Not Appearing in ABC: The Ol-maima

While searching for information on the dingonek, I found that it’s been synonymized with a whole bunch of other creatures. These include, for instance, the Lukwata (a far more “legitimate” creature), the Ndamathia, and the Olmaima or Ol-umaina. That last one piqued my curiosity, and further research into it serves as a cautionary tale – one that cryptozoologists would do well to heed.

The original reference is Hobley (1913):

At the time this story appeared it was considered that this [Bronson’s account] was probably a traveller’s tale, told to entertain a newcomer, but I have since met a man who a few years back wandering about the Mara River or Ngare Dubash which rises in Sotik, crosses the Anglo-German boundary and runs into Lake Victoria in German territory. He emphatically asserts that he saw the beast [i.e. the Dingonek]. He was at the time where the Mara River crosses the frontier, and the river was in high flood. The beast came floating down the river on a big log, and he estimated its length at about sixteen feet, but could not certain of its length as its tail was in the water. He describes it as spotted like a leopard, covered with scales, and having a head like an otter; he did not see the long fangs described by Mr. Jordan. He fired at it and hit it; it slid off the log into the water and was not seen again.

I made inquiries of the District Commissioner, Kisii, Mr. Crampton, and he wrote recently and said he had visited the Amala River and made inquiries from the Masai in the neighbourhood, and they knew of the beast, which they called Ol-umaina, and described it as follows: About fifteen feet long, head like a dog, small ears marked somewhat after the fashion of a puff adder, has claws, short legs, short neck, is said to lie in the sun on the sand by the river-side and to slip into the water when disturbed; when in the water only its head is visible. This story does not radically disagree with the others…

There are a few conclusions to draw here. First, the author believes the dingonek, the unnamed Mara River creature, and the ol-umaina to be one and the same. Second, the features shared by all three are notable size, scales, spots like a leopard, and possibly a long tail.

Heuvelmans (1958) quotes Hobley (1913) (in fact, almost exactly the previous quote) and concurs that the “description agrees fairly well with the dingonek”. However, he has a comment on the ol-umaina’s description:

The puff-adder has no external ears. Perhaps Hobley means the small horns on the horned viper, but the text is by no means clear.

The ears thing confused me as well, but the most logical conclusions I can come up with is that a) like the puff adder, it has markings by its ears, or b) like the puff adder, it has no visible ears, or c) both of the above.

Finally Karl Shuker, in his In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), straight-up refers to the Mara River creature as a dingonek, and makes a correction to the ol-umaina’s name: it is now the ol-maima.

So what are we to make of all this? Turns out there is a creature that answers to the descriptions given. A normal, unremarkable creature, but not as big as it is claimed to be.

Image from Wikipedia.

That’s right, it’s the humble Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus). Note the scales, the “leopard” spots, the tail, an otter- or dog-like head without long fangs, sharp claws, short neck and legs, and a long tail. It basks in the sun and dives into the water when threatened.

Of course, Nile monitors don’t grow 15 feet long, but this can be chalked up to exaggeration and/or honest overestimation.

The final nail in the coffin is the name ol-maima or ol-umaina. Looking up a reputable Maa dictionary, we discover that ɔl-máɨ́má is the Maa word for a) a cripple and b) a Nile monitor lizard.

There is no need to invoke aquatic walruses, relict dinosaurs, or crocodiles with missing jaws. If the dingonek and the ol-maima are the same animal, then they are no more than fanciful descriptions of Nile monitors. The Dingonek gets a full entry because its description is so unusual, but the ol-maima, literally “Nile monitor lizard” in Maa, will not be so lucky.

Hmmm…

appears in joints like wooden buoys on a net rope

appears like a string of gallon kegs

diameter of a barrel

appears to be full of joints and resembles a string of buoys on a net rope, as is set in the water to catch herring

a string of water casks

There is a very simple logical conclusion that is not being made here…

I want to thank you all for your support and feedback (those of you who emailed me, I’m going to get back to you eventually, don’t worry!)

Regarding the tumblr, I have made my peace with a) the fact that it’s not really my style, and b) the fact that I must live with the consequences of my rash decisions, pick up the pieces, and start over.

I’ve decided that, while not the best platform for longform posts, it would still benefit those who are on it (and prefer it to, say, Facebook) to have updates go there. I won’t have any pretensions about my place there and I will put creatures and nothing else.

Therefore! For those of you with tumblr, I will be rebuilding the archive at a-book-of-creatures.tumblr.com. Since this is a new endeavor I’m trying something slightly different and I’m minimizing information there – ya want more, yer gonna have to go to the main site.

Thank you again, and onwards once more.

Here’s a question. With tumblr down (for better or worse), would you like to see more asides, jokes, images, definitions, making-ofs, obscure modern monsters, not-appearing-in-ABCs, essays, shower thoughts, rants, and other miscellanea? Or “just stick with the encyclopedia entries ABC, you’ve done enough damage already 😡”?

I love you folks, I really do. Thank you so much for your support. I feel like I’m constantly destroying and then re-earning the trust we’ve built up, but I hope you’ll be patient with me again… I feel like you also deserve some explanations.

To clear up any misunderstandings: my main problems with tumblr were that

A) I felt my effort was going unrewarded. As in, the creature posts that make up ABC would get far less notes (and of those, much fewer reblogs) than random thoughts that pop into my head on the way home from work. That was demoralizing to some extent, but it’s endemic to how the tumblr (and social media in general) system of likes/reblogs works. Short, snappy things that reinforce your preexisting conceptions are worth far more than anything that requires reading. Again, this is not tumblr in particular but social media in general, and it was foolish of me to assume an encyclopedia-esque endeavor would be a good fit to that format.

B) I just wasn’t cut out to maintaining it beyond the creature posts. Tumblr thrives on originality and force of personality and talent (usually to create fanwork). I am, as I’ve stated earlier, a very boring person. I can’t post Exciting Opinions or Awesome Takes. I also cannot draw sexy fanart (or any kind of art for that matter) to save my own life.

C) To my shame, I created the tumblr originally to advertise the main site. This is something looked upon with scorn by many and it was a mistake, I apologize.

So with these points, and the fact that I was losing control of my life (it’s been a rough week, sorry) I deleted the tumblr in a fit of academic nihilism (as one of the smartest people I know put it). Was it a good idea? Can’t say. Do I regret it? Not yet. I only hope I can make it up to you, the readers, somehow.

If you were following me on tumblr and you’re reading this, I’m sorry for everything, but you’re welcome to like, comment, and discuss on the official site and Facebook.

If you’ve read this far, why are you wasting time? Go do something useful. Like read the rest of this site for example.