Nyuvwira

Variations: Inifwira

Nyuvwira

The Nyuvwira is an enormous snake restricted to the Chitipa District of Malawi. It is found in association with minerals, especially precious minerals of monetary value. It can also be found in the mines of South Africa. It is known as Inifwira in Sukwa.

A nyuvwira has eight heads and is the largest snake in the world. It generates electricity and lights at night. It lives underground, which is fortunate as it is extremely toxic. When it moves (about every 200 years) it causes death and disaster. Airplanes flying over a nyuvwira crash.

The skin of a nyuvwira, held in one’s pocket, prevents planes from moving and is a powerful charm for wealth. To kill a nyuvwira one must construct a spiral hut and line it with razors, then entice the snake in by ringing bells. It will crawl over the razors and cut itself to death.

References

Hargreaves, B. J. (1984) Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District. The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 40-52.

Ambisiangulo

Variations: Ambize Angulo, Negulla Omasa; Pezze-Mouller, Piexe Molhar (Portuguese), Meermin (Dutch), Sirene (French), Hog-fish, Ambize (erroneously), Angulo (erroneously)

Ambisiangulo

The travelers’ accounts of Purchas and Dapper include the unlikely Ambize Angulo or Ambisiangulo. This creature can be found in several bodies of water, including the Quansa and Zaire Rivers and a number of lakes in the Congo and Angola. Its name is derived from the Kikongo mbisi (“fish”) and ngulu (“pig”); here, preference has been given to Dapper’s name, as it is closer to the original words. It is also known as Pesiengoni, Pezze-Mouller, Meermin, and Sirene in various languages, several translating to “mermaid”.

Mermaid or not, an ambisiangulo is a homely creature. Tipping the scales at 500 pounds, it measures eight feet long and four feet wide, and is a uniform dull grey-brown. The females have a pair of teats and the males have a horse’s member, but they are otherwise indistinguishable. The forehead is high, the head and eyes oval, the mouh large but chinless, the ears reduced to thin, flat skin. The ambisiangulo’s two arms are short, and end in fingers that are long, and triple-jointed like those of humans – but they cannot be flexed. The tail is rounded and shaped like a target.

Ambisiangulos feed on grass growing on the sides of rivers, and never leave the water. Purchas claimed that an ambisiangulo hunt was perilous, but Dapper describes a far more leisurely approach. The ambisiangulos are easily captured and slain with barbed harpoons, despite the lugubrious, eerily human cries of pain they emit. An injured ambisiangulo is allowed to escape, as its slow flight can be followed in a canoe. The flesh is fatty and tastes of pork, earning it its common name. The ear bones cure malaria, and the powdered skull of male ambisiangulos is a remedy against kidney stones. The ribs on the animal’s left side can be prepared into blood-staunching bracelets and protective amulets.

References

Dapper, O. (1676) Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewesten. Jacob van Meurs, Amsterdam.

Dapper, O. (1686) Description de l’Afrique. Wolfgang, Waesberge, Boom, & van Someren, Amsterdam.

Etambala, M. Z. La faune du Royaume de Congo et de l’Angola dans les récits de voyage et les journaux missionnaires de la fin du XVIe et du XVIIe siècle. In Stols, E.; Werner, T.; and Verberckmoes, J. (2006) Naturalia, Mirabilia & Monstrosa en los Imperios Ibéricos (Siglos XV-XIX). Leuven University Press, Leuven.

Marsy, F. M. (1764) Histoire moderne des chinois, des japonnois, des indiens, des persans, des turcs, des russiens etc. Tome douzieme: histoire des africains occidentaux. Desaint & Saillant, Paris.

Purchas, S. (1626) Purchas His Pilgrimage: or Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all Ages and Places discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. William Stansby, London.

Swan, J. (1643) Speculum Mundi. Roger Daniel, Cambridge.

Bulgu

Bulgu

The Guji Oromo of Ethiopia tell of a brother and sister who went down to the river to fetch water. There they met a Bulgu, “cannibal”, a fearsome ogre with four eyes, a head like an axe blade, arms like axe handles, and stocky legs like pestles. Before the children could react, the bulgu seized and devoured the boy. As he licked his lips, he told the girl “If you tell anyone about what you just saw, I will eat you, you and all in your family!”

Bulgu sketchThe traumatized girl ran home in tears. When questioned by her father about her missing brother, she remembered the bulgu’s words and said “He got lost in the brush, he wandered off alone”. But all she could think of was her brother’s death and the ogre’s threat, and she refused to eat for days, wasting away. Eventually she became too weak to move, and called her father to her bedside. “Father, build me nine high, thick fences around the house, and I will tell you why my brother disappeared”. Nine palisades were constructed of juniper, and the daughter finally told all. The father was incensed. He built a platform of branches above the hut to hide his daughter, then seized his lance and went off to slay the bulgu.

It was all in vain. The bulgu had heard every word the girl said, and approached the hut after the father was gone. Ten magic formulae were mumbled, and the nine gates and the door burst open. The bulgu searched high and low for the girl, and he wouldn’t have found her if she had not broken wind in fear. When her parents returned, the only thing left of her was her middle finger.

References

Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.

Tutschek, L. (1845) Dictionary of the Galla Language, v. II. F. Wild, Munich.

Chipfalamfula

chipfalamfula

Chipfalamfula, “River-Shutter”, is an enormous aquatic creature found in Ronga Bantu tales and waterways of Mozambique, notably in the bay of Delagoa. It is of indeterminate gender and species, being either a whale or rather a colossal catfish. Chipfalamfula has control over all water, and can provide or withhold it as it pleases, causing droughts and floods alike. It is so large that its belly is a world on its own, with fertile fields, livestock, and communities of people living there happily and wanting for nothing. Tales of young girls living inside Chipfalamfula before returning to the surface may be regarded as coming-of-age stories.

Chichinguane, the youngest daughter of Chief Makenyi, was beloved by her father, but envied and hated by her older sisters. When the young women went to the riverbank to fetch clay for plastering walls, the eldest sister ordered Chichinguane to stay at the bottom of the clay pit and hand her the clay. She did as she was told, only to be left behind by her older sister to face a rising tide.

She had just about given up hope when Chipfalamfula surfaced next to her and opened its cavernous mouth. “Come inside, my daughter”, it told her reassuringly. “Come inside me where you will live in peace and comfort”. So Chichinguane did as she was told, and lived inside Chipfalamfula, sharing the river-shutter’s bounties with its other children.

Years passed, and the outside world caught up with Chichinguane as it was bound to do. Makenyi’s daughters came down to the river again, balancing pitchers of water on their heads and singing “We are the group who puts pitchers on their heads… She who killed her sister killed her in the swamp, where the reeds are tall…” The youngest of the group lagged behind. She was the new youngest member of the family, and now received the same hate the presumed-dead Chichinguane did. She wasn’t good at balancing a pitcher either. She sat down and wept, when lo and behold Chichinguane appeared, attracted by the singing. Her stay in Chipfalamfula had metamorphosed her, and she was now covered in glistening silvery scales. She also wasn’t particularly pleased with the lyrics of the song. “You tried to kill your sister?” she shouted, striking her younger sister. But the girl didn’t even recognize her, whereupon Chichinguane relented, and helped her little sister carry her pitcher. However, she did not follow her into the village, instead diving back into the river.

Soon Chichinguane and her youngest sister were meeting every day, and eventually Chichinguane told her sibling the truth about her and why she lived in the river. The sister returned and told her mother, who followed her to the river and tried to embrace her long-lost daughter. But Chichinguane warned her “Do not try to hold me, mother, I am now a fish and I must live in the water”. She slipped out of her mother’s arms like a greased eel and disappeared underwater again.

She still longed to return to her family, and finally Chipfalamfula allowed her to leave, blessing her with a magic wand to use in time of need. Chichinguane returned to her mother’s hut, where her silver scales fell off her body and become silver coins. Then she told them her story, of her older sister’s treachery, and of the land of milk and honey inside the river-shutter.

Chichinguane interceded to prevent the oldest sister’s execution by the furious Makenyi. This was a mistake, as she returned to her schemes. Talking Chichinguane and the youngest sister into climbing up a tree and sawing off branches, she then collected the branches and left, leaving them out on a limb. To make matters worse, a family of one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed, and one-eared ogres saw the two girls in the tree and started cutting it down. Fortunately, Chichinguane used the river-shutter’s wand to heal the tree every time it started to fall. The ogres grew tired and decided to rest, giving Chichinguane and her sister a window to escape. They climbed down the tree and ran with the ogres in hot pursuit, and when they reached the river, Chichinguane touched it with the wand and sang “Chipfalamfula, shut off the water”. The water parted before her and the two girls ran through to safety. The ogres were halfway through when Chipfalamfula opened the water again and drowned them. On their way back, Chichinguane and her sister found the ogres’ cave, full of untold riches, and returned home in regal finery.

The eldest sister was decapitated despite Chichinguane’s entreaties.

The name Chichinguane has confusingly been given to both the youngest and the eldest daughter. The latter is the case in Junod’s older source; Knappert’s usage of the name for the heroine has been preserved here.

References

Junod, H. A. (1897) Les Chants et les Contes des Ba-Ronga. Georges Bridel et Cie, Lausanne.

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

Eloko

Variations: Biloko (plural)

eloko

The Biloko of the Congo are vile, cannibalistic dwarfs or trolls of Nkundo folklore. They make their homes inside hollow trees, and they smell of the Congo’s rainforest. An Eloko has grass for a beard, clothes made of  leaves, and usually carries a bell, which is used to attract and bewitch unsuspecting humans. Despite their size, biloko are far stronger than the average human, and only heroes and sorcerers can defeat them.

Biloko represent the dangers of the forest, of going out alone, and of toying with danger. They are invoked to dissuade people from straying both physically and mentally, and warn husbands of the dangers of abandoning their wives. They may also represent various gangrenous diseases, as they slowly eat their victim away, eventually killing them by ending with the liver, where the spirit resides.

A Nkundo man once built a fenced-in hut in the forest to find game. Whenever the husband left for the village, he would warn his wife. “Remember, if you hear the sound of a little bell, don’t answer or you will die!” Yet as the monotonous hours went by, the wife found herself entranced by the ringing of a bell deep in the forest, coming closer and closer. Finally she ran outside calling to the eloko. “I’m here! Come to me!” she cried, and the eloko duly appeared. “Here I am, I have come to you”, he announced. The wife was overjoyed and prepared a meal for her guest, but the eloko refused the fried bananas and fish. “I only eat human meat, and I am so hungry…” he wheedled. “You are a delicious woman. Give me a piece of flesh”. The woman willingly proffered her arm, and the eloko took a portion of meat, which he roasted and devoured. Then he left, leaving the woman to bandage her wound in silence.

When her husband returned, he saw his wife bedridden and in pain. “I have sores”, she said. “Then take the bandage off, and have some medicine for it”. She refused, and would not explain further. But the next day the same gruesome episode repeated itself – the husband left, the wife entertained the eloko, and the eloko left the wife with another deep injury.

This time the husband did not believe his wife’s excuses, and decided to lie in wait instead of returning to the village. When the eloko returned that day, he pulled out a knife told the woman that this time he desired her liver. The husband immediately fired an arrow into the dwarf, then ran him through with his spear and decapitated him. But the eloko had already stabbed the wife in the liver, and she died. Those who love danger will die in it; or, those who play with fire will get burnt.

Other encounters with biloko treat them more as an enemy tribe than as forest bogeys. Likinda, Itonde, and Lianja, the grandsons of the spirit of Death Ilelangonda, went to war with the biloko, and tricked them into an ambush by scattering mbole-fruits on the path. They slaughtered all the biloko this way save for the wizard Inkankanga and his wife. Likinda caught up with them by turning himself into a baby, causing Inkankanga’s wife to pick him up and care for him. Then he climbed up a tree to throw fruits down to his adopted parents, but instead he transformed himself into a fruit and allowed Inkankanga to swallow him. The terrified eloko sorcerer killed his wife for being the cause of his impending doom, and then spent the rest of the day imploring Likinda not to kill him. Finally he fell into depressed acceptance, and the bored Likinda cut him up from the inside out. He returned to the village, where his story was celebrated with peals of laughter.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

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

Indombe

indombe

Indombe is fire, Indombe is life, Indombe is motherhood, Indombe is a slave to the power of death. She is an enormous copper snake over three feet wide, and several miles in length, and she makes her home in the trees of the Congo. Her cupreous body glows red with internal heat; she is immeasurably old, associated with the sun and the sunset in particular. Her tale is mysterious and metaphorical, and her ancestry is probably Semitic.

Itonde, hero and creator figure of the Congo, had been sent on a bizarre errand. His sister-in-law was pregnant, and she had developed a craving for snakes, so Itonde and his brother Lofale went into the forest to find them. There they saw Indombe coiled in a tree, shining bright as the sun. “Great Indombe”, said Itonde, “come down and let us talk together”. As Indombe refused to leave her perch, Itonde started chanting: “Indombe of the Bakongo, come down so I may carry you!” The giant snake was furious. “How dare you try to bewitch me?” she roared, causing her flames to flare and illuminate the entire forest. She then put her red-hot head on Itonde’s shoulder, severely burning him and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately for Itonde he was the owner of a magic bell, and he rang it, immediately recovering from his injuries. He did not want Indombe to gain the advantage of nightfall, so he captured the sun itself. Indombe next tried to constrict him, but Itonde kept ringing his bell, causing him to grow taller and stronger while the snake weakened.

It was in this state that Itonde triumphantly carried Indombe back to his village. He set her down outside the entrance of the village, and Indombe immediately coiled around the village and swallowed every last man, woman, and child. “You monster!” cried Itonde. “I’ll kill you, cut you up, and eat you!” Itonde produced his enchanted machete, and Indombe, seeing her death approaching, warned the hero. “If you kill me, eat me all today; you will not survive if you leave a single piece”. She was then promptly decapitated, cut into slices, and fried in oil. Itonde ate every piece, but left the inedible head, putting it under his bed.

Next morning, he awake to the horrifying discovery that Indombe was still there – but was now a ghost! “I told you eat all of me” she explained, “so now I return as a spirit, to aid you and show you a good place to live”. The spectral copper snake led Itonde to her village, a beautiful, disease-free location for future generations. Itonde then found out that Lofale was dead, killed by Indombe; but he could not avenge himself on a ghost, so he sought out a man in the forest. His quarry tried to hide by transforming into the first sugar-cane, but Itonde found and killed him as an expiatory sacrifice, discovering sugar-cane in the process.

“This village shall be yours because you are a strong fighter”, said Indombe. “Your name shall now be Ilelangonda. Farewell to you all”. With that the ghostly snake coiled up, jumped into the river, and disappeared.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Impundulu

Variations: Lightning-bird, Intakezulu; Chimungu; Ingqungqulu (Bateleur), Insingizi (Ground Hornbill), Inyoni Yezulu (Bird of Heaven), Isivolovolo (White-necked Fish Eagle), Izulu (Sky)

impundulu

The Lightning-bird, spirit of storms and clouds, takes a number of forms in southern Africa. Several familiar birds are associated with storms: the ground hornbill, the hamerkop, the bateleur, various birds of prey. The Amandebele refer to both the “bird of heaven” and the white-necked fish eagle as Isivolovolo, which flies at great altitude and whose droppings are potent magical ingredients. To the Baronga it is a hawk called Chimungu, which buries itself in the ground with every stroke of lightning. The Tumbuka lightning-bird is black with a curling tail like that of a rooster, scars people with its claws, and leaves little scarlet insects behind after a storm. In Buziba it is a whole flock of glittering red birds whose flashing feathers cause lightning and their wingbeats thunder.

The Impundulu or Intakezulu of the Xhosa is probably the best-known of the lightning-birds. It may appear as a human, but only women can see it in its true form, which is white with red wings, red legs, and a short red tail. Various remains have been identified as belonging to an impundulu, including a ground hornbill’s skull, a dead wandering albatross, a cattle egret, a peacock’s tail feather, and a strange avian skull with the penguinlike lower mandible protruding beyond the upper mandible. The last is not identified, but the description leaves little doubt that the African skimmer Rynchops flavirostris is to blame. Altocumulus clouds have also been identified as impundulu.

The beating of the impundulu’s wings causes thunder, although it only starts thundering after the appearance of the large mushrooms in the wet season. Lightning is caused by an impundulu rushing to the earth to lay a single large egg underground. These eggs must be found and destroyed by shamans before they hatch, lest more impundulus be brought into the world. Throwing assagais into the air also helps dissuade impundulus from landing.

Impundulus are vampiric, sucking human blood until their victims die. They will also carry off unprotected children. Milk is another substance impundulus are fond of, and poisoned milk can be used to exterminate them. Witches are believed to have impundulus who do their dirty work, sending them out to kill men; the fat of an impundulu can also be used in sorcery. Impundulus in human form will impregnate women, and their children will be birds. Tuberculosis is caused by an impundulu sucking away sufferers’ breath, and goes by the same name in West Pondoland.

A person with a nosebleed can be described: wanyiwa yimpundulu, “he has been sucked by impundulu”. Another proverb, “he/she has caught the chicken of impundulu”, refers to one having a stroke of good luck.

In more modern times impundulu has become the name of an electric tram-car.

References

Cook, P. A. W. (1931) Social Organisation and Ceremonial Institutions of the Bomvana. Juta and Co. Ltd., Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Godfrey, R. (1941) Bird-lore of the Eastern Cape Province. Bantu Studies, Monograph Series, No. 2, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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