The single reference to the Makalala comes from an account written by Fischer, who attributes it to the Wasegua or Wasequa of Tanzania. These people live some 8-9 days’ journey inland from Zanzibar, with Fischer hearing of the makalala during a stay in Bagamojo and a visit to the Nguru Mountains. Fischer’s observations were summarized and repeated by Marschall under the title “Problematic bird”.
A makalala is an enormous bird, standing taller than an ostrich, with very long legs. Its head and beak are those of a bird of prey. Its wings end in plates of a compact, horny substance, which make a lot of noise when struck against each other – hence its name, which means “noisemaker”. It is a powerful flyer and feeds on carrion.
For all its size, a makalala is a very skittish, shy bird. The only way to come close enough to kill it is to feign death, and when the makalala approaches, the hunter can spring to life and knock it down.
Chiefs of the Wasegua wear makalala skulls as helmets. Fischer also saw in Zanzibar a baleen-like object tapering from 20 cm to 1.5 cm, and with a thickness of 0.5 cm, but did not believe at the time that it came from a bird.
Fischer, G. A. (1878) Briefliche Reiseberichte aus Ost-Afrika, III. Journal für Ornithologie, XXVI(6), pp. 268-297.
Marschall, C. (1879) Comptes-rendus zoologiques. Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris, 7(3), pp. 169-181.
The Leucrocotta, unlike its close relative the corocotta, was not treated with any degree of seriousness by the ancients. There is only one primary textually corrupt record of it in Classical writing, it was never brought to Rome to the wonderment of all, and there are no contemporary depictions of it in art. And yet, the unique description it was given ensured not only that it would thrive in medieval writing, but also that it and the corocotta would eventually be hopelessly confused.
The only source for the leucrocotta is Pliny, who locates it in Ethiopia. It is as big as a wild donkey and has the cloven-hooved legs of stag, which enable it to run swiftly. It has the neck, tail, and breast of a lion, the head of a badger with a mouth slit all the way to the ears, and a single block of bone for teeth. Like the corocotta, it imitates the human voice.
Elsewhere Pliny says that the leucrocotta is the offspring of a lioness and a hyena (or corocotta). It has very sharp eyesight, a single continuous tooth in each jaw, and no gums. The single teeth are kept sharp by constantly rubbing against each other, and are enclosed in a sort of sheath.
The name of the leucrocotta itself is probably an error. Holland indicates that the best manuscripts of Pliny use the term leucocrota, which was then corrupted to leucrocota and its variants. The original may have been some kind of antelope, but the modified name gave it its origin from a lion and a corocotta (leo and crocotta).
Pliny’s copyist Solinus places the leucrocotta in India. It is as big as a donkey, haunched like a stag, with the breast and legs of a lion, the head of a camel, cloven hooves, a mouth that extends all the way back to the ears, and a single round bone instead of teeth. Its voice is like that of a man. It is the swiftest of all beasts.
Perhaps due to its clearly defined and unusual iconography, the leucrocotta found new popularity in medieval bestiaries, to the extent that it eclipsed the corocotta. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary says the leucrota is Indian, and is donkey-sized with the head of a horse, a lion’s chest and legs, a stag’s hindquarters, and cloven hooves. Its mouth is from ear to ear, it has a single bone in each jaw instead of teeth, and it imitates human speech.
Albertus Magnus makes reference to both the “cyrocrothes” and the “leucrocotham”. The Ortus Sanitatis brings further single-toothed creatures in the form of the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.
Topsell’s crocuta is the same as the leucrocotta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.
Assuming the leucrocotta is a real animal, and stripping it of its confusion with the corocotta, its description evokes a large maned antelope. Ball suggests the nilgai as the origin of this chimera.
Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346
Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.
Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.
Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.
Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.
Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.
Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.
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.
Solinus, G. J. (1473) De Mirabilibus Mundi. N. Jenson, Venice.
Solinus, G. J.; Golding, A. trans. (1587) The Excellent and Pleasant Worke of Caius Julius Solinus. Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, Gainesville, Florida.
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.
Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.
The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.
An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.
The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.
To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.
Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.
Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.
boomer, is the source of mysterious booming sounds heard in the Canadian
mountains. His place of residence is unknown. Our knowledge of this creature
was related by the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. Igtuk was not specified to be
one of Anarqâq’s helping spirits, and he is probably hostile to humans.
resembles no other living thing. His arms and legs are on the back of his body,
while his single large eye is level with his arms, and his ears are in line
with his eye. His nose is inside his cavernous mouth, and there is a tuft of
thick hair on his chin. The booming for which he is known is produced when
Igtuk moves his jaws.
Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
Variations: Flying Purple People Eater, Purple People Eater
The One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater is a creature from North American folklore. The primary source for it comes from Wooley, who describes its activities from a purported first-hand encounter.
Unfortunately descriptions of the purple people eater are vague. It is evident that it is one-eyed, one-horned, and flying (presumably to distinguish it from the dreaded Three-Eyed Two-Horned Swimming Turquoise People Eater), and it may also be pigeon-toed and under-growed, but it is unclear whether the “purple” refers to its coloration or its diet. Equally unclear is whether or not it is a threat to humans. Wooley refers to the purple eater as feeding on purple people, but it also states that it would not eat Wooley due to his “toughness”. Unless Wooley himself is a purple person, it can be safely assumed that the purple people eater’s primary provender includes people and purple people alike. Furthermore, it is not improbable that a diet of high-pigment purple people would render the purple people eater purple itself; after all, flamingos dye themselves pink with shrimp, and the Four-Eyed Three-Horned Crawling Cobalt People Eater is a rich blue color owing to its primary diet of smurfs.
Either way, it is clearly some kind of trickster spirit, as, despite its proclivities for people-eating, it is capable of intelligent speech and desires to play in a rock and roll band. The vaunted horn (still collected to this day for traditional Chinese medicine – the unfortunate Five-Eyed Nineteen-Horned Plodding Orange People Eater was driven to extinction in this way) is actually hollow, and serves as an amplifier for its mellow trumpeting vocalizations. The purple people eater also likes short shorts, but it remains uncertain whether it is referring to its preferred clothing or – more worryingly – its choice in victims.
Poisson, A. (1994) Color me surprised: people eaters around the world. Bob’s Printers and Convenience Store, Topeka.
Wooley, S. F. (1958) The Purple People Eater. MGM, New York.
The Yamabiko, “mountain echo” or simply “echo” is heard rather than seen. It is found in the high mountains of Japan, and answers anyone shouting in the mountains with a mocking echo of their voice. While there is no definite version of its appearance, it was depicted by Toriyama Sekien as a rather simian creature.
Its name can also be interpreted as “spirit of valley reverberation”. It is not known if the yamabiko yokai was named for the echo, or if the echo was named for the yokai. The Yamabiko Shinkansen train, on the other hand, is named for the echo and not the yokai.
Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Every unexplained mechanical error, every mysteriously malfunctioning engine, defective wheel, gas leak, fuselage weakness, cockpit damage, and avionics glitch can be blamed on gremlins. These little machine fairies are the modern equivalent of the ancient dwarfs, but they destroy instead of build.
Etymologies for “gremlin” disagree, and are probably all apocryphal. One suggestion holds that it originates from the antiquated Old English gremian, “to vex”. This is related to the Irish Gaelic gruaimin, “grumpy little fellow”, which comes from gruaim, “gloom” or “ill-humor”. Another suggestion is a shortening of grinning goblin. The French grelon or “hailstone” indicates some meteorological confusion. Edwards adds the German gram or “worry” to the mix, from which the diminutive gramlein can be derived. Finally, Fremlins beer may have had a hand in inspiring gremlins.
Similarly there is no consensus on gremlin appearance, but it is generally assumed that they are small, six inches to a foot in height, and humanoid in appearance. They are skinny and nimble enough to move about through complex machinery. Known colors include green and blue-grey. Some have horns, others have pointed ears; webbed feet and suction cups have been suggested for yet others. Clothing is optional, including nudity, pilot gear, breeches and jackets, and even spats and top-hats. They eat treacle and honey, and drink fuel, sucking tanks dry.
Gremlins were first identified by R.A.F. pilots, especially on Maltese airfields in World War I, although there is evidence to suggest that they have been around longer than that. From there tales of the gremlins and their deeds spread throughout the piloting world, until they became a byword for any unexplained mechanical issues.
Gremlin activities range from juvenile pranks to outright destructive cruelty. They view all airplanes as an affront, and do whatever they can to ground them. Some gremlin subspecies specialized in specific forms of mischief. Mole-like Cavity gremlins dug holes in runways, Incisors teethed on wires, Jockeys guided birds into airplane windscreens, and Optics glowed over bomb sights.
While gremlins have faded from the aerial popularity they enjoyed during the war, the preponderance of technology in our modern world has only given them further targets to mess wgsgnslfgnsogdkfjgluiw4v8r93428RQVNWAELIVJWBKkjdhzseuwy5ycjdft3534bsrg5566fgdfgcbvgbc
Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.
Edwards, G. (1974) Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck. John Sherratt and Son, Altrincham.
Sometimes criminals face supernatural retribution for their crimes. In the Finistère region of Brittany, it is the victim that suffers instead. Crimes committed on board develop a life of their own and linger long after the guilty party has left the ship. Acts of greed summon evil spirits that populate the ship, bringing bad luck to the crew. In such cases humid straw must be burned to fumigate the ship. The demons can become small enough to hide in a thimble, so the smoke must reach every part of the ship. This must be performed before heading out to sea to avoid potential disaster.
In Audierne, committing a maritime theft actually guarantees good luck. The creature left behind is a Bosch, the physical manifestation of onboard theft. They have no clear appearance, and probably vary depending on the nature of the crime they embody. These wretched creatures come into existence after a theft occurs on a ship, and have a lifespan of a few months to a few years, at the end of which they weaken and disappear. During this time they hide in the bow of the ship and make life on board absolutely miserable. As long as a bosch is present, the nets will be empty, the wind will not blow, and bad luck will hound the crew.
Simply waiting for a bosch to die is therefore impractical. If a ship finds itself afflicted with a bosch, there are two ways to get rid of it. One is to steal an object from a “happy” ship, one whose crew is satisfied and whose catches are always plentiful. The ship should be moored near it, and during the following night the captain sneaks on board the other ship to steal some small object, usually a pair of oarlocks. The bosch will then go to other ship and become their problem.
If one does not wish to inflict the misery of a bosch on an innocent ship, the demon can be exorcised instead. The captain must steal a quantity of hay and hide it in the boat. At night he should set fire to the hay near the mizzenmast and yell “Devil on board!” The sailors, startled, will grab anything within reach and lash out randomly, beating every corner of the ship. Surrounded and beaten, faced with choking smoke and scorching flames, the terrified bosch dives into the sea.
van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.
Pilous are always heard and never seen. While their name suggests soft fur – pilou in its modern expression refers to a type of cotton – it actually refers to the men who pound apples into cider, using wooden pilons. Pilous walk with a regular, stomping tread, making a rhythmic sound like that of apples being mashed, and that is all anyone knows of them. Nevertheless, Dubois fancifully describes these lutins as resembling large garden dormice, and that is as good a description as any.
Pilous are native to the northwestern tip of France, specifically Brittany and Ile-et-Vilaine. They come out at night in the attic, in the rafters, in the walls, and start marching. They are not evil but mischievous, and delight in the noise they make. In Brittany, where they become Er-pilour-lann, they wield mallets with which they pound the walls of old houses.
Most encounters with them are about their disregard for human comfort. A farmhand once went into the barn to fetch some hay when the thumping begin, the din seemingly coming from everywhere. He called his uncle, who implored the pilous “Would you, please, stop your noise so I could get some hay for my mare?” They stopped, but the moment the uncle stepped into the barn they started up again, louder than ever.
Another time a group of men were in a barn when a pair of pilous started: one, two, one, two. “I’d like it better if there were three of you!” yelled one of the men, and sure enough a third pilou joined in. Other men started requesting more and more, and the number of pilous increased accordingly. The same stunt was later attempted by three bored young girls, but they requested too many, and soon the pilous were rattling their bed and knocking at their walls. The girls wisely went quiet, and the creatures eventually left.
Attempts to put pilous to use have failed. One miser left oakum fibers behind in the attic in hopes that the pilous would stomp them flat, but he returned in the morning to find the material shredded and scattered all over the attic.
d’Amézeuil, C. (1863) Récits Bretons. E. Dentu, Paris.
Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.
Orain, A. (1899) Le Monde des Ténèbres en Ile-et-Vilaine. Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée et d’Anjou, XXI, Paris.
Orain, A. (1901) Contes de L’Ile-et-Vilaine. J. Maisonneuve, Paris.
Le Rouzic, Z. (1924) Carnac: Légendes – Traditions – Coutumes et Contes du Pays. LaFolye Frères et Cie, Vannes.