The Isitwalangcengce, or “Basket-bearer”, is hardly seen these days. Which is all the better, as this monster known to the Zulu people is a dedicated man-eater. Somewhat like a hyena in appearance, an Isitwalangcengce’s most notable feature is its basket-shaped head, complete with an opening in the top for carrying its prey.

Isitwalangcengces are powerful, and can easily overcome the bravest of men. They wait around villages during feast days, when children carrying freshly butchered meat go from house to house. They hide beside the doorway, and quickly stuff their victims into their head, carrying them off to eat. Isitwalangcengces do not actually eat all of their prey, but eat only the brain. An Isitwalangcengce will have a favorite rock to smash human heads on and lap up the contents.

If the Isitwalangcengce is strong, it is also dimwitted. This fact was exploited by one Zulu man who was being carried off in the basket. When the Isitwalangcengce passed through bushy terrain, the man reached out of the basket and pulled branches off, stuffing them into the cavity with him. Once he had filled the Isitwalangcengce’s head with sufficient branches, he grabbed onto a tree and hauled himself out. The Isitwalangcengce, meanwhile, noticed no difference in weight. By the time it reached the rocks and poured out a clump of branches and twigs, the man was long gone.

When the man returned to his village, he made sure to narrate his escapade in detail. News of that spread. Soon everyone knew to fill an Isitwalangcengce’s head with branches, and predation dropped drastically.

Now the Isitwalangcengce are mere nursery bogeys, good only for intimidating children. “If you aren’t good, the Isitwalangcengce will carry you off!” And the children smile to themselves, knowing that there’s always an easy way out.


Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.