Khodumodumo

Variations: Kholomodumo, Modumo o Moholo, Khamapa, Kammapa, Khanyapa

Khodumodumo

The swallowing monster of the Basuto people of South Africa and Lesotho is called Khodumodumo. The name of Khodumodumo is an archaic Sesotho term, most likely meaning “great noise”, although Hichens refers to the “gaping-mouthed bush monster”. Modern Sesotho often makes it into kholomodumo. Its synonym and possible ancestor is Kammapa, a giant river python. Khodumodumo’s amorphous appearance is undefined, and it is vast in size. It has multiple sharp tongues which it uses as weapons.

Once Khodumodumo went about swallowing every living thing in its path, man and beast alike, lumbering through towns and villages and engulfing their inhabitants. Only one pregnant woman survived, as she had been hiding on a manure heap, and the ashes masked her appearance and scent. Eventually the bloated Khodumodumo dragged itself off and wedged its massive body in a mountain pass.

Eventually the woman gave birth to a baby boy, and went off to fetch some manure powder to lie on, as tradition dictates. She returned to find her son fully grown, dressed in skins, with divining beads around his neck, and armed with assagais. “Where is my son?” she asked, marveling at the heroic figure in front of her. “I am your son, Senkatana”, he said. “Mother, where is the rest of the village?” “Alas, Khodumodumo ate them all”, she lamented. “And the cattle?” “The cattle too”. “And the dogs?” “The dogs too”. “And the poultry?” “The poultry too”.

Senkatana demanded that his mother show him where the beast had gone to. “See the big hill in the pass?” she said. “That is Khodumodumo”. Despite his mother’s warnings, Senkatana went to face Khodumodumo alone. When it saw him, it opened its mouth wide and tried to spear him with its tongues, but Senkatana chopped them off one by one. He circled around the beast, which was too fat to turn around and face him, and stabbed it with his assagais until it was dead.

He then started to cut open Khodumodumo, but had to avoid cutting the people imprisoned inside. His first cut accidentally injured a man, and then he had to avoid stabbing a cow, a goat, a dog, and a hen before he could finally release Khodumodumo’s victims. Senkatana then went on to become a great chief, but the man he had inadvertently stabbed continued to bear a grudge. The resentful man and others jealous of the hero attempted to assassinate him multiple times, until Senkatana, weary of the hatred of mankind, allowed himself to be killed.

References

Hichens, W. (1937) African Mystery Beasts. Discovery (Dec): 369-373.

Jacottet, E. (1888) Légendes et contes Bassoutos. Revue des Traditions Populaires, v. 3, Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc, Paris.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.

Isiququmadevu

Variations: Usiququmadevu (flattering); Isikqukqumadevu, Usikqukqumadevu; Unomabunge; O’gaul’-iminga; O-nsiba-zimakqembe

Isiququmadevu

When Untombinde, the king’s daughter, set out for the mythical Ilulange River, she took with her two hundred maidens to be her escorts. She was determined to bathe in one of its pools despite her parents’ warnings of dire consequences. Once there, she and her handmaidens undressed and played in the water, but when they came back out their clothes, their beautiful bracelets and jewels and finery were all gone. Isiququmadevu had taken them.

Isiququmadevu, “Smelly Whiskers”, is a mountainous “swallowing monster” from Bantu and Zulu folklore. She is bearded, bloated, hairless, and squatting, with an enormous mouth capable of engulfing entire villages. Other clues as to her appearance are given in her many epithets, which include Unomabunge (“Mother of Beetles”), O’gaul’-iminga (“Feller of Lofty Thorn-trees”), and O-nsiba-zimakqembe (“She Whose Feathers are Long and Broad”).

Naturally the royal cortège was mortified, and entreated the isiququmadevu to return their belongings. “Untombinde, the king’s daughter, brought us here, she is to blame”. One by one they recuperated their effects, until Untombinde was left. “Beseech Usiququmadevu”, they told her, using a more personal and flattering name for the monster. But Untombinde – perhaps miffed by her companions’ accusations – refused. “I am the king’s daughter”, she said haughtily, “and I will never entreat the isiququmadevu”. Whereupon the monster seized her and took her into the pool.

King Usikulumi despaired for his daughter, fearing she was lost forever, and ordered his troops to slay the isiququmadevu. But the monster hauled herself onto the bank, and swallowed the entire army in one gulp. She then followed their trail back to the village, and swallowed the men, the women, the children, the dogs, the cattle, every living thing she found there.

Among her victims were two adorable twin children whose father was the only villager who escaped the isiququmadevu’s attack. He resolved to kill the creature, arming himself with his assagai and following her back into the woods. First he met a herd of buffaloes. “Where has Usiququmadevu gone? She has taken my children”. Acknowledging his plight, the buffaloes told him he was on the right track with a “forward, forward!” Next he met some leopards and an elephant, who advised him to keep on going. Finally he found the isiququmadevu herself, replete and squatting. “I seek Usiququmadevu, who has taken my children!” he announced. “Forward, forward!” said the isiququmadevu, but the man was not as dimwitted as she had hoped, and he stabbed her with his spear until she died. Then all her victims climbed out, none the worse for wear, with Untombinde, defiant and proud, coming out last.

In another isiququmadevu story, it is Usitungusobenthle, a young woman who had been abducted by pigeons to be their queen, who brings about the creature’s demise. She returns to her village after escaping her captors only to find it empty, with the isiququmadevu sleeping nearby. She cut it open with a knife, and released all its victims.

Another princess, Uluthlazase, actually stood up to an isiququmadevu and tried to wrest her clothes from the monster. She held on so firmly that the isiququmadevu could not remove her, and the two fought each other to a stalemate. When it left to get assistance from other isiququmadevu, Uluthlazase collected her effects and wisely escaped.

References

Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.

Koopman, A. (2002) Zulu Names. University of Natal.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.

Rukh

Variations: Rokh, Rukhkh, Roc, Ruc; Griffon, Griffin, Gryphon

Rukh

The lineage of the Rukh (or, less correctly, Roc) is an ancient and venerable one, with tales of enormous birds stretching back into ancient Egypt. Generally believed to live in Madagascar (or possibly at the top of Mount Qaf), it is another iteration of the Arabian ‘Anqa, the Persian Simurgh, and the Indian Garuda and Cyena. The name rukh itself may have come about by a corruption of simurgh, which in turn came from cyena.

There is little defining the appearance of the rukh; it is a gigantic bird of prey, but what exactly that entails has varied from artist to artist. The only indisputable feature is that it is enormous. A rukh is as big as the storyteller needs it to be, leading to accounts of a hatchling rukh with wings a thousand fathoms (over 1800 meters) in length!

Rukhs are uncontested predators capable of feeding on the largest and most dangerous land animals. They have a particular fondness for giant serpents, elephants, and karkadanns or rhinoceroses. Sindbad observed that when a karkadann spears an elephant on its horn, the elephant’s fat runs into the rhino’s eyes and blinds it; a rukh will then swoop down and carry both combatants off to feed its chicks. Rukhs also appear to have some degree of intelligence, using boulders to smash prey.

The best-known interactions with rukhs were those of Sindbad the Sailor, who encountered them on his second and fifth voyages. The first time around, Sindbad found himself alone on a deserted island – not an uncommon occurrence in his life – and discovered a strange white dome, some fifty paces in circumference. As he pondered what the structure might be, the sky darkened as a huge rukh appeared. The dome was none other than its egg. Fortunately for Sindbad, it showed no interest in him as it sat on the egg and dozed off, and Sindbad tied himself to its leg with his turban, figuring that it might fly him to more civilized lands. In time the rukh awoke, screeched, and took off on the most terrifying ride of Sindbad’s life. When it finally landed he untied himself as fast as he could and ran for cover, while the rukh busied itself seizing a giant serpent in its talons and flying off with its prey.

Sindbad’s fifth voyage was even more catastrophic. This time, Sindbad’s crew went ashore without him and found the white dome of a rukh’s egg. Despite Sindbad’s warnings, they broke the egg and killed the chick inside. As they butchered the chick, the two parent rukhs appeared, their angry calls louder than thunder. When the sailors tried to flee in their ship, the birds returned with enormous boulders in their talons. The male’s rock narrowly missed the ship, but the female scored a direct hit, sinking the vessel. All sailors on board died with the exception of Sindbad, who drifted off towards further adventures.

In the tale of Aladdin, the evil necromancer attempts to convince Aladdin to demand a rukh egg to hang from the ceiling, a request which infuriates the genie. “You want me to hang our Liege Lady for your pleasure?” he roared, before informing them that such a wicked request could only have come from their enemy. In this case the author combined the rukh with the ineffably pure and holy simurgh.

Abd al-Rahman the Maghrebi, who had travelled far and wide across the world, obtained a rukh chick’s feather quill capable of holding a goatskin’s worth of water. He and his companions obtained it from a rukh chick that they cut out of an egg a hundred cubits long. The parent rukh flew after them and dropped a rock on their ship, but unlike Sindbad’s crew they successfully avoided it and went on their way. All those who had eaten the baby rukh’s flesh remained youthful and never grew old.

Ibn Battuta saw a rukh soaring over the China Seas. It was sufficiently far away to be mistaken for a flying mountain, and he and his companions were thankful that it did not notice them.

Marco Polo had the opportunity to observe rukhs on Madagascar; he believed them to be griffons, and specified that they were not half lion and half bird as he was led to believe, but simply enormous eagles. They had wings 30 paces long with feathers 12 paces long, and would pick up elephants and carry them into the air, dropping them onto the ground from great heights and feeding on the pulverized remains. A rukh feather was brought as a gift to the Great Khan, who was greatly pleased with it.

The rukh is not to be confused with al-Marwazi’s camel-like urine-spouting animal of the same name, described as zabraq by al-Mas’udi and as phalmant by Bochart. This grounded rukh may also be related to the rook chess piece, but both are far removed from the giant raptor.

The giant elephant bird Aepyornis of Madagascar, or its remains, was feasibly the origin of the rukh. It was, however, flightless, harmless, and non-elephantivorous. The rukh feathers that circulated as curiosities during the Middle Ages were fronds from the Madagascan Raphia vinifera palms.

References

Adler, M. N. (1907) The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Oxford University Press, London.

Bianconi, G. G. (1862) Degli scritti di Marco Polo e dell’uccello ruc da lui menzionato. Tipi Gamberini e Parmeggiani, Bologna.

Burton, R. F. (1885) The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. V. Burton Club, London.

Burton, R. F. (1887) Supplemental Nights to the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. III. Kamashastra Society, London.

Casartelli, L. C. (1891) Cyena-Simurgh-Roc: Un Chapitre d’Evolution Mythologique et Philologique. Compte Rendu du Congres Scientifique International des Catholiques, Alphonse Picard, Paris.

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

Golénischeff, W. (1906) Le Papyrus No. 1115 de l’Ermitage Impérial. Recueil de Travaux Relatifs a la Philologie et a l’Archéologie Egyptiennes et Assyriennes, v. 12, pp. 73-112.

Kruk, R. (2001) Of Rukhs and Rooks, Camels and Castles. Oriens, vol. 36, pp. 288-298.

Payne, J. (1901) The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, vol. V. Herat, London.

Yule, C. B. (1875) The Book of Ser Marco Polo. John Murray, London.

Devouring Gourd

Variations: Devouring Pumpkin; Sala Fruit (possibly)

Swallowing Gourd final

Not all swallowing monsters are animals. In Bantu folklore, gourds and pumpkins have the potential to grow into vast, devouring creatures. Such plants usually grow where evil sorcerers or ogres were slain.

The devouring gourd of Usambara was discovered by a group of little boys at play. “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” said one of the boys. To their surprise, the gourd responded. “If you pluck me, I’ll pluck you!” it said. The boys ran home and told their mother, who refused to believe them. But their sisters insisted on seeing the large gourd, and when they were taken to it, they said as their brothers had, “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” This time the gourd did not respond, and the girls went home to complain about their brothers being liars.

As the gourd was not plucked, it continued to grow. Eventually it became the size of a house, uprooted itself, and went about swallowing everyone in the village. After consuming everyone within reach, it rolled into a lake.

Only one woman had survived the gourd’s rampage, and she was pregnant. When her son was born, they lived together in the ruins of the village. When the son got around to asking where his father was, his mother told him “He was swallowed by a gourd, which is now in the lake”. The son decided to avenge his father, and went out to the lake where he could see the gourd’s ears sticking out of the water, and he proceeded to taunt the vegetable. “Gourd, come out!” he yelled. “Gourd, come out!” Annoyed and enraged, the gourd hauled itself out of the lake, but the boy was ready for it, and fired a volley of arrows into it. The tenth arrow killed it, and it died with a roar that could be heard all the way to Vuga. The boy cut it open with a knife, released the villagers unharmed, and went on to become a great leader of his people.

Gourds are not the only plants that devour and kill people. Another carnivorous plant, a pumpkin, grew over the burial location of an evil shapeshifting porcupine. It repeated everything that was said to it, and when an axe was brought to destroy it, it proceeded to swallow everyone. The poisonous Sala fruits of the Ronga have arms and legs, and wield spears ands shields.

References

Knappert, J. (1977) Bantu myths and other tales. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.

Nunda

Variations: Nundá, Eater of People

Nunda

The cat of Sultan Majnún was unusually fierce. One day it killed a calf, but the Sultan dismissed the event, stating that “the cat is mine, and the calf is also mine”. Then the cat proceeded to kill and eat a goat, then a cow, a donkey, a horse, and a camel, with the good Sultan shrugging each time. “I will not kill it, let it even eat a man”. Sure enough, the cat killed a human child next, and followed up with a man.

By this time the creature had grown large and monstrous on its diet of flesh, and it left the town on its own. It hid in the undergrowth outside city, and feasted on anyone who passed by, human or animal. At night, it would sneak into the dark roads and abduct hapless wanderers. Sultan Majnún still refused to see the danger. “You all want me to kill this cat. It’s my cat and everything it eats is mine”. He refused to address any more complaints, and the population of the town slowly dwindled. Anyone and anything not locked up indoors was at risk.

Eventually, it would come to pass that Sultan Majnún went out to look at the countryside with six of his sons, whereupon the cat pounced on them and killed three of the sons. It was then that Sultan Majnún finally came to his senses. “That is no longer my cat”, he said firmly. “That is a Nunda, and it will eat even me if I give it the chance”. He sent his soldiers to kill the nunda, but it killed some of them and scattered the rest.

Sultan Majnún’s seventh son, having heard of the carnage, swore a solemn oath that he would slay the nunda. “I shall find the nunda who killed my brothers”, he told his mother as he set out alone with a spear and a knife.

The young prince was nothing if not zealous. The first vaguely intimidating creature he ran into was a large dog, which he promptly killed and dragged home. “Mamá, wee, niulága nundá mla wátu“, he sang triumphantly. “O mother, I have killed the nunda, eater of people”. But his mother shook her head sadly and said “My son, this is not he, the nunda, eater of people. The nunda is much larger”.

So the son set out again, and successively killed a civet, a larger civet, a zebra, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, and an elephant, bringing each one back in turn only to be corrected by his mother. In time, he gathered a small group of followers, and managed to piece together a description of the nunda: it was elephant-sized or larger, had small ears, was broad and not long, had two blotches like a civet, and had a thick tail.

Finally, the youth’s efforts paid off, and the nunda was found asleep in the shade of a grove of trees. That was clearly the nunda, as it fit his mother’s description of it perfectly, and did not resemble anything else he had killed so far. He and his slaves fired their guns into the nunda at close range, but did not hang around for fear that it was still alive. Instead they slept through the night, and checked on it in the morning. The huge cat was undeniably dead.

The beast was dragged back to the city in triumph, and the prince sang of his victory, to which his mother chanted back “Mwanangu, ndiyeye nundá mla watu. My son, this is he, the nunda, eater of people”. The nunda’s carcass was buried, a house was built on top of it, and a guard was placed at the house.

This is but one tale of the insatiable nunda. It is another “swallowing monster”, and sometimes it swallows up the entire populace except for one hero. The hero kills the nunda and cuts it open, releasing the victims unharmed.

References

Steere, E. (1870) Swahili Tales. Bell & Daldy, London.

Catoblepas

Variations: Katoblepas, Catablepon, Katoblepon, Catobleponta, Gorgon (erroneously)

Catoblepas

The Catoblepas, “that which looks downwards”, is probably the most hideous and repulsive of living things, so horrid that its mere glance is lethal. Pliny locates it in Ethiopia, around the source of the Nile, Aelian puts it in Libya, and Topsell gives a range of Hesperia and Lybia.

According to Pliny, the body of a catoblepas is of small size, and its limbs are heavy, but its massive head is too heavy to be held up and always looks downwards. This is a good thing, as anyone who saw the eyes of a catoblepas died.

Aelian gives more detail, describing it as the size of a bull, but with a grim expression, shaggy eyebrows, and small bloodshot eyes. It looks downwards, and has a horselike mane that starts on its head and covers its face. The catoblepas feeds on poisonous plants; when threatened, it shudders and raises its mane in warning before opening its mouth and belching a foul, toxic gas. This gas poisons the air around it, and anything that breathes it loses its voice, collapses in convulsions, and dies. Other animals give it a wide berth because of this. There is no mention of a deadly gaze.

Topsell combines the catoblepas with the Gorgon, stating that the myth of Perseus originated from a war with African Amazons led by Medusa. The snake-hair of the gorgons was inspired by the catoblepas’ messy mane. His fanciful description borrows liberally from gorgons and adds thick eyelids, scales like a dragon, tusks like a boar, no hair on the head, wings, human hands, and a size between that of a bull and a calf. He also denies that a catoblepas can kill with its breath, which is unheard of in the animal world; it is far more likely to kill with its eyes like the well-known cockatrice. He gives as proof an anecdote of Marius’ soldiers encountering a catoblepas and thinking it a sheep, only to die immediately when it looked up at them. It was eventually killed in an ambush by spear-men, and its skin was sent to the temple of Hercules in Rome.

It is in Flaubert’s Temptation that we get the most nightmarish vision of the catoblepas. Here it is a sprawling, long-maned black buffalo with the head of a pig dragging on the ground. Its neck is long and thin like an emptied intestine. It is also granted the power of speech, addressing Anthony. “Fat, melancholy, wild, I perpetually feel the warmth of mud under my belly, hiding infinite rot under my armpit. My skull is so heavy that I cannot lift it. I roll it around me, slowly; – and, jaws opened, I tear with my tongue poisonous herbs watered with my breath. Once, I ate my paws by accident. No-one, Anthony, has ever seen my eyes, or those who have seen them are dead. If I lifted my eyelids – my pink and swollen eyelids, straight away, you would die”.

Cuvier suggested that this maned, hoofed, and downward-looking abomination of nature was inspired by the harmless gnu or wildebeest.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

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

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu

Mbielu3

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, or “animal with planks growing out of its back”, is a little-known creature restricted to the Likouala-aux-Herbes in the Congo.

It has only ever been seen in the water with only its back protruding, exposing large “planks” with algal growth between them. What it looks like underwater remains unknown. The mbielu-mbielu-mbielu does not show any aggressive behavior and is presumably herbivorous.

Mbielu3 sketch

The suggestion that it is a late-surviving stegosaur is dubious at best, considering that stegosaurs went extinct long before the end of the Cretaceous (with the possible exception of the disputable Dravidosaurus).

References

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

Weishampel, D. B.; Dodson, P.; and Osmolska, H. (2004) The Dinosauria, 2nd Edition. University of California Press, Berkeley.