Graveyard Shift Creepy African Legends and Myths  

Jen Lennon
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List Rules Vote up the scariest stories from African folklore.

Africa has a rich tradition of folklore. African myths are often passed down orally between families and communities, but writers have been diligently recording these stories for decades. One thing to remember is that the African continent is enormous; its landmass could contain the United States, China, Japan, the UK, and Eastern Europe with room to spare. And of course, with so many stories from such a large area, some of them were bound to be creepy.

There are classic African folktales, myths, and modern African urban legends on this list, all of them spine-tingling. Whether they're from Madagascar, Zaire, Zimbabwe, or South Africa, these stories will keep you up at night.

1 50 VOTES

The River God Nyaminyami Terrorizes Dam Builders

The River God Nyaminyami Terro... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Creepy African Legends and Myths
Photo: Jason Wharam/flickr/CC-BY-ND 2.0

In the 1950s, construction started on a dam on the Zambezi River in Kariba, Zimbabwe. The project was fraught with accidents and deaths. According to one legend, a river god called Nyaminyami is to blame.

The Tonga people, who lived along the river before the dam was built, believe that Nyaminyami has the head of a fish and the body of a snake. An historic flood caused yet another accident at the dam construction site and some of the workers went missing. The Tonga people asserted that Nyaminyami was to blame; he was unhappy about the dam being built. The only way to please him, they said, was to offer a sacrifice.

A cow was killed and set adrift on the river. The next day, the cow was nowhere to be found, but the bodies of the missing workers had appeared on the banks of the river.

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2 32 VOTES

The Kongamato Overturns Boats, Drowning Its Victims

The Kongamato Overturns Boats,... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Creepy African Legends and Myths
Photo: Matthew P. Martyniuk/via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Frank Melland described a legend from the Kaonde people of Zambia in his 1923 book, In Witch-bound Africa. Melland spent several years living with the Kaonde and heard tales about the kongamato, or "overwhelmer of boats," a giant winged creature which lives in rivers and overturns boats, capturing and killing the occupants. Oh, and it flies. Because why wouldn't a terrifying river creature also fly?

When Melland showed some pictures of pterodactyls to the Kaonde, numerous people identified the dinosaur as a kongamato. 

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3 33 VOTES

The Man-Eating Tree of Madagascar Swallows Human Sacrifices

The Man-Eating Tree of Madagas... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Creepy African Legends and Myths
Photo:  NadineDoerle/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

According to legend, Polish biologist Dr. Omelius Fredlowski received a very strange letter in the early 1870s. It was from a German explorer named Carl Liche, who claimed to have seen something horrific in Madagascar.

Liche claimed that he had been living with and researching a tribe called the Mkodos. Members of the tribe took him to a tree they called the "tepe," where they started a ritual. The tree was oddly shaped, with tentacle-like leaves sprouting from its trunk. Suddenly, a woman was pushed towards it. She climbed to the top of the tree, drank a liquid that was trickling out of its center, and suddenly the tentacles came to life. They surrounded her immediately. She was completely ensnared, her body hidden from view by the leaves that gripped her. All Liche could hear was her screams.

He wrote,

The retracted leaves of the great tree kept their upright position during ten days, then when I came one morning they were prone again, the tendrils stretched, the palpi floating, and nothing but a white skull at the foot of the tree to remind me of the sacrifice that had taken place there.

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4 29 VOTES

The Spider God Anansi Fooled Death

The Spider God Anansi Fooled D... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Creepy African Legends and Myths
Photo: MarianOne/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

In West African folklore, Anansi is a trickster god that is often depicted as a spider. One of the creepier stories about Anansi explains why spider webs are often found in the corner of the ceiling.

Anansi was out walking one day when he came upon a house. There was an old man sitting on the porch, and Anansi was parched, so he asked the old man if he could have some water. The old man said nothing, so Anansi went inside and helped himself to some water. He also stuffed himself with food, figuring that if the man objected to that, he would say something. Anansi left and returned the next day and did the same thing, again with no protests from the old man.  

The day afterwards, Anansi returned with one of his daughters and offered her hand in marriage to the man in exchange for his kindness. He still said nothing, so Anansi left and returned the next day. On the fourth day, the spider again found the old man on the porch, but his daughter was missing. It was then that the old man spoke. He said, "My name is Death and you came looking for me. I did not invite you into my house. To add insult to injury, you brought me your ugly daughter... so I ate her. Now I am going to have you for lunch."

Anansi fled and ran back to his home. He figured he could outrun Death, but he was wrong. Soon, Death was at his door. Anansi quickly gathered his wife and children and pulled them high onto a ceiling beam. There, Death could not touch them, for he could not climb. One by one, each member of his family fell from the beam, and Death set them aside. He only wanted Anansi. Thinking quickly, the spider asked Death to set a bag of flour underneath him to break his fall. Death agreed, and finally, Anansi let go. But instead of landing in the soft, powdery cushion, he jumped onto Death's head and pushed him face-first into the flour. With Death temporarily blinded, Anansi gathered his family and ran. 

Death never caught him, and that's why spider webs often appear in high places: Anansi is still trying to escape Death. 

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