Hottentot Superstitions - African Safari Campfire Stories
The incessant chirping of a locust on the roof of one particular hut meant that a relation had died, and efforts were made to kill the insect.
Misfortune would also follow if a bird flew into a hut, unless it was speedily killed.
A man who trod on a grave, passed one unmindfully, or pointed at one with his finger, disturbed the rest of the dead, and had to be punished.
The hooting of an owl at night was an omen of death (this differs from the African Bantu belief which claims that it is up to mischief with some wicked witch or wizard).
When the cattle strayed, the Hottentot would hang his kaross or blanket in the doorway. When the kaross began to swing to and fro it meant that the cattle were on their way back. A crowing hen would be killed immediately, as it was said to be cursing the family, and would cause one of the members to die. A dog which climbed onto the roof of a hut and dug about or scratched at the sides of the hut was also killed for the same reason. An ox or cow which switched its tail in a strange manner, or moved its outstretched tongue from side to side while lying down, was also regarded as a bad omen. In this case the animal was sometimes spared, but certainly soon disposed of to someone else!
The Hamerkop bird was held in great respect as a bearer of the tidings of death. Indeed, almost anybody seeing this strange bird at dusk, flitting about with weird activity along the edge of a marsh or pool while uttering its queer cry, would feel a prickling of the skin! When two or three are feeding in a small pool they will sometimes execute a singular dance, skipping around one another, opening and closing their wings and performing strange antics, reminiscent of the three weird witch sisters from Macbeth.
The Hottentots believed that in the same way they can see their reflections
mirrored in still water, a Hammerkop bird can see reflections of the future,
and knows who is shortly going to die. When the bird sees the image of
a person with death overshadowing him, it will fly to the home of the doomed,
and utter its three warning cries. The Hamerkop will watch for the falling
star which prophesies death, as it falls above the area of the dwelling
in which someone is about to die. When it sees this star, it will fly over
the abode venting its mournful cries.
When the Hottentots saw the Hamerkop standing in water stirring the mud with its feet and peering into the swirling water for fish, they said: 'See, the Hamerkop is looking at our reflections to see who will be the next to die!' You may be sure they did not stay long to find out!
To ward off enemies, both real and imagined, the head of the house sought out a certain root, on the end of which he rubbed some fat. He then heated the root in the fire. As soon as it began to flame and spit, he would go to the door and point the flaming root from left to right, pronouncing a magic spell. This would make the enemy become drowsy and fall asleep, and when he awoke he would lose his way; even if he had reached his destination, he would be rendered harmless. When the flame went out the head of the house would put the root back in its place in the hut. It would be used in the same way if some of the stock strayed at night when jackals or other wild animals were about. If the women went on a journey during which they had to camp at night in the veld, they took the root with them as a protection against wild animals.