[From The Mantis and His Friends: Bushman Folklore by Wilhelm Bleek, Lucy Lloyd and Dorothea Bleek (1924). See item #35 in the Bibliography. The portrait of the San storyteller ||kabbo is from Bleek and Lloyd’s book Specimens of Bushman Folklore. For a version of this story in literary English, see Chapter 6 of Jenny Seed’s The Bushman’s Dream, #173 in the Bibliography.]


The Mantis caught sight of Will-o-the-Wisp walking about; he asked where Will-o-the-Wisp came from. Will-o-the-Wisp told him that he was hunting about.

While Will-o-the-Wisp was answering him, the Mantis put down his quiver, he took out a knobkerrie, he looked to see where Will-o-the-Wisp’s eyes were. He looked him up and down, he walked all round him seeking his eyes.

He asked Will-o-the-Wisp where his eyes might be. Will-o-the-Wisp said that his eyes were not anywhere, and the Mantis asked him how he could walk about like a man who had eyes.

Then the Mantis threatened him, and Will-o-the-Wisp dodged. And the Mantis said, “See now, why did you spring aside when I threatened you? That looks as if you had eyes, you seem to have seen that I meant to beat you.”

And the Mantis searched Will-o-the-Wisp again; again he looked him over, seeking his eyes. And the Mantis told him that he was really going to fight him.

And Will-o-the-Wisp told the Mantis that he might fight him if he wanted to do so.

Then the Mantis threatened him and Will-o-the-Wisp dodged him. And the Mantis told Will-o-the-Wisp that he must have hidden his eyes, for how else could he dodge like a man who had eyes?

Then the Mantis struck at him, and he sprang aside stooping, and the Mantis hit the ground while Will-o-the-Wisp stood on one side. Then the Mantis asked him whether he were a sorcerer, for he did not understand why he did not see his eyes, and Will-o-the-Wisp told him that he had no eyes, yet when he struck him Will-o-the-Wisp dodged away from his stick. He acted like a man who had eyes.

Then Will-o-the-Wisp said, “Now I will fight you,” and he took up the knobkerrie.

The Mantis said, “That was a lie you told just now when you said your eyes were not anywhere. Where are your eyes with which you mean to fight me?” When Will-o-the-Wisp was about to hit him, the Mantis struck at Will-o-the-Wisp; then Will-o-the-Wisp struck him. The Mantis said, “How is it that you have hit my head after telling me you had no eyes?”

Then the Mantis struck at Will-o-the-Wisp again, and he dodged away stooping, and the Mantis hit the ground. And Will-o-the-Wisp hit the Mantis’s head and broke it, and hit it again. And the Mantis sprang aside and ran away because he felt he could not bear it any longer.

Then he called to the quiver and the shoes so that his things should follow him home.

The things came to him at home, and his son-in-law Kwammanga asked him, “Whom have you been fighting, who has broken your head like this?”

And Mantis answered, “Will-o-the-Wisp was the one whom I saw. It was he who did this to me. I was looking for his eyes, I did not know where they could be. So I tried to strike him and knock him down; it was he who broke my head.”

And Kwammanga told him that Will-o-the-Wisp’s eyes ought to be on his feet between the great toe and the next. And the Mantis said he wanted to go back and look for Will-o-the-Wisp again. And Kwammanga said, “Why is it that whenever you meet any man, you want to fight him? First sleep a little; afterwards you shall seek Will-o-the-Wisp and fight him if you really want to fight.”

Then the Mantis asked, “What am I to do?”

And Kwammanga said, “Do you not know what you should do to Will-o-the-Wisp if you want to fight him?” And Mantis replied that he did not know how to fight Will-o-the-Wisp. Kwammanga then said, “When you see him, you must threaten him and see whether he dodges aside as he did before. Then you must look at his feet and you will see the eyes peeping out between the toes. Then you must kick dust into his eyes, and while he sits rubbing his eyes there, you must keep hitting his head.”

And the Mantis went out in the morning and soon saw Will-o-the-Wisp and ran up to him. Then he threw dust into the other’s eyes, and while Will-o-the-Wisp rubbed his eyes, the Mantis sprang up and beat his head and broke it.

And Will-o-the-Wisp said, “Did not Kwammanga tell you about me? Is not that why you are breaking my head?”

And the Mantis answered, “You are lying, I always knew about you. I meant to find out if you were really cunning; that is why I allowed you to break my head. This time I get you. Therefore I shall break your head. You seem to have thought you were really strong enough to break my head, but I will conquer you. Then I will take your things to show to Kwammanga, for he would not believe me if I merely told him that I had seen you.”

Will-o-the-Wisp replied, “Go back, go and tell him how you have fought me. You know Kwammanga told you about it, for you would not have beaten me like this if you had not known.”

And the Mantis answered that he had always known. The other day he had not dreamt well. “That was how you broke my head. For you would not have beaten me thus, if I had not dreamt badly.”

Will-o-the-Wisp said, “Why did you not fight me in the same manner then that you are fighting now? It looks as if you really did not know. For if you had known, you would have beaten me last time we saw each other.”

The Mantis answered that he had really known last time. It had happened that he had dreamt a bad dream; therefore he had fought badly. That was not his usual way of fighting.

Will-o-the-Wisp said, “Who was the person who told you that I have eyes?”

“Nobody told me, for I always knew that you had eyes.”

And Will-o-the-Wisp answered, “Kwammanga told you how to fight me. For I know that you are a stupid thing who would not have known how to fight me.”

The Mantis said, “Am I a child that Kwammanga should teach me? I am not a child that he should teach me, as if I were not clever. I am a grownup person who is also cunning; therefore I am clever.”

Will-o-the-Wisp said, “Somebody told you that my eyes are on my feet between the toes. You acted as if someone had told you. I saw that by your walk when you came out of the house. You did not walk in the same manner as you did the other time when we met. It looked as if you were rejoicing because you thought you were going to beat me. You did not go slowly because you knew what you had to do to beat me.”


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A Reader's Guide to African Folktales at the Internet Archive Copyright © 2022 by Laura Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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