An African Tale

Artodyssey, artwork by Loyiso Mzike.

Seven maidens went to the river to fetch water. One girl went a little further. While the others were waiting, they decided to play her a trick and hid their bead necklaces in the sand, pretending to have thrown it into the pond to see what might happen. On return, the girl trustingly believed them and threw her necklace into the pond. Laughingly they retrieved theirs and went away. In great distress the maiden cried out at the pool but was told to move on.

At another pool she was told to enter. Without hesitation she jumped into the pool and encountered a one-legged, one-armed old woman. A cruel Dimo (1) kept the old woman enslaved and had devoured her one arm and leg. Deeply touched by her suffering, the girl cleaned her wounds. In turn, the old woman protected her when the Dimo appeared, declaring that he smelled a human and, after he had left, rewarded her richly. On returning to her village the other maidens were jealous of her fortune and thought they could also be lucky. They jumped into the pool, but they were rude to the old woman and mocked her. When the terrible Dimo appeared, she did not protect them… (2)

A tale of individual seeking and descent leads to encountering one’s own one-sidedness, the wounded old woman, in the depths of one’s being. A trusting, sincere and compassionate approach is naturally rewarded by the archetype itself. But natural resistance to ‘the other world’ often results in a self-damaging attitude of disrespect. The wounds have to be tended. In another version of the tale, it is cleaned by licking it, like an animal might do: “saliva is symbolically a healing water that we are all born with.” (3)

“The threaded bead necklace stands for the unifying of diversity… it becomes a cosmic and social symbol of ties and bonds.” (4) Associated with the heart chakra it represents our capacity to relate to our deeper selves and others. An apt symbol of Ubuntu, a conscious descent may restore this sense of identity and interconnectedness. (5)


1. DIMO: is said to be ‘partly man, partly animal, partly spiritual’, a trickster figure. It is widely found in Africa in Swahili and the Niger-Congo basin and in Southern Africa, e.g., in Zulu and Sesotho cultures. From “Tricksters and Trickery in Zulu Folktales” by Noverino Noemio Canonici, 1995; PhD dissertation, University of KZN, SA.

2. Edith McPherson, 1919. Native Fairy Tales of South Africa, London Harrap, UK. Distributed by Heritage History. “The lost beads” p.45.

3. Helen Luke, 1995. The Way of Woman, Double Day Publishing, US, p. 100

4. JE Cirlot, 2002. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Edition, p. 227

5. UBUNTU: a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.