Variations: Abatwa (pl., often used as singular), Chitowe, Katsumbakazi, Maithoachiana, Mkonyingo, Mumbonelekwapi, Wabilikimo
First contact between different people is never easy. Sometimes one group ends up exaggerated, romanticized, altered until they are virtually unrecognizable. It was this process that turned Saracens into malevolent mountain goblins, and which caused the San bushmen to shrink to near-microscopic size in Zulu folklore, resulting in the Abatwa. The term is still used in Zulu to refer to bushmen, and some identify as Abatwa, but the Abatwa of folklore are supernatural and unmistakeable.
The Abatwa, Umutwa in the singular, are the smallest of all fairies. They live in the rugged uplands, where they use blades of grass as shelters and sleep in anthills. Abatwa have no fixed village apart from their bivouacs in the anthills. The only times they are sedentary are when they kill game; even then they stay around the carcass only as long as it takes to fully consume it. Sometimes the Abatwa ride horses in search of game. In such cases, dozens of the tiny warriors sit atop one horse, in a line from head to tail. If their hunt is unsuccessful, they do the next best thing and eat the horse.
Despite their size, they are deadly hunters, armed with poisoned arrows that can kill even elephants. Being stalked and killed by Abatwa is a nightmare, as you face foes too small to see; they are like driver ants, or puff adders, virtually invisible, yet disproportionately deadly. However, they are also self-conscious about being tiny, to the point of being very touchy about it. This insecurity is outweighed by an enormous ego. Abatwa are vulnerable to flattery.
When one meets an Umutwa and hails him with the traditional Sa-ku-bona (“I have seen you”), the Umutwa is immediately suspicious. “Where did you see me?” If you answer “I haven’t seen you before”, “Just now”, or words to that effect, the Umutwa, furious about this slight on his size, will immediately draw his bow and shoot you dead.
Clearly a more diplomatic approach is in order. Creativity is vital here, as is exaggeration and, above all, sincere delivery. “I last saw you on my way here. See that mountain on the horizon? I was on top of it when I saw you, I couldn’t mistake you for anyone else”. Then the Umutwa smiles with pride, secure in the knowledge that despite being tiny, he is still a towering and respected figure.
The motif of tiny warriors with height insecurity is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. All of these creatures, associated with different cultures, can be dealt with in the same way as the Abatwa, and respond negatively (and lethally) to going unnoticed.
If you flatter the Katsumbakazi of the Giryama, something lucky will happen to you.
The Maithoachiana of the Akikyu in Dagoreti are a cannibal race that are rich and skilled in metalworking.
The Wabilikimo of the Swahili live four days’ journey from Chaga, and are only twice the length from the middle finger to the elbow.
The Itowe (singular Chitowe) of the Machinga Yao rob gardens, rot pumpkins, turn fruits bitter, and leave footprints everywhere. Putting some of your crops at cross-roads will help placate them. They are like men but run on all fours. The related Mumbonelekwapi have long beards.
The Wakonyingo (singular Mkonyingo) of the Wachaga have enormous, misshapen heads and hide on Mount Kilimanjaro; none are bigger than a little boy. They have ladders that reach into the sky. They never lie down but lean against a wall, as getting up is hard with their top-heavy build. Wakonyingo take pity on people in trouble and will help them if they are lost. They leave bits of meat when sacrificing to their ancestors; the meat rolls down the mountain and turns into white-necked ravens. They are somewhat less touchy than the others mentioned, but can still exact terrible vengeance.
Ananikian, M. H. and Werner, A. (1964) The Mythology of All Races v. VII: Armenian and African. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.
Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.