.
Do you know of any Kinyamkela stories? Do you know if such tales are still told in South Africa? I was able to find very limited information about this ghost (even the mighty Wikipedia has nothing to say on the matter), it is rarely reported on the web and not readily available books. I wonder if it remains an active ghost in the folk imagination or if it has gone the way of the other half of the kinyamkela’s body…
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.
Fee, Christopher (2011). Mythology of the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic and Might. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Werner, Alice (1933). Myths and Legends of the Bantu. London: Frank Cass and Company, Limited.
Mythology Dictionary http://www.mythologydictionary.com/nasnas-mythology.html
PHOTO CREDIT: By Abu Nayeem (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3] Wikimedia Commons