Shuyu

Variations: Shu-fishShuyu

The Shuyu or Shu-fish can be found in abundance in China’s Peng River. It looks like a chicken with red feathers, and has four heads (or four eyes), six feet, and three tails. It caws like a magpie. Eating it cures melancholy.

The red color, multiplicity of appendages, and the triple (three-lobed?) tail combine to suggest a crayfish or lobster.

References

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.

Kusa Kap

The tale of Kusa Kap is told on the islands of Dauan and Mabuiag in the Torres Strait. The primary difference is the setting of the events and the name of the fisherman – Maiwasa in Mabuiag, Kaudab in Dauan. Of the two, the Dauan account is more detailed and is the primary source here.

Kaudab was a successful and handsome young dugong hunter from Dauan. He was recently married to Bakar, a woman so beautiful she was expected to never leave the house. But he had also attracted the attention of Giz. Giz was a dogai, a cunning female spirit with long ears and the ability to shapeshift. Giz would spend long hours desiring the beautiful red-headed man for herself, and she was so jealous that she wouldn’t leave him out of her sight. Giz could not tolerate Bakar’s existence.

One day, as Bakar was looking for octopus, Giz dove into a rockpool and turned herself into an octopus. Bakar had never seen an octopus before, and she leaned over the pool to try to grab it, only for Giz to grab her in her tentacles and pull her underwater. Bakar knew immediately that this was no ordinary octopus, but a dogai in disguise, and screamed to Kaudab for help – but alas, he was too far away to hear her.

This was only the beginning of Giz’s revenge. She pulled Bakar through Apangabia-taian, the tunnel beneath the sea, and took her to the island of Kusar, near New Guinea. There she abandoned the young bride before returning to Kaudab’s home and transforming into Bakar herself. When Kaudab came home, Giz tried to prepare food for him, but she did not know how to do so, burning her fingers on the coals, cackling wildly, and breaking wind crudely with every movement. Thus Kaudab knew his wife had been replaced by a dogai.

Bakar, meanwhile, was alone on a deserted island. There was nothing to eat beside kusa seeds (kapul). She became pregnant as a result, and eventually laid an egg like that of a sea-eagle’s. It hatched into a baby eagle that she cared for with as much love as if it had been a human child. She named the bird Kusa Kap after the kusa seeds that had conceived him.

With Bakar’s care Kusa Kap grew quickly. His first attempts to fly were clumsy, but soon his wings were strong enough to carry him to the tops of trees. In time he was strong enough to fly to Daudai and bring back coal, string, bark, and a bamboo knife, which Bakar used to get a fire going so she could start cooking food.

The next day Kusa Kap saw a dugong for the first time. He seized it in his talons and carried it off for Bakar to cook. In time he was capturing many dugong, sending the surplus to Pösipas.

Finally Bakar told her son to go to Dauan, and gave him directions to find Kaudab’s house. He informed him of Bakar’s plight by responding to his questions with nods, and directed Kaudab to Bakar’s island by alighting on the mast of his canoe and guiding him. Before long Bakar and Kaudab were joyfully reunited again.

The only thing left was Giz, and Kusa Kap swooped onto her and carried her off in his talons. After torturing her at length by dropping and recapturing her, he let go of her far away from Dauan. She plunged into the sea and turned to stone, becoming Dogail Malu, the dogai sea.

There is a final twist to the tale of Kusa Kap. In the account of New Guinea given by d’Albertis, he is informed by his traveling companions of a gigantic bird, some 16 to 22 feet in wingspan, whose wings make a noise like a steam engine. It lives around the Mai Kusa river. He adds that the natives have seen it carry dugongs into the air. He rejects the claims and later shoots a red-necked hornbill, which is a large bird that makes a strange noise in flight; he succeeded in convincing two or three of his companions that this was, in fact, the bird in question.

Either way, despite Kusa Kap being described as an eagle, Haddon identifies the red-necked hornbill as the origin of the Kusa Kap legend on the basis of its dugong-snatching activities.

References

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. I. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. II. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.

Haddon, A. C. (1904) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, v. V: Sociology, Magic, and Religion of the Western Islanders. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and Legends of Torres Strait. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.

Man-Eating Boulder

There was once a widow working in the fields of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, India. She gave her two sons bananas to eat and let them run off and play by themselves while she plowed the fields. The two boys were climbing over some rocks when the younger son found that his foot was stuck. His older brother tried to pull him out, but instead found that his brother was sinking deeper and deeper into the rock.

He called to his mother for help. “Come quickly, my brother’s feet have been swallowed by a boulder!” But his mother didn’t believe him. Thinking that he and his brother were playing a game, she ignored his cries and continued plowing. By the time she checked on her children, the younger brother had been completely swallowed up by the man-eating boulder, and only the outstretched hand of the older brother – still clutching a banana – was visible sticking out of the rock.

All the men of the village brought their hammers and tried to free the children, but every time they struck the boulder, it grew bigger. Finally, fearing that they too would be swallowed up, they abandoned the children to their fate.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Leucrocotta

Variations: Leucocrota, Leucocrote, Leucrocota, Leucrocuta, Leucrota, Leocrocota, Leoncerote; Corocotta, Korokottas, Krokottas, Krokottos, Krokouttas (Greek); Corocottas, Crocotta, Crocuta (Latin); Leoncerote

The Leucrocotta, unlike its close relative the corocotta, was not treated with any degree of seriousness by the ancients. There is only one primary textually corrupt record of it in Classical writing, it was never brought to Rome to the wonderment of all, and there are no contemporary depictions of it in art. And yet, the unique description it was given ensured not only that it would thrive in medieval writing, but also that it and the corocotta would eventually be hopelessly confused.

The only source for the leucrocotta is Pliny, who locates it in Ethiopia. It is as big as a wild donkey and has the cloven-hooved legs of stag, which enable it to run swiftly. It has the neck, tail, and breast of a lion, the head of a badger with a mouth slit all the way to the ears, and a single block of bone for teeth. Like the corocotta, it imitates the human voice.

Elsewhere Pliny says that the leucrocotta is the offspring of a lioness and a hyena (or corocotta). It has very sharp eyesight, a single continuous tooth in each jaw, and no gums. The single teeth are kept sharp by constantly rubbing against each other, and are enclosed in a sort of sheath.

The name of the leucrocotta itself is probably an error. Holland indicates that the best manuscripts of Pliny use the term leucocrota, which was then corrupted to leucrocota and its variants. The original may have been some kind of antelope, but the modified name gave it its origin from a lion and a corocotta (leo and crocotta).

Pliny’s copyist Solinus places the leucrocotta in India. It is as big as a donkey, haunched like a stag, with the breast and legs of a lion, the head of a camel, cloven hooves, a mouth that extends all the way back to the ears, and a single round bone instead of teeth. Its voice is like that of a man. It is the swiftest of all beasts.

Perhaps due to its clearly defined and unusual iconography, the leucrocotta found new popularity in medieval bestiaries, to the extent that it eclipsed the corocotta. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary says the leucrota is Indian, and is donkey-sized with the head of a horse, a lion’s chest and legs, a stag’s hindquarters, and cloven hooves. Its mouth is from ear to ear, it has a single bone in each jaw instead of teeth, and it imitates human speech.

Albertus Magnus makes reference to both the “cyrocrothes” and the “leucrocotham”. The Ortus Sanitatis brings further single-toothed creatures in the form of the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.

Topsell’s crocuta is the same as the leucrocotta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.

Assuming the leucrocotta is a real animal, and stripping it of its confusion with the corocotta, its description evokes a large maned antelope. Ball suggests the nilgai as the origin of this chimera.

References

Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

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

Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

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

Solinus, G. J. (1473) De Mirabilibus Mundi. N. Jenson, Venice.

Solinus, G. J.; Golding, A. trans. (1587) The Excellent and Pleasant Worke of Caius Julius Solinus. Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, Gainesville, Florida.

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

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Corocotta

Variations: Korokottas, Krokottas, Krokottos, Krokouttas (Greek); Corocottas, Crocotta, Crocote, Crocuta (Latin); Cynolycus, Kunolykos, Kynolykos (Greek, “Dog-wolf”); Leoncerote; Chaus; Cameleopard (Strabo); Cyrocrothes, Leucrocotham (Albertus Magnus); Cirotrochea (Ortus Sanitatis); Hyena, Iena, Yena, Yenna

The hyena was known to the ancients under several names. The term hyaina (Greek) and hyaena (Latin) almost certainly refer to the smaller and more familiar striped hyena. The more exotic Corocotta is probably the spotted hyena, especially considering its vocal qualities and prowess at hunting. Then there are other terms that may refer to hyenas such as the glanos, the chaus, and the thōs, the last of which is probably a jackal, civet, or hunting dog.

Much of what is said about the corocotta is shared with the hyena, and even Greek and Roman authors seem uncertain as to whether or not it is seprate from the hyena. Translators of classical texts have also chosen to retain “corocotta” as a unique word, or simply replace it with hyena. Further muddying the waters is the emergence of the derivative leucrocotta, which gained features of the hyena/corocotta through this confusion and passed on its own features (such as a lion-hyena ancestry and single bones for teeth) to the corocotta.

What is known is that the corocotta is unfamiliar, hailing from far-flung lands – either Ethiopia or India, depending on the author (the regions were used interchangeably). If it is indeed African, the word corocotta may be a Libyan or Ethiopian word for the hyena. Lassen (cited by McCrindle) saw in Ctesias an Indian origin to the corocotta, and derives its name from the Sanskrit kroshtuka, “jackal”. The name has since then been applied to the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta.

Ctesias says that the corocotta is also known as the cynolycus (“dog-wolf”). It is found in Ethiopia and is incredibly strong. It can mimic human voices, calling people out by name at night and killing them when they come out in response. It is as brave as a lion, as fast as a horse, as strong as a bull, and cannot be fought with steel weapons.

Agatharchides says it is a fierce and powerful creature that lives in Ethiopia. It can crush bones with its jaws. The corocotta can also mimic human speech, and it uses this ability to lure humans out at night so it can kill them. Agatharchides rejects this.

Pliny says that the corocotta is the offspring of a dog and a wolf. It can crush anything with its teeth, and anything it eats is immediately digested and passed through its body. It is Ethiopian. Elsewhere further powers are attributed to the hyena or crocuta: it changes sex every other year, its neck is an extension of its spine, it can imitate human speech and vomiting sounds, it digs up graves, its shadow strikes dogs dumb, it paralyzes other living things by circling around them three times, and it has a thousand variations in eye color.

Aelian separates the hyena and the corocotta. The hyena roams around cattle pens by night and imitates the sound of vomiting, attracting dogs which are promptly killed and eaten. But the corocotta is even craftier. Aelian says that it listens to woodcutters calling each other by name and the words they say, then it imitates their voices, calling out to its victim and withdrawing before calling again. It continues this game of cat-and-mouse until its prey has been tempted far away from their friends, whereupon the corocotta pounces and kills them. Aelian admits that “the story may be fabulous”.

Dio Cassius reports that Severius had a corocotta imported from India to be slain in the games in AD 202. It had never been seen in Rome before.

By the time the crocotta and leucrocotta had reached medieval Europe, the similarity of their descriptions, combined with the leucrocotta’s more memorable physical features, caused them to combine. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary adds a mention of the crocote at the end of the hyena entry, describing it as a hybrid of lion and hyena with a single bone replacing its teeth (both features of the leucrocotta). It imitates human voices and is always found in the same place. The leucrota, on the other hand, is given a complete entry of its own which is fairly faithful to its original account.

Albertus Magnus refers to the “cyrocrothes”, which is the corocotta with the single tooth-bone of the leucrocotta, and the “leucrocotham”. It is further corrupted in the Ortus Sanitatis, which includes both the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.

Topsell divides his Hyena entry to cover the varieties of hyena. In addition to the hyena proper, he provides additional hyenas including the papio (baboon), the mantichora, and the crocuta. The crocuta has become the same as the leucrocuta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.

Ludolphus is clear that the hyena or crocuta (by now they are one and the same, and refer to what we would now call the spotted hyena) is the most voracious of all Ethiopian beasts, preying upon men in the day as well as at night, and digging down the walls of houses and stables. It is speckled with black and white spots.

It may be that the hyena of the ancients was the striped hyena, while the corocotta was the spotted hyena, or vice versa. The imitation of human speech seems a clear allusion to the spotted or laughing hyena’s vocalizations. Despite that, the Palestrina Nile Mosaic identifies a striped creature as a corocotta; spotted animals are labeled as examples of the mysterious thōs.

Finally, a notable Spanish bandit was known as Corocotta. This may be a complete coincidence.

References

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

Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

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

Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.

Ctesias, McCrindle, J. W. trans. (1882) Ancient India as described by Ktesias the Knidian. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; B. E. S. Press, Bombay; Trubner and Co., London.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Ludolphus, J. (1684) A New History of Ethiopia. Samuel Smith, London.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

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

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Yam Bhaya Akhoot

Variations: Abang Aku (Malay, corruption), A Bao a Qu (corruption)

The Yam Bhaya Akhoot is a mysterious, amorphous being that lives at the bottom of the stairway of the Vijay Stambha, the Tower of Victory, in Chittorgarh, India. By night it haunts the Bhimlat Kund water tank.

Normally the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is in a dormant state, and is invisible. But when visitors start climbing the tower, it follows them up the stairs, remaining on the well-worn outside the steps. It can see through its whole body. Blue light starts to glow through its skin, which is translucent and feels like the skin of a peach. With each step covered its shape becomes clearer and its blue glow stronger. Tentacular appendages appear at the halfway point of the staircase.

It will only follow a fully self-realized person to the top of the stairs. If the Yam Bhaya Akhoot realizes that the person it’s following is unworthy, it lets out a sigh like the rustling of silk and tumbles down the stairs all the way back to the first step, where it awaits the next visitor. But if the person it follows is fully self-realized and blameless, then it will reach the top with them, become their aura, and guide them to Nirvana. This event has happened only once, and sadly is probably impossible today since the top of the tower was covered by a dome in more recent times.

Ethereal and benign, the Yam Bhaya Akhoot’s origin may be more sinister. One suggestion is that it is the ghost of the leader of the Nakshatra Meenu, the giant brittle stars that invaded the Konkan Coast. It had been captured and presented generations later to the ruler of Mewar.

In Malaysia the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is known as Abang Aku, probably a corruption of its name and which can be read as “elder brother”. This is turn was further corrupted to “A Bao A Qu”, a term which was used and popularized by J. L. Borges. Furthermore, Borges also confusingly attributes it to either C. C. Iturvuru’s On Malay Witchcraft or Richard Francis Burton’s The Thousand and One Nights depending on the version of his book.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Borges, J. L. (1978) El Libro de los Seres Imaginarios. Emece Editores, Buenos Aires.

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

Borges, J. L. (2009) Manual de Zoologia Fantastica. Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico.

Kurrea

The Kurrea is an enormous reptilian creature from the Boobera Lagoon, the Barwon River, and the Narran River in New South Wales, Australia. It may be considered the local variant of the rainbow serpent, although the lumping of such entities may be overzealous. The term kurrea, a Euahlayi word, has also been translated as “crocodile” in the one Narran River account, but a “serpent” interpretation is probably more correct. A 39-foot carving of the kurrea is clearly snake-shaped.

The deepest part of the Boobera Lagoon is bottomless and that is where the kurrea lives. An enormous serpentine creature, it is incapable of moving on dry land. When a kurrea wants to travel, it tears up the ground on the banks of the lagoon, excavating channels along which it can swim. The many shallow channels around the lagoon are evidence of the kurrea’s movements.

Anyone who dared fish, swim, or paddle in the Boobera Lagoon would immediately be attacked and devoured by the kurrea. This hostile behavior could cause serious shortages, as the lagoon had large flocks of waterfowl and schools of fish.

Once a man called Toolalla, of the Barwon River, decided to rid his people of the kurrea. He was a skilled hunter and, armed with his sharpest and strongest weapons, he stood on the bank of the lagoon. Before long the kurrea had noticed him and swam towards him. But despite all his preparations, Toolalla discovered that even his best weapons could not even injure the kurrea.

Toolalla made the wise decision to flee for his life. The kurrea followed him, gouging out a channel at high speed and rapidly gaining on his prey. Toolalla managed to climb up a tall bumble tree where the snake could not reach him. The bumble tree is also the kurrea’s mother-in-law, and the only thing it fears. Eventually, frustrated and disappointed, the kurrea returned to the Boobera Lagoon, where it continued to be a threat to all who trespassed on its domain.

Today the kurrea is harder to see. Its descendants are the gowarke, the giant, black-feathered, red-legged emus of the Baiame swamps.

References

Buchler, I. R. and Maddock, K. (eds.) (1978) The Rainbow Serpent: A Chromatic Piece. Mouton Publishers, The Hague.

Mathews, R. H. (1907) Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales. William Appleworth Gullick, Sydney.

Reed, A. W. (1982) Aboriginal Myths, Legends, and Fables. Reed, Wellington.

Ajaju

The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.

An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.

The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.

To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.

Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.

References

Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.

Siéhnam

Siéhnam the deer was once the terror of the Chorote of Argentina. He would attack at night, seeking out villages after midnight, and kill people by stabbing them with his large antlers. If he found someone sleeping on their back, he would bite their throat. He killed four people every night.

The day came when the Chorote, tired of the losses incurred, asked the shaman for help. “What is it that comes at night?” they asked him.

The shaman woke up just before midnight and heard Siéhnam approaching. “Now I have caught you!” the shaman said. “I thought it was someone else, but it was you. You and I will fight!”

And fight they did, until the shaman threw Siéhnam down and the deer did not come back. The next day the shaman brought the good news to the village. “Now we can sleep peacefully! I believe the one bothering us will not return again”.

References

Cordeu, E. J.; Mashnshnek, C. O.; von Nordenskiöld, E.; Siffredi, A.; and Verna, M. A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1985) Folk Literature of the Chorote Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Bès Rap

Variations: Hantu Babi (Malay), Pig Spirit

Bès Rap, “pig spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It lives in the deep jungle, at the roots of the pokok ara tree. It is particularly present during the tree’s fruiting period.

Anyone who comes to collect fruit from the pokok ara is targeted by the pig spirit. It blows its saliva at them, causing them to get sick, foaming at the mouth. Only a poyang’s blessing can save them.

The droppings of the pig spirit are equally noxious. The heat of its toxic stool penetrates the body of anyone who steps on them, seeping in through the toes and causing them to fall ill with bubbling, frothing saliva.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.