The Grootslang is a cryptid from South African folklore. Grootslang means “Great Serpent” in the Afrikaans language of South Africa.
Afrikaner legend describes the Grootslang as a gigantic primeval snake that lives in a pit or subterranean cave in a remote part of Richtersveld, a desert in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.
Legends refer to the cave in which Grootslang lives as the Bottomless Pit or Wonder Hole.
The Grootslang and Khoekhoe culture
The legend of the Grootslang may have originated from the indigenous nomadic pastoralist Khoekhoen (singular: Khoekhoe or Khoikhoi) of South Africa.
The Khoekhoe also believe in a mythical primeval spirit or serpent that existed before the gods created the world. They have names for the primordial serpent, such as Kiman, (!)Koo-be-eng, and Kou-teign-(!)koo-rou (master of the water) (George Eberhart, 2002).
[Fun fact: The Khoekhoe (Khoikhoi, formerly Hottentot) or Khoe-speaking peoples of South Africa consist of several pastoralist groups. The Nama (or Nama-Khoe) are the largest subgroup of the Khoekhoe.]
The Grootslang: Ancient rock paintings
Ancient rock paintings in South Africa provide evidence of belief in a Grootslang-like animal by the indigenous South African tribes.
According to Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), a rock painting at Cathedral Peak in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, shows a great horned serpent known as the (!)Koo-be-eng.
There are also rock paintings depicting mythical serpents at a cave in the Brakfontein ridge, Western Cape, South Africa.
There is another at a cave near Aasvoëlkop (Vulture Peak) in the Klein River Mountain range of the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa.
The Grootslang is a giant black serpent
There are various conflicting descriptions of the Grootslang:
South African lore portrays it as a black python-like monster of colossal proportions. It has a venomous or toxic breath, tusk-like fangs, and sometimes a spike at the end of a long tail.
Although some sources claim it is a gigantic olive-skinned elephant-snake hybrid, there is no evidence that the original myths and legends said it was a hybrid creature.
The Grootsland lives in a Wonder Hole
The Grootslang lives in a pit or underground cave in the Richtersveld, Northern Cape.
The cave, known in Afrikaner lore as the Bottomless Pit or Wonder Hole, is located along the Orange River that flows through Northern Cape.
The Wonder Hole opens on one side to the Orange River and on the other to the sea.
Other accounts claim the Wonder Hole is located in a cave beneath King George’s Cataract, a waterfall in Northern Cape. Yet other legends associate it with the Vaal River, a tributary of the Orange River.
Tradition describes the Grootlsang as 20-39 feet and its neck as 8-10 feet. Other accounts claim it is a 40-50 feet long monster. It leaves a track or spoor 18-36 inches wide.
The Grootslang preys on elephants
Legend claim the Grootslang is so big that it preys on elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, lions, buffalo, and cattle. It would seize animals at the river bank and drag them into its cave, where it devoured them.
The creature’s eyes are shiny and hard as diamonds. But some legends claim it has diamonds in its sockets instead of eyes.
The Grootslang is older than the world, according to legend. The gods made it before creating the world.
It was the most powerful, intelligent, and cunning beast the gods made. But it used its talents for evil.
The gods soon regretted creating such a powerful but deviously cunning and villainous entity. So they wanted to take back its powers.
The gods proceeded to deprive the Grootslang of its powers by dividing it into smaller pieces. The gods fashioned a new animal from each part. The new animals were less powerful and cunning than the original beast.
Some versions of the legend claimed the gods split the monster into two types of animals, elephants and snakes.
(Note: The story that the gods split the Grootslang into elephants and snakes may explain why some sources depict it as a half-elephant, half-snake hybrid.)
Other versions of the legend claimed the break-up operation led to the creation of various types of powerful creatures, such as elephants, lions, gorillas, pythons, and marine monsters.
However, a big chunk escaped and hid in a remote cave in the Richtersveld. It then spawned hundreds of other Grootslangs like itself.
The treasures of the gods
The Grootslang myth portrays it as a primordial snake that guards a mythical cave where the gods hid their treasures.
Some believe the Grootslang’s treasure of diamonds and other precious stones could be an allegorical reference to immortality.
Sightings and Tales
The Peter Grayson legend
According to legend, many adventurers and fortune seekers have sought to seize the Grootslang’s treasures, but the creature devoured them.
An Englishman, Peter Grayson, set out in 1917 to find the Grootslang and seize its treasures. The search took him and his party to the Richtersveld, but they never returned.
There are various versions of how the expedition ended for Grayson and his party.
Some versions of the story said that some men succumbed to the elements. Poisonous snakes, scorpions, spiders, and lions, killed others.
According to one account, after some of the men fell ill and died, the survivors decided to abandon the quest, but Grayson said he would rather die in the desert than return empty-handed.
No one ever saw Grayson again after his men abandoned him. Some said he found the Wonder Hole but did not live to tell the tale.
Another version of the story said his men returned to search for him and found his remains. Yet another version said Grayson and his men found the Wonder Hole and encountered the Grootslang, but it devoured them.
A fearless prospector explored Grootslang’s cave
Folklore alleges that a fearless man found the Grootslang’s Wonder Hole, entered it, and lived to tell the story.
The alleged individual, a veteran prospector, descended into the Wonder Hole on a cable and landed on a ledge. But he soon found that it was not the bottom of the hole.
When he shone his torch down, he realized that the Wonder Hole reached deeper into the earth.
As he contemplated his next move, a choking sulfurous odor rose from the pit and engulfed him. It was presumably the Grootslang’s legendary toxic breath.
A swarm of eerily screeching bat-like monsters suddenly emerged from the hole. Startled, he dropped his torch and found himself in pitch darkness.
Unnerved by the thought that the fumes emanating from the pit could choke him to death, he lost courage and scrambled back to safety.
Eberhart reported in Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002) that in 1867, a European, Hans Sauer, claimed to have seen a monstrous serpent in the Orange River at a place close to Aliwal North, Eastern Cape Province.
Later in 1899, another European, G. A. Kinnear, reported seeing a giant serpent rising from the water while crossing the Orange River at Upington, Northern Cape Province. He said about 10 feet of the creature’s body rose above the water.
In 1910, Frederick C. Cornell and Kammerer were swimming in a pool in Augrabiesvalle, Northern Cape, when Kammerer rushed out of the water in fright, saying he had seen a serpentine creature with massive jaws in the water.
The creature, according to Kammerer, rose more than 12 feet in the air.
Skeptics have tried to guess what inspired the South African Grootslang legends. Here are some of the top explanations:
The Southern African Rock Python
A theory proposes that the legend might have originated from encounters Dutch settlers had with African Pythons in South Africa.
The Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis) is one of the longest snakes in the world, growing to more than 16 feet. Some specimens reach nearly 20 feet and weigh more than 50kg.
But it is smaller than its close relative, the Central African rock python (Python sebae), which may exceed 20 feet.
However, European settlers in South Africa would understandably have been shocked by the monstrous proportions of the Southern African Rock Python because there are no species of comparable size in Western Europe.
The largest snake species on the European continent is the Caspian whipsnake (Dolichophis caspius, also known as Coluber caspius). It may reach 6 feet, but it is native to the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
Thus, the shock of encountering a 20-foot snake for the first time might have inspired exaggerated tales of a giant primordial serpent.
Some skeptics proposed that encounters with other reptile species, such as monitor lizards, might have inspired the stories.
Two species of monitor lizards are native to South Africa: the Nile Monitor (Varanus niltoticus) and the rock monitor (Varanus albigularus).
The cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans proposed that seals might have inspired the Grootslang legend.
Seals native to South Africa include the cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus). It is one of the heaviest known fur seals and may weigh 350kg.
The Biblical Book of Genesis
Folklorists recognize the influence of the Biblical story of the cunning serpent that deceived the first woman Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The Book of Genesis describes an intelligent, cunning, or devious serpent endowed with the power of speech. Genesis described the serpent as the most intelligent creature God made, and it deceived the first woman.
|Other Name/s||Groot Slang, Kyman, Kiman, Great Serpent, Koo-be-eng, and Kou-teign-(!)koo-rou|
|Habitat||Countryside, Desert, Lake, Marsh, River, Swamp|
Where to find
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Eberhart, George M. (2002).
Secret Africa, Lawrence G. Green, 1936.
Borderline, William Dicey, 2004.
https://audenjohnson.com/2020/08/mythical-creature-from-south-africa-grootslang-the-great-snake.html, “Mythical Creature from South Africa: Grootslang, the Great Snake,” accessed on March 11, 2023.
https://archive.org/details/giantsmonstersdr0000rose/page/156/mode/2up?view=theater,”Giants Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia Of Folklore Legend And Myth,” by Carol Rose, accessed on March 11, 2023.
https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.54893, “Where Men Still Dream: The Life And Memories, Travels And Encounters of a South African Writer,” Lawrence G. Green, 1948, accessed on March 11, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20110608053824/http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1998/09/20/ent_239491.shtml, “Disappearances feed Grootslang legend,” accessed on March 11, 2023.
Featured Image: The Grootslang is a mythical primordial snake from South Africa. Pic credit: Pixabay