Kusa Kap

The tale of Kusa Kap is told on the islands of Dauan and Mabuiag in the Torres Strait. The primary difference is the setting of the events and the name of the fisherman – Maiwasa in Mabuiag, Kaudab in Dauan. Of the two, the Dauan account is more detailed and is the primary source here.

Kaudab was a successful and handsome young dugong hunter from Dauan. He was recently married to Bakar, a woman so beautiful she was expected to never leave the house. But he had also attracted the attention of Giz. Giz was a dogai, a cunning female spirit with long ears and the ability to shapeshift. Giz would spend long hours desiring the beautiful red-headed man for herself, and she was so jealous that she wouldn’t leave him out of her sight. Giz could not tolerate Bakar’s existence.

One day, as Bakar was looking for octopus, Giz dove into a rockpool and turned herself into an octopus. Bakar had never seen an octopus before, and she leaned over the pool to try to grab it, only for Giz to grab her in her tentacles and pull her underwater. Bakar knew immediately that this was no ordinary octopus, but a dogai in disguise, and screamed to Kaudab for help – but alas, he was too far away to hear her.

This was only the beginning of Giz’s revenge. She pulled Bakar through Apangabia-taian, the tunnel beneath the sea, and took her to the island of Kusar, near New Guinea. There she abandoned the young bride before returning to Kaudab’s home and transforming into Bakar herself. When Kaudab came home, Giz tried to prepare food for him, but she did not know how to do so, burning her fingers on the coals, cackling wildly, and breaking wind crudely with every movement. Thus Kaudab knew his wife had been replaced by a dogai.

Bakar, meanwhile, was alone on a deserted island. There was nothing to eat beside kusa seeds (kapul). She became pregnant as a result, and eventually laid an egg like that of a sea-eagle’s. It hatched into a baby eagle that she cared for with as much love as if it had been a human child. She named the bird Kusa Kap after the kusa seeds that had conceived him.

With Bakar’s care Kusa Kap grew quickly. His first attempts to fly were clumsy, but soon his wings were strong enough to carry him to the tops of trees. In time he was strong enough to fly to Daudai and bring back coal, string, bark, and a bamboo knife, which Bakar used to get a fire going so she could start cooking food.

The next day Kusa Kap saw a dugong for the first time. He seized it in his talons and carried it off for Bakar to cook. In time he was capturing many dugong, sending the surplus to Pösipas.

Finally Bakar told her son to go to Dauan, and gave him directions to find Kaudab’s house. He informed him of Bakar’s plight by responding to his questions with nods, and directed Kaudab to Bakar’s island by alighting on the mast of his canoe and guiding him. Before long Bakar and Kaudab were joyfully reunited again.

The only thing left was Giz, and Kusa Kap swooped onto her and carried her off in his talons. After torturing her at length by dropping and recapturing her, he let go of her far away from Dauan. She plunged into the sea and turned to stone, becoming Dogail Malu, the dogai sea.

There is a final twist to the tale of Kusa Kap. In the account of New Guinea given by d’Albertis, he is informed by his traveling companions of a gigantic bird, some 16 to 22 feet in wingspan, whose wings make a noise like a steam engine. It lives around the Mai Kusa river. He adds that the natives have seen it carry dugongs into the air. He rejects the claims and later shoots a red-necked hornbill, which is a large bird that makes a strange noise in flight; he succeeded in convincing two or three of his companions that this was, in fact, the bird in question.

Either way, despite Kusa Kap being described as an eagle, Haddon identifies the red-necked hornbill as the origin of the Kusa Kap legend on the basis of its dugong-snatching activities.

References

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. I. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. II. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

Haddon, A. C. (1904) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, v. V: Sociology, Magic, and Religion of the Western Islanders. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and Legends of Torres Strait. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.

Kurrea

The Kurrea is an enormous reptilian creature from the Boobera Lagoon, the Barwon River, and the Narran River in New South Wales, Australia. It may be considered the local variant of the rainbow serpent, although the lumping of such entities may be overzealous. The term kurrea, a Euahlayi word, has also been translated as “crocodile” in the one Narran River account, but a “serpent” interpretation is probably more correct. A 39-foot carving of the kurrea is clearly snake-shaped.

The deepest part of the Boobera Lagoon is bottomless and that is where the kurrea lives. An enormous serpentine creature, it is incapable of moving on dry land. When a kurrea wants to travel, it tears up the ground on the banks of the lagoon, excavating channels along which it can swim. The many shallow channels around the lagoon are evidence of the kurrea’s movements.

Anyone who dared fish, swim, or paddle in the Boobera Lagoon would immediately be attacked and devoured by the kurrea. This hostile behavior could cause serious shortages, as the lagoon had large flocks of waterfowl and schools of fish.

Once a man called Toolalla, of the Barwon River, decided to rid his people of the kurrea. He was a skilled hunter and, armed with his sharpest and strongest weapons, he stood on the bank of the lagoon. Before long the kurrea had noticed him and swam towards him. But despite all his preparations, Toolalla discovered that even his best weapons could not even injure the kurrea.

Toolalla made the wise decision to flee for his life. The kurrea followed him, gouging out a channel at high speed and rapidly gaining on his prey. Toolalla managed to climb up a tall bumble tree where the snake could not reach him. The bumble tree is also the kurrea’s mother-in-law, and the only thing it fears. Eventually, frustrated and disappointed, the kurrea returned to the Boobera Lagoon, where it continued to be a threat to all who trespassed on its domain.

Today the kurrea is harder to see. Its descendants are the gowarke, the giant, black-feathered, red-legged emus of the Baiame swamps.

References

Buchler, I. R. and Maddock, K. (eds.) (1978) The Rainbow Serpent: A Chromatic Piece. Mouton Publishers, The Hague.

Mathews, R. H. (1907) Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales. William Appleworth Gullick, Sydney.

Reed, A. W. (1982) Aboriginal Myths, Legends, and Fables. Reed, Wellington.

Garkain

Garkain is a spirit found living alone in the tropical forests of Arnhem Land near the Liverpool River’s mouth. Human in appearance, he possesses great flaps of skin on his arms and legs, like wings or fins, that allow him to fly.

During the day Garkain sleeps under a pile of leaves. By night he attacks any intruders into his domain by flying up and falling onto them, enveloping them in a flurry of arms and legs, the folds of his skin suffocating them. They are eaten red raw – Garkain never learned how to make fire, use tools, and cook food.

References

Allan, T.; Fleming, F.; and Kerrigan, M. (1999) Journeys through Dreamtime. Time-Life Books BV, Amsterdam.

Butor, M.; Spencer, M. trans. (1981) Letters from the Antipodes. Ohio University Press.

Roberts, A. R. and Mountford, C. P. (1971) The First Sunrise. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.

Nadubi

Nadubi

The Nadubi is one of a variety of evil nocturnal spirits that haunt Australia. Nadubi may be found on the rocky plateau of Arnhem Land. They serve as a warning against traveling alone in the bush during the chilly hours of night.

Nadubi are a spirit people similar to humans in appearance but with barbed spines sprouting from their elbows and knees. Cave paintings at Oenpelli show a nadubi woman with spines on several areas of her body, including her elbows and vulva. Another cave painting at Sleisbeck shows a kangaroo-like creature with a spiny tail and spiny projections on its mouth and rear; this may also be a depiction of a nadubi.

A nadubi will creep up on a lone traveler and project a spine into his or her body. The victim can only be saved by the timely removal of the spine by a medicine man; usually this aid is administered too late, and the unfortunate sufferer sickens and dies. As only medicine men can see nadubi, it falls onto them to drive those malignant spirits away from encampments.

Despite their best efforts, every now and then the vigilance of the medicine men slips, and a scream in the night testifies to the fate of another solitary wanderer.

References

Johnson, D. (2014) Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia. Sydney University Press, Sydney.

Mountford, C. P. (1957) Aboriginal Bark Paintings from Field Island, Northern Territory. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 1, pp. 87-89.

Mountford, C. P. (1958) Aboriginal Cave Paintings at Sleisbeck, Northern Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 2, pp. 147-155.

Roberts, A. R. and Mountford, C. P. (1975) The Dawn of Time. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.

Ompax

Variations: Ompax spatuloides

Ompax

What would you do if your breakfast was a species new to science? Carl Theodore Staiger, director of the Brisbane Museum, was faced with this conundrum in August of 1872. During his visit to Gayndah, Queensland, he was served an unusual duck-billed fish for breakfast. The worthy naturalist decided to have the specimen sketched. He then went ahead and ate the specimen anyway.

The entire description of Ompax spatuloides is derived from the sketch and Staiger’s recollection (sadly, we are not told of the Ompax’s gastronomical merits). Count F. de Castelnau described it as a ganoid fish something like a paddlefish, eighteen inches long and dirty mahogany in color. The spatulate beak is similar to a platypus’, the eyes are small and near the top of the head, the pectoral fins are small, and the dorsal, caudal, and ventral fins appear to be connected. It can only be found in a single water hole in the Burnett River, alongside the lungfish Ceratodus.

Ompax spatuloides was listed in several catalogues of Queensland fishes, despite immediate and scathing criticism from other ichthyologists. O’Shaughnessy remarked that “all the characters of [the Ompax] are gathered from a drawing made after and not before the repast… the Record thinks he would be scarcely justified in admitting Ompax spatuloides, sp. n., into the system.”

The mystery of the Ompax was solved by someone writing to the Sydney Bulletin under the name of “Waranbini”. The author confesses that the Gayndah locals prepared a fish for Staiger’s breakfast by assembling the head of a lungfish, the body of a mullet, and the tail of an eel (and, presumably, the bill of a platypus). It was cooked and introduced as a new species, one that might not be seen again for months, and Staiger fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Since then, unusual fish were met in the Gayndah district with an exclamation of “it must be an Ompax!”

References

Castelnau, F. L. P. (1879) On a New Ganoïd Fish from Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, v. 3, no. 1, pp. 164-165.

Whitley, G. P. (1933) Ompax spatuloides Castelnau, a Mythical Australian Fish. The American Naturalist, v. 67, no. 713, pp. 563-567.

Whowie

Variations: Whowhie

Whowie

The Whowie was the terror of the Murray River in the Riverina district of Australia. He was like an enormous goanna, about twenty feet long, with six goanna legs and a huge frog-like head; he was perhaps somewhat like the huge monitor lizards that once roamed southern Australia. While very slow in his movement, he had no reason to be fast, as everyone fleed in terror from him. At night, the whowie would crawl into grounds where people were sleeping, and proceed to devour anyone who couldn’t get away. Thirty to sixty people could disappear down his cavernous mouth during one of those raids. During the day he would sleep in his cave on the Murray River, or bask along the riverbank; his movements created the sandhills of Riverina.

With the passage of time, the depredations of the whowie were starting to take their toll on the inhabitants. The water-rat tribe was first to convene, as they had suffered most from the whowie’s attention. The chief solemnly announced that they had no choice but to flee to a safer land or face certain annihilation. “I shall let you decide what we shall do”, he told his people. It was an elder who stood up and implored his people to stay. “We have lived here all our lives; we have always had plenty to eat, and much to do along the river. Now we dare not go there because of the whowie. Let us think of some other way by which we may be rid of this menace”.

A strict night guard was instated, and the aid of several other tribes was called for. The water-rats searched for the whowie, and found footprints leading into the cave’s one opening. As the whowie’s cave was many miles long, they knew it would take a week for him to return to the outside, and so they had all the time they needed.

Soon help had arrived from all over, from the kangaroo, platypus, eagle, magpie, cockatoo, lizard, snake, opossum and crow tribes, and many more besides. After holding a corroboree and spending a night in celebration, dancing, and storytelling, all of them busied themselves gathering sticks. The sticks were gathered into bundles and piled up halfway in the cave and at the entrance. Then, when they believed the whowie was soon to appear, they set the wood on fire.

Smoke and flames filled the cave, and the whowie roared and coughed angrily – but what good were his teeth and claws against smoke and fire? He struggled upwards through the cave for six days and appeared on the seventh burned, blinded, and gasping for breath. That was when the tribes descended upon him with spears, axes, and nulla-nullas, inflicting mortal wounds on their enemy. The giant lizard could only drag himself back into his cave, and was never seen again.

Now the whowie can still be heard sighing from deep inside the cave on the Murray River. He is dying, or perhaps his spirit has survived underground in some form. But either way he is harmless, and has become nothing more than a bogey with whom parents can threaten their children into good behavior.

References

Molnar, R. E. (2004) Dragons in the Dust. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Reed, A. W. (1965) Myths and Legends of Australia. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Sydney.

Smith, W. R. (2003) Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines. Dover Publications, Mineola.

Tiddalik

Variations: Tiddalick, Karaknitt

Tiddalik

Tiddalik the frog was thirsty. He got up one day in the Australian bush and decided he needed more water. He began by drinking down all the water in his pond. After that, he crawled out of the hole left behind and drained the nearby waterholes. Then he swilled down the closest river, and followed its tributaries, drinking them down one by one. Billabongs and lakes were gobbled up, and Tiddalik grew bigger and bigger. Finally, once there was no water left in sight, Tiddalik stopped. He was now a bloated, mountainous creature filled with water and incapable of moving. He could only sit there and stare, content at last.

Soon, as the lack of water became painfully evident, the animals started to gather around Tiddalik. His size and thick skin made him impervious to anything they could do, and rain was nowhere in sight. It was Goorgourgahgah, the Kookaburra, who hit upon the solution. “We must make him laugh”, he said. “That way he’ll open his mouth and all the water will come out”.

As the champion laugher, Goorgourgahgah went first. He flew in front of Tiddalik’s face, laughing at the top of his lungs. He tumbled in the air, told jokes, and guffawed till he was hoarse. Tiddalik blinked impassively.

All the other animals tried their luck. Kangaroo turned somersaults. Koala made weird noises. Frilled Lizard ran around with his frill open. Wombat rolled around in the dirt. Brolga danced and squawked. But nothing they did seemed to get to Tiddalik, and the more they tried the thirstier they got. The monstrous frog merely continued to observe them with his globular eyes.

Then, as the other animals began to despair, Noyang the Eel stepped solemnly up. Everyone held their breath as Noyang straightened and balanced precariously on his tail. A ripple went through Tiddalik’s bloated body. Noyang began to twist and contort himself, forming hoops, spirals, springs, whirling around like a top… Tiddalik’s smile broadened, and he started to shake. Finally, Noyang tied himself in knots, and Tiddalik started to laugh hysterically – and all the water he held inside poured out, flooding the land before returning to its rightful place. Many died in the flood; Pelican took it upon himself to save as many as he could, but got aggressive when the human woman he wanted for a wife refused him. He painted his black feathers white to go to war, but was accidentally killed by another pelican who didn’t recognize him – pelicans today are both black and white in his honor.

When all had cleared, Tiddalik had shrunken back into a tiny frog once more. He had laughed so hard that he lost his voice, and could only croak hoarsely. Today, his descendants the water-holding frogs (Cyclorana platycephala) still practice every night in the hopes of regaining that voice, and still try to drink large quantities of water on a much smaller scale.

After losing all the water of the world, Tiddalik also came to resent anyone who tried to hoard water for themselves. When Echidna tried to keep a secret cache of water, it was Tiddalik who followed him and dove into the subterranean pond. “This water belongs to everyone!” he snapped. “You have no right to keep it to yourself!” The other animals punished Echidna by tossing him into a thornbush, and to this day he still has the thorns embedded in his back as a painful reminder of his greed.

References

Morton, J. (2006) Tiddalik’s Travels: The Making and Remaking of an Aboriginal Flood Myth. Advances in Ecological Research, vol. 39.

Ragache, C. C. and Laverdet, M. (1991) Les animaux fantastiques. Hachette.

Reed, A. W. (1965) Myths and Legends of Australia. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Sydney.

Reed, A. W. (1978) Aboriginal Legends: Animal Tales. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Sydney.

Yara-ma-yha-who

Yara ma ya who

The Yara-ma-yha-who of Australia are restricted to the forests of the Pacific coast, and their absence elsewhere should be considered a blessing. They are primarily nursery bogies, dissuading children from frequenting dangerous areas.

A yara-ma-yha-who is a grotesque sight, and would be amusing were it not for its ghastly habits. Not more than four feet tall, red, and covered with fur, a yara-ma-yha-who has a disproportionately large head. It can open its toothless mouth like a snake, and its throat and belly are similarly distensible. An adult man can be easily swallowed by a yara-ma-yha-who without discomfort. Its fingers and toes are equipped with suction cups. Yara-ma-yha-who are good climbers, but can only waddle like cockatoos on land.

Thick-leaved fig trees are the yara-ma-yha-who’s favorite haunt. They can wait for days in the branches until some hapless traveler, perhaps seeking shelter from sun or rain, lies under the tree. Lone children are their favorite prey.

When a yara-ma-yha-who attacks, it attaches its hands and feet on its victim’s body, using the suction cups to drain the blood out of them. It does not empty them entirely, but only enough to make them faint. It then leaves its victim for a while, eventually returning to swallow them whole, head first. A little dance lets the food slide down, the meal is washed down with water, and the yara-ma-yha-who takes a nap.

After waking up, the yara-ma-yha-who vomits its prey out. The human is almost always alive and playing dead; there is no reason to fight back as the creature can overpower the strongest man. The yara-ma-yha-who takes five paces, then returns and pokes his victim’s sides with a stick. Then it walks away ten paces before returning to tickle the human under the arm or neck. A fifty-yard stroll is followed up by more tickling, then the yara-ma-yha-who goes behind a bush and sleeps.

This ritual is always repeated. The yara-ma-yha-who know that if they fail to carry out these actions, the spirit of the fig tree will mumble in their ears, causing them to transform into glowing tree mushrooms.

For this reason it is safest to play dead until this point, when you get to your feet and run. “Where have you gone, my victim?” calls the yara-ma-yha-who if it hears you escaping, but its awkward gait makes it easy to outrun. After failing to recapture prey, a spiteful yara-ma-yha-who will drink up all the water in nearby wells and water-holes, leading people to seek liquid from tree sap – and thus end up exposed to yara-ma-yha-who attack.

It is important not to let a yara-ma-yha-who swallow you multiple times. The second time you are swallowed and regurgitated, you become shorter and completely hairless. By the third time you are shorter still, and thick hair grows over your body. Eventully, after enough cycles of swallowing and vomiting, you become a yara-ma-yha-who yourself.

Heuvelmans believed the yara-ma-yha-who was inspired by tarsiers. Furry, big-eyed, and with suction-cup fingers, it is more a mammalian frog than anything else.

References

Heuvelmans, B. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.

Smith, W. R. (2003) Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines. Dover Publications, Mineola.