The Kúbání-kikáva reef in Papua New Guinea is home to Pairío, an enormous catfish. She attacks anyone who dares approach the reef by raising up her back, which is armed with spines that can rip a canoe in half. If people see a spine sticking out of the water, they know to change course as fast as possible. Sometimes Pairío will chase after those canoes, one of her spines pointing at the vessel, and the crew have to paddle for their lives.

Pairío herself was not always a catfish. She was once a malignant female spirit known to the islanders as a dógai-órobo, something like the híwai-abére of mainland Papua New Guinea. Her home was on Márukára Island. One day she was attacked by a cloud of butterflies which she could not shoo away; they settled on her thickly until she was completely covered. In desperation she threw herself into the water, where she transformed into a catfish. The butterflies clinging to her soaked through, their wings became hard and spiny, and they turned into stonefishes and catfishes as brightly colored as any butterfly.


Landtman, G. (1917) The Folk-tales of the Kiwai Papuans. Acta Societatis Scientiarium Fennicae, t. XLVII, Helsingfors.

Landtman, G. (1927) The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea. MacMillan and Co. Limited, London.


  1. Butterflies are legitimate carrion-eaters, maybe she just reaaaally needed a shower. But I love this image of her transformation, very Ovid-esque. Is there a story behind why she was attacked by the butterflies? It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that as a malignant spirit people wanted her gone. Anyway I hope to see her soon in one of those “Strange Asian Holes” videos where they poor a bottle of coke into a random hole in a field and out comes a catfish. That I would watch …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciate you doing more obscure creatures like these, by doing so you’re helping preserve folklore and culture that would likely be forgotten, or at the very least never digitized. (Hell, this is so obscure the people don’t even have a Wikipedia article)

    Liked by 1 person

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