The Borana Oromo people of Ethiopia were once in thrall to the Liqimsa, “swallowers”. These were two vile man-eating monsters that looked like elephants, and they demanded a daily tribute of human flesh.
At this rate, the Borana knew they would be exterminated before long. Some fled their tormentors, settling in different areas and starting new lineages. Others went south, but the liqimsa followed them and swallowed them all.
Only thirty warriors survived and took refuge on the Namdur hill. Among those were two brothers – the elder was known for his cunning, and the younger renowned for his courage.
The older of the brothers faced the liqimsa and announced “By the grace of Waaqa, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will become immortal!” The two monsters began to argue, then fight, each claiming to more deserving of the gift of immortality. Soon they were uprooting trees and bludgeoning each other in their fury. This was the perfect opportunity for the younger brother to seize two lances, heat their points in fire, and run the monsters through their bellies.
With the liqimsa dead the Borana were free to repopulate and recolonize the areas they had lost, as well as conquer new regions and drive out their inhabitants.
Huntingford saw the legend of the liqimsa as a mythologizing of a historical event – namely, a series of military defeats inflicted by the Sidama people on the Borana.
The tale of Dhuga is probably derived from the liqimsa. Dhuga (“he drinks”) was bigger than an elephant and as tall as the Mega escarpment. A man would be sacrificed to him every day as food. This ended when a passing stranger released Dhuga’s current victim and attacked the monster while it was rolling in the dust to scratch its back and remove parasites. The stranger ran Dhuga’s belly through with a lance whose tip had been heated red-hot in fire, and that was the end of the monster.
Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.
Huntingford, G. W. B. (1955) The Galla of Ethiopia – The Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero. International African Institute, London.
According to the Lamba people of Zambia, there is a great lake of water above the dome of the sky. This lake is held back by a weir protected by guardians appointed by Lesa (God). Sometimes Lesa appoints children to guard it, and their irresponsible playing makes holes in the weir and allow the water to spill to earth as rain. When Lesa appoints grown men to guard the weir, then there is no rain.
Lightning (akampeshimpeshi) is caused by the guardians of the weir swinging and tossing their knives (imyele). The knives do not fall – if they did, the earth would be destroyed.
When a flash of lightning hits the ground, an animal descends to the ground on the end of a long cobweb. It looks like a goat, with beard and horns, but has the feet and tail of a crocodile. Usually it returns to the sky on its string of web; if the cobweb breaks, the animal will be trapped on the ground and cry like a goat. In this state it is very dangerous and might kill people, so it is mobbed, killed, and burned by the Lambas. Anyone trying to slay this beast must have protective medicine (ubwanga bwayamba) to avoid being killed themselves.
Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.
The Nkala is one of several sorcerous familiars associated with witchcraft in Zambia. A nkala kills people by eating their shadows. Anyone in possession of a nkala, therefore, has obtained it for criminal purposes.
It takes the form of a crab, 4 feet long, almost as wide as it is long. It has a head at either end, each head resembling that of a hippo, complete with the lumps by the eyes. Sometimes those are described as “nose-like projections”. It eats shadows with both heads at the same time.
To kill a nkala, medicine is prepared from nkala remains and placed in a duiker horn sealed with wax. A second duiker horn is partially filled and used as a whistle to attract the nkala. Once the creature shows itself in response to the whistle, it is shot. The “noses”, large claws, and some of the other claws are taken for use in medicine.
Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
Turner, V. (1975) Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
White, C. M. N. (1948) Witchcraft, Divination and Magic among the Balovale Tribes. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 18(2), pp. 81-104.
Nyanza is home to the Lukwata. The deeds and misdeeds of this great sea-serpent
are told on both sides of the lake, from Uganda to the Kavirondo (Winam) Gulf
in Kenya. The lukwata is commonly lumped with the dingonek, but the lukwata’s
pedigree is far older. Lukwata is also the name of a Baganda clay charm which,
when hidden in the king’s house, presents theft in the village, but this seems
has been around from time immemorial and makes occasional appearances. It is a
huge and terrifying lake demon, a serpent, a cetacean, or perhaps a giant fish.
It is associated with whirlpools in the lake. Ja-Luo fishermen have tales of
the lukwata attacking their canoes. The Baganda, Kavirondo, and Wasoga of the
north shore of lake Nyanza used to sacrifice livestock to it. The lukwata’s
disappearance coincided with the sleeping-sickness epidemic, and it was
believed that the muzungu
(foreigners) caused the disease by killing the lukwata, thus bringing its wrath
upon the people.
Provincial Commissioner of Jinja, saw a lukwata swimming down the Napoleon
Gulf; its head was out of the water but it was too far to make out its
features. Clement Hill of the Foreign Office had a far closer encounter when a
lukwata off Homa Mountain tried unsuccessfully to seize a man on the bow of
Hill’s ship. He saw a lizard-like head, roundish and dark-colored, on a
four-foot-long neck attached to a large, rounded mass that formed the body.
Some sort of tail seemed to be trailing behind.
Wayland, head of the Geological Survey of Uganda, claimed to have heard the
lukwata’s distant bellowing. He was shown pieces of lukwata bone, and was told
that the lukwata fought epic battles with crocodiles. Pieces of skin lost in
those struggles were used for potent amulets.
complete account of a lukwata’s appearance is recorded by H. Bell, who shot one
on the western border of Uganda near the Semliki River and Lake Albert. The
creature, which was identified as a small lukwata by a native boy, was deemed
to resemble Hill’s serpent. It had a snakelike head, a neck several inches
long, a tail a few inches long, and flippers like a sea turtle’s. Instead of a
hard shell, the lukwata had a thick, soft, rubbery carapace. Bell believed that
the lukwata – evidently an odd species of turtle – would, at the surface, give
the impression of a bulky, long-necked animal.
are not particularly smart. A Baganda folktale tells of the friendship between
a lukwata and a monkey. It came to pass that the King of the balukwata took
ill, and his wizard told him to eat the heart of a monkey as a cure. The King
offered great rewards to any of the balukwata who would bring him the heart of
a monkey. So the lukwata went to the home of his friend the monkey and hailed
him. “How are you? You should come visit me, my wife and sons want to see you”.
“But I cannot swim”, said the monkey. “I’ll carry you on my back”, said the
lukwata, and they were off. Halfway across the lake, the lukwata, having a
crisis of conscience, decided to tell the monkey the truth. “I’m really sorry,
but our King is sick and needs your heart”. The monkey thought fast. “You silly
thing”, he told the lukwata, “I don’t have my heart with me. I leave it behind
so I can jump through the trees. Take me back and I’ll fetch my heart from the
branch where I left it”. Of course, the unsuspecting lukwata swam back, and the
monkey escaped to safety in the trees – but not before mocking his erstwhile friend’s
(1948) Witches & Fishes. Edward
Arnold & Co., London.
B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C.
McClurg & Co., Chicago.
Cunningham, J. F. (1905)
Uganda and its peoples. Hutchinson
& Co., London.
Hattersley, C. W. (1900)
An English Boy’s Life and Adventures in
Uganda. The Religious Tract Society, London.
B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert
W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts.
The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp.
H. (1902) The Uganda Protectorate.
Hutchinson & Co., London.
G. L. (1911) A Hand-book of Luganda.
Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London.
is one of several familiar spirits associated with sorcerers and witchcraft in
Zambia. Malomba appear as snakes with human heads and share the features and
emotions of their owners. As malomba are obtained through deliberate sorcery in
order to kill enemies or steal food, anyone suspected of having an ilomba is up
to no good. That said, powerful chiefs and hunters are said to have their own
malomba to protect them from witchcraft. Owners of malomba are usually male.
sorcerers can make malomba in a number of ways. Most commonly, a mixture of
certain medicines and water is made and placed on a piece of bark. Five duiker
horns are placed next to this. A plait of luwamba
or mbamba (spiky grass) is made to
about 15-18 inches long and 0.5-1 inch wide; the duiker horns are placed at one
end of this plait. Fingernail parings from the client are put in the horns, and
blood taken from the client’s forehead and chest are mixed with the medicine.
Some of the concoction is drunk by the client, while the rest is sprinkled onto
the plait with a second luwamba
plait. After the first sprinkling, the plait turns ash-white. The second
sprinkling turns it into a snake. The third gives it a head and shoulders that
resemble the client in miniature, including any jewelry present. The shoulders
soon fade away to leave only the head.
then addresses its master. “You know and recognize me, you see that our faces
are similar?” When the client answers both questions in the affirmative, then
they are given their ilomba.
obtained, an ilomba will live wherever the owner desires it to, but usually
this is in riverside reeds. Soon it makes its first demand for the life of a
person. The owner can then designate the chosen target, and the ilomba kills
the victim. It kills by eating its victim’s life, by consuming their shadow, or
by simply feasting on their flesh or swallowing them whole. Then it returns and
crawls over its owner, licking them. People who keep mulomba become sleek and
fat and clean, are possessed of long life, and will not die until all their
relatives are dead. This comes at a steep price, however, as the ilomba will hunger
again, and continue eating lives. If it is not allowed to feed itself, its
owner will grow weak and ill until the ilomba feeds again.
unnatural death toll will be noticed, and a sorcerer is called in to divine the
hiding place of the ilomba. To kill an ilomba, a sorcerer will sprinkle nsompu medicine around its suspected
lair. This causes the water level to rise and the ground to rumble. First fish,
then crabs, and finally the ilomba itself appear. The snake is promptly shot
with a poisoned arrow – and its owner feels its pain. They die at the same
H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J.
B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
(1975) Revelation and Divination in
Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
White, C. M. N. (1948) Witchcraft, Divination and Magic among the
Balovale Tribes. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute,
18(2), pp. 81-104.
The Dingonek is a creature that lives in the Maggori River in Kenya, as well as in Lake Nyanza (Victoria). Our primary source for the dingonek comes from big-game hunter John Alfred Jordan, as recorded by Edgar Beecher Bronson. As a tale told by one big-game hunter to another, there is no reason to believe there was any embellishment or exaggeration involved.
Legends of aquatic monsters predate Jordan’s account, but they describe a generic large water python. Clement Hill claimed to have seen one in Lake Nyanza that attempted to seize a man on the prow of his boat. It had a dark, roundish head.
The dingonek as described by Jordan is a cross between a sea serpent, a leopard, and a whale. It is fourteen or fifteen feet long. Its head is similar in shape and markings to that of a leopard, but is the size of a lioness’ head. There are two long white fangs protruding downwards from the upper jaw. The back is broad like that of a hippo, patterned and colored like a leopard, and “scaled like an armadillo”. The tail, used for aquatic propulsion, is broad and finned. When ashore, the dingonek leaves behind prints as wide as a hippo’s but with reptilian claw-marks.
A .303 shot behind the ear had no effect on the dingonek. It reared straight up out of the water, and Jordan ran for his life. The dingonek was not seen again.
Hobley tells of another man who swears he saw a dingonek. When the Mara River was in flood, the eyewitness said he saw a creature floating down the river on a big log. It had its tail in the water, but its length was estimated to be sixteen feet. It had scales, spots like a leopard, and a head like an otter, but no long fangs. When shot at, it slipped into the water and disappeared. Apart from the (surely inaccurate) length given, this is a good account of a Nile monitor lizard.
Finally, rock art from a cave in Brakfontein Ridge, South Africa, has been claimed to depict a walrus-like dingonek, but the location is far from the dingonek’s habitat, and the association is arbitrary.
Heuvelmans initially believed the dingonek to be an odd species of prehistoric crocodile. Later he revised this to create an aquatic saber-toothed cat whose wet fur clumped and gave the appearance of scales.
As armadillos are New World animals, modern reconstructions have assumed the armadillo “scales” to be those of a pangolin instead. Other recent additions include a single horn and a stinger tail, neither of which have any basis.
Cryptozoologists have equated the dingonek with a number of other creatures, including the far better known Lukwata, the Ndamathia, and the Ol-umaina or Ol-maima of the Mara River. This is known to the Masai and has been described by Hobley as fifteen feet in length and scaly with a dog-like or otter-like head, leopard spots, small ears “marked somewhat after the fashion of a puff adder”, a short neck, short legs with claws. It may be seen sunning itself on logs and riverbanks, and dives into the water when threatened. Hobley’s ol-umaina account is copied by Heuvelmans, who expresses some confusion at the “ears” comment but otherwise affirms that the dingonek and the ol-umaina are one and the same. Shuker corrects the name to ol-maima.
All of this is moot. Ol-maima (or, more correctly ɔl-máɨ́má) is the Maa term for a cripple or a Nile monitor lizard (owing to its waddling movement on land). The descriptions are exaggerated but recognizable accounts of monitor lizards – as the dingonek itself almost certainly is.
Bronson, E. B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.
Bryant, A. T. (1948) The Zulu People. Shuter and Shooter, Pietermaritzburg.
Conway, J.; Kosemen, C. M.; and Naish, D. (2013) Cryptozoologicon Vol. I. Irregular Books.
Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.
Hobley, C. W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts. The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp. 48-52.
Oswald, F. (1915) Alone in the Sleeping-Sickness Country. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.
Payne, D. L. and Ole-Kotikash, L. (2008) Maa Dictionary. University of Oregon, accessed online.
Shuker, K. P. N. (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.
Stow, G. W. and Bleek, D. F. (1930) Rock-paintings in South Africa. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London.
The Kongamato, “overwhelmer of boats”, is a river-shutter of Kasempa District in northern Zambia. It is known from Kaonde folklore, and the Jiundu Swamp is one of its favorite haunts. The fact that the Jiundu has historically been a haven for thieves, murderers, and assorted lowlifes is probably relevant.
A kongamato is a kind of bird, or rather a lizard with the membranous wings of a bat. It has a wingspan of 4 to 7 feet across and lacks feathers, its body covered in skin. It is mostly red in color. The beak is armed with sharp teeth. Claims that the kongamato is a surviving pterosaur are best forgotten.
Kongamatos live downstream of river fords. There they cause the river to stop flowing and the water level to rise, overwhelming and tipping over canoes. Sometimes a canoe will slow down and come to a dead stop despite the paddler’s best efforts; this is because a kongamato has seized the boat from underneath the water.
Few people see a kongamato and live, and the kongamato itself is invulnerable and immortal, eating any projectile thrown at it and leaving no physical trace of itself behind. When it kills people it devours only the two little fingers, the two little toes, the earlobes, and the nostrils. That said, four deaths attributed to the kongamato in 1911 did not record any such mutilation; more likely, then, that a kongamato caused their deaths by the flooding of the Mutanda River near Lufumatunga.
To ward off kongamato attack, the charm known as muchi wa kongamato is used. This consists of mulendi tree root ground and mixed with water. The resulting paste is placed in a bark cup. When crossing a dangerous ford, the mixture is sprinkled onto the water using a bundle of mulendi bark strips. This wards off the kongamato and its floods.
Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.