Chipekwe

Variations: Chimpekwe

Melland gives chipekwe as referring to a one-tusked elephant in the Kaonde language of Zambia. This is probably irrelevant.

The Chipekwe is a massive, allegedly reptilian, pachyderm-slaying creature found around and in Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. Most encounters consist of unrecognizable spoors, or the noise of some large animal splashing through the water.

A chipekwe has a hairless, smooth, dark body and a single smooth horn, white as polished ivory. Chipekwes do not take well to humans invading their territory. Canoes are destroyed and their occupants are killed. Hippos fare no better – the chipekwe kills them by tearing their throats out. At least one chipekwe is known to have been slain in the Luapula, brought down by the same large harpoons used for hippo hunting.

All of the above could very well be exaggerated references to one-tusked elephants. This is probably relevant.

References

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

Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Mokele-mbembe

Variations: Mokéle-mbêmbe, Mokele Mbembe, Monstrous Animal; Nsanga; Emela-ntouka, Emia-ntouka, Aseka-moke, Ngamba-namae, Killer of Elephants, Water Elephant; Nguma-monene, Badigui, Ngakoula Ngou, Diba, Songo; Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu

Mokele-mbembe

Tales of the Mokele-mbembe, “One Who Stops the Flow of Rivers” (or, more simply, “River-Shutter”), come from the Congo River Basin, around the Ikelemba, Sanga, and Ubangi rivers and Lake Tele. It is the most discussed and well-known of the “African mystery beasts” primarily due to the cryptozoological interpretation that defines it as a surviving sauropod dinosaur. It – or its unnamed predecessor, at any rate – was initially described as hailing from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe. It is at least four notable mythic creatures: the river-shutter, the pachyderm slayer, the unicorn, and the giant reptile. River-shutters are sub-Saharan creatures with an aptitude for withholding or releasing a river’s water; in communities dependent on life-giving water, this can mean the difference between life and death. The pachyderm slayer – a creature so mighty and dangerous that it routinely kills the biggest and scariest animals known – is a far broader category that has been famously applied to the dragon and the unicorn. The presence of a single horn is a recurring feature of monsters, most notably the unicorn. Finally, giant reptiles (often irresponsibly called “dragons”) are a worldwide theme.

The first to suggest the existence of a large dinosaurian creature was big-game hunter and zoo supplier Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck reports a huge animal, half elephant and half dragon, from deep within Rhodesia (not the Congo, where the mokele-mbembe eventually took up residence). He said that there are drawings of it on Central African caves but provides no further detail on that angle. All in all it is “seemingly akin to the brontosaurus [sic]”. Hans Schomburgk, one of Hagenbeck’s sources, stated that the lack of hippos on Lake Bangweulu was due to a large animal that killed hippos. An expedition sent by Hagenbeck to investigate the creature’s existence found nothing. Tantalizing as it may be, the entire episode with the nameless saurian is no more than an aside in Hagenbeck’s book, an attempt to attract potential investors by capitalizing on the contemporary “dinomania” sweeping the globe.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw a vast increase in public interest in dinosaurs. In 1905 the mounted skeleton of Apatosaurus was unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History and London’s Natural History Museum inaugurated its Diplodocus. Soon museums across the world were receiving their own gigantic sauropod skeletons courtesy of Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and patron of the sciences. In 1907 the skeletons of enormous sauropods emerged in German East Africa; these eventually formed a hall of titans in Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Hagenbeck’s account of a living sauropod was not written in a vacuum, but was – consciously or not – drawing on contemporary massive interest in massive reptiles.

E. C. Chubb of the Rhodesia Museum dismissed Hagenbeck’s claim. To him, this creature was no more than another example of the “land edition of the Great Sea Serpent”. He received further accounts of the Rhodesian creature, a large beast with flippers, rhinoceros horns, a crocodile’s head, a python’s neck, a hippo’s body, and a crocodile’s tail; a three-horned creature from Lake Bangweulu, Zambia, that killed hippos.

The next step came with Lieutenant Paul Graetz in 1911. He wrote about the Nsanga of Lake Bangweulu, a “degenerate saurian” like a crocodile but without scales and armed with claws on its feet. Graetz supposedly came by strips of nsanga skin but saw nothing more tangible.

The account that concretized the mokele-mbembe and gave it its name was that of German officer Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz. His report places the mystery beast firmly in the Congo, around the Likouala rivers. The mokele-mbembe has smooth, brownish-grey skin. It is approximately the size of an elephant, or a hippopotamus at the smallest. Its neck is long and flexible. It has only one tooth, but that tooth is very long; “some say it is a horn” adds Stein (this feature is usually ignored, as it does not conform to the sauropod narrative). It has a long, muscular tail like a crocodile’s. It attacks canoes and kills its occupants without eating them. The mokele-mbembe is vegetarian and it feeds on a type of liana, leaving the water to do so. It lives in caves dug out by the sharp bends in the river. Stein was shown a supposed mokele-mbembe trackway but could not make it out among the elephant and hippo tracks.

Stein’s account is the basis for the modern mokele-mbembe legend. The report was never officially published, but was publicized by Willy Ley (who inexplicably linked the mokele-mbembe to the dragon of the Ishtar Gate).

This in turn led to successive expeditions to the Congo by James H. Powell Jr. and Roy Mackal. Mackal determined the mokele-mbembe to be 5 to 10 meters long, most of which is neck and tail. It has smooth brown-grey skin and a very long neck with a snakelike head on the end. Sometimes there is a frill, like a rooster’s comb, on the back of the head. The legs are short and stout, with three claws on the hind legs, and leave 30-centimeter-wide prints. The malombo plant is the staple of the creature’s diet. While herbivorous, the mokele-mbembe is very aggressive and will destroy any canoes that approach it. It does so by tipping the vessels, then biting and lashing out with its tail.

In addition to the mokele-mbembe, Mackal is responsible for bringing to light a whole menagerie of prehistoric survivors and some unusually-sized modern reptiles as well. The Emela-ntouka, for instance, is larger than an elephant. Its skin is smooth, hairless, and wrinkly, brown to grey in color. Its legs are thick and columnar to support its weight. The tail is heavy and similar to a crocodile’s. There is a single horn on the front of the head. These creatures are herbivorous and kill buffaloes and elephants by goring them with their single horns. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because none of it is distinguishable from what has been said about the mokele-mbembe (including the horn, no longer an inconvenient detail). Mackal optimistically proposes that the emela-ntouka is a late-surviving ceratopsian dinosaur.

Nguma-monene, “large python” (from nguma, “python”, and monene, “large”) is reported from the Dongou-Mataba river area. It is a large, serpentine reptile, some 40 to 60 meters long, with a saw-toothed ridge down its back. The head is snake-like with a forked tongue that flicks in and out. It is greyish-brown like just about every other large reptilian cryptid. It is indistinguishable from the badigui, ngakoula ngou, diba, or songo of the Ubangi-Shari. All of these are giant snakes which kill hippos and browse on tree branches without leaving the water. They leave tracks behind like those of a lorry. All of them are indistinguishable from the mokele-mbembe. Mackal describes them as enormous monitor lizards.

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, or “animal with planks growing out of its back”, is restricted to the Likouala-aux-Herbes in the Congo. It is known solely as a large animal that has large “planks” on its back with algae growing between them. The rest of its appearance is unknown. Only one informant reported the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu. Mackal makes a surviving stegosaur out of it.

Finally there is the Ndendecki (a giant turtle), the Mahamba (a giant crocodile), and the Ngoima (a giant eagle). None of these are any more believable than the mokele-mbembe and its host of synonyms.

It would be tedious to list all subsequent expeditions (all unsuccessful) or the anthropological procedures used (all unprofessional). It should however be noted that the hunt for the mokele-mbembe has been coopted by the creationist movement. For some reason these people have decided that the discovery of the mokele-mbembe will be enough to destroy the entire theory of evolution (it won’t) because a surviving dinosaur would be a lethal paradox to science (it isn’t).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe, but as a vaguely defined reptilian river-shutter it is a sort of Rorschach test that viewers can project their preconceptions onto. Far from a detailed local legend, the myth of the mokele-mbembe evolved to suit the needs of the visitors who sought it, whether zoo suppliers, colonialists, cryptozoologists, or creationists. Any underlying folklore about river-shutting reptiles has long been abandoned and discarded, relegated to an etymological footnote. It does not fit the narrative.

References

Hagenbeck, C., Elliot, S. R. and Thacker, A. G. trans. (1911) Beasts and Men. Longmans, Green, And Co., London.

Ley, W. (1959) Exotic Zoology. The Viking Press, New York.

Loxton, D. and Prothero, D. R. (2013) Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press, New York.

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

Naish, D. (2016) Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

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

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.

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.

Camphruch

Variations: Camphur (Paré), Camphurch (Aldrovandi)

Camphruch

The only description of the piscivorous Camphruch is provided by Thevet, who places this unusual unicorn in the Maluku Islands. Paré copies Thevet’s account but locates his “camphur” in Ethiopia, on the Isle of Molucca (!). Aldrovandi refers to the “camphurch”.

The camphruch is amphibious, living on land and in water like a crocodile. It is as big as a doe and has a thick grayish mane around the neck. The single horn on its forehead is three and a half feet long, as thick as a man’s arm at its thickest, and is movable like an Indian rooster’s comb. The forelegs are cloven deer’s hooves. The hindlegs are webbed like those of a goose. Camphruchs feed on fish and swim in both fresh and salt water.

Some believe that it is a species of unicorn, and that its horn neutralizes poisons. It is held in high regard in the islands, and the king of one island proudly bears the name of Camphruch – his courtiers have to make do with the names of lesser beasts, fish, and fruits.

Many of Thevet’s accounts were second or third hand. It is entirely possible that the camphruch was born from a muddle of multiple descriptions – narwhal, fur seal, beaver, goose, and antelope may have contributed. A much later dictionary entry dispenses with all that and describes the “camphur” as a single-horned Arabian donkey.

References

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

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

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

Biasd Na Srogaig

Variations: Biasd Na Sgrogag, Biasd Na Grogaig (typo), Béist Na Sgrogaig, The Beast of the Lowering Horn

biasd-na-srogaig

The Biasd Na Srogaig, the “Beast of the Lowering Horn”, is a unicorn or lake monster native to the lochs in the Scottish Isle of Skye. Other than a single large horn on its forehead, it had little in common with the true unicorn, being tall and clumsy, with long gangly legs and an awkward gait. Originally a nursery bogey, the biasd na srogaig eventually developed a life of its own as children brought their fears into adulthood.

Campbell derives the biasd na srogaig’s name from scrogag, a term applied to snuff horns. It is more correctly written as sgrogag, “crumpled horn”. To further muddle the etymological mixture, béist na sgrogaig has been used as synonymous with the heraldic unicorn.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Campbell, J. G.; Black, R. (ed.) (2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Odontotyrannus

Variations: Arine Hayant Le Tirant, Arine Qui Het Le Tirant, Armez Hayant Le Tirant, Dentem Tyrannum, Dentirant, Dentityrannus, Dent Tyrans, Odentetiranno,  Odontatyrannum,  Odontatyrannus, Odontetiranno

odontotyrannus

The Odontotyrannus is a massive beast found in the rivers of India, whose account has been told as one of Alexander the Great’s many exploits. Its name apparently means “tooth tyrant”, but medieval reading errors led to a variety of increasingly awkward alternate names and direct translations.

When Alexander and his men made camp by a river, they were found by an odontotyrannus coming to the water to drink. It was enormous, large enough to swallow an elephant whole, and black in color, or otherwise with a head black as pitch. It had three horns on its head. When it saw the Macedonians, it went on a rampage, killing 26 and injuring 52 of the soldiers before it was brought down by Emendus, Duke of Arcadia.

The rhinoceros is a certain candidate as the progenitor of the odontotyrannus, as is the crocodile. Confusion with Indus worms – Indian, armed with two terrible teeth, and capable of swallowing prey whole – may have led to the name, as nowhere in its description are teeth ever mentioned.

References

Wauquelin, J., Hériché, S. ed. (2000) Les Faicts et les Conquestes d’Alexandre le Grand. Librairie Droz, Geneva.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Xi

Variations: Xi-Rhinoceros; Xiqu (potentially); Si, Si-Rhinoceros (potentially)

Xi

Among the wildlife to be found on Cauldron Mountain, Mount Min and Pray-and-Pass Mountain is the Xi. It is like a black water buffalo with a pig’s head, a large belly, and three-toed elephant’s feet on short legs. It has three horns, found on its nose, forehead, and crown. The nose horn does not fall off and helps it eat. Xi feed primarily on brambles, and therefore often drool blood. It may be the same animal as the Xiqu, which is a man-eating blue-black ox that makes sounds like a baby.

The Si is similar, but blue or green with a single horn weighing 1,333 pounds. Its thick skin could be used as armor.

Guo Pu mocked the Xi for its big nose, and the Si for its tough hide which ironically made it more desirable and vulnerable to human exploitation.

Both Xi and Si have been used interchangeably to refer to a number of large herbivores including oxen, yaks, and buffalo, but they are generally believed to be rhinos.

References

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Bo

Variations: Poh

Bo

According to the Guideways through Mountains and Seas, the animal known as Bo can be found around Mount Winding-Center (identified as Mount Xue), where Huai-trees grow and where jade, realgar, and metals are plentiful. It can also be found on the plains of Mongolia and on islands in the Northern Sea. The existence of bo in the district of Shen Su was unknown to its residents, until a man called Leu Chang informed them by quoting the Shan Hai Jing for good measure.

A bo looks like a horse with a white body and a black tail, with a single horn on its head. It has tiger’s feet and saw-like tiger’s teeth, and makes a sound like a rolling drum. Bo are strict carnivores that feed upon tigers and leopards, although other sources state that leopards eat bo, and bo in turn eat tigers. A bo will protect against weapons if its flesh is eaten, or if tamed and used as a soldier.

Bo are just and honorable animals, and will reward virtuous behavior accordingly. When the wise magistrate Chung Wa of the Kingdom of Peh Chi faced an invasion by a large number of carnivorous wild animals, six bo appeared and slaughtered the beasts in thanks for the magistrate’s goodness. Duke Huan of Qi’s horse looked like a bo, according to his prime minister Guan Zhong, but presumably did not eat tigers.

References

Gould, C. (1886) Mythical Monsters. W. H. Allen and Co., London.

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Shādawār

Variations: Shadhahvar, Shadhahwar, Shādhahvār, Shad-hawar, Shād-hawār, Shad-havar, Shadhawar, Shadahvar, Shadahwar, Shadawar, Sadahvar, Sadahwar, Sadhavvar, Sadhazar, Sadhazag, Sadhuzag, Aras, ‘rs, ‘rsh

Shad-hawar

The earliest references to the musical-horned unicorn are given by Jabir Ibn Hayyan, around 900 A.D., where it is referred to as the Aras. It was given its most popular incarnation as the Shādawār by Al-Qazwini, which was subsequently copied with modifications by Al-Damiri and Al-Mustawfi. It was found in the farthest reaches of Bilad al-Rum, the Byzantine Empire, a vague location which to Al-Qazwini must have sounded remote.

Exactly how the shādawār’s name should be written and pronounced is unclear. Its writing has varied from author to author and manuscript to manuscript, sometimes starting with a Sā instead of a Shā, with the middle consonant being either a d or a dh (pronounced “the”), and ending in wār (Arabic) or vār (Persian). The spelling chosen here is ultimately arbitrary and based on Ettinghausen and Jayakar’s recommendations, and the most prevalent transliterations. The name is of unknown origin, but Hayyan’s aras is probably derived from “oryx”.

Unlike the more rhinocerine karkadann, the shādawār is an antelope-like ungulate with a single horn, but in this case it is long and hollow. There are forty-two hollow branches in the horn, and wind whistling through these flute-like holes results in beautiful, stirring melodies, so lovely that other animals will gather around to listen. Shādawār horns were offered to kings, who would hang them up as musical intruments. Depending on the angle they were held at, they would produce an enthralling tune or a sad dirge that moved all listeners to tears.

The shādawār has been incorrectly described as a flesh-eater, using its music to attract potential prey. In fact, Al-Qazwini makes no mention of any carnivorous tendencies. Al-Mustawfi, however, combines Al-Qazwini’s account of the shādawār with that of the carnivorous Sirānis immediately preceding it. It is the sirānis that lures prey to it with its music, and not the herbivorous shādawār.

Al-Damiri and Bochart give it seventy-two branches on its horn. Flaubert goes further and describes his “sadhuzag” as a black deer with the head of a bull, and a thicket of white horns on its head. It speaks to Anthony, describing its unique powers. “My seventy-four antlers are hollow as flutes. When I turn towards the South wind, sounds come out that attract enraptured beasts. Snakes coil around my legs, wasps cling to my nostrils, and parrots, doves, and ibises roost in my branches. – Listen! … But when I turn to the North wind, my antlers, thicker than a battalion of lances, exhale a howl; forests shudder, rivers retreat, fruit bulbs burst, and grasses stand on end like the hair of a coward. – Listen!”

References

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

el-Cheikh, N. M. Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century. In Laiou, A. E. and Mottahedeh, R. P. (2001) The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D. C.

Contadini, A. Musical Beasts: The Swan-Phoenix in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Bestiaries. In O, Kane, B. (2005) The Iconography of Islamic Art. Edinburgh University Press.

Contadini, A. (2012) A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitab Na’t al-Hayawan) in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Tradition. Brill, Leiden.

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

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

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

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon). Luzac and Co., London.

Kraus, P. (1986) Jabir Ibn Hayyan : Contribution à l’historie des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres, Paris.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.