An Ebigane, in the folklore of the Fang of Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, is an ambiguous monster that can be animal or human in form, or a mix of both. It commonly appears in legends and sagas sung by mvett players.
One such heroic tale, told by Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, tells of the hero Mefoumou Mba Foumou. When faced with a bridge made of twisted, knotted pythons, he pulled a mouse out of his satchel and spat on its head. The mouse grew in size, its ears spread out like the petals of an enormous flower, its head sprouted horns, its legs lengthened and its claws sharpened, while its great tail stretched out behind it. Now armed with sharp fangs and claws and great bat-like wings, it had become an ebigane, something like a cross between a bat, a buffalo, and a vampire.
Mefoumou Mba took a red paste crayon and drew a red mark on the ebigane’s head from the base of its skull to the tip of its nose. Then he directed its attention to the pythons. “There is enough meat there to feed you for at least two years. To work!”
The ebigane flapped its ears loudly, whinnied, and took heavily to the air, circling around like a bird of prey before diving on the bridge. It seized one python in its claws and teeth and, after overcoming its prey’s resistance, carried it off to Mount Bèghlé to devour at its leisure.
Ndong Ndoutoume, T. (1993) Le Mvett: L’homme, la mort et l’immortalité. L’Harmattan, Paris.
Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)
The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.
A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.
The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.
It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.
The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.
Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.
In Maltese, dajna refers to a fallow deer or an unkempt woman. It is also the name of a titanic primordial camel that lived on Malta before the Deluge.
A dajna or thunder camel had the head and neck of a camel but was ten times the size of an elephant. It could not fit into Noah’s Ark and went extinct as a result, but a population of these colossal camels survived in the netherworld.
Although a dajna is highly dangerous to human beings, the yellowish milk produced by the females is a remedy for baldness. Only heroes dare retrieve it.
Mifsud, S. D. (2017) The Maltese Bestiary. Merlin Publishers Ltd, Blata l-Bajda, Malta.
The Lomie is a beast found within the forests of Bohemia. It has a sac-like bladder under its neck. If pursued by hunters, it pauses at a nearby body of water to drink and fill up its neck-bladder. Then it runs, heating the water to boiling. When cornered by hunters and their dogs, it vomits the boiling water onto them, scalding them and making good its escape.
Heylyn merely refers to the water as boiling-hot. The Book of Marvels adds that the boiling water is incredibly toxic, causing incurable wounds and making skin and flesh slough off.
The name is derived from the Polish Lossie, the plural form of moose, while Los is singular. It is probably a typographical error on Heylyn’s part. Topsell lists Los and Lossie as synonyms for the elk or moose, and also ascribes the regurgitation of scalding water to the moose.
Heylyn, P. (1621) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. John Lichfield and James Short, Oxford.
Heylyn, P. (1636) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. William Turner, Oxford.
Heylyn, P. (1657) Cosmographie in Four Books. Henry Seile, London.
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.
Various. (1996) Les Merveilles du Monde. Editions Anthese, Arcueil.
The giant mouse Ugjuknarpak once lived on an island in the middle of a long, narrow lake near the source of the Colville River in Alaska. It was like a field mouse in appearance, but it had impenetrable skin. So thick and hard was its hide that even the largest harpoons, knives, and arrows could not penetrate it. It was also armed with a long, prehensile tail that it coiled around its prey.
The Inuit traveling to Nerleq to trade with the people of Point Barrow lived in constant fear of the Ugjuknarpak. If anyone made the slightest sound in the vicinity of the island, the giant mouse would pounce upon them, grabbing and capsizing the umiaqs with its long tail before biting the people to death and devouring them.
Trade slowed as the Ugjuknarpak continued its depredations. But it could not be avoided, as the people needed to go down the river to buy blubber on the coast, and return before the river froze in order to hunt caribou.
One day a man, fearing for his daughter’s life, decided to put her on an umiaq separate from the main fleet. This one had few people and fewer dogs and babies that might make sounds. He himself took one of the more crowded umiaqs – and his fear was realized. Along the way a dog snarled a little, and the Ugjuknarpak pricked up its ears and fell upon the boats. The girl, on the other hand, had passed ahead in safety. She never saw her parents and brothers again, and she knew that the giant mouse had killed them.
In time the girl was married and had a son of her own. As soon as he could understand, his mother told him “you are now a boy, and you will become a man, but you will never be strong enough to avenge your parents and uncles”. She did this knowing that, far from being discouraged, the boy would be goaded into slaying Ugjuknarpak.
The boy grew into a tall and powerful young man and took the name of Kugshavak, “Woodpecker”. He was soon joined by his brother Hagáneq, “Fellow”, a boy with hands like the flippers of a bearded seal. He too was motivated to avenge his fallen kin.
The brothers had adventures together and performed great feats, until the day came when they set out to slay Ugjuknarpak. They set out in the early morning and reached the island silently. Ugjuknarpak was just waking up and yawning, its jaws so big the brothers could see the dawn through them. Woodpecker paddled around the island in his umiaq while Fellow swam alongside him with the ease of a seal.
Ugjuknarpak soon noticed them and set off in pursuit. The brothers led it to a plain by the river. There they dodged its every lunge and bite while studying it, and finally noticed that its skin crinkled at one place on its neck. That must be its weak spot. Armed with flint knives on long spears, they stabbed the giant mouse as its fury redoubled. The brothers pressed their attack on the weakened, bleeding monster until at last it collapsed and died. The brothers found many broken knives and arrowheads in its skin, witnesses to Ugjuknarpak’s resilience.
The head was severed along the neck’s weak spot. It was taken to Ivnaq, a place on the river where all umiaqs could see it as they passed by. The head decayed, but it is still terrifying to see; it is the size of a walrus’s head, with long fangs and a long gristly nose like that of a field mouse. It lost none of the terror it once inspired. Those paddling by it speak in whispers and tie their dogs’ noses so they make no sound.
Ostermann, H.; Calvert, W. E. trans. (1952) The Alaskan Eskimos as Described in the Posthumous Notes of Dr. Knud Rasmussen. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
Uiluruyak is the Yupik word for the meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius). Hunters say it may be encountered on the sea-ice of Alaska. Nelson interprets the name as “wi’-lû-ghó-yûk” and describes it as a sea shrew.
When a uiluruyak sees someone, it darts at them with blinding speed, piercing through the sole of their boot and crawling all over their body underneath the clothes. If the victim stands perfectly still, the uiluruyak will leave by the same hole it entered; not only that, but those who have earned its approval in this way go on to become successful hunters.
If one should move even slightly while the uiluruyak is exploring, the rodent immediately burrows into its victim’s flesh, piercing their heart and killing them.
It is recommended that one stand perfectly quiet and still when seeing a mouse on the ice, just in case it is a uiluruyak.
Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Nelson, E. W. (1900) The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Extract from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington.
The Yin River and the Yangtze are home to large numbers of Hujiao, or tiger-dragons. A hujiao has the body of a fish with the tail of a snake, and makes a sound like a mandarin duck. It is probably the same as the cuo-fish, whose young hide in their mother’s womb, and the tiger-cuo, which has black and yellow patterns, the ears, eyes, and teeth of a tiger, and is capable of turning into a tiger. All of those are probably sharks.
Eating hujiao flesh prevents hemorrhoids.
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.
Variations: Cac na’alka hi, Bear that Pursues, Tracking Bear
The fearsome Sasnalkáhi, the Bear that Pursues, was a monstrous bear that terrorized the Navajo people. As one of the Anaye, Sasnalkáhi was born from unnatural sexual practices; in this case, his “fathers” were a smooth stone and a leg sinew. He lived in a cross-shaped mountain cave at Tse’bahástsit, the “Rock that Frightens”. Once Sasnalkáhi set on a hunt, his prey had no hope of escape.
When Nayenezgani set out to slay Sasnalkáhi, he carried yucca fruit in his left hand and hard oak twigs in his right hand. Those medicinal plants warded off Sasnalkáhi’s attentions.
Eventually Nayenezgani found the bear’s head emerging from a hole. He inspected the east, south, and west entrances; when he got to the north, Sasnalkáhi’s head immediately withdrew, and the bear headed for the south entrance. This time Nayenezgani was waiting for him, and when Sasnalkáhi stuck his head out, Nayenezgani decapitated him.
“You were a bad thing in life”, proclaimed Nayenezgani to the head. “You caused nothing but mischief. But now I will make you useful to the people; you will feed them, clean them, and clothe them in the future”. Sasnalkáhi’s head was chopped into three pieces. One piece was thrown east, where it became tsási (Yucca baccata). One piece was thrown west, becoming tsásitsoz (Yucca angustifolia). The last piece was thrown south, to become nóta (mescal). The nipples became pinyon nuts, while two pieces of fat cut from around the tail became a bear and a porcupine. The left forepaw, gall, and windpipe were taken as trophies.
Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.
Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.
Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.
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.
Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.
Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
According to Pliny, the Lagopus (“hare foot”) or ptarmigan is so named because its feet are covered with hair like those of a hare’s foot. It is the size of a pigeon and white all over. While delicious to eat, the lagopus cannot be tamed or kept outside of its native land, and it putrefies rapidly when killed.
Thomas de Cantimpré misreads the allusion to the native ground of the lagopus, and instead deduces that the lagopus does not eat in the open air. Having made that conclusion, it is only logical that it must carry its food into a cave to eat it. Albertus Magnus makes the further logical deduction that the lagopus cannot fly well.
Although only the feet are described as hare-like, depictions show it with a hare’s head as well. It is often shown standing in front of a cave.
Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.
de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.
Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.
Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.
Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.
Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.
Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.