Huayramama

Huayramama

Huayramama, “Mother of the Wind”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She has no direct biological counterpart, but is believed to be an enormous boa with an old woman’s face and very long hair that tangles in the clouds – in comparison, her counterparts the Sachamama and the Yakumama are the boa constrictor and the anaconda, respectively.

The guardian of the air and the daughter of the red huayracaspi or “wind tree”, she is herself the mother of all the good and evil winds. Huayramama also grants power to deserving healers and shamans, giving them control over the weather.

Don Emilio Shuña was one such man. After fasting for nine days and drinking ayahuasca tea brewed from the huayracaspi, he was rewarded by the appearance of Huayramama, her long body billowing in the sky and her hair trailing behind her. She landed on his house and proclaimed “OK, man, here I am. What is it you wish?” “I want to control the wind, the rain, and anything from the sky”, said Don Emilio. Huayramama granted him his wish on condition he fasted for an additional forty-five days. At the end of that period of fasting, Don Emilio gained the magical powers he asked for, and was taught songs by the Huayramama herself. He could control weather, heal those afflicted by evil winds, return crops to life, and revitalize dying fisheries. When the Huayramama’s malevolent children tried to stir up trouble, he drove those winds under the trees through fasting, singing, drinking huayracaspi tea and blowing tobacco smoke. Huayramama would touch his head to strengthen him in times of need. He also used his powers for simpler blessings, such as preventing rain to allow local boys to play football in peace.

At the end of a long and charmed life, Don Emilio finally died. Perhaps it was rival sorcerers who murdered him, or perhaps the evil winds finally won. All who knew him wept. He was buried under the huayracaspi in the middle of the forest, for as he said, “that tree is my mother”.

References

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

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.

Kranokolaptes

Variations: Kephalokroustes, Sklerokephalon

kranokolaptes

Nicander classified the Kranokolaptes, the “Head Striker”, as a phalangion or spider. This is all the more puzzling because the description has nothing arachnoid about it. No doubt its deadly bites were seen as reason enough to list it after wolf spiders and malmignattes.

The kranokolaptes is an insect found in Egypt, and which develops in the persea tree (perhaps Mimusops). It has the appearance of a moth, with four downy felt-textured wings that leave an ashy dust behind. Philoumenos described it as green in color, but that is apparently a misreading of Nicander. The head of the kranokolaptes is hard, heavy, and nodding; its abdomen is thick and fat. It has a deadly stinger located below its head.

A kranokolaptes will use its stinger to attack the heads and necks of humans and cause instant death. Kranokolaptes stings are deadly unless victims are treated with its antidote – a kranokolaptes drowned in oil.

It has been suggested that hawkmoths (Sphingidae), with their impressive sizes, thick abdomens, and prominent probosces, are at the root of the kranokolaptes tale. The vampire moth Calyptra thalictri is even more compelling. Having evolved from fruit-piercing moths, vampire moths use the same methods to puncture skin and drink blood – and they rock their heads back and forth as they penetrate, explaining the “nodding” aspect. The similarities end here, however, as a bite from Calyptra merely causes swelling and irritation.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

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

Tuyango

Variations: Tagänogók

tuyango

The Tuyango is a carnivorous swamp bird from Argentinian folklore. The Mocoví know it as Tagänogók, while “tuyango” is of Guaraní origin. These birds are currently believed to have been hunted to extinction.

A tuyango looks a lot like a rhea, but it has a distinctive yellow neck. It preys on humans, which it kills and drags back to its lair to devour.

The hawk had a particular vendetta against the tuyangos, and sought to avenge their cannibalism of humans. One tuyango returned to his home with two dead men only to find his four children clubbed to death. The tuyango cried, ejeeejee, before heading out with his mate to find the hawk. But the hawk asked for fire, and he flew in and out of the smoke until the tuyangos were exhausted and thoroughly confused; only then did he club and kill them. He returned to widespread joy; when his daughter told him “Daddy, a cannibal bird is coming”, he reassured her that he had already killed the tuyango, and all were happy.

References

Cipolletti, M. S.; Guevara, J.; Lehmann-Nitsche, R.; Terán, B. R. D.; and Tomasini, J. A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1988) Folk Literature of the Mocoví Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Impundulu

Variations: Lightning-bird, Intakezulu; Chimungu; Ingqungqulu (Bateleur), Insingizi (Ground Hornbill), Inyoni Yezulu (Bird of Heaven), Isivolovolo (White-necked Fish Eagle), Izulu (Sky)

impundulu

The Lightning-bird, spirit of storms and clouds, takes a number of forms in southern Africa. Several familiar birds are associated with storms: the ground hornbill, the hamerkop, the bateleur, various birds of prey. The Amandebele refer to both the “bird of heaven” and the white-necked fish eagle as Isivolovolo, which flies at great altitude and whose droppings are potent magical ingredients. To the Baronga it is a hawk called Chimungu, which buries itself in the ground with every stroke of lightning. The Tumbuka lightning-bird is black with a curling tail like that of a rooster, scars people with its claws, and leaves little scarlet insects behind after a storm. In Buziba it is a whole flock of glittering red birds whose flashing feathers cause lightning and their wingbeats thunder.

The Impundulu or Intakezulu of the Xhosa is probably the best-known of the lightning-birds. It may appear as a human, but only women can see it in its true form, which is white with red wings, red legs, and a short red tail. Various remains have been identified as belonging to an impundulu, including a ground hornbill’s skull, a dead wandering albatross, a cattle egret, a peacock’s tail feather, and a strange avian skull with the penguinlike lower mandible protruding beyond the upper mandible. The last is not identified, but the description leaves little doubt that the African skimmer Rynchops flavirostris is to blame. Altocumulus clouds have also been identified as impundulu.

The beating of the impundulu’s wings causes thunder, although it only starts thundering after the appearance of the large mushrooms in the wet season. Lightning is caused by an impundulu rushing to the earth to lay a single large egg underground. These eggs must be found and destroyed by shamans before they hatch, lest more impundulus be brought into the world. Throwing assagais into the air also helps dissuade impundulus from landing.

Impundulus are vampiric, sucking human blood until their victims die. They will also carry off unprotected children. Milk is another substance impundulus are fond of, and poisoned milk can be used to exterminate them. Witches are believed to have impundulus who do their dirty work, sending them out to kill men; the fat of an impundulu can also be used in sorcery. Impundulus in human form will impregnate women, and their children will be birds. Tuberculosis is caused by an impundulu sucking away sufferers’ breath, and goes by the same name in West Pondoland.

A person with a nosebleed can be described: wanyiwa yimpundulu, “he has been sucked by impundulu”. Another proverb, “he/she has caught the chicken of impundulu”, refers to one having a stroke of good luck.

In more modern times impundulu has become the name of an electric tram-car.

References

Cook, P. A. W. (1931) Social Organisation and Ceremonial Institutions of the Bomvana. Juta and Co. Ltd., Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Godfrey, R. (1941) Bird-lore of the Eastern Cape Province. Bantu Studies, Monograph Series, No. 2, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.

Qasoǵonaǵa

Variations: Gasogonaga, Kasogonagá, Kasogongá, QasoGonaGa; Lightning; Owner of Storms/Lightning

qasogonaga

For the Toba of Argentina, lighning takes the form of a small, hairy creature called Qasoǵonaǵa, the Owner of Storms. It is an anteater, or perhaps an elephant, with a long snout, long rainbow-colored hair, and four tiny feet. Qasoǵonaǵa can also appear in human form, retaining a small head and shaggy body. As Qasoǵonaǵa has been referred to by both male and female pronouns, there are probably more than one of these beings.

Qasoǵonaǵa, as the Owner of Storms, lives in the skies and is responsible for storms and other meteorological conditions. Lightning comes out of its mouth, while its angry roars become thunder. It is responsible for rain, or lack thereof.

While Qasoǵonaǵa may be a mighty force of nature, it can be quite friendly and grateful for help granted it by the Toba. Often a Qasoǵonaǵa falls to the earth, and has to be returned there by human intervention, as it is too small to return there on its own. In such cases a bonfire must be built, and Qasoǵonaǵa placed on top before it is ignited. The rising smoke will carry Qasoǵonaǵa back into the sky, and the happy anteater will reward its benefactor with powerful shamanic powers. Qasoǵonaǵa will also cause or stop torrential rain if its helper requests it.

References

Cordeux, E. J.; Karsten, R.; Lehmann-Nitsche, R.; Mětraux, A.; Newbery, S. J.; Palavecino, E.; and Terán, B. R. D.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1982) Folk Literature of the Toba Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Wright, P. G. A semantic analysis of the symbolism of Toba mythical animals. In Willis, R. (Ed.) (1990) Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World. Unwin Hyman, London.

Wright, P. G. Dream, Shamanism, and Power among the Toba of Formosa Province. In Langdon, E. J. M. and Baer, G. (Eds.) (1992) Portals of Power. University of New Mexico Press.

Wright, P. G. (2008) Ser-en-el-sueño. Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires.

Kamaitachi

Variations: Kama-itachi, Kamakaze (“Sickle wind”)

Kamaitachi

The Kamaitachi, or “sickle weasel”, is the Japanese yokai of unexplained cuts. It is most common in snowy Honshu. The name itself may be alternately derived from kamae-tachi, “poised sword”.

A kamaitachi looks something like a weasel with razor-sharp sickle claws. It travels in whirlwinds, but it is never seen. Instead, the presence of a kamaitachi is known by the cuts it leaves on its victims. It will also cause people to trip and fall, taking malign pleasure in causing injury.

Kamaitachi are useful scapegoats for inconvenient injuries. A woman in Niigata, after injuring herself during a nocturnal tryst, successfully deflected attention by blaming the kamaitachi for her wound.

The kamaitachi was rationalized in a number of ways, including pieces of sharp debris tossed around in whirlwinds. Y. Tanaka suggested that the “kamaitachi disease” was the result of temporary vacuums forming from stray air currents, slicing skin that came in contact with them. Such vacuums would be common in mountainous areas and thunderstorm conditions.

In Gifu the kamaitachi becomes three gods, the first pushing over the victim, with the second cutting with a knife and the third healing the injury.

References

Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Griffis, W. E. (1876) The Mikado’s Empire. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Y. Tanaka (1911) An Epitome of Current Medical Literature: Spontaneous Wounds. British Medical Journal, v. 2, p. 37.