Sachamama

Variations: Sach’amama, Sacha-mama, Sach’a-mama, Sacha Mama, Sach’a Mama

Sachamama

Sachamama, “Mother of the Forest”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She is the mythological boa constrictor, in the same way as the Yakumama is the anaconda. Sachamama is about forty meters long and two meters wide, with an iguana-like head and scales like stone plates. There is a bulldozer-like blade under her neck. Trees, bushes, vines, fungi, and all sorts of living things grow on her back, such that she never moves unless provoked.

Not that Sachamama needs to move. She has magnetic or hypnotic powers capable of drawing to her any animal that passes in front of her head. The animals living on her also have those magnetic powers. She can also cause storms, rain, and lightning, inducing fevers and headaches in anyone foolish enough to intrude in her domain. Illnesses caused by the Sachamama require shamanistic intervention to cure, usually involving chants and lots of tobacco smoke.

The plants growing on Sachamama’s back are unique – a veritable pharmacopoeia of medicinal herbs that would save countless lives if the Sachamama allowed it. There is boa huasca, a liana with healing resin. Lluasca huasca is another vine whose phlegm-like resin heals facial blemishes. Puma huasca and puma sanango are vines whose cooked stem and cooked root (respectively) cure sorcery and evil spells, and whose spirits are jaguars. Zorrapilla or shabumpilla is a herb that heals cuts and injuries. The lluvia caspi (“rain tree”), rayo caspi (“lightning tree”), or trueno caspi (“thunder tree”) is an enormous tree whose bark, cooked and eaten, grants the ability to create and quell storms.

Most encounters wth the Sachamama occurred during the rubber boom in Peru, when many rubber harvesters found themselves entering the snake’s domain. A man and his wife collecting rubber once sat by the trunk of what seemed to be a huge fallen tree. When they cut into it with their machetes, it bled; when they built a fire, the trees shook, and a torrential downpour extinguished the fire. Next day the “fallen tree” had vanished. In its spot was a wide road. The man consulted a shaman who told him what he was dealing with. “The Sachamama lives in one place but she has moved. She doesn’t like trespassers”. Despite the shaman and his wife’s advice, the man decided to follow the road and find Sachamama. He came upon the tree trunk in a meadow, in the midst of human and animal bones, and at the end of the meadow was a cave where mesmerized animals were congregating. The “trunk” was Sachamama’s tail, and the “cave” her mouth! He cut through the trance with his machete and ran for his life.

References

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

Montes, F.; Harrison, K. trans.; in Posey, D. A. (ed.) (1999) Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London.

Stiglich, G. (1913) Geografia Comentada del Peru. Casa Editoria Sanmarti, Lima.

Carbunclo

Variations: Carbunco, Carbúnculo; Añapitan, Agnapitan; Inuyucoy (Pira); Oñánge-píta (“Devil”, Guaranani); Carbuncle, Glow Beast (English)

Carbunclo

Carbunclo (Spanish) and carbuncle (English) are both derived from the Latin carbunculus, “little coal”. This has been used historically to refer to the garnet and the ruby, medically to a type of abscess, and teratologically to a glowing South American creature associated with riches.

Sightings of the carbunclo come from the southernmost countries – Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. Multiple accounts of its appearance are given, and it may vary from area to area. A carbunclo has a shining mirror on its head, like a glowing coal, from which it gets its name. The creature itself produces a bright bluish-white glow from its body, easily distinguishable from wood fires and visible from over a league away. A carbunclo is larger than a mouse, perhaps cat-sized, and has a segmented body shaped like a small corn cob. The light is produced from within and shines out through junctures in the body segments. A bivalved shell resembling a rock is present. If an enemy is detected, the shell clamps shut, extinguishing the light and camouflaging the creature as an ordinary stone. Father Narciso y Barcel wrote in 1791 that the “lid” is covered in exquisite plumage, and there are beautiful spots on its breast. Carbunclos are also capable of leaping and running swiftly. Eulogio Rojas, observing a carbunclo from one meter away in 1879, noted more than four legs. In Chiloé carbunclos guard treasure and are cat-sized quadrupeds with glowing beards on their chins.

Carbunclos move about at night like enormous glow-worms in search of food and water. They have keen senses and are quick to escape or close their shells at the slightest sound. During the drought of 1925, flashing lights were seen descending the hill of Tulahuén to the valley of the Rio Grande; this was interpreted as a family of carbunclos desperate for water.

These glowing creatures have long been sought by miners and prospectors, as they are believed to hold untold riches within their bodies. Nobody as yet has succeeded in capturing one. Martin del Barco Centenera hunted the carbunclo in vain, and said that whoever could obtain the creature’s stone would be assured joy and fortune. By virtue of their excellent camouflage, sharp hearing, and impenetrable habitat, the carbunclos have kept their secrets, and no amount of careful searching has shed further light on them.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Centenera, M. B. (1836) La Argentina o la Conquista del Rio de la Plata. Imprenta del Estado, Buenos Aires.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Oviedo, G. F. (1852) Historia General y Natural de las Indias, v. II: 1. Imprenta de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid.

Southey, R. (1812) Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, v. II.  Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster Row, London.

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.

Rahara

Variations: The Beast

rahara

Deep, permanent lagoons in Brazil and Venezuela are home to the Rahara. According to the Yanomami, this aquatic monster once lived in a large lagoon called Akrawa. Since then the rahara has moved upstream in the Orinoco, finding suitable lagoons to inhabit, or enlarging small lagoons to better fit inside. A rahara lagoon never dries out and can be recognized by observing the shore – there are tracks leading in, but none leading out.

The rahara is the uncle of the anaconda, and grows to greater sizes. It may or may not have feet. Its serpentine body is like a rotten pawpaw tree or a manioc strainer. It is capable of drawing people towards it and swallowing them whole. A rahara will be attracted to fire as it is sure to find a meal there; it will also rush out of its submarine hole to swallow anyone foolish enough to say its name out loud, so it is usually referred to as “the beast”. When in a good mood, raharas make a snapping sound and alert others to their presence. Silence is dangerous.

Raharas have pets in the form of hoatzins and curassows, which roost above the waterholes to entice hunters.  Snakes are also associated with the raharas. One talking boa constrictor turned into a live baby rahara after being shot dead by a hunter. It was kept as a pet in a water-filled palm spathe until it grew big enough to devour its entire adopted village. Finally, the raharas are responsible for floods, tsunamis, and other water-based disasters.

It is advisable to avoid known rahara haunts, and refrain from drinking, bathing, or fishing in those waters. A messenger once ignored those warnings and bathed in such a pond, and was immediately swallowed by a rahara. He called out “Help! Over here!” from inside the creature’s belly, and men arrived from the village with bamboo lances. They began running the rahara – and its prey – through. “Stop! You’re hurting me!” he screamed from inside, but they ignored him until both he and the rahara were dead.

Presumably the man was not well-liked.

References

Albert, B.; Becher, H.; Borgman, D. M.; Cocco, L.; Colchester, M. E. M.; Finkers, J.; Knobloch, F.; Lizot, J.; and Wilbert, J.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1990) Folk Literature of the Yanomami Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Lizot, J.; Simon, E. trans. (1985) Tales of the Yanomami. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Eloko

Variations: Biloko (plural)

eloko

The Biloko of the Congo are vile, cannibalistic dwarfs or trolls of Nkundo folklore. They make their homes inside hollow trees, and they smell of the Congo’s rainforest. An Eloko has grass for a beard, clothes made of  leaves, and usually carries a bell, which is used to attract and bewitch unsuspecting humans. Despite their size, biloko are far stronger than the average human, and only heroes and sorcerers can defeat them.

Biloko represent the dangers of the forest, of going out alone, and of toying with danger. They are invoked to dissuade people from straying both physically and mentally, and warn husbands of the dangers of abandoning their wives. They may also represent various gangrenous diseases, as they slowly eat their victim away, eventually killing them by ending with the liver, where the spirit resides.

A Nkundo man once built a fenced-in hut in the forest to find game. Whenever the husband left for the village, he would warn his wife. “Remember, if you hear the sound of a little bell, don’t answer or you will die!” Yet as the monotonous hours went by, the wife found herself entranced by the ringing of a bell deep in the forest, coming closer and closer. Finally she ran outside calling to the eloko. “I’m here! Come to me!” she cried, and the eloko duly appeared. “Here I am, I have come to you”, he announced. The wife was overjoyed and prepared a meal for her guest, but the eloko refused the fried bananas and fish. “I only eat human meat, and I am so hungry…” he wheedled. “You are a delicious woman. Give me a piece of flesh”. The woman willingly proffered her arm, and the eloko took a portion of meat, which he roasted and devoured. Then he left, leaving the woman to bandage her wound in silence.

When her husband returned, he saw his wife bedridden and in pain. “I have sores”, she said. “Then take the bandage off, and have some medicine for it”. She refused, and would not explain further. But the next day the same gruesome episode repeated itself – the husband left, the wife entertained the eloko, and the eloko left the wife with another deep injury.

This time the husband did not believe his wife’s excuses, and decided to lie in wait instead of returning to the village. When the eloko returned that day, he pulled out a knife told the woman that this time he desired her liver. The husband immediately fired an arrow into the dwarf, then ran him through with his spear and decapitated him. But the eloko had already stabbed the wife in the liver, and she died. Those who love danger will die in it; or, those who play with fire will get burnt.

Other encounters with biloko treat them more as an enemy tribe than as forest bogeys. Likinda, Itonde, and Lianja, the grandsons of the spirit of Death Ilelangonda, went to war with the biloko, and tricked them into an ambush by scattering mbole-fruits on the path. They slaughtered all the biloko this way save for the wizard Inkankanga and his wife. Likinda caught up with them by turning himself into a baby, causing Inkankanga’s wife to pick him up and care for him. Then he climbed up a tree to throw fruits down to his adopted parents, but instead he transformed himself into a fruit and allowed Inkankanga to swallow him. The terrified eloko sorcerer killed his wife for being the cause of his impending doom, and then spent the rest of the day imploring Likinda not to kill him. Finally he fell into depressed acceptance, and the bored Likinda cut him up from the inside out. He returned to the village, where his story was celebrated with peals of laughter.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

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

Indombe

indombe

Indombe is fire, Indombe is life, Indombe is motherhood, Indombe is a slave to the power of death. She is an enormous copper snake over three feet wide, and several miles in length, and she makes her home in the trees of the Congo. Her cupreous body glows red with internal heat; she is immeasurably old, associated with the sun and the sunset in particular. Her tale is mysterious and metaphorical, and her ancestry is probably Semitic.

Itonde, hero and creator figure of the Congo, had been sent on a bizarre errand. His sister-in-law was pregnant, and she had developed a craving for snakes, so Itonde and his brother Lofale went into the forest to find them. There they saw Indombe coiled in a tree, shining bright as the sun. “Great Indombe”, said Itonde, “come down and let us talk together”. As Indombe refused to leave her perch, Itonde started chanting: “Indombe of the Bakongo, come down so I may carry you!” The giant snake was furious. “How dare you try to bewitch me?” she roared, causing her flames to flare and illuminate the entire forest. She then put her red-hot head on Itonde’s shoulder, severely burning him and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately for Itonde he was the owner of a magic bell, and he rang it, immediately recovering from his injuries. He did not want Indombe to gain the advantage of nightfall, so he captured the sun itself. Indombe next tried to constrict him, but Itonde kept ringing his bell, causing him to grow taller and stronger while the snake weakened.

It was in this state that Itonde triumphantly carried Indombe back to his village. He set her down outside the entrance of the village, and Indombe immediately coiled around the village and swallowed every last man, woman, and child. “You monster!” cried Itonde. “I’ll kill you, cut you up, and eat you!” Itonde produced his enchanted machete, and Indombe, seeing her death approaching, warned the hero. “If you kill me, eat me all today; you will not survive if you leave a single piece”. She was then promptly decapitated, cut into slices, and fried in oil. Itonde ate every piece, but left the inedible head, putting it under his bed.

Next morning, he awake to the horrifying discovery that Indombe was still there – but was now a ghost! “I told you eat all of me” she explained, “so now I return as a spirit, to aid you and show you a good place to live”. The spectral copper snake led Itonde to her village, a beautiful, disease-free location for future generations. Itonde then found out that Lofale was dead, killed by Indombe; but he could not avenge himself on a ghost, so he sought out a man in the forest. His quarry tried to hide by transforming into the first sugar-cane, but Itonde found and killed him as an expiatory sacrifice, discovering sugar-cane in the process.

“This village shall be yours because you are a strong fighter”, said Indombe. “Your name shall now be Ilelangonda. Farewell to you all”. With that the ghostly snake coiled up, jumped into the river, and disappeared.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Okpe

okpe

Okpe is a massive, quadrupedal ogre from Argentinian and Chilean Tehuelche folklore. He looks like a pig made of impregnable solid rock, without soft spots or weaknesses. Okpe preys on children, luring them with braised meat before carrying them off in a device on his back. Children captured by Okpe are taken into the jungle and devoured. Attempts to thwart his actions fail, as he is impervious to conventional weaponry.

Once Okpe abducted an older child, who had the presence of mind to hold onto an overhead branch and escape his captor. While Okpe sought his victim and screamed for him to return, the child ran back to his village. There a mare was butchered – as the Tehuelche do in emergencies – and its skin was stretched out on the ground. When Okpe trundled through in pursuit of the boy, he slipped on the stretched hide and fell so heavily that his stony armor rattled! Okpe started to cry in defeat, crying so hard that his tears caused a flood that went up as high as his teeth. He never bothered the Tehuelche again.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.