Sasnalkáhi

Variations: Cac na’alka hi, Bear that Pursues, Tracking Bear

The fearsome Sasnalkáhi, the Bear that Pursues, was a monstrous bear that terrorized the Navajo people. As one of the Anaye, Sasnalkáhi was born from unnatural sexual practices; in this case, his “fathers” were a smooth stone and a leg sinew. He lived in a cross-shaped mountain cave at Tse’bahástsit, the “Rock that Frightens”. Once Sasnalkáhi set on a hunt, his prey had no hope of escape.

When Nayenezgani set out to slay Sasnalkáhi, he carried yucca fruit in his left hand and hard oak twigs in his right hand. Those medicinal plants warded off Sasnalkáhi’s attentions.

Eventually Nayenezgani found the bear’s head emerging from a hole. He inspected the east, south, and west entrances; when he got to the north, Sasnalkáhi’s head immediately withdrew, and the bear headed for the south entrance. This time Nayenezgani was waiting for him, and when Sasnalkáhi stuck his head out, Nayenezgani decapitated him.

“You were a bad thing in life”, proclaimed Nayenezgani to the head. “You caused nothing but mischief. But now I will make you useful to the people; you will feed them, clean them, and clothe them in the future”. Sasnalkáhi’s head was chopped into three pieces. One piece was thrown east, where it became tsási (Yucca baccata). One piece was thrown west, becoming tsásitsoz (Yucca angustifolia). The last piece was thrown south, to become nóta (mescal). The nipples became pinyon nuts, while two pieces of fat cut from around the tail became a bear and a porcupine. The left forepaw, gall, and windpipe were taken as trophies.

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.

Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.

Cueille-Aigue Serpent

The small neighborhood of Cueille-Aigue, in the Montbernage area of Poitiers, was once witness to a reptile of extraordinary resilience. An event of this magnitude, of course, led to wildly divergent and contradictory accounts. The one reproduced here is the most implausible – and, therefore, the most correct.

One fine morning, an inhabitant of the Cueille-Aigue discovered an enormous serpent in his cellar. He called the neighbors to aid him, and, armed with spades, picks, and other gardening utensils, they attacked the monster. The snake responded by retracting its head into its body, like a turtle into its shell.

As everyone knows, a snake cut in two will regenerate unless the head is destroyed. The serpent was chopped in half, into quarters, into increasingly fine pieces until it was nothing but mincemeat. Alas, they never could find the head.

References

Ellenberger, H. (1949) Le Monde Fantastique dans le Folklore de la Vienne. Nouvelle Revue des Traditions Populaires, 1(5), pp. 407-435.

Chipique

A serpent lives at the foot of Victoria Falls – at least, that’s what Dr. Livingstone presumed. Barotse folklore holds that this monster, the Chipique, came from the ocean, traveling over a thousand miles to rest at the falls.

The chipique rules the river by night, and it is unsafe to approach Victoria Falls during that time. Thirty feet in length, the chipique can easily grab a canoe and immobilize it. Its head is small and slate-grey, while its serpentine, heavy body winds in black coils.

Eyewitnesses include Mr. V. Pare, who saw the chipique in 1925. It reared and disappeared into a cave.

References

Green, L. G. (1956) There’s a Secret Hid Away. Howard Timmins, Cape Town.

Chipekwe

Variations: Chimpekwe

Melland gives chipekwe as referring to a one-tusked elephant in the Kaonde language of Zambia. This is probably irrelevant.

The Chipekwe is a massive, allegedly reptilian, pachyderm-slaying creature found around and in Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. Most encounters consist of unrecognizable spoors, or the noise of some large animal splashing through the water.

A chipekwe has a hairless, smooth, dark body and a single smooth horn, white as polished ivory. Chipekwes do not take well to humans invading their territory. Canoes are destroyed and their occupants are killed. Hippos fare no better – the chipekwe kills them by tearing their throats out. At least one chipekwe is known to have been slain in the Luapula, brought down by the same large harpoons used for hippo hunting.

All of the above could very well be exaggerated references to one-tusked elephants. This is probably relevant.

References

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Lagopus

Variations: Lagepus, Lagephus

According to Pliny, the Lagopus (“hare foot”) or ptarmigan is so named because its feet are covered with hair like those of a hare’s foot. It is the size of a pigeon and white all over. While delicious to eat, the lagopus cannot be tamed or kept outside of its native land, and it putrefies rapidly when killed.

Thomas de Cantimpré misreads the allusion to the native ground of the lagopus, and instead deduces that the lagopus does not eat in the open air. Having made that conclusion, it is only logical that it must carry its food into a cave to eat it. Albertus Magnus makes the further logical deduction that the lagopus cannot fly well.

Although only the feet are described as hare-like, depictions show it with a hare’s head as well. It is often shown standing in front of a cave.

References

Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Kigutilik

Kigutilik, the spirit with the giant’s teeth, was encountered by the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. It emerged from a hole in the ice while Anarqâq was out sealing in the spring.

Kigutilik is monstrous to behold. It is as big as a bear, but taller, standing on long legs with large bumps at the joints. It has two tails, a single large ear connected only through a fold in the skin, and massive teeth like the tusks of a walrus. It is bare-skinned with hair in fringes on its body.

When it appeared it roared – ahahah! Anarqâq was so terrified he ran home without securing the spirit’s aid as a helper.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Ieltxu

Variations: Iditxu, Iritxu

Ieltxu

Ieltxu is a Basque creature found in the caverns and wells of Gernika. Notable haunts include a pit in Nabarrizmendi and the Busturia well.

Ieltxu appears either as a human or as a bird shooting flames from its mouth. At night only its burning fire is seen. While its appearances are sudden and terrifying, an ieltxu is not evil, merely mischievous. It enjoys leading people astray and getting them lost, especially if they can get lost near a cliff.

Around Bermeo it is Iditxu or Iritxu who appears as a small pig. It leads people on a merry chase through the night only to return them to where they started, exhausted and empty-handed.

References

Altuna, J.; Fornoff, F. H., White, L., and Evans-Corrales, C. trans. (2007) Selected Writings of Jose Miguel de Barandiaran: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. Center for Basque Studies, Reno.

Trebius

Variations: Trebius Niger (Black Trebius), Trebeus, Swordfish

Trebius

Within his discussion of the echeneis or remora, Pliny digresses briefly to mention the murex, a seashell that also can adhere to ships and prevent them from moving. He then credits Trebius Niger with the knowledge that the echeneis is a foot long, five fingers thick, and capable of hindering the movement of a ship; if preserved in salt, it can draw up gold that has fallen down a deep well.

The next paragraph addresses a miscellany of fishes. The mena changes color, becoming white in winter and black in summer. The phycis (a goby or lamprey) also changes color; it is also the only fish that builds a nest of seaweed to spawn in.

Thomas de Cantimpré combines all those accounts and misreads the name of Pliny’s source for the name of a fish. This miraculous textual transformation is the origin of the trebius niger or black trebius. This composite fish is a foot long, black in color and changing to white depending on the season. It can hinder ships like a remora, and even a small salted piece of it can draw gold out of wells. Unlike other fishes, the trebius builds a nest to lay its eggs in.

After having decided that the trebius is a fish, Thomas sticks to his interpretation. A later passage cites Trebius Niger and describes swordfish attacks on boats. This is again read to be an allusion to the trebius, and, as a result, it becomes armed with a sharp beak that it uses to sink ships (despite its size, apparently).

The trebius is shown nesting in a tree in the Hortus Sanitatis. Albertus Magnus gives us the most memorable depiction of the fish, giving it a pointed nose, a beard, clawed feet, and a nest with an egg inside.

References

Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Boiúna

Variations: Anaconda, Boi-úna, Cobra Grande, Cobra-grande, Eunectes murinus, Mae-d’agua, Mae-do-rio, Mboia-açu (“Large Snake”), Mboiúna; Mru-kra-o (Kayapo); Vai-bogo (Desana)

Boiuna

Boiúna or Cobra Grande is one of the most widespread and polymorphic myths of the Amazon basin. The name is applied to concepts and creatures ranging from a goddess of the water to a synonym of the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus).

In lingua geral the term boi denotes a snake (such as jiboia, the boa constrictor). Una means black. Thus a boiúna or mboiúna is a black snake, a name it shares with the mussurana. Its other name of cobra grande (“big snake”) is even less descriptive.

But a cobra grande is nothing if not big. It grows up to two hundred meters long and ten meters wide. Its enormous eyes, 0.5 to 1 m apart, glow like searchlights, with colors including orange-yellow and blue. Sometimes it has large, sharp canines on its lower jaw that stick out through holes in its upper jaw like horns. It has a powerful stench that can make people dizzy, and it makes loud rumbling sounds. Its massive bulk easily hides in the underwater holes it digs. Sometimes it appears as a ghost ship, a steamboat or a sailboat.

Boiúna can be found at the bottom of streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds, but it usually avoids the rainforest and dry land. When water levels fall in the dry season boiúnas slither out in search of deeper water, gouging out new stream channels and troughs. Its mere presence in the water can impregnate women.

When it swims a boiúna leaves a distinctive, huge, v-shaped bow wave. It protects the fish of its waters. It has a magnetic power that allows it to immobilize ships in the middle of the river, and release them at its discretion; inexplicable boat malfunctions can be ascribed to a meddling boiúna. The glowing eyes of a boiúna can mesmerize anyone who looks at them, rendering the victim enchanted (encantado). The snakes can also kill people by stealing their shadows. A de-shadowed person (assombrado) wastes away and dies in a few days. It can take a more direct approach by attacking small boats and eating the passengers, although it may also take its captives to its underwater kingdom, a sort of watery afterlife, to live with it as river snakes.

Boiúnas are intelligent. They can be summoned in séances, where they are quite talkative. They can also take on human form and mingle with people. Norato was a boiúna who would leave the Tocantins river and head into Carolina at night to party. He was an avid dancer who swapped his scaly hide for a dashing white jacket. A man once saw a giant snake leave the river and turn into a man, leaving his skin behind. Horrified, the onlooker decided to burn the skin. Norato returned to find that he was stuck as a human.

Sometimes a boa constrictor that grows too big becomes a boiúna. Sometimes a boiúna is spawned from human behavior. The boiúna of the Itacaiunas River was conceived by a girl who became pregnant and hid her condition from her parents. When she gave birth she was too scared to tell her parents, and threw the baby into the Itacaiunas. There it metamorphosed into a huge snake that terrorized river traffic. The boiúna revealed in a séance that it wanted to be disenchanted; the way to do so involved luring it with hot milk, slashing its throat, and turning around without looking back. Nobody took it up on the offer.

Tales of giant snakes are common throughout the Amazon. These include the mru-kra-o of the Kayapo and the vai-bogo of the Desana. In the Peruvian Amazon the giant anaconda is known as the Yakumama, the Mother of Water.

References

Barbosa, A. L. (1951) Pequeno Vocabulario Tupi-Portugues. Livraria Sao Jose, Rio de Janeiro.

Cascudo, L. C. (2000) Dicionario do Folclore Brasileiro. Global Editora, Sao Paolo.

Fonseca, F. (1949) Animais Peconhentos. Instituto Butantan, Sao Paolo.

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Osborne, H. (1986) South American Mythology. Peter Bedrick Books, New York.

Smith, N. J. H. (1981) Man, Fishes, and the Amazon. Columbia University Press, New York.

Smith, N. J. H. (1996) The Enchanted Amazon Rain Forest. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Physeter

Variations: Physeterus, Physalus, Pistris, Pistrix, Prister. Pristes, Pristis, Capax (“roomy”, referring to its huge mouth), Capidolio (Italy), Mular, Peis Mular (Languedoc), Senedectes, Senedette (Saintonge), Spouter, Whirlpool, Whirl-pool, Whirlepoole

Physeter

The Physeter, “blower”, Prister, or Whirlpool, is an enormous, monstrous whale. The name, originally associated with a spouting sea monster, has today become the scientific name of the sperm whale or cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus).

Pliny states that the largest animals in the Indian Sea are the Pristis (shark) and the Balaena (whale). The largest animal in the Ocean of Gaul is the physeter. It lifts itself up like an enormous column, towering higher than the masts of ships, and spouts a flood of water.

The most notable reference to the physeter as a monster comes from Olaus Magnus. He describes the physeter as two hundred cubits long, with a large, round mouth like that of a lamprey, a tough black hide, and a prehensile tail about 15 or 20 feet wide. It uses its mouth to suck in massive quantities of water which it then spouts violently onto its prey from the blowholes on its head. Its tail can coil around ships and crush them.

Two different images are given by Olaus for the physeter. One is an upright, spouting monster with a horselike head, a gaping, toothless mouth, an erect mane running down its long neck, and a ribbed belly. The other is the tusked, frilled whale which appears in multiple places on the Carta Marina. Münster copies the first version and gives it more canine features, including large fangs and floppy ears; the second he refers to as the trolual or teuffelwal, the “devil-whale”.

Physeters are cruel, malicious creatures that will sink ships for sport. As a physeter’s hide and thick fat are too thick for conventional weapons to penetrate, sailors must resort to other means to ward off the whale’s attentions. One way is to blow trumpets or fire artillery; the loud noises can startle and scare off the physeter. Another is to throw barrels or smaller boats in the path of the whale to distract it.

Rondelet describes the physeter as so named because when it blows it projects a massive amount of water like a mist, which can fill and overturn smaller boats. It is spectacularly large, with a huge mouth, sharp teeth, a large fleshy tongue, and a breathing tract much larger than that of any other animal. It differs from the orca in that it is longer and lacks a fin on its back. One physeter was taken in Italy was placed by the Duke of Florence in front of his palace, but it had to be removed due to its stench. By this point the draconic seahorse of Olaus Magnus has been abandoned; this is the sperm whale as we know it today.

The greatest contribution the physeter has made to literature is in the pages of Rabelais’ epic tale of giants. In Pantagruel, the titular giant and his friends encounter a massive physeter roaring and spouting water, rising higher than the masts of the ship. Panurge immediately wails, comparing it to the Leviathan and the monster that attacked Andromeda, and fears that “it will swallow us all, men and ships, like pills”! But Pantagruel chides him, saying he is better off fearing the horses of the Sun, which snort fire, instead of this monster, which merely blows water. Pantagruel duly peppers the physeter with arrows until it expires and “turned belly up, as do all dead fish”.

De Montfort believed Olaus Magnus’ physeter (apart from the sperm whale) to be a colossal octopus.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bologna.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

Magnus, O. (1658) A compendious history of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater, London.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Münster, S. (1552) La Cosmographie Universelle. Henry Pierre.

Nigg, J. (2013) Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. University of Chicago Press.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Rabelais, F. (1858) Oeuvres de Rabelais, t. II. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

Rondelet, G. (1558) L’Histoire Entiere des Poissons. Mace Bonhome, Lyon.

Sainéan, L. (1921) L’histoire naturelle et les branches connexes dans l’oeuvre de Rabelais. E. Champion, Paris.