Utelif

Variations: Uletif (Paré), Pristis, Saw-fish, Sawfish

Utelif

Thevet describes the monstrous Utelif as a fish found along the African coast, from Guinea to Ethiopia. It has a three-foot long, four-finger wide saw on its forehead. This weapon is very sharp on both sides. It is much like a killer whale, but its skin is scaly instead of leathery. Thevet includes a drawing of it and contrasts it with that of Rondelet, who was sadly mistaken in putting the saw on the creature’s nose.

Ambroise Paré predictably copies Thevet’s account but changes the name to uletif. Like Thevet, he is in possession of the remarkable saw, a serrated horn weighing five pounds with fifty-one sharp teeth divided on either side (25 on one, 26 on the other). It is colored like a sole above and is white below. As the uletif is believed to be a marine unicorn, its horn has the same antivenomous qualities as that of the unicorn. He dismisses the popular claim that the saw is a snake’s tongue.

Aldrovandi includes the likeness of the utelif in his discussion of the Pristis or sawfish.

References

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

Paré, A. (1582) Discours d’Ambroise Paré – De la Licorne. Gabriel Buon, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Rondelet (1554) Libri de Piscibus Marinis. Matthiam Bonhomme, Lyon.

Vallot, D. M. (1821) Explication des Caricatures en Histoire Naturelle. Mémoires de l’Academie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-lettres de Dijon.

Usilosimapundu

Variations: Ugungqu-kubantwana, Ugunqu-kubantwana

Usilosimapundu

Usilosimapundu, “the rugose beast” or “the nodulated beast”, is a creature of superlatives. There are hills and mountains on his vast body, with rivers on one side, highlands on another, forests on the next, highlands and cliffs on other sides; he is so large that it is winter on one side of him and summer on the other. Two enormous trees, the Imidoni, serve as Usilosimapundu’s officers and servants. Usilosimapundu’s head is a huge rock, with eyes and a broad red mouth. He is a swallower, like many oversized African creatures, but also a force of nature, a personification of landslides and earthquakes.

The sorceress-princess Umkxakaza-wakogingqwayo (“Rattler of weapons of the place of the rolling of the slain”) was promised a great many cattle by her father the king, and the land was scoured for the finest livestock available. Unfortunately the very best cattle proved to be the property of Usilosimapundu. “Take them now”, he warned the soldiers, “but do not expect to get away with it”.

Umkxakaza was greatly pleased by her gift, and Usilosimapundu’s threat was forgotten as the years went by. That is, until the day the earth shook, and Usilosimapundu came to Umkxakaza’s doorstep. Two leaves detached from the Imidoni and took human form before heading for Umkxakaza and ordering her to do their bidding. They forced her to help prepare food for Usilosimapundu to eat – and eat he did, swallowing up everything in town. Finally Usilosimapundu had Umkxakaza climb onto his back, and he lumbered away with his trophy.

Of course, Umkxakaza’s father sent his armies to retrieve his daughter, but what good were the weapons of man against a living continent? Their spears landed in rocks, grass, ponds, trees – none of them had any effect on Usilosimapundu. Umkxakaza’s mother was the only one who continued to follow Usilosimapundu, and the beast obligingly gave her maize and sugarcane to eat while she hurried behind him, but eventually even the queen had to give up. She kissed Umkxakaza, weeping, bidding her to go in peace.

Usilosimapundu dropped Umkxakaza off in a fully furnished cave. “Your father spoiled me by taking my cattle”, he said, “so now I have spoiled him. He will never see you again”. With that Usilosimapundu left and was not seen again.

That was far from the end of Umkxakaza’s adventures, as she was abducted by the Amadhlungundhlebe half-men who fattened her up for eating. She escaped those new captors by summoning a storm, and made her way back to her father’s town, where she was greeted with joy and celebration.

Usilosimapundu has a female counterpart in Ugungqu-kubantwana, the mother of animals. Her name refers to the sound she makes when moving – gungqu, gungqu – rather like that made by a heavy wagon on a bumpy road.

References

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

Umutwa

Variations: Abatwa (pl., often used as singular), Chitowe, Katsumbakazi, Maithoachiana, Mkonyingo, Mumbonelekwapi, Wabilikimo

Umutwa

First contact between different people is never easy. Sometimes one group ends up exaggerated, romanticized, altered until they are virtually unrecognizable. It was this process that turned Saracens into malevolent mountain goblins, and which caused the San bushmen to shrink to near-microscopic size in Zulu folklore, resulting in the Abatwa. The term is still used in Zulu to refer to bushmen, and some identify as Abatwa, but the Abatwa of folklore are supernatural and unmistakeable.

The Abatwa, Umutwa in the singular, are the smallest of all fairies. They live in the rugged uplands, where they use blades of grass as shelters and sleep in anthills. Abatwa have no fixed village apart from their bivouacs in the anthills. The only times they are sedentary are when they kill game; even then they stay around the carcass only as long as it takes to fully consume it. Sometimes the Abatwa ride horses in search of game. In such cases, dozens of the tiny warriors sit atop one horse, in a line from head to tail. If their hunt is unsuccessful, they do the next best thing and eat the horse.

Despite their size, they are deadly hunters, armed with poisoned arrows that can kill even elephants. Being stalked and killed by Abatwa is a nightmare, as you face foes too small to see; they are like driver ants, or puff adders, virtually invisible, yet disproportionately deadly. However, they are also self-conscious about being tiny, to the point of being very touchy about it. This insecurity is outweighed by an enormous ego. Abatwa are vulnerable to flattery.

When one meets an Umutwa and hails him with the traditional Sa-ku-bona (“I have seen you”), the Umutwa is immediately suspicious. “Where did you see me?” If you answer “I haven’t seen you before”, “Just now”, or words to that effect, the Umutwa, furious about this slight on his size, will immediately draw his bow and shoot you dead.

Clearly a more diplomatic approach is in order. Creativity is vital here, as is exaggeration and, above all, sincere delivery. “I last saw you on my way here. See that mountain on the horizon? I was on top of it when I saw you, I couldn’t mistake you for anyone else”. Then the Umutwa smiles with pride, secure in the knowledge that despite being tiny, he is still a towering and respected figure.

The motif of tiny warriors with height insecurity is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. All of these creatures, associated with different cultures, can be dealt with in the same way as the Abatwa, and respond negatively (and lethally) to going unnoticed.

If you flatter the Katsumbakazi of the Giryama, something lucky will happen to you.

The Maithoachiana of the Akikyu in Dagoreti are a cannibal race that are rich and skilled in metalworking.

The Wabilikimo of the Swahili live four days’ journey from Chaga, and are only twice the length from the middle finger to the elbow.

The Itowe (singular Chitowe) of the Machinga Yao rob gardens, rot pumpkins, turn fruits bitter, and leave footprints everywhere. Putting some of your crops at cross-roads will help placate them. They are like men but run on all fours. The related Mumbonelekwapi have long beards.

The Wakonyingo (singular Mkonyingo) of the Wachaga have enormous, misshapen heads and hide on Mount Kilimanjaro; none are bigger than a little boy. They have ladders that reach into the sky. They never lie down but lean against a wall, as getting up is hard with their top-heavy build. Wakonyingo take pity on people in trouble and will help them if they are lost. They leave bits of meat when sacrificing to their ancestors; the meat rolls down the mountain and turns into white-necked ravens. They are somewhat less touchy than the others mentioned, but can still exact terrible vengeance.

References

Ananikian, M. H. and Werner, A. (1964) The Mythology of All Races v. VII: Armenian and African. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.

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