Cuero

Variations: Hide, Skin; Manta; Huecú, Chueiquehuecu, Chueiquehuecuvu, Trelque, Trelquehuecufe, Trelquehuecuvu, Trilkehuecufe; Ghyryvilu (erroneously?); El Cuero (erroneously)

Cuero

The tale of the living cow-hide is widespread throughout the lakes of Chile. Originally a type of huecuve, a Mapuche evil spirit responsible for all sorts of ills, it has since assimilated into local folklore and been attributed to animals such as the octopus and ray. Sometimes the creature is merely a physical manifestation of the huecuve, which can then go on to possess people or animals and inflict them with consumption.

The Mapuche term for this creature is Trelquehuecuve, “skin huecuve”. In Spanish-speaking contexts it is known as Cuero, “Hide” or “Skin”, or Manta, “Mantle” or “Cloak”. Molina describes it as a variant of the ghyryvilu or fox-snake, another aquatic terror.

A cuero is a creature that looks like a cowhide, sheepskin, or goatskin, stretched out flat and laid on the surface of the water. It is usually white with black or brown spots, or brilliant yellow and white. The edges of the cuero are armed with hooked claws. The cueros of Butaro laguna, Atacama, resemble living fabric with suckers; they are also the souls of the damned. In central Chile the cuero is an octopus that resembles a cowhide with numberless eyes and with four enormous eyes in its head. Laguna Copín, Aconcagua, is home to a furry, flat creature fond of human flesh.

Anything that enters the water is engulfed and squeezed in the cuero’s folds, and dragged under to have its blood sucked out. After feeding the cuero will release its drained prey and find itself a solitary beach on which to stretch out, bask, and digest peacefully. Unexplained drownings are the work of a cuero. In Ovalle and Coquimbo the goatskin cueros couple with cows and sire deformed offspring.

Cueros can be killed by tossing branches of quisco cactus (Cereus or Echinocactus) into the water. The creature will attempt to seize the cactus, injure itself, and bleed to death. The heroic youth Ñanco successfully confronted a cuero by holding quisco in his hands and tying quisco branches to his legs

The motif of the living hide extends to other beings and motifs. Another Chilean folktale tells of a magical cow that told its master Joaquin to kill and skin it. The resultant cowhide was alive in its own fashion and served Joaquin as a boat, and the cow’s eyes in his pocket granted him the power to see through anything. At the end of his adventures, the skin, bones, eyes, and other remains of the cow were collected for burning, but the moment the last hair of the cow touched the pile, the cow was brought back to life, plump and healthy, and walked off to the farm as though nothing had happened.

References

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

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

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

Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Latcham, R. E. (1924) La organización social y la creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Molina, M.; Jaramillo, R. trans. (1987) Ensayo sobre la Historia Natural de Chile. Ediciones Maule, Santiago de Chile.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Lakúma

Variations: Lucooma

lakuma

According to the Yamana, the Lakúma are the most dangerous sea creatures of Tierra del Fuego. These water spirits have been known to tip canoes over, pull their occupants out, and drag them under to consume, leaving their entrails to float to the surface. They can also create huge waves, summon whirlpools, and whip up storms to damage larger vessels.

Lakúma have been compared to whales, squids, and giant worms, making their exact appearance hard to pin down. What is known is that they like to flatten themselves out on the water’s surface, letting their back protrude like a small island. Their broad and flat backs are covered with encrustations of unusually large mussels.

Sometimes there are so many lakúma in one spot that they can be used as stepping-stones. A group of Yamana on a desert island saw countless wide, flat lakúma rise to the surface, forming a living bridge to a bountiful island. “If we run quickly, we’ll get to the other side!” said one man, running over the backs of the lakúma and reaching the other shore. But the others were too slow, and the lakúma dove, taking them to a watery grave. The one survivor recruited enough men to slay many lakúma in retaliation, and their bodies can still be seen today in the form of large, flat stones at the bottom of the sea.

Lakúma will also attack people breaking taboos. It is known that a menstruating girl or túrikipa should not eat berries, but one girl thought she could circumvent the rule by sucking out the juices and spitting the solid outer part. Alas, her canoe was attacked by a lakúma, and it refused the offerings tossed at it until it took the girl and devoured her. It then flattened itself out on the surface and rested. The túrikipa’s people went onto the lakúma’s back, took some of the mussels, and used their sharp shells to dismember the lakúma. But that was small comfort for the túrikipa, whose entrails served as a grisly reminder of her fate.

For all their malevolence, lakúma can be tamed by a powerful yékamuš or shaman, and can become obedient servants. One yékamuš was with his wife in their canoe while she scolded him. “I thought you were a powerful yékamuš, but you can’t even strand a whale, or fetch birds to eat!” In response the yékamuš slept and summoned two lakúma, who raised the canoe’s bow up in the air. “Wake up! Help me!” cried his wife, and the yékamuš stirred and spoke nonchalantly. “I thought you said I was powerless”, he taunted, before telling her to paint the lakúma with white paint. She did as she was told, and the lakúma did not resist. Then they dove and created a good breeze to send the canoe effortlessly to its destination. “I had always made fun of you”, admitted the wife, “but now I know you are truly a capable yékamuš!”

References

Gusinde, M.; Schütze, F. trans. (1961) The Yamana; the life and thought of the water nomads of Cape Horn. Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

Gusinde, M.; Wilbert, J. ed. (1977) Folk Literature of the Yamana Indians. University of California Press, University of California, Los Angeles.

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

Variations: Butatsch-ah-ilgs (erroneously, apparently a typo in Rose’s encyclopedia)

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

The Lüschersee, a small Swiss alpine lake nestled in the heather-covered hills of Graubünden, seems tranquil enough on the surface. Yet it is said that the lake’s waters reach down to the center of the Earth, where eternal fires rage. This is the home of the Butatsch Cun Ilgs, the “Cow’s Stomach”.

Long ago, during a more feudal time, the shepherds of Graubünden were in a constant struggle for freedom from the cruel barons and lords of the land. Their masters were prone to treating them unjustly, and even harming them for sport. A group of noblemen once returned from an ibex hunt to find herds of cattle and sheep grazing peacefully by the Lüschersee. Naturally they decided to kill them. With loud whoops and peals of laughter, they drove the animals before them, hacking at them with their swords and forcing them into the lake to drown. The peasants could only watch as the lords mocked them.

It was then that the water started to foam and bubble, and the Butatsch cun ilgs heaved itself onto the shore. It had the appearance of an enormous cow’s stomach, and was covered with thousands of eyes. The eyes had hypnotic powers, and if they focused on one point, bone-melting flames would erupt.

Mesmerized by the Butatsch cun ilgs, the lords stood dumbly as the enormous mass trampled and crushed them. Butatsch cun ilgs slipped back into the water after killing them all, leaving the shepherds terrified but unharmed.

Since then Butatsch cun ilgs has only reappeared twice, in 100-year intervals. The second time it came out of the Lüschersee, it gouged the rapids of the Nolla along its path. The third time was during a terrifying thunderstorm, when the monster of the Lüschersee slithered through a rivulet, tearing out the banks, causing massive landslides, and creating ravines.

After this last appearance – the starmentusa notg or “Night of Terror” – the Butatsch cun ilgs was not seen again. Yet sometimes a distant, unearthly bellowing can be heard over the still waters of the lake… “The Lüschersee roars”, say the shepherds, and bring the hay in.

References

Burde-Schneidewind, G. (1977) Historische Volkssagen Aus Dem 13. Bis 19. Jahrhundert. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin.

Derichsweiler, W. Das Safiental. In Schweizer Alpenclub (1919) Jahrbuch das Schweizer Alpenclub. Stämpfl & Co., Bern.

Jecklin, D. (1874) Volksthümliches aus Graubünden. Orell Füssli & Co., Zürich.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Sarmatian Sea Snail

Variations: Sarmatian Snail, Limaçon de la Mer Sarmatique, Philosmon (Greek, potentially), Aknib (Turkish, potentially), Albakr (Tartar, potentially), Lucrab (Arabic, potentially), Cochlea Sarmatica

Sarmatian Sea Snail

Anyone wishing to make a book on monstrous fishes should head to the Sarmatian Sea, exhorts Thevet. There, in what is now known as the Baltic Sea, may be found enough nightmares to satisfy the most avid teratologist.

One of these is an enormous snail, the size of a barrel. It has antlers like those of a stag, equipped with gleaming, pearl-like tips. It has a rounded cat-like snout with whiskers, and glowing eyes that light its path like candles. Its mouth is deeply slit, and a hideous fleshy excrescence dangles below it. Its neck is thick, and its tail is long, multicolored, and mottled like a tiger’s. Unlike most other snails, it has four feet armed with hooked claws.

While amphibious, the giant snail is usually out in the open sea, and is rarely seen on the coast due to its wariness.  During good weather it will crawl up onto the beach to graze. Its flesh is tasty and good to eat, and helps against liver and lung problems, much like the meat of large Madagascan turtles cures leprosy.

Thevet reports the Sarmatian Sea snail from Denmark, and mentions having seen similar creatures in the Black Sea, where they are known as Philosmon by the Greeks, Aknib by the Turks, Albakr by the Tartars, and Lucrab by the Arabs. These may well be the same animal.

Linnaeus cautiously included the Sarmatian Sea snail as Cochlea Sarmatica in a footnote, admitting that “fabulosa est“.

It is most likely that this giant snail was born of confusion between the shells of turtles and the shells of snails. Thevet was also working with a number of notes taken at different times, and it does not seem implausible that he muddled them together to create chimeras. Turtles were long seen as bizarre creatures, and the Ortus Sanitatis represents them as snails with legs, making them the basis for the giant snail. Further confusion with seals led to the whiskers and large eyes, and the antlers were provided by branching fungi. For all we know, none of these were from the Baltic Sea.

References

Linnaeus, C. (1759) Animalium Specierum. Theodor Haak, Leiden.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Vallot, M. (1834) Mémoire sur le Limacon de la Mer Sarmatique. Mémoires de L’Académie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-Lettres de Dijon, Partie des Sciences, Frantin, Dijon.