Thunderbolt & Lightning, Very Very Frightening

Last year we wrote about the relationship between tagati and the tokoloshe, and the tagati’s (mthakathi) link to lightning. In a recent Ulwazi meeting the subject of this story came up again, and our fieldworkers got quite excited talking about what to do when there’s lightning in the sky. Apparently there are strict instructions for Zulu women when it comes to lightning!

Even if a storm happens in the middle of the night women must move from their beds to the floor, which is cold – the belief is that lightning is attracted to heat, so being cold will help to keep them safe. They should also cover their shoulders as a sign of respect, as well as any mirrors in the house, as mirrors are said to attract lightning. The discussion was an interesting one, moving into the realm of Zulu folklore, and how it is believed that lightning is the result of tagatis inciting the frog and the chameleon to fight through the use of muthi. As a westerner, the story sounded like something right out of a story book, but for the oldest of the fieldworkers, this was a very serious subject and she was visibly distressed that the younger fieldworkers weren’t abiding by the rules – she believes that not doing so will put them in danger.

Whether you believe the tale or not, it’s discussions like these that keep the rich Zulu culture alive and well, so that future generations can understand why the chameleon and the frog aren’t the best of friends, and why when they woke up from a nightmare that one night, their grandmother was asleep on the cold, hard floor.

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