Ichisonga

Ichisonga

The Ichisonga is a pachyderm-slayer from the folklore of the Lambas of Zambia, usually found in the Kafue River. It is a herbivorous water beast that resembles a rhinoceros and has a horn on its forehead.

Although a grass-eater, the ichisonga has a special hatred for the hippopotamus. If an ichisonga hears a hippo, it leaves the Kafue River, traveling along the bank so the hippo does not scent it. Then it re-enters the water, goes for the largest bull hippo, and stabs it to death with its horn.

If an elephant is killed nearby, the ichisonga will roar and drive the hunters away from the carcass. It then stays near the elephant’s remains for days until the carcass rots. The ichisonga is motivated by uŵulwishya – jealousy.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Chang Nam

Variations: Ye Thin (Myanmar); Water Elephant

Chang Nam

The Chang Nam, or “water elephant”, is native to the jungle streams of Thailand. Its equivalent in Myanmar is called the Ye Thin.

A chang nam looks like a miniature replica of an elephant. It is no bigger than a rat but has a trunk and sharp little tusks and all the hallmarks of elephants.

These water elephants are extremely dangerous. Merely seeing a chang nam’s shadow causes instant death. A chang nam will also stab footprints and reflections in the water with its tusks, bringing about the death to the owner of the footprint or reflection.

It seems uncertain whether the chang nam has a purely supernatural origin or if it has some real animal as its basis. Nonetheless, stuffed chang nam skins are available for sale to gullible tourists; these are manipulated frog or rodent skins with tusks attached.

References

Wood, W. A. R. (1965) Consul in Paradise: Sixty-nine Years in Siam. Souvenir Press, London.

Làlomèna

Variations: Làlimèna

Lalomena

The Làlomèna is found in the waterways of Madagascar. It has two very red horns and looks like an ox. It is among the strongest of aquatic animals, but little more is known of its appearance and attributes.

Sub-fossil remains of Madagascan hippos have been referred to as làlomèna bones.

References

Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.

Pira-nu

pira-nu

The Pira-nu, “black fish”, is born in old timber canoes lost in the rapids. This Argentinian fish is of great size, with a horse-like head and big eyes. It swims at the surface of the water to capsize canoes, and it quickly devours humans and livestock that have fallen into the water.

References

Ambrosetti, J. B. (1917) Supersticiones y Leyendas. La Cultura Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Tarasque

Variations: Tarasca, Tarasco, Tarascona, Tarasconus, Tarascus, Tirasconus, Tirascurus

tarasque

The story of the Tarasque is inextricable from that of Saint Martha and the southern French town of Tarascon. It features on the coat of arms of Tarascon, and it is attended to by the Order of the Tarascaires, the Members of the Provencal Order of Knights of the Tarasque. It is part of a long and venerable tradition of French beasts associated with particular cities and usually paraded through the streets during relevant feast days.

Etymologies for the Tarasque’s name vary. Folklore attributes the name of Tarascon to the Tarasque, but it is most likely that the dragon was named after the city. Tarascon itself may have been derived from Tauriscus, a Gaulish tyrant supposedly slain by Hercules. As to the origin of the tale itself, everything from vanquished pagan religions to displaced captive crocodiles has been suggested.

The earliest elements of what was to become the tradition of Saint Martha in Provence originated in Vézelay in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century these had been associated with Saint Martha, and developed concurrently with Tarascon. The Vita S. Marthae of the Pseudo-Marcella is the oldest reference to the Tarasque, and is dated somewhere between 1187 (the date of the discovery of Saint Martha’s relics in Tarascon) and 1220. Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus Voragine based their accounts on the prototype of the Pseudo-Marcella and gradually brought Saint Martha into 13th century martyrologies. The tale served to strengthen the cult of Saint Martha in Provence, and further establish Tarascon’s identity as a cultural, political, and religious center.

The Tarasque was found in the woods between Arles and Avignon, near town of Nerluc (“Black Lake”), or otherwise in the Rhone, in a hole by the river. The Pseudo-Marcella gives the most complete description. The Tarasque was a dragon, half animal and half fish, larger than an ox and longer than a horse, with teeth as sharp as swords, and armored on both sides like a turtle. It had the face and head of a lion, a horse’s mane, a back sharp as an axe, spiky scales as sharp as augers, six bear-clawed legs, and a serpent’s tail. It was more than a match for a dozen lions or bears. Having come by sea from Galatia, the Tarasque hid in the river, sinking boats and devouring anyone who came near. In a flourish of erudition, we are told it was the offspring of the sea-serpent Leviathan and the onachus or bonnacon, a creature that fires burning dung as a weapon. The mechanics of such a coupling are left unexplained.

The Pseudo-Rabanus adds that the Tarasque, in addition to being an enormous dragon with hooked fangs, had pestilential smoke for breath and sulphurous sparks coming from its eyes. It whistled and roared horribly, and the mere infection of its breath was lethal. It lived along with other serpents.

The people of Nerluc entreated Martha to deliver them from this menace, so the saintly woman entered the woods in search of the Tarasque. She found the dragon halfway through eating a man. Far from being intimidated, she sprinkled the Tarasque with holy water and brandished a cross, whereupon the dragon came to her as peacefully as a lamb. Martha leashed it with her belt and delivered it to the people, who avenged themselves by tearing the Tarasque apart with lances and stones. Subsequently Saint Martha preached and converted the townsfolk to Christianity. Some modern retellings claim that the people came to regret the killing of a now-harmless creature, but there is no mention of this in the texts.

It was from then on that Nerluc became known as Tarascon, in honor of the dragon defeated by Saint Martha and the power of Christ. However, there is no indication that Tarascon was ever called Nerluc; it is more likely that the story of Saint Martha was attached to a local tradition involving the Tarasque as a symbol of fertility or destructive floods. The description in the Pseudo-Marcellus reads like an overview of the effigy, and the multiple feet brings to mind the feet of people holding and moving the dragon.

The effigy of the Tarasque has made its appearance on the streets of Tarascon on multiple occasions, including on Pentecost and on the feast day of Saint Martha (July 29th). In the former it is wild and untamed, breathing fire; in the latter it is tame, chastened, held on a leash by a little girl. Its manifestations are accompanied by celebration, games and music, including the traditional chant:

Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco, Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco de castéu!

Laissas la passa, la viéio masco

Laissas la passa, que vai dansa

Leissas la dounc passa, la viéio masco!

(“Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque, Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque of the castle!

Let her pass, the old mask

Let her pass, she’s going to dance

Let her pass then, the old mask!”)

In this case, lagadigadèu is an untranslatable expression, a sort of Tarasconian war-cry, a musical tally-ho.

The Tarasca, a dragon effigy paraded in Spanish cities during Corpus Christi celebrations, is a direct descendant of the Tarasque.

References

Dumont, L. (1951) La Tarasque. Gallimard, Paris.

Mistral, F.; Berthier, A. trans. (1862) Les Fetes de la Tarasque. M. E. Drujon, Tarascon.

Tilbury, G.; Banks, S. E. and Binns, J. W. (eds.) (2002) Otia Imperialia. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Véran, J. (1868) Histoire de la Vie et du Culte de Sainte Marthe. Seguin Ainé, Avignon.

Very, F. G. (1962) The Spanish Corpus Christi Procession: A Literary and Folkloric Study. Tipografia Moderna, Valencia.

Voragine, J. (2004) La Légende Dorée. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris.

Amhuluk

Variations: Amhúluk; Atunkai, Atúnkai (associated)

amhuluk

Amhuluk is a creature associated with drowning, disease, and the malarial fog that rises from the water’s surface. The Kalapuya of the Willamette River locate the Amhuluk in a lake near Forked Mountain, fifteen miles west of Forest Grove in northwestern Oregon. He originally wanted to inhabit the Atfalati plains but eventually went into the more comfortable lake. There he settled and indulged his passion – drowning others.

Amhuluk is terrible to see. He is spotted, with long spotted horns on his head, and his four legs are hairless. Various items are tied to his body so they can be carried around. He keeps several spotted dogs. Wherever he steps, the ground sinks and softens.

Everything Amhuluk sees is captured and drowned in his lake. Even the trees around the lake have their crowns upside-down around the lake, and the sky itself is drowned in the muddy water. The banks of the lake are slimy and boggy, trapping all manner of animals. Grizzly bears instinctively enter the lake when they grow old, and are changed into other beasts. The Atúnkai, an otter or seal-like water creature, is the usual product of this metamorphosis.

Three children once went out in search of adsadsh-root. There, at Forked Mountain, they met Amhuluk rising out of the ground, and marveled at his beautiful spotted horns. “Let’s take the horns”, they said, “and make digging tools out of them”. But Amhuluk impaled and lifted up two of the children on his horns while the eldest boy escaped. The child returned home in terror. “Something horrible has taken my brother and sister”, he told his father. Then he slept, and his parents could see that his body was covered in blotches. The father went out, retracing his children’s steps to the Forked Mountain. There the bodies of his children appeared out of the fog rising on the water. They were still impaled on Amhuluk’s horns, and they cried “Didei, didei, didei” (“we have changed bodies”). Five times they rose and spoke, and five times their father wailed mournfully. For five days he waited, camping near the lake and mourning his children, and each of those days they appeared, repeating their sad litany – “Didei, didei, didei”. Then they sank under the surface and were never seen again. Amhuluk had claimed them for his own.

References

Gatschet, A. S. (1888) A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, v. II. R. P. Studley & Co., St. Louis.

Gatschet, A. S. (1891) Oregonian Folklore. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. IV, pp. 139-143.

Gatschet, A. S. (1899) Water-monsters of American Aborigines. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. 12, pp. 255-260.

Skinner, C. M. (1896) Myths and Legends of our Own Lands, v. II. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Velue

Variations: Hairy Beast, Hairy One, Shaggy Beast, Shaggy One (English); Peluda (erroneously outside of Spanish writings)

velue

The Velue, the “shaggy one” or “hairy one”, is a dragon from the Huisne River, near La Ferté-Bernard in the Sarthe. It was overlooked by Noah during the Flood but survived anyway, nursing a grudge and devoting its existence to spiteful destruction. The Velue’s egg-shaped body was the size of a large ox and covered with shaggy green fur from which pointed spikes emerged. It had the head of a nightmarish snake and the massive legs of a tortoise. Its snake’s tail could slay man and beast alike with a single swipe.

The creature breathed fire and ravaged farms and crops. It gobbled down flocks of sheep and ate shepherds for dessert. It would even be so bold as to enter the streets of the old city – moats and walls were powerless to stop it. When pursued, it would return to the Huisne, displacing enough water to cause it to flood and ruin the surrounding fields.

Women and children were the dragon’s favorite food, and it prioritized agnelles or “she-lambs”, the most beautiful and virtuous maidens of the land. This was to be the Velue’s undoing. After it took a young damsel for a meal, it was hunted down by the girl’s fiancé and tracked to its lair in the Huisne under an ivy-covered bridge. He stabbed the dragon’s tail and killed it instantly. Its death was much celebrated.

The tale of the Velue is relatively new. Its basis dates from the 15th Century and it was resurrected and expanded in the 19th Century. Much of it is in the tradition of French local dragons such as the Tarasque, but it has not had any major festivals or iconographic conventions. The oldest and only presumed historical depiction of the Velue is a terracotta fountain sculpture dated from the 17th or 18th Century, found in a ditch on the road of La Chapelle-Saint-Rémy.

If anything the use of the term agnelles for Fertois women has existed separately from the dragon. In the 16th Century La Ferté-Bernard sided with the Catholic League during the wars of Henri IV. Its governor Dragues de Comnène was a wily commander who claimed descent from the Eastern kings. During a siege led by René de Bouillé, the governor sent a detachment of soldiers out of La Ferté disguised as women. The ruse almost worked; some of the besiegers came gallantly up to the damsels and found themselves under attack, but René de Bouillé’s forces quickly sent the disguised warriors packing. The victory highly amused Henri IV and provided no end of jokes concerning “les agnelles de la Ferté, dont il ne faut que deux pour étrangler le loup” (“the she-lambs of the Ferté, only two of which can throttle a wolf”).

The term “peluda” has gained traction as a name solely because it was used by Borges. Some sources even claim it to be an Occitan word – never mind the fact that La Ferté-Bernard is nowhere near the Midi. Borges used the word as a direct Spanish translation of “velue” (much like “hairy beast” or “shaggy beast”) and has absolutely no business being used outside of a Spanish context.

References

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

Charles, L. (1877) Histoire de La Ferté-Bernard. Robert Charles, Pellechat, Le Mans.

Clier-Colombani, F. (1991) La Fée Mélusine au Moyen Age. Le Léopard d’or, Paris.

Flohic, J. (2001) Le Patrimoine des Communes de la Sarthe, v. II. Flohic Editions, Paris.

Roy, C. and Strand, P. (1952) La France de Profil. Editions Clairefontaine, Lausanne.