Balbal

balbal

Hooked nails, gliding flight, and a long, long tongue are the hallmarks of the Balbal. While its depredations are described in Tagbanua folklore, it is itself accused of hailing from predominantly Muslim Moro country. They have also been described as friendly with and indistinguishable from crocodiles.

Balbals appear before a corpse is buried. Gliding like flying squirrels or bats, these humanoid creatures land on thatched roofs and use their curved claws to rip their way through the straw. Once a hole has been cleared, the long tongue is used to lick up the corpse, skin, flesh, bones, and all. The corpse is then replaced by a banana stalk, identical to the deceased in every way except for a telltale lack of fingerprints.

Light and loud noises scare off balbals. Branches of Blumea balsamifera, known in the Philippines as sambong, sobosob, and gabon, will keep them away from a bedside. Finally, prompt burial is always effective.

References

Fox, R. B. (1982) Religion and Society among the Tagbanuwa of Palawan Island, Philippines. Monograph No. 9, National Museum, Manila.

MacClintock, S. (1903) The Philippines: A Geographical Reader. American Book Company, New York.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Chipfalamfula

chipfalamfula

Chipfalamfula, “River-Shutter”, is an enormous aquatic creature found in Ronga Bantu tales and waterways of Mozambique, notably in the bay of Delagoa. It is of indeterminate gender and species, being either a whale or rather a colossal catfish. Chipfalamfula has control over all water, and can provide or withhold it as it pleases, causing droughts and floods alike. It is so large that its belly is a world on its own, with fertile fields, livestock, and communities of people living there happily and wanting for nothing. Tales of young girls living inside Chipfalamfula before returning to the surface may be regarded as coming-of-age stories.

Chichinguane, the youngest daughter of Chief Makenyi, was beloved by her father, but envied and hated by her older sisters. When the young women went to the riverbank to fetch clay for plastering walls, the eldest sister ordered Chichinguane to stay at the bottom of the clay pit and hand her the clay. She did as she was told, only to be left behind by her older sister to face a rising tide.

She had just about given up hope when Chipfalamfula surfaced next to her and opened its cavernous mouth. “Come inside, my daughter”, it told her reassuringly. “Come inside me where you will live in peace and comfort”. So Chichinguane did as she was told, and lived inside Chipfalamfula, sharing the river-shutter’s bounties with its other children.

Years passed, and the outside world caught up with Chichinguane as it was bound to do. Makenyi’s daughters came down to the river again, balancing pitchers of water on their heads and singing “We are the group who puts pitchers on their heads… She who killed her sister killed her in the swamp, where the reeds are tall…” The youngest of the group lagged behind. She was the new youngest member of the family, and now received the same hate the presumed-dead Chichinguane did. She wasn’t good at balancing a pitcher either. She sat down and wept, when lo and behold Chichinguane appeared, attracted by the singing. Her stay in Chipfalamfula had metamorphosed her, and she was now covered in glistening silvery scales. She also wasn’t particularly pleased with the lyrics of the song. “You tried to kill your sister?” she shouted, striking her younger sister. But the girl didn’t even recognize her, whereupon Chichinguane relented, and helped her little sister carry her pitcher. However, she did not follow her into the village, instead diving back into the river.

Soon Chichinguane and her youngest sister were meeting every day, and eventually Chichinguane told her sibling the truth about her and why she lived in the river. The sister returned and told her mother, who followed her to the river and tried to embrace her long-lost daughter. But Chichinguane warned her “Do not try to hold me, mother, I am now a fish and I must live in the water”. She slipped out of her mother’s arms like a greased eel and disappeared underwater again.

She still longed to return to her family, and finally Chipfalamfula allowed her to leave, blessing her with a magic wand to use in time of need. Chichinguane returned to her mother’s hut, where her silver scales fell off her body and become silver coins. Then she told them her story, of her older sister’s treachery, and of the land of milk and honey inside the river-shutter.

Chichinguane interceded to prevent the oldest sister’s execution by the furious Makenyi. This was a mistake, as she returned to her schemes. Talking Chichinguane and the youngest sister into climbing up a tree and sawing off branches, she then collected the branches and left, leaving them out on a limb. To make matters worse, a family of one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed, and one-eared ogres saw the two girls in the tree and started cutting it down. Fortunately, Chichinguane used the river-shutter’s wand to heal the tree every time it started to fall. The ogres grew tired and decided to rest, giving Chichinguane and her sister a window to escape. They climbed down the tree and ran with the ogres in hot pursuit, and when they reached the river, Chichinguane touched it with the wand and sang “Chipfalamfula, shut off the water”. The water parted before her and the two girls ran through to safety. The ogres were halfway through when Chipfalamfula opened the water again and drowned them. On their way back, Chichinguane and her sister found the ogres’ cave, full of untold riches, and returned home in regal finery.

The eldest sister was decapitated despite Chichinguane’s entreaties.

The name Chichinguane has confusingly been given to both the youngest and the eldest daughter. The latter is the case in Junod’s older source; Knappert’s usage of the name for the heroine has been preserved here.

References

Junod, H. A. (1897) Les Chants et les Contes des Ba-Ronga. Georges Bridel et Cie, Lausanne.

Knappert, J. (1977) Bantu myths and other tales. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Lolmischo

Variations: Lolimišo, Lolmishi, Lolmistro

lolmischo

Lolmischo, the “Red Mouse”, the seventh of the Children of Ana, and her fourth son. Like his siblings, he was conceived by the Keshalyi fairy Ana and her perverse husband the King of the Loçolico.

In this case, Ana was suffering from a skin condition. The vile Melalo recommended that she be licked by mice, but one of them entered her belly, resulting in the conception of Lolmischo. As his name indicates, he is a red mouse or rat. Rashes, hives, itches, ulcers, blisters, and boils fall under his jurisdiction, and he can cause eczema simply by running over the skin of a sleeping person.

He found a wife in his younger sister Minceskro. Their children are the demons of chickenpox, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox…

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.

When I describe ABC as “my life’s work” and “years in the making”, I’m not even exaggerating. As mighty acorns grow from tiny trees, so the origins of ABC can be found in the humble doodles of an overenthusiastic kid determined to put knowledge to paper. In around 2nd or 3rd grade I decided to compile an “encyclopedia” of monsters. This encyclopedia took the form of a blank copybook which I filled with creatures, mostly from my imagination, with some springing from mythology or even movies, TV shows, and picture books. I then went on to fill about 7 more of those copybooks over the next few years. Turns out I had been working on the proto-ABC since I was 9, and I didn’t even know it.

Reproduced below for the first time are what 9-year-old me thought the 3 main Anaye looked like. I’ve come a long way and my art style has really deteriorated

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See, I only knew Teelget was a carnivorous antelope, I didn’t know it had no head as well.

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I apparently also did not know what the term for a lot of birds is, and I couldn’t spell Tsenahale to save my own life.

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And Yeitso looks like he crawled out of the Black Lagoon.

Tlilcoatl

Variations: Acoatl

acoatl

The Tlilcoatl (“black snake”) or Acoatl (“water snake”) is a long, powerful snake found in the swamps and waterlogged caves of Mexico. This glossy black snake is thick enough that a man’s arms can just barely wrap around it. The scales are a glossy black in color. The head is large, with blazing eyes and beardlike appendages at the back similar to those of the barbel. The tail is bifurcated.

The powerful mouth of a tlilcoatl can generate a suction strong enough to draw in prey from a distance. Tlilcoatls feed mostly on fish, but they are not above drowning and eating people. They can spit venom as passers-by, incapacitating them enough to suck them in, pull them underwater, and devour them.

Sometimes a more elaborate stratagem is required. A tlilcoatl will dig out a small pool and stock it with fish to serve as bait. It pauses after depositing a new catch of fish, looking around, then going back to get more. It is tempting to profit from the snake’s absence to steal fish. But the tlilcoatl, standing erect, easily detects thieves, and chases them so fast that it seems to fly over the grass. Once in the snake’s coils there is no escape; the tlilcoatl pushes both ends of its tail into the unfortunate victim’s nostrils (or any other opening) before squeezing the life out of them.

There is, however, a means of stealing a tlilcoatl’s fish cache and escaping alive. All that is required is a hollow tree. When chased by the serpent, would-be fish thieves should hide within the tree. The tlilcoatl will coil around the unyielding trunk and squeeze so hard that it dies.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Sahagun, B. (1830) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. III. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Yeitso

Variations: Ye-i-tso, Ye’i-tsoh, Ye’i-tsoh Lai’ Nayai

yeitso

Yeitso, “Big Monster”, was the greatest, the most feared, and the largest of the Anaye, or the “Alien Gods” who were the bane of the Navajo. The giant met his end at the hands of the hero twins Nayenezgani and To’badzistsini. He was either an oldest son of the sun god Tsohanoai, or was born as the result of unnatural practices by a frustrated Navajo woman. In the latter case, his “father” was a stone.

Size was the primary distinguishing feature of Yeitso. His stride stretched as far as a man could walk from sunrise to noon. He lived near Tsoodzil (Mt. Taylor), at Tosato (Warm Spring, near Grants, New Mexico), and was the leader of the Anaye. He was covered with valued rocks and minerals: in addition to the scaly flint armor, like stone knives, coating his body, he had a perfect agate disc on his head, a perfect turquoise around his neck, and a perfect whiteshell over his shoulder. His face was intimidatingly striped. He carried a basket that functioned as quiver for lightning bolts. Coyote was his messenger.

Yeitso came close to discovering and devouring the hero twins in their infancy, but they were saved by the quick thinking of their mothers. Yolkai’Estsan hid the boys beneath piles of sticks, while Estsanatlehi confronted Yeitso. “There are no boys here” she told him. “Then whose footprints are these?” rumbled the giant. “Mine”, she said bravely. “I get so lonely that I make footprints and pretend I have company”. She made tiny prints with her hand as proof, and Yeitso lumbered off, disappointed.

The adult twins, after conferring with their father Tsohanoai, set out to confront Yeitso at Tsoodzil. They heard the sound of his footsteps, followed by his head appearing over an eastern hill. Then his head and chest showed up over a southern hill, and his body above the waist over a western hill before he appeared over Tsoodzil. He stomped down to the lake and drank from it four times, draining it visibly each time until it was almost completely dried out. Then he noticed the twins reflected in the water and bellowed. “What a pretty pair you are! Where have I been hunting not to have seen you before? Yiniketoko!” Yeitso and the twins exchanged taunts four times until Yeitso hurled four lightning bolts at them. The twins, riding on a rainbow, dodged the bolts easily before Tsohanoai struck the giant with lightning, which was followed up by four bolts of chain lightning from the twins. Yeitso’s scaly armor was shivered to pieces. The giant collapsed, tried to get up, fell back on his face, and moved no more.

The twins scalped Yeitso and threw his head to the East, where it became Cabezon Peak. The blood flowing from it would have revived Yeitso if it reached any of the other Anaye, so it was redirected with trenches dug by Nayenezgani’s knife. This is the origin of the ridges and cliffs of volcanic rock near Cabezon Peak today. As for Yeitso’s flint scales, they were used by the Navajo as armor, knives, and arrowheads.

References

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.

Fearsome Critters

Variations: Fearsome Creatures, Paul Bunyan Creatures, Lumberjack Tall Tales, and so on

“Fearsome Critter” is a catchall term used for a mixed and problematic grouping of creatures. They are all said to hail from lumberjack tall tales, primarily from the American northern lumberwoods but including a few representatives from southern states. They share the same folkloric origin that gave us the likes of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, but instead of folk heroes, they are said to be pranks, bogeys, stories told to frighten greenhorns and tenderfoots. Experienced lumberjacks can sit back and get a good laugh after sending someout out on a futile snipe hunt, or snicker to themselves as the newcomer starts checking behind him for a stalking hidebehind. The Australian drop bear is a non-American example of this sort of creature.

The term “fearsome critter” was used by Tryon as a title for his lumberwoods menagerie. “Fearsome creatures” is used by Cox, and predates Tryon’s “fearsome critters”, but the engagingly vernacular “critter” designation has proven more popular.

Almost all fearsome critters can be traced back to a handful of references. The oldest and most venerable is Cox’s Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts from 1910. Borges’ excerpt of the Squonk entry ensured its fame among modern readers. Kearney collected several tales in his 1928 book The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps, which takes a more narrative approach to the subject. The “Fauna of the United States” section in Borges’ book is traceable to Brown’s 1935 pamphlet Paul Bunyan Natural History. Finally, the spiritual successor of Fearsome Creatures was Tryon’s 1939 Fearsome Critters; both of these books illustrate each individual entry, and provide a mock Latin name for their critters. The Cox and Tryon books are the touchstones of fearsome critterology.

Fearsome critters as a group are not well unified or verified. Some have entered the public consciousness and cemented their folkloric status beyond any reasonable doubt (Rhinelander’s own Hodag, the dreaded Hoop Snake, the elusive Snipe). Others have become cryptids (the possibly-feline Santer), or were the subject of elaborate hoaxes (the Hodag again). Some may have more ancient roots in Native American folklore. And then some may be complete fabrications by Cox and Tryon.

With no references to speak of, Cox and Tryon’s accounts are hard to verify, unless corroborated by themselves and others. Cox’s description of the Hugag is almost entirely different from Tryon’s; in addition, it seems to be an Americanized retelling of Pliny’s Achlis. Cox gives a description of the Hodag that is completely at odds with the well-known one – was this an attempt at personalizing and “claiming” it, or a bona fide regional variation? Was Cox’s Snoligoster a completely reupholstered Snallygaster, with added casual racism? And, of course, it is unlikely that lumberjacks devised intricate Latin names for their critters.

Keeping all this in mind, it is hard to separate genuine lumberjack folklore and literary jokes. Inasmuch as they don’t exist either way, and that popular encyclopedias of teratology such as Rose’s works have brought them to a larger audience, they are covered in ABC, with doubts and reservations added where necessary. In cases where Latin names are given, the author will be specified unless they are single-referenced.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Kearney, L. S. (1928) The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps. Democrat Printing Company, Madison.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.