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.

Garkain

Garkain is a spirit found living alone in the tropical forests of Arnhem Land near the Liverpool River’s mouth. Human in appearance, he possesses great flaps of skin on his arms and legs, like wings or fins, that allow him to fly.

During the day Garkain sleeps under a pile of leaves. By night he attacks any intruders into his domain by flying up and falling onto them, enveloping them in a flurry of arms and legs, the folds of his skin suffocating them. They are eaten red raw – Garkain never learned how to make fire, use tools, and cook food.

References

Allan, T.; Fleming, F.; and Kerrigan, M. (1999) Journeys through Dreamtime. Time-Life Books BV, Amsterdam.

Butor, M.; Spencer, M. trans. (1981) Letters from the Antipodes. Ohio University Press.

Roberts, A. R. and Mountford, C. P. (1971) The First Sunrise. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.

Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent” or “Plumed Serpent” is one of the most iconic deities of the Mesoamerican pantheon. Sahagun also records a far more mundane creature by the same name.

The quetzalcoatl is found in the province of Totonacapan (Guatemala) and is the size of a medium water-snake. It is covered with feathers just like those of the quetzal bird. There are tzinitzcan, small light green feathers, on its neck, red feathers on its breast, and blue feathers on the tail and rings (coils?).

This snake is rarely seen, and when it does it flies and bites the person seeing it. Its bite is deadly and kills instantly, killing both it and its victim, for it exhales its venom and its life in one go.

References

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

Sahagun, B.; Jourdanet, D. and Siméon, R. trans. (1880) Histoire Générale des Choses de la Nouvelle-Espagne. G. Masson, Paris.

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.

Chipekwe

Variations: Chimpekwe

Melland gives chipekwe as referring to a one-tusked elephant in the Kaonde language of Zambia. This is probably irrelevant.

The Chipekwe is a massive, allegedly reptilian, pachyderm-slaying creature found around and in Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. Most encounters consist of unrecognizable spoors, or the noise of some large animal splashing through the water.

A chipekwe has a hairless, smooth, dark body and a single smooth horn, white as polished ivory. Chipekwes do not take well to humans invading their territory. Canoes are destroyed and their occupants are killed. Hippos fare no better – the chipekwe kills them by tearing their throats out. At least one chipekwe is known to have been slain in the Luapula, brought down by the same large harpoons used for hippo hunting.

All of the above could very well be exaggerated references to one-tusked elephants. This is probably relevant.

References

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

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.

Songòmby

Variations: Songomby, Songaomby, Tsiombiomby, Tsongomby, Bibiaombe; Brech, Brek (probably); Habeby, Fotsiandre (probably); Mangarsahoc (probably); Tòkantòngotra, Tòkandìa. Tokatomboka (probably)

Songomby

The Songòmby is an unusual carnivorous animal from the folklore of Madagascar. The name may be derived from sònga, “having the upper lip turned upwards”, and òmby, “ox” according to Sibree. The word songòmby is taken to mean “lion-hearted” or “courageous”. Another name, bibiaombe , means “ox-animal”. Molet offers two derivations for songòmby:  from the Swahili songo ngomby, “snake ox”, or a corruption of the alternative name tsiombiomby (“looks like an ox”). Domenichini-Ramiaramanana gives a popular etymology as derived from the question many ask when seeing it: Sangoa omby re izany? (“Isn’t that just an ox?”), and a more serious one from songo and omby where songo refers to virgin land allowed to go wild; in this case, the reference is to a feral ox.

Consistent across the descriptions is that the songòmby is the size of an ox or a horse, exceedingly fast, burdened with floppy ears, and a man-eater. It looks something like a horse, a mule, or an ox. It has flaring nostrils and terrible incisors. Its prominent ears dangle over its eyes and can distract it at crucial moments.

Gabriel Ferrand says it has the body of an ox and a hornless horse’s head. It lives in forests and eats plants, insects, and humans. Its speed is beyond compare – a distant songòmby can reach its prey immediately. If its human prey tries to escape by climbing a tree, it will wait at the base of the tree and try to bring the human down by ruse. If that fails it directs a jet of urine at its prey. The victim loses their grip, falls, and is devoured by the songòmby.

R. P. Callet says the songòmby looks like a donkey with spots. It eats grass but if it sees people it chases them. It comes out at night to graze. When climbing mountains they are fast as horses, but when they go down they move slowly because their ears flop over their eyes.

Domenichini-Ramiaramanana describes the songòmby as white in color, very fast, like both a horse and an ox, and with a single horn. It sprinkles itchy hair (lay) from its nostrils. If its prey tries to escape by climbing a tree, the itchiness brought on by the lay will make the victim try to scratch itself, falling out of the tree. Thus, if climbing a tree to avoid a songomby, one must be sure to tie oneself to the branches with lianas. The creature is patient though and will wait till morning at the foot of the tree.

In northern Madagascar the songòmby is like the donkey or the mouflon. It has tufts of hair at its feet. It may have backswept horns or no horns at all. Its hooves are so hard they strike sparks from the ground. Most unusually of all, “it is only seen in profile and looking behind it”. This final clue suggests to Molet that the songòmby evolved from the decorative ch’i-lin on Chinese plates, which is often depicted in profile and looking backwards. The people of Madagascar would have seen those on Chinese plates brought by Arab traders – a trade which was stopped by the Portuguese, leaving the origin of the songòmby to distant history.

To catch a songòmby, a child is tied up in front of the songòmby’s den while a net is put over the entrance. The child’s crying attracts the songòmby, which is snared in the net. Worse than that, children were punished by putting them outside and telling them the songòmby would eat them. But this was not without its risks. A child was once put outside, and the parents called out “Here’s your share, Mr. Songòmby!” As luck would have it, a songòmby was passing by. “Oh, he really is here!” cried the child, but the parents ignored him, replying “Let him eat you!” thinking the child was mistaken. After a while they opened the door to find their child was gone. They followed the trail of blood all the way to the entrance of the songòmby’s cave.

Fortunately the songòmby is not invincible. A man going out by night once met a songòmby, but as he was strong and brave, fought it all night without being hurt. The hero Imbahitrila once defeated a songòmby by arming himself with two magical eggs from the angavola bird. They answered his wish to overcome the songòmby by causing it to trip and fall. Once on the ground the songòmby was easily slain by Imbatrihila’s spear.

The Tòkantòngotra or Tòkandìa (“single-hoof”) is very similar to the songòmby. It is white in color, large (but smaller than the songòmby). Its feet are single hooves, like those of a horse (but not one foot in front and one in the back, as some authors have interpreted). Like the songòmby, it is very fast, travels by night, and is a man-eater.

Flacourt describes an animal called the Mangarsahoc. It is a large beast with a horse’s round hooves and long dangling ears. When it comes down from the mountains, the ears cover its eyes and impair its vision. It brays like a donkey – and, indeed, Flacourt decides that it must be some kind of wild donkey. A mountain 20 leagues from Fort Dauphin is named Mangarsahoc after the animal. Flacourt also mentions an animal called the Brech or Brek, about the size of a goat kid and with a single horn on its forehead. It is very wild in nature. Flacourt determines that “it must be a unicorn”. Both of those seem close enough to the songòmby to be worth mentioning.

The Habeby or Fotsiandre (“white sheep”) looks like a white sheep with long, dangling ears, staring eyes, and short wool. Reclusive and shy, it is not carnivorous, but the description once again recalls the songòmby.

When the horse was first brought to Madagascar, it was believed to be a songòmby (it was eventually saddled with the name soavaly, derived from the French cheval).

References

Domenichini-Ramiaramanana, B. (1983) Du ohabolana au hainteny: langue, littérature et politique à Madagascar. Karthala, Paris.

de Flacourt, E. (1661) Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Francois Clouzier, Paris.

Molet, L. (1974) Origine Chinoise Possible de Quelques Animaux Fantastiques de Madagascar. Journal de la Soc. des Africanistes, XLIV(2), pp. 123-138.

Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.

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.

Markupo

Variations: Macupo, Marcupo

Markupo

The Markupo is a serpent known to the Hiligaynon of the Philippines. It lives in the highest mountains of the historical province of Bulgas, between Marapara and Canlaon.

In appearance the markupo is a huge snake with a distinctive red crest. Its long tongue has thornlike hairs. It has sharp tusks and a forked tail.

The markupo sings sonorously on clear days. Its exhaled poison is instantly lethal to the touch. If sprinkled on plants, this poison withers the plant, kills any birds that land on it, and kills any beast touched by its shadow.

References

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Tompondrano

Variations: Tòmpondràno, Tompon-drano, Tompoudrano

Tompondrano final

Tompondrano, “lord of the water” or “master of the water”, applies to multiple concepts within the folklore of Madagascar. For our purposes, it refers to at least two types of water snake – one which was commonly encountered in day-to-day life, and an undefined marine monster. Whales, sharks, and crocodiles are also known as tompondrano; the Sakalava proverb “the amby never leaves the master of the water” apparently refers to the pilotfish. The alternative spelling of tompoudrano is phonetically identical to tompondrano in French.

The tompondrano is a water-snake blessed by the Vazimba, a mythical ancient race that lived in the center of Madagascar. For this reason it is respected as a sacred animal. It should not be killed, and dead tompondranos are wrapped in red silk in the same way as human corpses. Tompondranos are good swimmers, often seen crossing ponds and rivers in the forest, but they are not notably large (the largest snake in Madagascar, the akoma or Madagascar ground boa, is some 2.7 meters long).

A very different tompondrano was seen by G. Petit in 1926, on the night a cyclone was announced. He describes seeing bright and fleeting lights produced intermittently every few seconds, something like a much weaker signal beacon of a ship. They were emitted by a large aquatic body rolling on its axis and leaving an indefinitely long phosphorescent trail behind it. Petit was later told by Vezo informants that he had seen a tompondrano a creature 20 to 25 meters long, large and flattened, with hard plates on its body and a tail like that of a shrimp. It is the tompondrano’s head that is luminous. Its mouth is ventrally located, and the creature turns itself upside down to attack targets on the surface. There is a retractable fleshy hood that protects the eyes. It is either legless or has appendages like those of whales. To ward off its unwelcome attentions, an axe and a silver ring are suspended at the bows of boats.

References

Birkeli, E. (1924) Folklore Sakalava. Bulletin de l’Academie Malgache, IV, pp. 185-417.

Jourdran, E. (1903) Les Ophidiens de Madagascar. A. Michalon, Paris.

Romanovsky, V.; Francis-Boeuf, C.; and Bourcart, J. (1953) La Mer. Larousse, Paris.

Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.