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.

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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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The Biloko Hide in Hollow Trees, Waiting to Attack


The Biloko Hide in Hollow Tree... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Creepy African Legends and Myths
Photo:  GingerKelly/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

The legend of the biloko comes from central Zaire. These dwarf-like creatures have sharp claws, large mouths, and are covered in hair that looks like grass. They live deep in the densest parts of the rain forest. They wear little bells around their necks, and the sound of these bells can enchant listeners into falling under their spell.

The biloko attack any poor soul who has the misfortune of walking by their dwelling place in a hollowed-out tree. Experienced hunters know to avoid the biloko, and so many common legends involve an inexperienced hunter or a visitor to the area being attacked, instead.

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The Kongamato Overturns Boats, Drowning Its Victims


The Kongamato Overturns Boats,... is listed (or ranked) 3 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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The Man-Eating Tree of Madagascar Swallows Human Sacrifices


The Man-Eating Tree of Madagas... is listed (or ranked) 4 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.