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X is for xenophobia.

Xenophobia has always been a big deal here in South Africa. Especially since we’ve always been publicly and internationally condemned for something everyone feels at some time or another in their lives.

But xenophobia can be found in every country, in every culture, in any time of history. It even influenced folklore.

In South Africa we have many public holidays celebrating the strides we’ve made as a country against this nasty phobia. In April we celebrate one of many days in the recent past we did something right as a people.

Freedom Day is a national holiday in South Africa celebrated on the 27th of April. The holiday is held to celebrate freedom and commemorate the first democratic post-apartheid non-racial election held on 27/04/1994 which led to Nelson Mandela being elected president of South Africa.

Truth be told, I have no memory of this. I do remember discovering the joys of reading for the first time. Though, we all know how the past influences the present.

For example, this introduction paragraph on a Wikipedia page about xenophobia in South Africa:

Xenophobia in South Africa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Prior to 1994, immigrants from elsewhere faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa, though much of that risk stemmed from the institutionalised racism of the time due to apartheid.[citation needed] After democratisation in 1994, contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased.[1] Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of riots left 62 people dead; although 21 of those killed were South African citizens. The attacks were apparently motivated by xenophobia.[2] In 2015, another nationwide spike in xenophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.


Sounds quite violent. And it is. It’s shaped and influenced South African culture so much that unless it’s happening to someone you know, it’s almost alright.

And before you stop reading and thinking I’m a complete psycho, think about how xenophobia has influenced your own life. Just think about how most Americans feel about anyone who even slightly looks Middle-Eastern.

Xenophobia has influenced writers of this century and every century before it.

If you’re still a bit vague on what xenophobia is, here’s a reminder.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Definition:


nounxe·no·pho·bia \ˌze-nə-ˈfō-bē-ə, ˌzē-\

Simple Definition of xenophobia

: fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners

Full Definition of xenophobia

:  fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign


You’re probably still not seeing how xenophobia had influenced folklore.


Examples of xenophobia in folklore from:

Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts

edited and/or translated by D. L. Ashliman University of Pittsburgh © 1996-2015

  • The Sick Lion. Fables of type 50 about lions and other powerful animals who are tricked into punishing a physically weaker (but very clever) animal’s enemies.
      1. The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox (Aesop).
      2. The Lion, Wolf, and Fox (Jean de La Fontaine).
      3. The Hyena Outwitted (India).
      4. The King of the Tigers Is Sick (Malaya).
  • Multiple Births in Legend and Folklore. Multiple births have not always been considered to be a blessing. Indeed, as the following legends show, in times past they were sometimes seen to be a sign of the mother’s infidelity or other sin, with potentially fatal consequences for the children.
    1. King Aistulf (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).
    2. As Many Children As There Are Days in the Year (The Netherlands, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).
    3. The Woman with Three Hundred and Sixty-Six Children (Netherlands, William Elliot Griffis).
    4. The Boy in the Fishpond (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).
    5. The Origin of the Welfs (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).
    6. Wölpe (Germany, A. Kuhn and W. Schwarz).
    7. Donkey Meadow and the Nine Brunos (Germany, A. Kuhn and W. Schwarz).
    8. Nine Children at One Time (Germany, Ludwig Bechstein).
    9. The Entombed Noblewoman (Austria, Johann Adolf Heyl).
    10. The Dogs (Germany, Karl Lyncker).
    11. The Nine Children (Germany, Karl Lyncker).
    12. Twelve Children Born at One Time (Scandinavia).
    13. Links to related stories.
  • Melusina (Mélusine, Melusine). Legends about mermaids, water sprites, and forest nymphs and their sensuous relationships with mortal men.
    1. The Fair Melusina (Albania).
    2. Melusina (France).
    3. The Legend of Beautiful Melusina, the Ancestress of Luxembourg Counts (Luxembourg).
    4. Melusina — Soldiers’ Legend (Luxembourg).
    5. The Mysterious Maiden Mélusine (Luxembourg).
    6. Melusina (Germany).
    7. Herr Peter Dimringer von Staufenberg (Germany).
    8. The Water Maid (Germany).
    9. Brauhard’s Mermaid (Germany).
    10. Melusina (Germany).


Not entirely convinced that xenophobia is rampant in folktales? How about the story of Hans My Hedgehog by the Brothers Grimm? Half-human, half-hedgehog he wasn’t treated kindly even by his own parents. Or The Bear and the Travellers – one of Aesop’s fables – where the travellers assumed that all bears are killers? And who can forget the horrible acts of xenophobia perpetrated on that poor Ugly Duckling in Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale?

hans pic xenophobia Hans My Hedgehog (illustration by Michael Foreman)

20160316_115539 The Ugly Duckling (Illustration by Christian Birmingham)

Alright, I’m sure that you’re cursing me right now and saying that all of these tales are harmless (just like certain dolls don’t perpetuate a “perfect” image girls aspire to. I’m getting off topic. <grin>) Still, there are mothers who won’t let their daughters watch Cinderella and that’s without the stepsisters cutting off their own toes to fit into the slipper…

“ The ducklings did what they were told, but other ducks made fun of them. One bit the ugly duckling in the neck.

“Go away!” shouted his mother. “He hasn’t done you any harm.”

“He doesn’t look like us!” the others retorted. “That’s a good enough reason to bite him.”  ” – The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen

All we can do is to try and not act like the other ducks in The Ugly Duckling.

“Acceptance is the key to all we know. What about a stir of compassion or lenience? What about some understanding? What about some sympathy? Peace. Love. More tolerance. Faith. Hope…” – Just Jinger, What He Means.

I probably could’ve chosen something a little lighter to talk about for the X challenge. X-rays or xylophones, perhaps?

As an example of how xenophobia has even influenced this writer’s work, read Saphira and the Festival of the Fae, the newest instalment in The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog.

Everything happened in slow-motion. The innocent bystanders ran away screaming. The guilty attacked Faolan MacKeltar and his entourage.

Saphira felt like she saw it all from far away. Like she wasn’t really there. How could something like that have happened while so many humans and Fae there cared for Eolande’s mother?

Shock held her motionless for a second before she moved, as fast as only she could, and pulled Eolande away from everyone’s reach.

‘Give her to us!’ the mob shouted.

<NO!> Saphira roared and moved further away.

Saphira and the Festival of the Fae, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Ronel Janse van Vuuren


I hope you enjoy reading the fourth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Any other examples of xenophobia in fairy tales and folktales you’d like to share?

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