Lukwata

Variations: Lokwata, Luquata; Balukwata (pl.)

Victoria Nyanza is home to the Lukwata. The deeds and misdeeds of this great sea-serpent are told on both sides of the lake, from Uganda to the Kavirondo (Winam) Gulf in Kenya. The lukwata is commonly lumped with the dingonek, but the lukwata’s pedigree is far older. Lukwata is also the name of a Baganda clay charm which, when hidden in the king’s house, presents theft in the village, but this seems unrelated.

The lukwata has been around from time immemorial and makes occasional appearances. It is a huge and terrifying lake demon, a serpent, a cetacean, or perhaps a giant fish. It is associated with whirlpools in the lake. Ja-Luo fishermen have tales of the lukwata attacking their canoes. The Baganda, Kavirondo, and Wasoga of the north shore of lake Nyanza used to sacrifice livestock to it. The lukwata’s disappearance coincided with the sleeping-sickness epidemic, and it was believed that the muzungu (foreigners) caused the disease by killing the lukwata, thus bringing its wrath upon the people.

W. Grant, Provincial Commissioner of Jinja, saw a lukwata swimming down the Napoleon Gulf; its head was out of the water but it was too far to make out its features. Clement Hill of the Foreign Office had a far closer encounter when a lukwata off Homa Mountain tried unsuccessfully to seize a man on the bow of Hill’s ship. He saw a lizard-like head, roundish and dark-colored, on a four-foot-long neck attached to a large, rounded mass that formed the body. Some sort of tail seemed to be trailing behind.

E. G. Wayland, head of the Geological Survey of Uganda, claimed to have heard the lukwata’s distant bellowing. He was shown pieces of lukwata bone, and was told that the lukwata fought epic battles with crocodiles. Pieces of skin lost in those struggles were used for potent amulets.

The most complete account of a lukwata’s appearance is recorded by H. Bell, who shot one on the western border of Uganda near the Semliki River and Lake Albert. The creature, which was identified as a small lukwata by a native boy, was deemed to resemble Hill’s serpent. It had a snakelike head, a neck several inches long, a tail a few inches long, and flippers like a sea turtle’s. Instead of a hard shell, the lukwata had a thick, soft, rubbery carapace. Bell believed that the lukwata – evidently an odd species of turtle – would, at the surface, give the impression of a bulky, long-necked animal.

Balukwata are not particularly smart. A Baganda folktale tells of the friendship between a lukwata and a monkey. It came to pass that the King of the balukwata took ill, and his wizard told him to eat the heart of a monkey as a cure. The King offered great rewards to any of the balukwata who would bring him the heart of a monkey. So the lukwata went to the home of his friend the monkey and hailed him. “How are you? You should come visit me, my wife and sons want to see you”. “But I cannot swim”, said the monkey. “I’ll carry you on my back”, said the lukwata, and they were off. Halfway across the lake, the lukwata, having a crisis of conscience, decided to tell the monkey the truth. “I’m really sorry, but our King is sick and needs your heart”. The monkey thought fast. “You silly thing”, he told the lukwata, “I don’t have my heart with me. I leave it behind so I can jump through the trees. Take me back and I’ll fetch my heart from the branch where I left it”. Of course, the unsuspecting lukwata swam back, and the monkey escaped to safety in the trees – but not before mocking his erstwhile friend’s intelligence.

References

Bell, H. (1948) Witches & Fishes. Edward Arnold & Co., London.

Bronson, E. B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.

Cunningham, J. F. (1905) Uganda and its peoples. Hutchinson & Co., London.

Hattersley, C. W. (1900) An English Boy’s Life and Adventures in Uganda. The Religious Tract Society, London.

Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.

Hobley, C. W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts. The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp. 48-52.

Johnston, H. (1902) The Uganda Protectorate. Hutchinson & Co., London.

Pilkington, G. L. (1911) A Hand-book of Luganda. Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London.

Dingonek

The Dingonek is a creature that lives in the Maggori River in Kenya, as well as in Lake Nyanza. Our primary source for the dingonek comes from big-game hunter John Alfred Jordan, as recorded by Edgar Beecher Bronson. As a tale told by one big-game hunter to another, there is no reason to believe there was any embellishment or exaggeration involved.

Legends of aquatic monsters predate Jordan’s account, but they describe a generic large water python. Clement Hill claimed to have seen one in Lake Nyanza that attempted to seize a man on the prow of his boat. It had a dark, roundish head.

The dingonek as described by Jordan is a cross between a sea serpent, a leopard, and a whale. It is fourteen or fifteen feet long. Its head is similar in shape and markings to that of a leopard, but is the size of a lioness’ head. There are two long white fangs protruding downwards from the upper jaw. The back is broad like that of a hippo, patterned and colored like a leopard, and “scaled like an armadillo”. The tail, used for aquatic propulsion, is broad and finned. When ashore, the dingonek leaves behind prints as wide as a hippo’s but with reptilian claw-marks.

A .303 shot behind the ear had no effect on the dingonek. It reared straight up out of the water, and Jordan ran for his life. The dingonek was not seen again.

Hobley tells of another man who swears he saw a dingonek. When the Mara River was in flood, the eyewitness said he saw a creature floating down the river on a big log. It had its tail in the water, but its length was estimated to be sixteen feet. It had scales, spots like a leopard, and a head like an otter, but no long fangs. When shot at, it slipped into the water and disappeared. Apart from the (surely inaccurate) length given, this is a good account of a Nile monitor lizard.

Finally, rock art from a cave in Brakfontein Ridge, South Africa, has been claimed to depict a walrus-like dingonek, but the location is far from the dingonek’s habitat, and the association is arbitrary.

Heuvelmans initially believed the dingonek to be an odd species of prehistoric crocodile. Later he revised this to create an aquatic saber-toothed cat whose wet fur clumped and gave the appearance of scales.

As armadillos are New World animals, modern reconstructions have assumed the armadillo “scales” to be those of a pangolin instead. Other recent additions include a single horn and a stinger tail, neither of which have any basis.

References

Bronson, E. B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.

Bryant, A. T. (1948) The Zulu People. Shuter and Shooter, Pietermaritzburg.

Conway, J.; Kosemen, C. M.; and Naish, D. (2013) Cryptozoologicon Vol. I. Irregular Books.

Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.

Hobley, C. W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts. The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp. 48-52.

Oswald, F. (1915) Alone in the Sleeping-Sickness Country. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.

Stow, G. W. and Bleek, D. F. (1930) Rock-paintings in South Africa. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London.

Chemosit

Chemosit

Chemosit is a demonic bogey that prowls the lands of the Nandi in Kenya. Half man, half bird, Chemosit stands on a single leg and has nine buttocks. Its mouth is red and shines brightly at night like a lamp. A spear-like stick serves as a means of propulsion and as a crutch.

People are Chemosit’s food, but it loves the flesh of children above all else. At night it sings a song near places where children live, its mouth glowing in the darkness. Unwary children seeing the light and hearing the song believe it to be a dance. They head out into the night to find the party and are never seen again.

References

Hollis, A. C. (1909) The Nandi, their Language and Folk-lore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.