Kusa Kap

The tale of Kusa Kap is told on the islands of Dauan and Mabuiag in the Torres Strait. The primary difference is the setting of the events and the name of the fisherman – Maiwasa in Mabuiag, Kaudab in Dauan. Of the two, the Dauan account is more detailed and is the primary source here.

Kaudab was a successful and handsome young dugong hunter from Dauan. He was recently married to Bakar, a woman so beautiful she was expected to never leave the house. But he had also attracted the attention of Giz. Giz was a dogai, a cunning female spirit with long ears and the ability to shapeshift. Giz would spend long hours desiring the beautiful red-headed man for herself, and she was so jealous that she wouldn’t leave him out of her sight. Giz could not tolerate Bakar’s existence.

One day, as Bakar was looking for octopus, Giz dove into a rockpool and turned herself into an octopus. Bakar had never seen an octopus before, and she leaned over the pool to try to grab it, only for Giz to grab her in her tentacles and pull her underwater. Bakar knew immediately that this was no ordinary octopus, but a dogai in disguise, and screamed to Kaudab for help – but alas, he was too far away to hear her.

This was only the beginning of Giz’s revenge. She pulled Bakar through Apangabia-taian, the tunnel beneath the sea, and took her to the island of Kusar, near New Guinea. There she abandoned the young bride before returning to Kaudab’s home and transforming into Bakar herself. When Kaudab came home, Giz tried to prepare food for him, but she did not know how to do so, burning her fingers on the coals, cackling wildly, and breaking wind crudely with every movement. Thus Kaudab knew his wife had been replaced by a dogai.

Bakar, meanwhile, was alone on a deserted island. There was nothing to eat beside kusa seeds (kapul). She became pregnant as a result, and eventually laid an egg like that of a sea-eagle’s. It hatched into a baby eagle that she cared for with as much love as if it had been a human child. She named the bird Kusa Kap after the kusa seeds that had conceived him.

With Bakar’s care Kusa Kap grew quickly. His first attempts to fly were clumsy, but soon his wings were strong enough to carry him to the tops of trees. In time he was strong enough to fly to Daudai and bring back coal, string, bark, and a bamboo knife, which Bakar used to get a fire going so she could start cooking food.

The next day Kusa Kap saw a dugong for the first time. He seized it in his talons and carried it off for Bakar to cook. In time he was capturing many dugong, sending the surplus to Pösipas.

Finally Bakar told her son to go to Dauan, and gave him directions to find Kaudab’s house. He informed him of Bakar’s plight by responding to his questions with nods, and directed Kaudab to Bakar’s island by alighting on the mast of his canoe and guiding him. Before long Bakar and Kaudab were joyfully reunited again.

The only thing left was Giz, and Kusa Kap swooped onto her and carried her off in his talons. After torturing her at length by dropping and recapturing her, he let go of her far away from Dauan. She plunged into the sea and turned to stone, becoming Dogail Malu, the dogai sea.

There is a final twist to the tale of Kusa Kap. In the account of New Guinea given by d’Albertis, he is informed by his traveling companions of a gigantic bird, some 16 to 22 feet in wingspan, whose wings make a noise like a steam engine. It lives around the Mai Kusa river. He adds that the natives have seen it carry dugongs into the air. He rejects the claims and later shoots a red-necked hornbill, which is a large bird that makes a strange noise in flight; he succeeded in convincing two or three of his companions that this was, in fact, the bird in question.

Either way, despite Kusa Kap being described as an eagle, Haddon identifies the red-necked hornbill as the origin of the Kusa Kap legend on the basis of its dugong-snatching activities.

References

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. I. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. II. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

Haddon, A. C. (1904) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, v. V: Sociology, Magic, and Religion of the Western Islanders. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and Legends of Torres Strait. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.

Pairío

The Kúbání-kikáva reef in Papua New Guinea is home to Pairío, an enormous catfish. She attacks anyone who dares approach the reef by raising up her back, which is armed with spines that can rip a canoe in half. If people see a spine sticking out of the water, they know to change course as fast as possible. Sometimes Pairío will chase after those canoes, one of her spines pointing at the vessel, and the crew have to paddle for their lives.

Pairío herself was not always a catfish. She was once a malignant female spirit known to the islanders as a dógai-órobo, something like the híwai-abére of mainland Papua New Guinea. Her home was on Márukára Island. One day she was attacked by a cloud of butterflies which she could not shoo away; they settled on her thickly until she was completely covered. In desperation she threw herself into the water, where she transformed into a catfish. The butterflies clinging to her soaked through, their wings became hard and spiny, and they turned into stonefishes and catfishes as brightly colored as any butterfly.

References

Landtman, G. (1917) The Folk-tales of the Kiwai Papuans. Acta Societatis Scientiarium Fennicae, t. XLVII, Helsingfors.

Landtman, G. (1927) The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea. MacMillan and Co. Limited, London.

Amixsak

According to Spencer, the term amixsak refers to any skin covering, such as the covering of an umiak or kayak. A modern Yupik dictionary gives amiq as meaning “skin” and amirkaq as a sealskin ready for use; the latter may be a more correct term.

When hunting a walrus, it is traditional to butcher the carcass on the ice and take as much as possible back home. If any amount of meat and skin has to be abandoned, the carcass must be given fresh water to drink and the skin must be dissected. If the skin is left behind on the ice, it will sink and become an amixsak, a vengeful monster. An amixsak will come up under an umiak, reach its flippers over the gunwales, and pull the boat under.

Removing the skin covering the flippers on a carcass prevents this danger.

References

Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Spencer, R. F. (1959) The North Alaskan Eskimo; a study in ecology and society. United States Government Printing Office, Washington.

Itqiirpak

Variations: Fireball

The Itqiirpak or Fireball is a creature from Alaskan Yupik folklore, notably from the Scammon Bay area. It appears as a crimson fireball flickering in the West over the sea, or, more alarmingly, as a big hand from the ocean with a mouth on each fingertip and a single large mouth in the palm of the hand.

An itqiirpak is a bad omen. It appears before terrible disasters, or it disposes of troublemakers directly.

A male itqiirpak was said to have burned through the entrance of a qasgiq (men’s house) and killed bad-mannered children there. It caught the children and dragged them out to eat them; all that could be heard was the crunching of their bones as the itqiirpak devoured them. When the men returned they saw the itqiirpak jumping up and down on the ice, looking like a fire. The monster was then slain by the men who left a swinging blade-trap for it. The female-hand remained at large and appeared whenever people were to die.

More modern itqiirpak stories tell of the fireball appearing before tragedies in the community, such as the drowning of two children in the Kun River in 2007. Simon saw the itqiirpak as a metaphor for tragedy and a cultural explanation for inexplicable tragedy.

References

Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Simon, K. A. The Meaning and Use of Narratives in a Central Yup’ik Community: The Scammon Bay ‘Fireball Story’. In Daveluy, M.; Lévesque, F.; and Ferguson, J. (eds.) (2011) Humanizing Security in the Arctic. CCI Press, Edmonton.

Bjarndýrakóngur

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.

 References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Uiluruyak

Variations: Wi’-lû-ghó-yûk, Sea Shrew-mouse, Sea Shrew

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.

References

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.

Lusca

Variations: Giant Scuttle, Him of the Hands

Off the shores of Andros Island in the Bahamas are the blue holes. These are deep submarine caves that appear as dark “holes” in the sea. Local lore claims that they are bottomless, and while it may be safe to sail over them, diving is perilous. The Lusca embodies the terror of these dark places and personifies their dangerous currents. The blue holes are littered with the skeletons of its victims and the wreckage of boats and outboard motors.

A lusca is a gigantic octopus or cuttlefish, sometimes said to be half octopus and half dragon. It is also known as a “giant scuttle”, where “scuttle” is the Bahamian term for octopus, and “Him of the Hands”, although it is unclear whether those are actual hands or merely a reference to cephalopod arms. Those arms can reach up to 75 feet (roughly 23 meters) long. They are dangerous because they can grab a boat or a fisherman from one end and anchor themselves to the bottom on the other; if they cannot make fast to the seafloor, they cannot pull their prey down.

The lusca shoots its “hands” out of the water to snatch anyone or anything that comes too close to a blue hole. A lusca can stop a two-master dead in the water, coiling its tentacles around the rudder while its “hands” reach up and feel around the deck. The moment the tentacles contact a human, they immediately pull the unfortunate sailor into the water.

George J. Benjamin and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were both warned of the dangers of the lusca, but failed to find any trace of the giant octopus. In fact, Benjamin succeeded in retrieving an outboard motor supposedly lost to a lusca, much to the bemusement of the motor’s proprietor.

Wood and Gennaro identify the St. Augustine blob, found on a Florida beach, as being the same animal as the lusca. As the blob was found to be a mass of connective tissue from a large vertebrate, probably a whale, this is unlikely.

References

Benjamin, G. J. (1970) Diving into the Blue Holes of the Bahamas. National Geographic, 138(3), pp. 347-363.

Cousteau, J. and Diolé, P. (1973) Trois Aventures de la Calypso. Flammarion.

Fodor, E. (1981) Fodor’s Caribbean and the Bahamas. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Naish, D. (2016) Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Wood, F. G. and Gennaro, J. F. (1971) An Octopus Trilogy. Natural History, LXXX(3), pp. 15-24 and 84-87.

Kigutilik

Kigutilik, the spirit with the giant’s teeth, was encountered by the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. It emerged from a hole in the ice while Anarqâq was out sealing in the spring.

Kigutilik is monstrous to behold. It is as big as a bear, but taller, standing on long legs with large bumps at the joints. It has two tails, a single large ear connected only through a fold in the skin, and massive teeth like the tusks of a walrus. It is bare-skinned with hair in fringes on its body.

When it appeared it roared – ahahah! Anarqâq was so terrified he ran home without securing the spirit’s aid as a helper.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Trebius

Variations: Trebius Niger (Black Trebius), Trebeus, Swordfish

Trebius

Within his discussion of the echeneis or remora, Pliny digresses briefly to mention the murex, a seashell that also can adhere to ships and prevent them from moving. He then credits Trebius Niger with the knowledge that the echeneis is a foot long, five fingers thick, and capable of hindering the movement of a ship; if preserved in salt, it can draw up gold that has fallen down a deep well.

The next paragraph addresses a miscellany of fishes. The mena changes color, becoming white in winter and black in summer. The phycis (a goby or lamprey) also changes color; it is also the only fish that builds a nest of seaweed to spawn in.

Thomas de Cantimpré combines all those accounts and misreads the name of Pliny’s source for the name of a fish. This miraculous textual transformation is the origin of the trebius niger or black trebius. This composite fish is a foot long, black in color and changing to white depending on the season. It can hinder ships like a remora, and even a small salted piece of it can draw gold out of wells. Unlike other fishes, the trebius builds a nest to lay its eggs in.

After having decided that the trebius is a fish, Thomas sticks to his interpretation. A later passage cites Trebius Niger and describes swordfish attacks on boats. This is again read to be an allusion to the trebius, and, as a result, it becomes armed with a sharp beak that it uses to sink ships (despite its size, apparently).

The trebius is shown nesting in a tree in the Hortus Sanitatis. Albertus Magnus gives us the most memorable depiction of the fish, giving it a pointed nose, a beard, clawed feet, and a nest with an egg inside.

References

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.

Physeter

Variations: Physeterus, Physalus, Pistris, Pistrix, Prister. Pristes, Pristis, Capax (“roomy”, referring to its huge mouth), Capidolio (Italy), Mular, Peis Mular (Languedoc), Senedectes, Senedette (Saintonge), Spouter, Whirlpool, Whirl-pool, Whirlepoole

Physeter

The Physeter, “blower”, Prister, or Whirlpool, is an enormous, monstrous whale. The name, originally associated with a spouting sea monster, has today become the scientific name of the sperm whale or cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus).

Pliny states that the largest animals in the Indian Sea are the Pristis (shark) and the Balaena (whale). The largest animal in the Ocean of Gaul is the physeter. It lifts itself up like an enormous column, towering higher than the masts of ships, and spouts a flood of water.

The most notable reference to the physeter as a monster comes from Olaus Magnus. He describes the physeter as two hundred cubits long, with a large, round mouth like that of a lamprey, a tough black hide, and a prehensile tail about 15 or 20 feet wide. It uses its mouth to suck in massive quantities of water which it then spouts violently onto its prey from the blowholes on its head. Its tail can coil around ships and crush them.

Two different images are given by Olaus for the physeter. One is an upright, spouting monster with a horselike head, a gaping, toothless mouth, an erect mane running down its long neck, and a ribbed belly. The other is the tusked, frilled whale which appears in multiple places on the Carta Marina. Münster copies the first version and gives it more canine features, including large fangs and floppy ears; the second he refers to as the trolual or teuffelwal, the “devil-whale”.

Physeters are cruel, malicious creatures that will sink ships for sport. As a physeter’s hide and thick fat are too thick for conventional weapons to penetrate, sailors must resort to other means to ward off the whale’s attentions. One way is to blow trumpets or fire artillery; the loud noises can startle and scare off the physeter. Another is to throw barrels or smaller boats in the path of the whale to distract it.

Rondelet describes the physeter as so named because when it blows it projects a massive amount of water like a mist, which can fill and overturn smaller boats. It is spectacularly large, with a huge mouth, sharp teeth, a large fleshy tongue, and a breathing tract much larger than that of any other animal. It differs from the orca in that it is longer and lacks a fin on its back. One physeter was taken in Italy was placed by the Duke of Florence in front of his palace, but it had to be removed due to its stench. By this point the draconic seahorse of Olaus Magnus has been abandoned; this is the sperm whale as we know it today.

The greatest contribution the physeter has made to literature is in the pages of Rabelais’ epic tale of giants. In Pantagruel, the titular giant and his friends encounter a massive physeter roaring and spouting water, rising higher than the masts of the ship. Panurge immediately wails, comparing it to the Leviathan and the monster that attacked Andromeda, and fears that “it will swallow us all, men and ships, like pills”! But Pantagruel chides him, saying he is better off fearing the horses of the Sun, which snort fire, instead of this monster, which merely blows water. Pantagruel duly peppers the physeter with arrows until it expires and “turned belly up, as do all dead fish”.

De Montfort believed Olaus Magnus’ physeter (apart from the sperm whale) to be a colossal octopus.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bologna.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

Magnus, O. (1658) A compendious history of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater, London.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Münster, S. (1552) La Cosmographie Universelle. Henry Pierre.

Nigg, J. (2013) Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. University of Chicago Press.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Rabelais, F. (1858) Oeuvres de Rabelais, t. II. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

Rondelet, G. (1558) L’Histoire Entiere des Poissons. Mace Bonhome, Lyon.

Sainéan, L. (1921) L’histoire naturelle et les branches connexes dans l’oeuvre de Rabelais. E. Champion, Paris.