Variations: Ro, Bete-Rô, Bete-Ro, Bete Rô, Bete Ro (Rô Beast)
The Rô Beast lived in a cavern at the Pointe de Roux, off Aytré near La Rochelle. A hideous dragon with a winged body and a long scaly tail, Rô was also armed with a malign, near-human intelligence. It used its cunning to lay traps for humans and devour them. It was feared across the coastline, and none could stand against it.
But the reign of Rô was ended by seven pagan heroes that arrived on a boat by high tide. They had come to judge Rô. Panicking, the dragon retreated to the Pont de la Pierre, keeping its eyes on its tormentors. There, the heroes loosed seven arrows: two closed its eyes, two pierced its ears, two sealed its nostrils, and one pinned its horrid mouth shut. Roaring and thrashing in agony, Rô was cast into a deep pit, where it will remain until the end of time. The seven pagan heroes took their places as guardians around the pit where Rô thrashed impotently.
Rô still lives, screaming its rage from its prison. When it howls to the north, the gulf of Chevarache in the Breton Pertuis is agitated with waves; when it howls to the south, it’s Maumusson that stirs. The old folk say that it’s a good thing it doesn’t turn to the west, for the islands would turn to dust.
The legend of the Rô beast seems to have grown around the local landscape. The Pont de la Pierre was a ruined cromlech. Seven granite stones (now gone) around a deep pit were said to have been the heroes’ seats of justice. The image of Rô was recognized in the arch of the principal portal of the Church of Talmont, although it may just as well be the lion of Ezekiel.
Who were the pagan heroes? The image of warriors from the sea evokes Vikings, but it may be a relic of an older Gaulish legend of gods arriving from the sea. As for the name Rô, Dontenville saw in it a corruption of an older pagan deity.
Dontenville, H. (1966) La France Mythologique. Tchou, Paris.
Lamontellerie, A. (1995) Mythologie de Charente-Maritime. Le Croit Vif, Collection Documentaires.
Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.
Variations: Moha, Great Barrier Sea-serpent, Great Barrier Reef Sea-serpent, Chelosauria lovelli
The Moha-Moha was seen on a beach on Great Sandy Island by schoolteacher Selina Lovell and a small group of accompanying people on June 8, 1890. It was, however, familiar to the natives of the region by the name moha-moha, “dangerous turtle”. It was known to attack coastal camps and catch people by the leg. By January 3, 1891, details of the encounter were published in Land and Water. This in turn resulted in a more formal description by William Saville-Kent, who requested further details from Lovell and gave the creature the name of Chelosauria lovelli.
A “monster turtle fish”, the moha-moha was 30 feet long, with an enormous dome-shaped body, a long neck, and a twelve-foot-long tail. It allowed Lovell to observe it for half an hour while standing five feet away from it. Then it turned towards the sea, raising its body and tail above the water and tossing a number of fish into the air before dashing off into deeper water.
The moha-moha had a saurian face, with teeth or serrated jaw-bones. The skin was glossy and smooth as satin. It had its mouth open and visible above the water, and no visible nostrils, leading Lovell to conclude that it breathed through its mouth. The rounded jaws were 18 inches long. The head and neck were a greenish white with white spots on the neck and a white band around a very black eye.
The dome-shaped carapace, about 8 feet across by 5 feet high, was slate-grey in color and smooth. The long tail was silver shading to white with thumb-nail sized scales and a chocolate-brown fin. The scales lay perpendicular to the tail, like the tiles of a roof. The head and tail were very different from each other, looking like they had come from two different animals. Lovell was unable to see the feet, but she was told that the moha-moha had feet like an alligator.
Whatever it was that Lovell saw, she was immediately treated with condescension. Buckland, editor of Land and Water, believed the moha-moha to have been a Carettochelys, “a monster turtle” from the Fly River (despite the fact that Carettochelys does not exceed 30 inches in length). He added that “the fair observer must have been mistaken on this very important point”. Lovell responded indignantly, but the editor stood by his statement, making it clear that the moha-moha combined fish and tortoise and thus was scientifically impossible.
To Saville-Kent, Lovell sent a confirming document signed by her and all the witnesses present. But Saville-Kent’s description of the moha-moha takes on a mocking tone, recommending using it as “the chief ingredient… of a new and alderman-enthralling brand of turtle soup”. It won’t be long before moha-moha is on restaurant menus, and the “Queensland brand-new, soup-potential species should possess “a local habitation and a name” that shall separate it decisively from the common herd of sea-serpents that have already had their day”.
Heuvelmans took a very negative view of the moha-moha, which all the more remarkable considering his unquestioning acceptance of far more ambiguous sightings. He refers to the “innocence and ineptitude” of the parties involved, and states that “with all due respect to her sex, [Lovell] can only be an arrant liar, and a bad liar at that”, accusing her of “psychotic behavior” and “mythomania”. He proceeds to discredit her account, pointing out that no animal has scales like the moha-moha. “One pities her poor pupils, for her own style is often so confused as to be incomprehensible”, he adds snidely. He compares its shelled, fish-like appearance to both armored Devonian fishes and the Indian makara. “I find it hard to believe that Miss Lovell was not a dotty old maid who had picked up, but not digested, a smattering of palaeontology and Brahmin legend. Exit Chelosauria lovelli.”
What, then, did Lovell see on that beach in 1890? Most telling is the remark that the head and tail do not seem to belong on the same animal. France suggests a turtle entangled in a fishing net, with the mesh and its contents – broken floats, brown seaweed, and other debris – giving the impression of a long tail. Unfamiliarity and the unreliability of recollection did the rest. Native accounts of moha-moha attacks and ferocity may refer to other animals, perhaps seals.
France, R. L. (2016) Historicity of sea turtles misidentified as sea monsters: a case for the early entanglement of marine chelonians in pre-plastic fishing nets and maritime debris. Coriolis, 6(2), pp. 1-25.
France, R. L. (2017) Imaginary sea monsters and real environmental threats: reconsidering the famous Osborne, ‘Moha-Moha’, Valhalla, and ‘Soay Beast’ sightings of unidentified marine objects. International Review of Environmental History, 3(1), pp. 63-100.
Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents.
Saville-Kent, W. (1893) The Great Barrier Reef of Australia. W. H. Allen & Co., Waterloo Place, London.
The Zankallala is a terrifyingly mighty creature from the folklore of the Hausa people. He is only the size of two clenched fists, but he wields a snake as a walking-stick, a pair of scorpions as spurs, and a swarm of bees as a hat. His mount is a jerboa. Wherever he goes, he is followed by birds that sing his praises and attack his enemies. He is also implied to have supernatural powers.
Even the dodo, the fearsome monster, the Swallower-of-Men, is powerless before the Zankallala. Once a boy was being chased by a dodo along a riverbank, and he came upon the Zankallala.
“Where are you going?” asked the Zankallala. “I’m running away from Dodo”, said the boy. “Stay”, said the creature. “The Dodo will not harm you”. And immediately a silk-cotton tree grew over the Zankallala, and the birds in it sang in praise.
“The Lion is afraid of the Zankallala,
The Hyena is afraid of the Zankallala,
Dodo is afraid of the Zankallala”.
When the dodo caught up with his quarry, he was nonplussed. “Where is my property?” he demanded. But the Zankallala responded impudently, saying “What property have you given me?” This infuriated the dodo. “If you will not give me my prey, then you will be my meal!”
With that the dodo gobbled up the tiny creature, only for the Zankallala to emerge from his stomach, accompanied by the joyous chorus of the birds. Then the dodo ate him again, but the Zankallala came out of his back, telling the birds to continue singing his praises. The third time the dodo swallowed him, the Zankallala emerged from the monster’s head, killing it.
“You may leave in safety”, the Zankallala told the boy, “you have seen that one is stronger than another, you escaped because you met me”.
This tale of a small trickster creature outwitting the dodo is sometimes told with a centipede or hedgehog replacing the Zankallala.
Tremearne, A. J. N. (1913) Hausa Superstitions and Customs. J. Bale and Sons and Danielsson, Ltd., London.
The Floitenthal, near the Ziller Valley in the Tyrol, has two great mountains, the Floitenthurm and the Teufelseck. The latter, the “Devil’s Corner”, is so name because the devil himself is said to descend from it in the form of a great fiery dragon glowing like an electric fire. The dragon flies a narrow hole, the Bleiarzkar, towards the Zillertal. This demonic dragon is known as the Alber, and it brings with it plague, war, and famine.
One time, during a night as black as pitch, two men climbed a cherry tree by the Mission Cross of Algund, near Meran. These men were Hanser, a tailor and a notorious ne’er-do-well, and old Loaserer Sepp, an honest villager.
To be fair to Sepp, he did not mean to participate in any unseeming behavior. Hanser had made a bet with some equally debauched friends to pick cherries from the tree near the cross, but, being an abject coward, he could not do it on his own, so he roped Sepp into accompanying him.
Both men climbed the tree, but Hanser filled his hat by the handful while Sepp could not find a single cherry no matter where he looked. Sepp was beginning to feel uncomfortable when, all of a sudden, the Alber flew by, throwing its burning light upon the scene.
Hanser was so scared he almost fell off the tree, but Sepp held the other man and prevented him from falling. “Are you so far gone, Hanser, that the devil gives you his blessing and lights your way?” said Sepp. “Then may God preserve you!” The honest man then turned to the fiery dragon. “Hi there! Wait a little until I find some cherries too!” The Alber left at once.
Sepp was a good, honest man, and the evil one had no power over him. His bravery was lauded long afterwards.
von Günther, A. (1874) Tales and Legends of the Tyrol. Chapman and Hall, London.
The Namungumi or Nalumgumi, usually translated to “whale”, features in the initiation ceremonies of the Yao people of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
Despite the “whale” designation, the namungumi pictured in the inyago ceremonies has four limbs. There is a stylized and ornamental webbing drawn between the limbs, and there are two knobs marking the juncture of the neck with the forelimbs and tail with the hindlimbs respectively. It has prominent tusks around its head. The entire body is crisscrossed with a complex grid pattern.
The namungumi lives in Lake Malawi. It would surface near a village, and the people could come and carve off chunks of meat from its vast body. This action was painless and the wounds healed immediately. The meat itself tasted different depending on where it came from – some areas on the namungumi’s body produced choice cuts, while others were practically inedible.
As an initiatory figure the namungumi represents water and kinship.
A similar creature, the Liporo of the Anyanja, is not as large. Its habits include killing hippos and tipping canoes. It is believed to be extinct. The Napolo is a similar flood-related water serpent.
Morris, B. (2000) Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography. Berg Publishers, Oxford.
Stannus, H. (1919) The Wayao of Nyasaland. Harvard African Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Nakshatra Meenu means “sea star” or “brittle star” in the Kannada language of Karnataka, India.
In the 16th century, an army of giant brittle stars came out of the sea to invade the land. The biggest among them had arms that were 4 meters long; they killed people by coiling an arm around the neck, another arm around the feet, and tearing them in half. The brittle stars could also separate their arms from their main bodies, sending the disembodied arms into human buildings where they strangled anyone they encountered. The detached arms would later regenerate.
They faced the armies of the Vijayanagara Empire, who fought the echinoderm invaders fiercely. The brittle stars were finally sent into retreat in 1514, under a barrage of flaming arrows.
It has been suggested that the gentle Yam Bhaya Akhoot of Chittorgarh is actually the ghost of the leader of the brittle stars.
Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.
Variations: Grand’Gueule, Grande Goule, Grande Gueule; Bonne Sainte Vermine (Good Holy Vermin)
The Grand’Goule (corrupted from grande gueule, “great gullet” or more simply “big mouth”) is one of many French dragons associated with cities and their patron saints. In this case, it is linked with Poitiers. The current and best-known effigy, created by one Gargot, dates to 1677. The tradition itself goes back at least to 1466, where “the dragon” is mentioned in a list of banners and insignia carried during a rogation day procession.
As seen in its carved effigy at the abbey of Saint-Croix, the Grand’Goule is a monstrous bat-winged dragon with a gaping mouth. It is armed with hooked claws and a forked scorpion’s stinger. It is bronze green in color with a red collar around its neck.
The dragon terrorized Poitiers until it was slain. One account says that Saint Radégonde of Poitiers killed it through a fervent prayer – a prayer which literally flew like a projectile and hit the dragon like a crossbow bolt. Another tale says that a condemned criminal volunteered to slay the dragon, but he perished from its poisonous breath in his moment of triumph.
Scotsman John Lauder reported seeing the remains of a “hideous crocodile” with a huge mouth chained to a wall in a palais in Poitiers. The relic was believed to be centuries old and though to have been spontaneously generated from rotting matter in the prison, although Lauder expressed his doubt on the last matter. It killed several prisoners before being shot by a condemned man, who won his life by doing so.
Traditionally the Grand’Goule was brought out on rogation days, paraded along with the relic of the True Cross. It was decorated with ribbons and banderoles and treated with respect, with cherries, tarts, and pastries – golden-brown casse-museaux, literally “snout-breakers” – tossed into its mouth. It is affectionately referred to as the Bonne Sainte Vermine, the “Good Holy Vermin”.
de Chergé, C. (1872) Guide du Voyageur à Poitiers et aux Environs. Librairie Létang, Poitiers.
Clouzot, H. (1897) Spectacles Populaires en Poitou. La Tradition en Poitou et Charentes, pp. 305-317.
Clouzot, H. (1901) L’Ancien Théatre en Poitou. Bulletin et Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest, XXIV(2), pp. 153-521.
Foucart, E. V. (1841) Poitiers et ses Monuments. A. Pichot, Poitiers.
Lauder, J.; Crawford, D. ed. (1900) Journals of Sir John Lauder, Lord Fountainhall. University Press, Edinburgh.
de la Marsonnière, J. L. (1883) Un Drame au Logis de la Lycorne. H. Oudin, Poitiers.
de Plancy, J. C. (1863) Dictionnaire Infernal. Henri Plon, Paris.
Moskittos are a cautionary tale about the perils of introducing invasive species. They originated with the Chippewa River mosquitos, which were large enough to straddle a stream, pick lumberjacks off logs as they floated by, and drain them dry. They were so big, in fact, that if caught in such a straddle, they could be tied up and used for bridges.
To combat this menace, Paul Bunyan introduced deadly fighting bumblebees from Texas. These pugnacious bees quickly set about battling the mosquitos and gave the lumberjacks a respite.
Alas, it was not to last. The mosquitos and bumblebees eventually made peace and hybridized. Their offspring had stingers at both ends.
Fortunately for humanity, the “moskittos” had inherited the bees’ love of sugar. They flew out to feed on a shipment of sugar on Lake Superior, and gorged themselves until they were too heavy to fly and drowned.
Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.
Laughead, W. B. (1922) The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan. Red River Lumber Company, Minneapolis.
Thakáne and her two brothers were the children of a Basotho chief. In some versions there is only one brother, Masilo; in some retellings the siblings are orphans, in others their parents are merely distant figures. Either way Thakáne was like a mother to her brothers. She cared for them, made their food, and filled their water jugs. When they had to go to school, it was Thakáne who took them there. When they were circumcised in the traditional grass huts, the mophato, it was Thakáne who took them there and waited on them until the ritual was over and they had rested. It was their sister who brought them the clothes they would wear as men.
But Thakáne’s brothers did not accept her choice of clothing. Only items made from the skin of a Nanabolele would do. They wanted shields of nanabolele hide, and shoes of nanabolele leather, and clothing of nanabolele skin, and hats cut from nanabolele, and spears tied up with strips of nanabolele. They refused to leave the mophato until their request was fulfilled.
It was a tall order. The nanaboleles, they who shine in the night, were horrid, reptilian creatures that live underwater and underground. They glow in the darkness, giving off light like the moon and stars do. They were deadly predators. Surely there was some mistake! “Why do you ask the impossible?” asked Thakáne. “Where am I supposed to find nanabolele skin? Where? Ná?” But her brothers would not be swayed, declaring that it became them, as the sons of a chief, to wear nanabolele skins.
So Thakáne set out, knowing that if their father was around, he would have done the same. It fell upon her to accomplish the task in his stead. She set off with oxen, beer calabashes, sweetcorn balls, and a large retinue in search of the nanaboleles. She sang as she went:
My brothers won’t leave the mophato, nanabolele!
They want shields of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And shoes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And clothes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And hats they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And spears they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!”
When Thakáne sang, the waters of the nearby stream parted, and a little frog hopped out. “Kuruu! Keep going!” it told her. Thakáne kept going from river to river, following the directions given by frog after frog, until at last she came upon the widest and deepest river yet. She sang her song, but nothing responded. Then she tossed some meat in, followed by an entire pack ox, but nothing happened.
Finally, the waters stirred, and an old woman stepped out, greeting Thakáne and inviting her to come in with her. Thakáne followed the old woman into the river, followed by her company. To her surprise, there was an entire river under the water, dry and breathable. But there was nobody there. It was empty and silent as the grave.
“Where are all the people, Grandmother?” said Thakáne to her guide. “Alas”, said the old woman. “The nanaboleles have eaten them, adults, children, cattle, sheep, dogs, chickens, everything! Only I was allowed to live, I am too old and tough to eat, so they make me do their work for them”. “Yo wheh!” said Thakáne. “We are truly in danger then”. But the old woman bade them hide, leading them into a deep hole which she covered with reeds.
It wasn’t long after Thakáne and her friends had hidden that the nanabolele returned to the village, sounding like a huge herd of oxen. The creatures glowed, shining like the moon and the stars, but they did not sleep, instead sniffing around intently. “We smell people!” they snarled. But they found nothing, and eventually tired and went to sleep.
That was the opportunity Thakáne had been waiting for. She and her companions emerged from hiding and, singling out the biggest nanabolele, quickly slaughtered it before it could wake up the others. Then they flayed it in silence and prepared to leave.
Before they left, the old woman gave Thakáne a pebble. “The nanabolele will follow you. When you see a red dust cloud against the sky, that will be them on your trail. This pebble will save you from them…”
Sure enough, dawn had barely broken when Thakáne saw the cloud of red dust. The nanaboleles were in pursuit! Thakáne quickly dropped the pebble on the ground, and it grew, becoming an enormous mountain that she and her friends climbed. They took refuge at the top, while the nanaboleles exhausted themselves trying to climb it. Then, as the reptiles lay catching their breath, the mountain shrank, Thakáne picked up the pebble, and the chase continued.
Thus it went on for several days, with the nanaboleles catching up only to be worn out by the pebble-mountain. But when Thakáne reached her home, she called upon all the dogs of the village to attack the nanaboleles. The creatures, terrified, turned tail and ran back to their abandoned village under the river.
There was only one thing left to do. The nanabolele skin which gives off light in the dark was cut and prepared into items of clothing and armor and weapons, and Thakáne herself took them to her brothers in the mophato.
Nobody else had seen such wondrous items, and Thakáne’s brothers rewarded her handsomely, giving her a hundred head of cattle.
Dorson, R. M. (1972) African Folklore. Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, New York.
Jacottet, E. (1908) The Treasury of Ba-Suto Lore. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.
Postma, M. (1974) Tales from the Basotho. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Boundary Pond in Maine, near the Canadian border, is the only spot where Billdads live. These creatures are beaver-sized with long kangaroo-like back legs and short forelegs. The paws are webbed and the beak is strong and hawk-like. The powerful tail is large and flattened, like a beaver’s.
The first hint that a billdad is about is a distinct sound, like a paddle hitting the water. This is caused by the billdad’s method of fishing, which consists of jumping above a surfacing fish and smacking it hard with its flat tail. Adult males can cover over sixty yards in a single leap. The stunned fish can then be collected and eaten at leisure.
The retiring billdads are usually heard and not seen. They are left alone by lumberjacks – and with good reason. The only man known to have eaten billdad meat, the late Bill Murphy, suffered odd symptoms after tasting it. He ran screaming out of the mess hall and leaped over the lake just like a billdad. Alas, he could not swim like one.
Billdad has been off the menu since.
Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.