Bès Kotak, “box spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It is apparently box-like in appearance and is a river spirit that lives in the muddy hollows of rivers.
When a person dives into the river to catch fish, the box spirit presses or sits on that person, causing them to become heavy, sink into the mud, and drown. Two or three days later the body will float to the surface, proof of the fate that awaits any who invade Bès Kotak’s domain.
Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
The Itqiirpak or Fireball is a creature from Alaskan Yupik folklore, notably from the Scammon Bay area. It appears as a crimson fireball flickering in the West over the sea, or, more alarmingly, as a big hand from the ocean with a mouth on each fingertip and a single large mouth in the palm of the hand.
An itqiirpak is a bad omen. It appears before terrible disasters, or it disposes of troublemakers directly.
A male itqiirpak was said to have burned through the entrance of a qasgiq (men’s house) and killed bad-mannered children there. It caught the children and dragged them out to eat them; all that could be heard was the crunching of their bones as the itqiirpak devoured them. When the men returned they saw the itqiirpak jumping up and down on the ice, looking like a fire. The monster was then slain by the men who left a swinging blade-trap for it. The female-hand remained at large and appeared whenever people were to die.
More modern itqiirpak stories tell of the fireball appearing before tragedies in the community, such as the drowning of two children in the Kun River in 2007. Simon saw the itqiirpak as a metaphor for tragedy and a cultural explanation for inexplicable tragedy.
Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Simon, K. A. The Meaning and Use of Narratives in a Central Yup’ik Community: The Scammon Bay ‘Fireball Story’. In Daveluy, M.; Lévesque, F.; and Ferguson, J. (eds.) (2011) Humanizing Security in the Arctic. CCI Press, Edmonton.
An Ebigane, in the folklore of the Fang of Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, is an ambiguous monster that can be animal or human in form, or a mix of both. It commonly appears in legends and sagas sung by mvett players.
One such heroic tale, told by Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, tells of the hero Mefoumou Mba Foumou. When faced with a bridge made of twisted, knotted pythons, he pulled a mouse out of his satchel and spat on its head. The mouse grew in size, its ears spread out like the petals of an enormous flower, its head sprouted horns, its legs lengthened and its claws sharpened, while its great tail stretched out behind it. Now armed with sharp fangs and claws and great bat-like wings, it had become an ebigane, something like a cross between a bat, a buffalo, and a vampire.
Mefoumou Mba took a red paste crayon and drew a red mark on the ebigane’s head from the base of its skull to the tip of its nose. Then he directed its attention to the pythons. “There is enough meat there to feed you for at least two years. To work!”
The ebigane flapped its ears loudly, whinnied, and took heavily to the air, circling around like a bird of prey before diving on the bridge. It seized one python in its claws and teeth and, after overcoming its prey’s resistance, carried it off to Mount Bèghlé to devour at its leisure.
Ndong Ndoutoume, T. (1993) Le Mvett: L’homme, la mort et l’immortalité. L’Harmattan, Paris.
Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)
The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.
A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.
The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.
It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.
The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.
Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.
Tenochtitlan, the great city of Mexico, is built on pilings on Lake Texcoco, much like Venice. In that lake is found numbers of the fish known as Hoga by the natives of the land and the Spaniards, and as Andura (vampire bat!) by natives further south.
A hoga has a head and ears very like those of a hog. It is the size of a seal or porpoise. There are five half-foot-long barbels around its mouth. When swimming it seems to change color from red to yellow to green like a chameleon. It gives birth to live young like a whale does.
Hogas are omnivorous. They live close to the shore where they feed on the leaves of the hoga tree. They are highly aggressive, as dangerous as the velachif, and will kill and eat animals larger than them, which is why they are hunted relentlessly. Their flesh is delicious and tastes like albacore.
The hoga skin in Thevet’s possession was destroyed by vermin, but fortunately he claims to have seen the creature alive in person.
Delaunay believed the lake not to be Lake Texcoco, but rather the nearby Lake Chalco. The Hoga could not be positively identified.
Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.
Paré, A.; Pallister, J. L. trans. (1982) On Monsters and Marvels. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.
The Mahwot is a monstrous creature that makes its home in the Meuse River snaking through the Ardennes. A lizard-like amphibious monster the size of a calf, it runs back and forth on the bottom of the river from Revin to Liège and back. It has been sighted at Revin and Givet on a July night in 1870.
Its primary purpose lies in keeping children away from the water. As an aquatic bogey, it will not hesitate to pull in and devour any child foolish enough to play too near the Meuse.
The mahwot rarely leaves the water. Its appearance on land is believed to be a bad omen, presaging death, war, or pestilence. More importantly, it will haul itself onto land at the beck and call of angry mothers to eat naughty children. As the warning in the local dialect goes, “V’la le Mahwot, si tu n’ti tais nai, d’ji vas t’fouaire mandjie!” (“here’s the mahwot, if you don’t shut up right now, I’ll have you eaten!”). The phrase is effective.
Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.
Meyrac, A. (1890) Traditions, coutumes, légendes et contes des Ardennes. Petit Ardennais, Charleville.
In Maltese, dajna refers to a fallow deer or an unkempt woman. It is also the name of a titanic primordial camel that lived on Malta before the Deluge.
A dajna or thunder camel had the head and neck of a camel but was ten times the size of an elephant. It could not fit into Noah’s Ark and went extinct as a result, but a population of these colossal camels survived in the netherworld.
Although a dajna is highly dangerous to human beings, the yellowish milk produced by the females is a remedy for baldness. Only heroes dare retrieve it.
Mifsud, S. D. (2017) The Maltese Bestiary. Merlin Publishers Ltd, Blata l-Bajda, Malta.
The Lomie is a beast found within the forests of Bohemia. It has a sac-like bladder under its neck. If pursued by hunters, it pauses at a nearby body of water to drink and fill up its neck-bladder. Then it runs, heating the water to boiling. When cornered by hunters and their dogs, it vomits the boiling water onto them, scalding them and making good its escape.
Heylyn merely refers to the water as boiling-hot. The Book of Marvels adds that the boiling water is incredibly toxic, causing incurable wounds and making skin and flesh slough off.
The name is derived from the Polish Lossie, the plural form of moose, while Los is singular. It is probably a typographical error on Heylyn’s part. Topsell lists Los and Lossie as synonyms for the elk or moose, and also ascribes the regurgitation of scalding water to the moose.
Heylyn, P. (1621) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. John Lichfield and James Short, Oxford.
Heylyn, P. (1636) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. William Turner, Oxford.
Heylyn, P. (1657) Cosmographie in Four Books. Henry Seile, London.
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.
Various. (1996) Les Merveilles du Monde. Editions Anthese, Arcueil.
The giant mouse Ugjuknarpak once lived on an island in the middle of a long, narrow lake near the source of the Colville River in Alaska. It was like a field mouse in appearance, but it had impenetrable skin. So thick and hard was its hide that even the largest harpoons, knives, and arrows could not penetrate it. It was also armed with a long, prehensile tail that it coiled around its prey.
The Inuit traveling to Nerleq to trade with the people of Point Barrow lived in constant fear of the Ugjuknarpak. If anyone made the slightest sound in the vicinity of the island, the giant mouse would pounce upon them, grabbing and capsizing the umiaqs with its long tail before biting the people to death and devouring them.
Trade slowed as the Ugjuknarpak continued its depredations. But it could not be avoided, as the people needed to go down the river to buy blubber on the coast, and return before the river froze in order to hunt caribou.
One day a man, fearing for his daughter’s life, decided to put her on an umiaq separate from the main fleet. This one had few people and fewer dogs and babies that might make sounds. He himself took one of the more crowded umiaqs – and his fear was realized. Along the way a dog snarled a little, and the Ugjuknarpak pricked up its ears and fell upon the boats. The girl, on the other hand, had passed ahead in safety. She never saw her parents and brothers again, and she knew that the giant mouse had killed them.
In time the girl was married and had a son of her own. As soon as he could understand, his mother told him “you are now a boy, and you will become a man, but you will never be strong enough to avenge your parents and uncles”. She did this knowing that, far from being discouraged, the boy would be goaded into slaying Ugjuknarpak.
The boy grew into a tall and powerful young man and took the name of Kugshavak, “Woodpecker”. He was soon joined by his brother Hagáneq, “Fellow”, a boy with hands like the flippers of a bearded seal. He too was motivated to avenge his fallen kin.
The brothers had adventures together and performed great feats, until the day came when they set out to slay Ugjuknarpak. They set out in the early morning and reached the island silently. Ugjuknarpak was just waking up and yawning, its jaws so big the brothers could see the dawn through them. Woodpecker paddled around the island in his umiaq while Fellow swam alongside him with the ease of a seal.
Ugjuknarpak soon noticed them and set off in pursuit. The brothers led it to a plain by the river. There they dodged its every lunge and bite while studying it, and finally noticed that its skin crinkled at one place on its neck. That must be its weak spot. Armed with flint knives on long spears, they stabbed the giant mouse as its fury redoubled. The brothers pressed their attack on the weakened, bleeding monster until at last it collapsed and died. The brothers found many broken knives and arrowheads in its skin, witnesses to Ugjuknarpak’s resilience.
The head was severed along the neck’s weak spot. It was taken to Ivnaq, a place on the river where all umiaqs could see it as they passed by. The head decayed, but it is still terrifying to see; it is the size of a walrus’s head, with long fangs and a long gristly nose like that of a field mouse. It lost none of the terror it once inspired. Those paddling by it speak in whispers and tie their dogs’ noses so they make no sound.
Ostermann, H.; Calvert, W. E. trans. (1952) The Alaskan Eskimos as Described in the Posthumous Notes of Dr. Knud Rasmussen. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
Variations:Tse’naga’hai,Rolling Rock, Traveling Rock, Traveling Stone, The-one-having-no-speed; Tieholtsodi, Water Monster
Tsé’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was one of the many Anaye or Alien Gods. These primordial monsters were born from unnatural sexual practices, and grew up to ravage and persecute the Navajo people. Tsé’nagahi took up residence at Betchil gai, the Shining Rock, or at a lake where Tsé’espai points up. An enormous mobile stone, it killed people by hurling itself at them. If it saw someone at a distance, it would set off in pursuit, overtaking them if they stood still only to turn around and roll over them.
Nayenezgani planned ahead before coming within range of Tsé’nagahi. When he approached the traveling stone’s lair, he took his black knives and planted them in the ground. Then as he come closer he planted his blue knives, followed by his yellow knives and his serrated knives at closer intervals.
When Tsé’nagahi saw the monster-slaying hero approach, it immediately started for him, hurling itself at him as though thrown by a giant hand. But it rolled over the knives in the ground, which cut slivers of rock out of its body. These fragments became the different rocks used for pigments, each colored based on where it came from: stone from Tsé’nagahi’s bones became white rock, his flesh became blue pigment, his hair black pigment, his mouth and blood red pigment, and his intestines yellow ocher. The moisture from his sweat, mucus, tears, and urine became the wet spots that ooze from rocks today.
Nayenezgani fired off a lightning arrow, and Tsé’nagahi realized it had bitten off more than it could chew. It wheeled around and fled with Nayenezgani in pursuit. The hero continued to knock pieces off Tsé’nagahi as they raced across the land of the Navajo, leaving characteristic geological deposits behind.
In the end the chase led to the San Juan River, where Tsé’nagahi dove underwater. Nayenezgani continued to head it off and attack it – three times he did so, and the fourth time Tsé’nagahi was gleaming like fire underwater. It was virtually unrecognizable as the monstrous rock it had once been.
“Sawé [my baby, my darling], take pity on me”, it implored Nayenezgani. “If you spare me I will no longer harm your people. I will remain in the rivers, I will keep the mountain springs open and supply your people with freshwater”. Nayenezgani stayed his hand. “Very well then”, said the hero, “if you keep this promise I will spare you. But rest assured that if you ever break it, I will seek you out and this time I will kill you”.
Tsé’nagahi kept his promise. From that day forward he was Tieholtsodi, the Water Monster, a soft-furred otter with horns like a buffalo. Tieholtsodi is benevolent and benign; he is everybody’s friend.
Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.
Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.
O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.