Bès Kotak

Variations: Hantu Kotak (Malay), Box Spirit

Bès Kotak, “box spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It is apparently box-like in appearance and is a river spirit that lives in the muddy hollows of rivers.

When a person dives into the river to catch fish, the box spirit presses or sits on that person, causing them to become heavy, sink into the mud, and drown. Two or three days later the body will float to the surface, proof of the fate that awaits any who invade Bès Kotak’s domain.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Bjarndýrakóngur

Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)

The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.

A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.

The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.

It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.

The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.

 References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Bès Pa’

Variations: Hantu Kotak (Malay), Pa’, Spirit Pa’

Bès Pa’, the Spirit Pa’, is a river jellyfish spirit that can expand to any size it wishes. It is usually found living in deep mud. Anyone who steps on a buried pa’ will fall into the mud along with the spirit. To prevent this, one must take a finely crushed mixture of iron rust and broken glass and sprinkle it over the offending muddy area.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Bès Bulan

Variations: Hantu Bulan (Malay), Moon Spirit

Bès Bulan, the Moon Spirit, lives with the moon; during the fruit season, it also lives on top of a small hill. When it calls – oioi… – it is trying to get people to eat, and anyone who hears it should avoid going deep into the jungle lest they be killed and devoured.

At night the moon spirit descends to where the moonlight falls. If a sleeping child awakes and sees the moon shining through the roof, the spirit will cause the child to cry non-stop.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

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.

Bès Kěmwar

Variations: Hantu Ulat (Malay), Maggot Spirit, Riverside Maggot Spirit, Tip-of-Leaf Maggot Spirit, Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, Hantu Ulat Duri, Thorny Maggot Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Sòk, Hantu Ulat Bulu, Hairy Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, Hantu Ulat Terbang, Flying-Maggot Spirit

Bes Kemwar

The Bès Kěmwar, “maggot spirit”, is one of the many bès or disease spirits known to the Jah Hut of Malaysia. A polyvalent spirit, it is depicted as a maggot or caterpillar, with variants distinguished by hair, thorns, wings, and other details. It eats rice, vegetables, and other crops. It is responsible for aches in bones, joints, and muscles. If its caterpillar hair falls into water and that water is drunk, it causes coughing and bleeding in the throat. Maggot spirits are also known to live in rotten tree trunks and feed in them. Anyone who approaches the fallen tree will be bitten in the leg by the spirit, causing redness, swelling, and itching. All the toenails fall off but the swelling will be gone by two or three months.

The riverside maggot spirit lives by the river and appears only during the jungle-fruit season in February. It flies onto the heads of old people and causes all their hair to fall off.

The tip-of-leaf maggot spirit feeds on the leaves of coconut and rice. To prevent this attack on crops, a pawang must bless the plants with a pounded mixture of daun setawa and kunyit mulai, which is burned to ashes and scattered over the plantation.

Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, the thorny-maggot spirit, lives on leaves. It causes restlessness and rheumatism.

Bès Kěmwar Sòk, the hairy caterpillar spirit, lives on the tips of tree branches. Its hair drops into drinking water and causes irritation and swelling in the throat. This affliction can be cured by a poyang while in its early stages, but untreated victims will eventually die as they cannot eat or drink.

Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, the flying-maggot spirit, lives in bushes and eats the leaves of the daun mengkirai tree. Its urine and stool falls on anyone who passes under the tree, causing the victim to become bald and swollen. In the evening it flies onto the roofs of houses and opens them up. Children seeing its eyes reflecting like mirrors will be terrified into crying. Burning daun-kesim keeps this nocturnal nuisance away.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Bès

Variations: Hantu (Malay)

The Bès are the evil spirits of the Jah Hut, an Orang Asli people from peninsular Malaysia. They are true spirits, existing independently and not emerging from humans alive or dead. The vast majority of bès, or hantu as they are known in Malay, are malevolent beings associated with disease. Far less numerous than the bès are the jin (underground spirits), nabi (guardian spirits), and kemoch (spirits of the dead).

All the bès were created along with ‘iblis, the evil one, by Proman, God’s assistant, who botched the creation of the first man. Their great stronghold is a Pauh Janggi Bringin Sungsang, a “Giant Mango Tree Entwined by a Strangler Fig”, that stands beyond the ocean. From there they sally forth to cause all kinds of trouble. God allows it because the bès keep the world in balance, taking life that others may in turn live.

Sickness is caused by the influence of the bès. This usually happens by night – while we sleep, our soul leaves our body and wanders in the jungle. A bès who finds that soul will prevent it from returning, and the owner of the soul will fall ill.

Healing is the duty of the puyang or medicine man. It is their job to locate the missing soul and return it with the help of the good spirits, otherwise their charge will die. The běni’sòy ceremony is used in those cases. It involves drawing the evil spirits out of the body and transferring them into a palm leaf bundle brushed over the skin. Once the bès is trapped, the bundle can be safely disposed of.

Spiritual wood carvings of the bès in question are made to help draw the evil spirit out. These carvings establish an iconography for the bès and allow us to see them as the Jah Hut do.

References

Teoh, B. S. (1986) Bes Hyang Dney: A Jah Hut Myth of Peninsular Malaysia. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 59(2), pp. 139-144.

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Bès Bulong

Variations: Hantu Bulong (Malay), Bulong, Spirit Bulong

Bes Bulong

Bès Bulong, the spirit Bulong or simply Bulong, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It walks around by night. If it sees anyone walking about between midnight and 6:00 AM, it will pull out that person’s soul and leave them unconscious.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Bayfart

Bayfart

The Bayfart is an animal whose existence is reported by the inhabitants of Finnmark. It is something like a seal, roughly the same size and shape. Its fur is greyish. It has small ears and a single horn on its head surrounded by hair, and hog-like bristles around its nose. Its forelegs have claws as long as a lion’s, while its has two flippers for hind legs.

Thevet received a bayfart skin from a Scotsman, who obtained it in Denmark in 1570. It had been caught in the Northern Sea.

References

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Bès Dangon

Variations: Hantu Punggong (Malay), Buttock Spirit

Bes Dangon

The Bès Dangon, “buttock spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It lives on the top of coconut trees, and the heat of its urine and stool eventually kills the trees. Anyone who tries to climb an inhabited tree is kicked back down.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.