Devouring Gourd

Variations: Devouring Pumpkin; Sala Fruit (possibly)

Swallowing Gourd final

Not all swallowing monsters are animals. In Bantu folklore, gourds and pumpkins have the potential to grow into vast, devouring creatures. Such plants usually grow where evil sorcerers or ogres were slain.

The devouring gourd of Usambara was discovered by a group of little boys at play. “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” said one of the boys. To their surprise, the gourd responded. “If you pluck me, I’ll pluck you!” it said. The boys ran home and told their mother, who refused to believe them. But their sisters insisted on seeing the large gourd, and when they were taken to it, they said as their brothers had, “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” This time the gourd did not respond, and the girls went home to complain about their brothers being liars.

As the gourd was not plucked, it continued to grow. Eventually it became the size of a house, uprooted itself, and went about swallowing everyone in the village. After consuming everyone within reach, it rolled into a lake.

Only one woman had survived the gourd’s rampage, and she was pregnant. When her son was born, they lived together in the ruins of the village. When the son got around to asking where his father was, his mother told him “He was swallowed by a gourd, which is now in the lake”. The son decided to avenge his father, and went out to the lake where he could see the gourd’s ears sticking out of the water, and he proceeded to taunt the vegetable. “Gourd, come out!” he yelled. “Gourd, come out!” Annoyed and enraged, the gourd hauled itself out of the lake, but the boy was ready for it, and fired a volley of arrows into it. The tenth arrow killed it, and it died with a roar that could be heard all the way to Vuga. The boy cut it open with a knife, released the villagers unharmed, and went on to become a great leader of his people.

Gourds are not the only plants that devour and kill people. Another carnivorous plant, a pumpkin, grew over the burial location of an evil shapeshifting porcupine. It repeated everything that was said to it, and when an axe was brought to destroy it, it proceeded to swallow everyone. The poisonous Sala fruits of the Ronga have arms and legs, and wield spears ands shields.

References

Knappert, J. (1977) Bantu myths and other tales. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

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

Danghu

Variations: Danghu-bird

Danghu

Upper-Shen Mountain or Shangshen is a rugged, rocky peak with no vegetation on it, but there are hazelnut groves at its base. There, Danghu birds can be seen flying from branch to branch. A danghu looks like a pheasant, but it flies using its hypertrophied whiskers and throat feathers. Consuming a danghu protects from and cures myopia. Guo Pu extolled the virtues of the danghu, using it as a metaphor for the economical mindset of Daoism as it makes do with what it has.

Mathieu suggests that this bird is the masked Japanese grosbeak (Eophona personata), which is nonetheless unwhiskered and unpheasantlike.

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.

Dodo

Variations: Kadindi, Kaddodi, Kadda, Swallower-of-Men

Dodo

The Dodo is a monstrous humanoid creature from the folklore of the Hausa people. He can be found lurking in the deep forests and swamps of sub-Saharan West Africa, with a range including Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Côte d’Ivoire. The dodo has nothing in common with the extinct flightless bird of the same name, and probably was derived from tales of giant snakes.

Not much is known about a dodo’s appearance. He – for the dodo is always male – is the King of Beasts, and can just as easily be the lion, the python, the elephant, or the rhinoceros. A dodo is humanoid in appearance and large in size, as he has to stoop to get through doors. He has long, shaggy black hair. He has a keen sense of smell, and can detect meat from far away. He has some degree of magic powers, but cannot cross running water (paradoxically, dodos also live in ponds and streams). Most importantly, the dodo has a vast mouth glowing red from the inside, a seemingly infinite stomach capacity, and a taste for human flesh. As one of the African “swallowing monsters”, a dodo can easily engulf an entire village.

A dodo is often a self-invited guest, eating more and more until there is nothing left. This is not always a bad thing. Once a miser and his son were preparing to butcher a freshly-slaughtered ox in the forest, far from prying eyes. They decided to cook it in a nearby fire – a fire which turned out to be a dodo’s glowing, cavernous mouth.

“Well well”, said the dodo. “Who has invited me?” The miser, hoping to placate him, said “I did!” and gave him a leg of beef, which the dodo put away in his bag. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” said the dodo. In response, the miser gave him another leg. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” The next two legs followed, then half the bull, then the remainder of the bull. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” “But there is nothing left!” protested the man. “You are also meat”, came the response. Terrified, the miser shoved his son forward, and the dodo tossed him into his bag. Finally, he grabbed the miser himself. “What about you?” he said, throwing him into his bag as well. The dodo went to collect firewood, but in the meantime the father and son managed to cut their way out of the bag and made their escape. The dodo returned, shrugged, and got a meal of roast beef. The miser vowed he would never be greedy again, and devoted the rest of his life to sharing his food and wealth with others.

While dodos readily eat meat, they are also fond of taking human women as their wives, sometimes fathering repulsive half-dodo children with them. Dodos like to strike bargains with prospective spouses, promising to help them for the price of marriage; sometimes those “bargains” are more straightforward, consisting of “Would you like me to eat you or marry you?” Such unions are never happy, and the wife will always try to escape her captor.

One dodo story tells of a young woman, pregnant with her first child, drawing water from a stream. Another woman, jealous of her companion and looking to get her scolded, threw dirt in her pot before leaving. But as the pregnant woman tried to carry her water pot, a dodo came out of the water and helped her with her load. Before she could protest, he stated “If you give birth to a boy, he will be my friend. If your child is a girl, she will be my wife”. And with that, he disappeared back into the water.

The mother soon gave birth, and her jealous rival was prompt to report the news to the dodo. “She gave birth to a girl”, she announced, and the dodo was immensely pleased. He was content to wait over the years, until the girl had become a woman as beautiful as her mother. On the day of the girl’s wedding, the jealous woman once more reported the news to the dodo, and he decided to show up uninvited.

“Kadindi has arrived”, he boomed, as everyone stared at him. “I have come to collect the payment I am due”. The daughter was obviously unhappy about marrying the monster, so instead her father gave the dodo a horse, part of the bride’s dowry. “Here is the payment for your debt”, he said, and the dodo swallowed the horse. But that was not enough. Next he ate all of the cattle, all of the wedding feast, all of the guests, and finally the father and mother. There was only the daughter left, and in desperation she prayed to the heavens. “Dodo has come to demand payment”, she implored. In response to her prayer, a knife fell out of the sky, and it was promptly swallowed as well – killing the dodo, cutting open his belly, and causing all the livestock, food, guests, and parents to come out unharmed. The wedding went on as planned.

References

Tremearne, A. J. N. (1913) Hausa Superstitions and Customs. J. Bale and Sons and Danielsson, Ltd., London.

Davalpa

Variations: Devalpa, Dawal-bay, Himantopus, Himantopode, Sciratae, Shaikh al-Bahr, Old Man of the Sea, Tasma-pair, Nasnas (erroneously)

Davalpa

“Would you be so kind as to carry me across the river?” The Davalpa, or “strap-leg”, looks up at you as he begs in a wheedling voice. It’s hard to deny the old man this one favor. He’s hunched, frail, and withered, dressed in rags which cover his entire body. It can’t hurt to help him, and you easily lift him up onto your shoulders. It is then that his legs appear – long, leathery straps that burst out of his clothes and wrap themselves around your neck. You find yourself barely able to breathe, staggering under your charge’s weight, all while the davalpa cackles and whips you, ordering you to move where he wishes. You’re his prisoner now, and will remain so until your death.

That is how davalpas catch their victims. Their legs, while 3 meters long and powerful, do not let them move around normally, and so they use unwilling humans as their mounts. Sometimes they have multiple long snakelike legs that erupt out of their belly, and a tail they use to whip their mounts. Sometimes they constrict their victims to death, a merciful fate compared to the slavery they impose.

Davalpas can be found in the Iranian deserts and on uncharted islands in the Indian Ocean, where they sit by the side of the road and wait for potential rides to show up. The most famous davalpa was the Old Man of the Sea, which Sindbad the Sailor met on his fifth voyage. The Old Man successfully enslaved Sindbad, forcing him to do his bidding, but Sindbad managed to escape the creature’s clutches by fermenting grape juice and offering it to him. After getting drunk, the Old Man’s grip loosened and he fell off; Sindbad smashed his head with a rock.

Sindbad’s adventure with the Old Man of the Sea is almost an exact copy of previous accounts. Al-Qazwini locates the davalpas on Saksar Island, which they share with the cynocephali. A sailor tells the story of how a strange person wrapped his legs around his neck and enslaved him, forcing him to pick fruits. He escaped by fermenting grapes and inebriating the davalpa; the experience left him with scars on his face.

Al-Jahiz refers to the creature as dawal-bay in Arabic. As with the Waq-waq, he believes it to be a cross between plants and animals.

Oddly enough, the davalpa is not of Persian origin. The earliest mention of davalpas is from Alexander’s Romance, where they are called the “savage Himantopodes” and share their land with Cynocephali, Blemmyes, Troglodytes, and other strange races. Himantopus means “strap foot”, and is currently in use today for the black-winged stilt, a shorebird with long slender legs. Pliny specifies that those strap-foots are incapable of walking, and get around by crawling; later he describes the snub-nosed, bandy-legged Sciratae, which seem to be one and the same.

One possibility is that the davalpa was inspired by apes, which can cling tightly and whose shorter legs might be less apparent at first glance. More intriguingly, Tornesello suggests that the various monstrous races of Hellenic myth arose from recollections of foreign soldiers during the Greco-Persian wars. The Sagartians in Xerxes’ army rode horses and used twisted leather lariats to entangle and kill enemies. The parallels with them and the davalpas include the leather-strap weapon, its use in strangling people, and the apparent incapability of walking (the Sagartians were always on horseback). Sagartioi can also be seen as the linguistic ancestor of Skiratoi.

Thus the davalpa concluded its journey. Inspired by Greek distortions of Persian warriors, it found its way back to Persia where it had lost all of its previous subtext and gained entirely new meaning. Today modern Iranian satirists and cartoonists have used the davalpa to represent greedy, parasitic institutions – especially helpful if those institutions disapprove of direct criticism.

References

Browne, E. G. (1893) A Year Amongst the Persians. Adam and Charles Black, London.

Christensen, A. (1941) Essai sur la Démonologie Iranienne. Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

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.

Al-Jahiz, A. (1966) Kitab al-Hayawan. Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladihi, Egypt.

Marashi, M. (1994) Persian Studies in North America. Iranbooks, Bethesda.

Masse, H. (1954) Persian Beliefs and Customs. Behavior Science Translations, Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

Al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

Ricks, T. M. (1984) Critical Perspectives on Modern Persian Literature. Three Continents Press, Washington D. C.

Tornesello, N. L. (2002) From Reality to Legend: Historical Sources of Hellenistic and Islamic Teratology. Studia Iranica 31, p. 163-192.

Duphon

Duphon

Eagle-owls are impressive animals. As the largest owls, they are top predators in their environments, even feeding on other birds of prey. Their size and eerie calls have ensured them a place in the folklore of many cultures.

It should then be unsurprising that the eagle-owl has been reinterpreted as a supernatural creature. The Duphon can be found in the Hautes-Alpes region of France, where it braids horse manes, pinches young women, and causes mischief and mayhem. The town of Serres preserves a duphon lair in the form of a stone door and ruined ramparts, known as the Trou du Duphon (“The Duphon’s Hole”).

References

van Gennep, A. (1948) Le folklore des Hautes-Alpes, Tome II. J. P. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

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.

Ladoucette, J. C. F. (1848) Histoire, topographie, antiquités, usages, dialectes des Hautes-Alpes. Gide et Cie, Paris.

Davy Jones

Variations: David Jones

Davy Jones final

Where there is the sea, there will be Davy Jones. He is the demon of the ocean, the proprietor of Davy Jones’ Locker where all drowned sailors go. Originally from British tales, he has since been expanding his influence across the ocean; as long as sailors fear the deep, this “blackguard hell’s baby” will continue to exist.

There is no limit to the shapes Davy Jones can appear in. He is the whale, the shark, the whirlpool, the giant squid, the hurricane, all the fears of sailors. He has been described with huge saucer eyes, triple rows of teeth, a tail, and horns, with blue smoke pouring from his nostrils. When the sailors of the Cachalot landed an enormous, barnacle-crusted bull sperm whale with a twisted lower jaw, some of them declared they had killed Davy Jones himself.

Davy Jones rules over the lesser demons and spirits of the sea, and they do his bidding. He can be seen in various forms on the rigging of doomed ships, gleefully announcing their impending destruction. All who die at sea and sink to the bottom of the ocean – Davy Jones’ Locker – are his.

The first literary appearance of Davy Jones was in Defoe’s Four Years Voyages, as a passing remark. The origin of the name is unknown. One unlikely possibility is a corruption of Duffy Jonah, the ghost (Duppy) of the Biblical Jonah associated with storms at sea. Another possibility is that he was based on a real person. There was a sailor, mutineer, and eventual pirate by the name of David Jones in the early 1600s, and the Locker may have been expression he was fond of. Unfortunately there is no fully convincing explanation for the origin and etymology of Davy Jones.

References

Bullen, F. T. (1906) The Cruise of the Cachalot. MacMillan and Co., London.

Defoe, D. (1726) The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts. A. Bettesworth, London.

Smith, A. The Perils of the Sea: Fish, Flesh, and Fiend. In Davidson, H. E. and Chaudhri, A. (2001) Supernatural Enemies. Carolina Academic Press, Durham.

Smollett, T. (1882) The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Dijiang

Variations: Ti-chiang

Dijiang

The divine bird known as Dijiang, the “Thearch Long River”, was like a yellow sack with an aura of cinnabar; Borges, calling it the Ti-chiang, described it as bright red. It had six legs and four wings, but no eyes or facial features of any kind, living in a perpetual state of confusion. It was also fond of singing and dancing.

This “state of confusion” led to the association of Dijiang with Hundun, a being of cosmic chaos. The undifferentiated Hundun had no eyes, ears, mouth, or orifices of any sort, and died when his guests tried to drill openings in his body.

Dijiang’s description can be found in the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas, where it is located in the Celestial Mountain along with large quantities of metal and jade. Borges attributes it to the T’ai Kuang Chi.

The four wings and six legs, as well as the lack of apparent head, suggest a magnified insect of some sort.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

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.