Basic Information

Type/Species: Serpent-Waist
Origin: Basotho Folklore

About Monyohe

There once was a chief who married a woman who produced no children. He grieved over the lack of a child; so, they went to a witch doctor to see if there was anything to be done about it. The witch doctor said that he could take away the barrenness of the woman, but her son would be like no other human child. He would be wrapped in the skin of a snake. [1]

This happened, but the chief was glad to have a child. The parents, however, were embarrassed by their son's appearance, so they hid him away during the day. All the people of the tribe hoped to catch a glimpse of the chief's child when he was moved to his own hut (because he was too large for his parents'), but the chief and his wife moved their son at night, when no one was awake. [1]

When Monyohe had to go to school for five months, as was the custom, the chief built his grass hut away from the other boys. Again, Monyohe was moved at night, as to not disgrace his parents. There he stayed for the five months and returned to his father, again at night. No one but his parents had seen him. [1]

After his schooling, the father said that it was time for Monyohe to be married. The chief would find his son a good bride, for he had many heads of cattle to barter with and only one son to marry. (It was custom that the husband's family give an offering to the wife's family, regardless of what the man looked like. The fact that Monyohe was covered in snake skin had nothing to do with it.) But Monyohe said that he wanted to choose his wife for himself, but his father told him that he would frighten any woman that laid eyes upon him. They would run from him! Stubbornly, Monyohe told his father that he was going to find himself a wife. So he slithered out (again, at night) to the watering hole where women bathed. And he waited. [1]

He studied various women, and he studied them well. After due consideration, he chose Senkepeng, the only daughter of the big wife of the chief. He then went over to play with the women who were in the water, as they often played games, but they fled when they saw him. He called to Senkepeng, and she bravely returned to him. He asked her, "How can you run away from love itself?" [1]

His proposal, however, did not satisfy her. She asked him where his cattle was. He told her that he had water. She laughed at him and told him that he did not have arms to protect her nor feet to dance with her, so how could he be her husband? She laughed and ran away with her friends. [1]

Monyohe took this very badly. He took all the water in that area, where Senkepeng's tribe was, away from them. He left the area and took all the water, and all the rain. A drought fell upon her people, whose cattle grew thin and died. Her father was asked to send people to find water, so that they may move and find food. [1]

The chief, the father of Senkepeng, send one of his sons and a group of people with watermelon, cattle, and hunting dogs. They were to find water and return with some, and perhaps lead the tribe back to this water, should no rain come. The group left, and after eating all the watermelon and worrying about dying of thirst, they awoke one morning to find that their dogs were wet! With this surprise, they followed the dogs to a great body of water, which was so deep that the water appeared black. They rejoiced. Yet, when they cupped the water in their hands and brought it to their mouths, it was not water they held, but something like rock! They, grown men, cried. [1]

Monyohe, who was under the water, saw the men weep and laughed, just as Senkepeng laughed at him as she ran away. When the men heard him laughing, the son of the chief, Masilo, asked the water why it laughed. Monyohe replied that it was he, Monyohe that laughed at them. Masilo asked him why he could not spare so much as a handful of water, since he had so much, and Masilo also pointed out that they were asking for very little and had done Monyohe no harm. [1]

Monyohe then explained that it was Senkepeng, the daughter of the chief, who had done him harm. He had taken the water to prove to her that he who has water has more worth than he who has cattle. Masilo, Senkepeng's older brother, told Monyohe that he should only be punishing Senkepeng, not the entire tribe, for her foolishness. But, Monyohe said that he would barter the water for Masilo's sister in marriage. Masilo agreed, having no other option. As soon as Monyohe returned the water, the land grew fertile again, and the cattle grew fat again. [1]

Monyohe, the great water snake, had one more offer to make to Masilo, however. He told Masilo that he himself would come fetch his wife, so that Masilo would not have to bring her to him. He said that when he came there would be a large dust cloud in the sky, following in his wake. Masilo was discouraged by this; he doubted that his father would approve his sister being given in marriage to a large snake. However, he agreed, but he told those who traveled with him not to tell his father. [1]

Masilo returned and the people rejoiced over the water. It was a long time, so long that the fear of losing his sister to Monyohe was put to rest. However, one day, a great cloud of dust in the sky was seen, and Masilo knew what it meant. He went to Senkepeng and told her everything. She looked at him and told him that she would run, and if Monyohe caught her, she would marry him. With that, she ran outside of her home as quickly as she could. [1]

When Monyohe arrived, Masilo explained what had happened. He also asked that Monyohe not harm the tribe, as it was Senkepeng's choice to run. Monyohe, however, was not displeased; for, it is becoming for a wife to run from the bridegroom and him to chase after her and bring her home. With that, he ran after her, as she had a very large head start. [1]

Senkepeng was already tired, but she could see him running with his cloud of dust behind him. She kept running. As she ran, a shepherd saw her and told her to break her necklace of beads. She did so, and when Monyohe came upon them he could not help himself; he had to pick them up. In the time it took him to do so, she had gained a larger gap between them. [1]

Yet, he was still catching up to her. She ran by a group of young boys, and they told her to sing a song, that he may dance. She sang a song, and the boys sang it with her. When Senkepeng heard it, he danced. As he danced, his body began to knot up. However, she ran not much farther to a village and the villagers could see the cloud following her. She told them the entire story, and they aimed to help her. They planted knives in the ground showing only their sharp points so that Monyohe could not see them all. The villagers said that he would grow tired and then slide on his belly; therefore, the knives would cut him! [1]

This happened. When it did, the villagers ran to see what became of him. They saw that a huge snake skin, cut from nose to tail by their knives. But it was not a dead snake that they saw; no, it was a beautiful man, a man that was clearly that of a chief. He was so beautiful and decked out with weapons of grandeur that no man that was there was as good as he.

Senkepeng, upon seeing him, hid her face, because she loved him as soon as she saw him. They walked back together, him in front and she behind. And they were married. [1]

An Alternative Story Monyohe

There is another story of Monyohe and his wife. Maliane was a foolish child, the child of a chief, and she was rude and haughty. She had to be waited upon; her father allowed all this. She did no work, and she got away with being rude. However, one day she was so rude to her mother that her father punished her. She ran out into the field with her little dog. She told him, "I am going to run away and never come back." Her little dog went with her. [1]

After much running, she came to an area full of reeds. While she rested, her little dog told her that it would be foolish to be rude out here; she would have to be kind and good when people offered to help her. She agreed, and as soon as she did a rat appeared and offered to chew through the reeds to make her way. She also came upon a woman afflicted with a rash, whom she itched. In return, the woman gave her strength of the heart. She then came upon a crippled woman who could not lift the jug of water to her head. She helped. The woman than told her that she could help her marry the son of a chief, whom no one had seen. She followed the advice of the woman, which was that she should not eat before others eat, that she should sit on the bare ground, that she should pass up the new water jug for the old water jug, and so on. [1]

She followed the rules laid down by this woman, and she went to the chief's hut to see if she could marry his son. After she had been with them for one dinner, the chief's wife pointed how sweet, kind, and not rude she was. So they asked her to marry her son, Monyohe. She had heard of this Monyohe, the water snake, but she went to his hut to meet him. When she did meet him at night, she was scared, and she ran away in the morning back to her village, where she collapsed with thirst. Her parents tried to give her water, but she was still thirsty. There was no more water left in the house, and Monyohe had taken up residence in the water hole.[1]

The witch doctor then came and persuaded Monyohe with meat out of the water. But, when he came out of the water, he left behind his skin, and appeared before them as a beautiful man. Then, he married the chief's daughter, and his father gave a coral of cattle for her. [1]

Physical Description

Monyohe was wrapped in the skin of a huge snake, taller than any tree when he stood upon his tail. Underneath the skin, he was a handsome man who was clearly the child of a chief. [1]


  1. Postma Tales from the Basotho

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.