Bakunawa

Variations: Baconaua (Hiligaynon)

Bakunawa

The Asian eclipse monster has analogues in China, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, and the South Sea Islands. In the Philippines, where the legend is widespread, it is usually a dragon or serpent or even an enormous bird. Bakunawa, “Eclipse”, is one of the best-known.

The Bakunawa of the Cebuano, or Baconaua as it is known to the Hiligaynon, is a colossal, fishlike dragon as large as the Negros and Cebu islands. It resembles a shark, with gills, a lake-sized mouth, and a striking red tongue. Whiskers one palmo long adorn its mouth. In addition to its powerful ash-gray wings, it has smaller wings along its sides.

Long ago there were seven moons in the sky. Bakunawa gobbled them up one by one until it came to the last and largest moon. It failed to swallow it, and tried to bite it into manageable chunks, sinking its teeth deep into the moon’s surface. To this day the bakunawa’s teeth-marks can still be seen on the moon. Every now and then the bakunawa will take to the sky and attempt to finish the job it started by swallowing the moon, causing an eclipse. To make it release the moon, utensils are clanged loudly together to startle it.

The bakunawa’s den is in the deepest parts of the sea. In January, February, and March its head faces north and its tail south; in April, May, and June its head faces west and its tail east, in July, August, and September its head points south and its tail north; and in October, November, and December its head is east and its tail west. The positions of the bakunawa during those four phases are used to divine the best time to build houses.

A children’s game called Bakunawa for 10 or more players involves one player as Buan, the moon, while another is Bakunawa. The remainder form a circle, holding hands and facing inwards. The moon starts inside the circle and Bakunawa is outside. The goal of the children in the circle is to prevent Bakunawa from entering the circle and capturing the moon – the moon itself cannot leave the circle. Bakunawa can ask individual players “What chain is this?” and they can answer that it is an iron, copper, abaca, or any material they can think of. When Bakunawa captures the moon, the players exchange roles or swap with players in the circle.

References

Jocano, F. L. (1969) The Traditional World of Malitbog. Bookman Printing House, Quezon City.

de Lisboa, M. (1865) Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol. Establecimento Tipografico del Colegio de Santo Tomas, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Ramos, M. D. (1990) Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines. Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City.

Reyes-Tolentino, F. and Ramos, P. (1935) Philippine Folk Dances and Games. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York.

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.

Balbal

balbal

Hooked nails, gliding flight, and a long, long tongue are the hallmarks of the Balbal. While its depredations are described in Tagbanua folklore, it is itself accused of hailing from predominantly Muslim Moro country. They have also been described as friendly with and indistinguishable from crocodiles.

Balbals appear before a corpse is buried. Gliding like flying squirrels or bats, these humanoid creatures land on thatched roofs and use their curved claws to rip their way through the straw. Once a hole has been cleared, the long tongue is used to lick up the corpse, skin, flesh, bones, and all. The corpse is then replaced by a banana stalk, identical to the deceased in every way except for a telltale lack of fingerprints.

Light and loud noises scare off balbals. Branches of Blumea balsamifera, known in the Philippines as sambong, sobosob, and gabon, will keep them away from a bedside. Finally, prompt burial is always effective.

References

Fox, R. B. (1982) Religion and Society among the Tagbanuwa of Palawan Island, Philippines. Monograph No. 9, National Museum, Manila.

MacClintock, S. (1903) The Philippines: A Geographical Reader. American Book Company, New York.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Kamaitachi

Variations: Kama-itachi, Kamakaze (“Sickle wind”)

Kamaitachi

The Kamaitachi, or “sickle weasel”, is the Japanese yokai of unexplained cuts. It is most common in snowy Honshu. The name itself may be alternately derived from kamae-tachi, “poised sword”.

A kamaitachi looks something like a weasel with razor-sharp sickle claws. It travels in whirlwinds, but it is never seen. Instead, the presence of a kamaitachi is known by the cuts it leaves on its victims. It will also cause people to trip and fall, taking malign pleasure in causing injury.

Kamaitachi are useful scapegoats for inconvenient injuries. A woman in Niigata, after injuring herself during a nocturnal tryst, successfully deflected attention by blaming the kamaitachi for her wound.

The kamaitachi was rationalized in a number of ways, including pieces of sharp debris tossed around in whirlwinds. Y. Tanaka suggested that the “kamaitachi disease” was the result of temporary vacuums forming from stray air currents, slicing skin that came in contact with them. Such vacuums would be common in mountainous areas and thunderstorm conditions.

In Gifu the kamaitachi becomes three gods, the first pushing over the victim, with the second cutting with a knife and the third healing the injury.

References

Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Griffis, W. E. (1876) The Mikado’s Empire. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Y. Tanaka (1911) An Epitome of Current Medical Literature: Spontaneous Wounds. British Medical Journal, v. 2, p. 37.

Mantabungal

Mantabungal

The Mantabungal is known to the Tagbanua of Palawan, in the Philippines. It is found primarily in the forests of Mount Victoria in Baraki, and is the most feared of the mountain demons.

A mantabungal is like a cow in body and voice, but lacks horns. It has a long coat of shaggy hair that reaches the ground. Its monstrous mouth has two pairs of huge incisors – two above and two below – that it uses to tear its victims to shreds.

One man reported hearing bovine moos while gathering gum in the mountains. Spooked and disoriented in the darkness, he ran aimlessly into the forest as far as he could and spent the night shivering miserably under a tree. When he returned to camp, he found that the mantabungal had destroyed everything he had touched. His hut, gear, and even the firewood had been dismantled and chewed to bits.

References

Fox, R. B. (1982) Religion and Society among the Tagbanuwa of Palawan Island, Philippines. Monograph No. 9, National Museum, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Barcädžy Calh

Variations: Wheel of Balsæg/Barsæg/Barsag/Balsag/Marsug/Father Ojnon, Thinking Wheel, Cutting Wheel

Wheel of Balsaeg

When Soslan or Sosryko, greatest of the Nart heroes, was born, his mother had him dipped in magical fire. The process rendered him immortal and invulnerable, but alas, the smith’s tongs had held him by the knees, which became his only weak spot.

After many adventures, Soslan was finally defeated by the jealous Syrdon. Aware of the hero’s weakness, Syrdon incited the devils to fire their arrows from below ground into his horse’s hooves. Like its master, the horse had only one weak spot, in this case the underside of its hooves.

Once the horse fell, Syrdon called upon the enigmatic Barcädžy Calh, the Wheel of Balsæg or Cutting Wheel. The Wheel was a Thinking Machine, an intelligent and malevolent automaton that took the form of a razor-sharp metal wheel with steel teeth and flames bursting from it. It came rolling down from the heavens to the Earth, setting fire to plains and forests as it went on its headlong charge to the Black Sea. Only birch trees managed to avoid the flaming Wheel’s wrath. Soslan gave chase to it and captured it, but it escaped his grasp, flew at him, and sliced through his knees, leaving him for dead. The hero’s sons chased the Wheel back into the Black Sea, but it was already too late. The Narts buried him as he died; his last act from the grave was the impalement of Syrdon. Soslan’s nephew avenged him by breaking the Wheel in half.

Balsæg, also known as Barsæg, Marsug, and permutations thereof, remains unknown. Knowledge of his nature has been lost, save that he is the proprietor of the Wheel. In some accounts, the Daughter of the Sun sends the Wheel to kill Soslan; in others, it belongs to Father Ojnon – John the Baptist. It may have its origin as a solar symbol or accessory in solstice rituals. Finally, in some retellings the Wheel is reduced to a mere training discus, albeit a very sharp one. Soslan is tricked into bouncing it off his weak spot.

References

Cayla, F.; Quesnel, A.; Welply, M.; and Laverdet, M. (1997) Le guide illustré des mythes et légendes. Hachette, Paris.

Colarusso, J. (2002) Nart Sagas from the Caucasus. Princeton University Press.

Dumézil, G. (1978) Romans de Scythie et d’alentour. Bibliothèque Historique, Payot, Paris.

Littleton, C. S. (1979) The Holy Grail, the Cauldron of Annwn, and the Nartyamonga: A Further Note on the Sarmatian Connection. The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 92, no. 365, pp. 326-333.

Puaka

Variations: Puwaka, Puaki

Puaka

The Puaka (“Pig”) is a Dusun demon that guards water in eddies, and resembles a pig with a razor-sharp tongue. Puakas like to feed from trees, and stand on each other’s backs until they reach the branches.

When you meet a Puaka, it will attack if you move, and come to a halt if you stop. If it catches up with you, it will lick your bones clean. To lose the Puaka it is recommended to cross a stream; the creature may follow you across the stream, but once on dry land it will pause to lick itself dry, licking the flesh off its bones in the process.

“Puaka” and similar terms have meant pig in a number of languages – puaka in Rarotongan, Mangarevan, Rotuma, and Malay, vuaka in Fiji, puwaka in Malay, pua’a in Samoan, puaa in Tahitian, Marquesan, and Hawaiian, buaka in Tongan, and poaka in Maori. While this has been alternately compared to the Sanskrit sukara, the Latin porcus, and the English porker, the word seems to have had its own unique Polynesian origin. In some areas puaka has come to denote the pig-like demon; sometimes it loses its meaning as “pig” altogether, possibly due to the influence of Islam.

References

Mackenzie, D. A. (1930) Myths from Melanesia and Indonesia. Gresham Publishing Company, Ltd., London.