Falajitax

Variations: Leile, Leile, Liwo

Falajitax

The Falajitax snakes are both violent ogres and benevolent rain-bringers. The Makka of Paraguay believe that they come from humid areas and bring the water with them wherever they go. Most falajitax live in the Chaco forests.

A falajitax has a head like that of a rhea. When it rears up with its body out of sight, it looks exactly like a rhea, and fools many hunters into coming too close. It wears earrings. Its massive serpent body is beautifully colored with eye-catching stripes. But a falajitax need not stick to one form, as it can assume any appearance it wishes, including human and equine guises. A falajitax disguised as a horse can tempt people into riding it, galloping with them into a lake where they drown.

At best, the falajitax are intelligent creatures that can be reasoned with by shamans. Falajitax often protect sources of honey in the forest, and the shaman can placate them by singing and soothing them with a sort of balm. A group of Makka and their shaman were permitted to harvest honey, and the falajitax next guided them to their secret stores of honey. The snakes finally appeared in the shaman’s dreams, telling him that they would live in peace with the Makka.

The falajitax that chased a rhea-hunter was much less friendly. With its head raised, it would beckon him to approach, then lie down and roll up as he came closer. When he discovered the deception, he rode off at full speed, with the falajitax following close behind, jumping from branch to branch like a monkey. When the hunter reached a burned field, the falajitax stopped moving, for such places are unpleasant to the snake. The man returned with other villagers and killed the helpless falajitax, taking its beautiful skin, but after they hung it out to dry it started to rain. The torrential downpour stopped only after they had thrown the skin away.

At worst, the falajitax are little more than anthropophagous monsters. They often swallow people alive, but victims can escape by cutting out the serpent’s heart from within – a difficult proposition, considering that a falajitax has multiple decoy hearts around its neck, with the real heart located in its tail. It took two days for one hunter to find the falajitax’s heart and slay it; by then, his hair and clothes had been dissolved and his skin was decomposing. Fortunately for him, his wife’s magic comb restored him to health. But if the falajitax decides to kill first, then there is no escape. The snake constricts its prey to death and then introduces its tail in its victim’s anus, making it walk like a macabre puppet.

References

Arenas, P.; Braunstein, J. A.; Dell’Arciprete, A. C.; Larraya, F. P.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1991) Folk Literature of the Makka Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Yohualtepoztli

Variations: Yooaltepuztli, Youaltepoztli, Hacha Nocturna, Night Axe, Night Hatchet; Tooaltepuztli (Sahagun, typo)

Youaltepoztli

Thud. Thud. Thud. The Yohualtepoztli reveals its presence in the mountains of Mexico with a loud, intermittent sound, much like that of an axe being driven into wood. This is what earns it its name, from yohualli, “night”, and tepoztli, “axe” or “hatchet”. It is a spirit or phantasm associated with Tezcatlipoca, and it exists to torment nocturnal travelers.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The dull blows continue, and the traveler breaks out into a cold sweat. Fleeing seems like a good idea, but paradoxically they would be best advised to follow the noise to the yohualtepoztli itself. It manifests as a humanoid creature resembling a headless man. Instead of a head, the yohualtepoztli has a stump, like that of a felled tree. The chest cavity is open and hollow, the heart visible inside, and framed on both sides by what look like small hinged doors. The doors flap loosely as the yohualtepoztli moves, and their impact against each other causes the dull thuds.

Priests, warriors, and other fearless people should immediately grab the yohualtepoztli’s heart and hold it tight, threatening to tear it out. Then the creature can be asked for fame, glory, riches, strength, and other gifts. It will offer an agave thorn in return for its freedom, but it should not be released until three or four thorns have been gifted. In turn, those agave thorns guarantee the capture of as many prisoners of war – and therefore, of as much fame, glory, riches, and strength.

Holding onto a yohualtepoztli’s heart is a harrowing experience. Less brave people may immediately pull out the heart without bargaining and run home. If this happens, the heart should be wrapped up in cloth and left overnight. By morning, if the heart has transformed into agave thorns, bird down, or cotton, then it is a good omen. If coal or rags are left instead, then bad luck is sure to follow.

But for those cowards who fear the yohualtepoztli and dare not approach it, there are no rewards. They will flee in terror at the sound of the night hatchet, and misfortune will befall them.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Robelo, C. A. (1908) Diccionario de Mitologia Nahoa. Anales del Museo Nacional de México, t. V, Mexico.

Sahagun, B. (1829) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. II. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Huayramama

Huayramama

Huayramama, “Mother of the Wind”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She has no direct biological counterpart, but is believed to be an enormous boa with an old woman’s face and very long hair that tangles in the clouds – in comparison, her counterparts the Sachamama and the Yakumama are the boa constrictor and the anaconda, respectively.

The guardian of the air and the daughter of the red huayracaspi or “wind tree”, she is herself the mother of all the good and evil winds. Huayramama also grants power to deserving healers and shamans, giving them control over the weather.

Don Emilio Shuña was one such man. After fasting for nine days and drinking ayahuasca tea brewed from the huayracaspi, he was rewarded by the appearance of Huayramama, her long body billowing in the sky and her hair trailing behind her. She landed on his house and proclaimed “OK, man, here I am. What is it you wish?” “I want to control the wind, the rain, and anything from the sky”, said Don Emilio. Huayramama granted him his wish on condition he fasted for an additional forty-five days. At the end of that period of fasting, Don Emilio gained the magical powers he asked for, and was taught songs by the Huayramama herself. He could control weather, heal those afflicted by evil winds, return crops to life, and revitalize dying fisheries. When the Huayramama’s malevolent children tried to stir up trouble, he drove those winds under the trees through fasting, singing, drinking huayracaspi tea and blowing tobacco smoke. Huayramama would touch his head to strengthen him in times of need. He also used his powers for simpler blessings, such as preventing rain to allow local boys to play football in peace.

At the end of a long and charmed life, Don Emilio finally died. Perhaps it was rival sorcerers who murdered him, or perhaps the evil winds finally won. All who knew him wept. He was buried under the huayracaspi in the middle of the forest, for as he said, “that tree is my mother”.

References

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

Yakumama

Variations: Yakumaman, Yacumama, Yacumaman; Puragua; Anaconda

Yakumama

Yakumama, “Mother of the Waters”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She is the anaconda magnified and empowered, in the same way as the Sachamama is the boa constrictor. She appears as a gigantic anaconda with blue scales and eyes glowing like the headlights of a boat. Yakumama is the same creature known as Boíuna or Cobra Grande in Brazil.

The Yakumama can often be found resting on the banks of the river, her tail trailing away into the water. She is capable of entrancing prey into immobility with her gaze and drawing victims to her like a magnet. When happy, she blesses people with plentiful rain and abundant fish. When angry – which can happen for no discernible reason – she summons storms, fogs, and whirlpools in addition to putting her enormous bulk to destructive use. Sometimes Yakumama swallows all the fish and prevents fishermen from catching them, or flies into the sky and causes downpours that ruin crops. Offerings of food and aguardiente can placate her.

After years of work in the forest, a man decided to returnt to Iquitos. He set off down the Napo River on a large boat, bringing with him his family, servants, lumber, and livestock. Soon a storm broke, and he ignored warnings from native fishermen that Yakumama was around, only to get caught in a whirlpool. Prayer to God did nothing, but tossing food and aguardiente in calmed the whirlpool. But still the man pressed on, into a sticky, bluish fog that all other animals avoided. The storm raged until an enormous wave lifted the boat and lodged it in the branches of a capirona tree. Then they saw Yakumama rise from the river, water flowing off her glistening coils as yaras rode her back and laughed at the humans. Yakumama proceeded to gobble up the lumber, the livestock, the cargo raft, several trees, and an island before going back under. The man, his life’s work obliterated, limped back to the native village with his family. He was greeted warmly and offered food and a place by the fire, and there he was told of Yakumama the ever-changing.

The presence of outboard motors and large ships have driven Yakumama away. She is hardly seen nowadays.

References

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

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

von Tschudi, J. J.; Ross, T. trans. (1847) Travels in Peru during the Years 1838-1842. David Bogue, London.

Sachamama

Variations: Sach’amama, Sacha-mama, Sach’a-mama, Sacha Mama, Sach’a Mama; Boa constrictor

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”, Guarani); 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.