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.

Melalo

Variations: The Filthy One, The Dirty One, The Obscene One

Melalo

According to the Roma of Eastern Europe, notably Romania and Slovakia, all the diseases and ailments of the world can be traced back to a family of creatures born from an unholy union of fairy and demon. These unloved bastard children, hated by their parents, take their spite out on humans.

Long ago, the good fairies or Keshalyi lived in the high mountains, while the evil Loçolico, former humans warped and twisted by the Devil, lived underground. But when the King of the Loçolico took a fancy to Ana, Queen of the Keshalyi, their separate worlds were brought too close for comfort. After Ana turned down the ugly King of the Loçolico, the demons responded by hunting down and devouring the Keshalyi. Only Ana’s forced marriage to the King saved her people from utter annihilation.

Ana found her husband so disgusting that she refused to consummate the marriage. The King finally forced himself on her following the advice of a golden toad, who told him to feed her the brains of a magpie. Ana fell into a deep sleep, and soon after conceived Melalo, their first son.

Melalo, literally “filthy”, “dirty”, or “obscene”, is the oldest and most feared of Ana’s children. He is a small, dirty grey (the English translation oddly gives the color as green), unkempt bird with two heads. He has sharp claws which he uses to tear out hearts and rip bodies to shreds; with his wings, he stuns victims and makes them lose their reason. Melalo foments anger, rage, cruelty, sadism, frenzy, rape, and insanity. Those he has affected can only chatter like a magpie.

Melalo would go on to influence the creation of the remainder of Ana’s brood. It was he who put his mother to sleep with his vapors, and convinced his father to sire Lilyi, his sister, wife, and eventual mother to countless women’s diseases. Melalo also guided the conception of his siblings.

To counter Melalo, one must tie an amulet with his image to the afflicted part of the body.

It is possible that the two-headed bird imagery that created Melalo started with the Hittites, who took it to Byzantium and eventually to Russia and Austria. Meanwhile, the expression yov hin jiamutr Melaskero (“he is Melalo’s son-in-law”) has persisted in reference to a violent, nasty person.

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.

Colôrobètch

Variations: Colô Rodje Bètch, Colô Rotje Bètch, Clô Rotje Bètch, Colôrobètche, Colaurobètch, Colaurobètche, Colau-rodje-bètch, Corobètch, Routge Bètch

Colorobetch

Bogeys represent a variety of childhood fears – darkness, retribution, the murky depths of deep ponds… In Wallonia children are menaced by the personification of the bise or icy wind, in the form of a bird with a red beak.

He can be found around Andenne, Bastogne, Dinant, Huy, and Neufchâteau, and Warsage; in On, Oignies, and Stavelot he is simply the “red beak”. The Somme-Leuze redbeak is a monstrous sparrow, the Condroz and Hesbaye variety is a pigeon, while the Namur redbeak is Colôrobètch or Colô Rodje Bètch, the “Red-Beaked Rooster”.

As his name indicates, Colôrobètch has a beak stained red with blood; beyond that, it is unclear whether he is a bird, a human, or a grotesque combination of both. He preys on children unwary enough to walk in the cold without adequate clothing, nipping at their exposed faces and hands until they turn red, dry, cracked, and bleeding. Colôrobètch comes out in the winter to pinch noses and spread frostbite.

In Andenne Colôrobètch becomes a nocturnal water bogey who drags children into the Meuse.

References

Pignolet, M. (1985) La Symbolique du Coq. Le Guetteur Wallon, 61 (3), pp. 81-104.

Tijskens, J. (1965) Les Noms du Croquemitaine en Wallonie. Enquêtes du Musée de la Vie Wallonne, nos. 117-120, tome X, pp. 257-391.

Romŝiwamnari’

Variations: Romŝiwamnare’

Romsiwamnari

The Romŝiwamnari’ are forest and cave demons, known to the Šerente people of Tocantins, Brazil. They look like large birds with flabby, flightless bat’s wings, armed with beaks like scissors. Their call is an eerie whistle. Romŝiwamnari’ also appear as tapirs, or as stout humans with prominent teeth and a howler monkey’s tail. When in human guise, a romŝiwamnari’ resembles the Pope – a relic of missionary activity in Brazil.

Romŝiwamnari’ not only prey upon the living, but also ambush and consume the souls of the dead. A sufficiently powerful shaman can kill them while in the realm of death, but other souls are greedily devoured.

A man of the krara’ society and his pregnant wife once encoutered a pair of romŝiwamnari’ in a cave. The man held the monsters off as long as he could while his wife escaped, but he was outmatched and decapitated by the romŝiwamnari’. The woman brought the news to the rest of the village, and the other krara’ launched an assault on the romŝiwamnari’ cave. Three of the villagers were killed in the battle, but they slew the two romŝiwamnari’ – unaware that there were two more in hiding. However, the boy the woman gave birth to grew into a mighty hero in less than a year, and he avenged his father by burning the romŝiwamnari’ bones and killing the other two demons. The romŝiwamnari’ were not seen again in that area.

References

Crocker, W. H.; Giaccaria, B.; Heide, A.; Lea, V.; Melatti, J. C.; Nimuendajú, C.; Seeger, A.; Verswijver, G.; Vidal, L.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. (eds.) (1984) Folk Literature of the Gê Indians, v. 2. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Nimuendajú, C.; Lowie, R. H. (trans.) (1942) The Šerente. The Southwest Museum, Los Angeles.

Peteu

Variations: Peteu de Vergisson, Bête Faramine, Oiseau de Vergisson, Esiau de Vregesson, P’teu, Pteu

Peteu

The picturesque town of Vergisson, in France’s Saône-et-Loire, was once home to the Peteu. This was a great and monstrous bird, with broad wings and whiplike feathers surrounding its razor-sharp beak. It was spiritually descended from the emouchet or kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), but also of the humble kinglet, whose name in the Maconnais dialect is répteret, répeteret, or repteu, which in turn is shortened to pteu.

The peteu would fly from the Rock of Solutré to the Rock of Vergisson, soaring over its domain in search of prey. When it spotted something, it folded its wings, dove, and carried off its prize. The peteu devoured sheep, pigs, goats, cows, horses and their carts! Its loud wingbeats terrified livestock and sent them running all the way back to their stables. Most heinous of all, it dove at Mr. Bruys de Serrières, who was quietly writing his History of the Popes, and defecated onto his manuscript before flying away. There was no end to the peteu’s evil.

It was Émilien Protat who organized a hunting party to rid Vergisson of the bird’s tyranny. The small but courageous group of men made for the Rock of Solutré where the peteu was last seen. When the raptor flew over their heads, blocking out the sun, the quick-thinking Émilien fired his rifle into it. The peteu fell to the ground, but would have taken Émilien’s head off had he not rammed his rifle into its mouth and fired.

The hunters returned to Vergisson in triumph to have their quarry plucked and roasted. Imagine their surprise when the peteu, stripped of its feathers, weighed no more than four ounces!

Peteu skeleton

References

Ducrost, A. (1888) Le P’teu ou L’Esiau de Vregesson Qu’ere ine Bête Faramine. Annales de l’Academie de Macon, s. II, t. VI, pp. 379-397.

Protat, G. (1966) Le Peteu de Vergisson ou la Bête Faramine. Protat Frères, Macon.

Xuangui

Variations: Twisting-Turtle, Round-Turtle, Xuan-Turtle

Xuangui

Xuangui, or Twisting-Turtles, are found in the Strange River, east of the Niu-Trees Mountain. They are black turtles with a bird’s head and a viper’s tail, and they make sounds like that of splitting wood. Wearing a piece of xuangui from the belt protects from deafness and calluses. Mathieu compares it to the Japanese water turtle Clemmys japonica.

It is unclear what, exactly, is strange about the river.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Caladrius

Variations: Charadrius, Caradrius, Caladres, Kladrius, Icterus, Galgulus, Stone-curlew

Caladrius

The Caladrius is a miraculous healing bird, believed to range from Europe to Jerusalem. It is generally believed to have originated from the stone-curlew, with other influences including seagulls, falcons, herons, ibises, owls, and any of a number of plovers (Charadriidae).

A caladrius is a waterbird the size of a hen or dove. It has immaculately white plumage, with a long neck, yellow eyes, beak, and legs, and rarely straight goat’s horns. Earlier accounts refer to it as being yellow, while others grant it reddish wings, spots, and a yellow-tinged dark color. It is an unclean bird and must not be eaten.

In its simplest form, the caladrius will cure jaundice by returning the stare of a patient who gazes intently at it. This connection to jaundice was inspired by the striking, staring yellow eyes of the stone-curlew. Its dung and the marrow of its thigh-bones will cure blindness.

A caladrius knows if a patient will live or die. It will look at someone who will be cured, and look away from someone doomed to die. Sometimes all it takes to be cured is touching the caladrius. The caladrius touches its beak to the patient’s mouth, taking disease and sickness into itself, and flies into the sky, where the sun burns the illness into oblivion.

This equates the pure and flawless caladrius with Christ, as it looks at and heals the faithful, granting them life, taking sins away in the process. The caladrius was iconographically represented in the role of a healer, sitting on the bedstead of a sick person and either looking to or away from the patient.

It was often kept in the court of kings for its curative powers. The sale of live caladrius was a potentially lucrative business, but merchants had to hide their specimens to avoid having people come in to see them and get cured for free.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. III. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Druce, G. C. (1912) The Caladrius and its Legend, Sculptured upon the Twelfth-Century Doorway of Alne Church, Yorkshire. Archaeological Journal, vol. 69, pp. 381-416.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Wright, T. (1845) The Archaeological Album. Chapman and Hall, London.