Kongamato

Kongamato

The Kongamato, “overwhelmer of boats”, is a river-shutter of Kasempa District in northern Zambia. It is known from Kaonde folklore, and the Jiundu Swamp is one of its favorite haunts. The fact that the Jiundu has historically been a haven for thieves, murderers, and assorted lowlifes is probably relevant.

A kongamato is a kind of bird, or rather a lizard with the membranous wings of a bat. It has a wingspan of 4 to 7 feet across and lacks feathers, its body covered in skin. It is mostly red in color. The beak is armed with sharp teeth. Claims that the kongamato is a surviving pterosaur are best forgotten.

Kongamatos live downstream of river fords. There they cause the river to stop flowing and the water level to rise, overwhelming and tipping over canoes. Sometimes a canoe will slow down and come to a dead stop despite the paddler’s best efforts; this is because a kongamato has seized the boat from underneath the water.

Few people see a kongamato and live, and the kongamato itself is invulnerable and immortal, eating any projectile thrown at it and leaving no physical trace of itself behind. When it kills people it devours only the two little fingers, the two little toes, the earlobes, and the nostrils. That said, four deaths attributed to the kongamato in 1911 did not record any such mutilation; more likely, then, that a kongamato caused their deaths by the flooding of the Mutanda River near Lufumatunga.

To ward off kongamato attack, the charm known as muchi wa kongamato is used. This consists of mulendi tree root ground and mixed with water. The resulting paste is placed in a bark cup. When crossing a dangerous ford, the mixture is sprinkled onto the water using a bundle of mulendi bark strips. This wards off the kongamato and its floods.

References

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

Opimachus

Variations: Chargol, Ophiomachis, Ophiomachus, Opimacus, Opymachus, Ibis, Snake-eater; Attachus (probably); Opinicus, Epimacus (probably)

Opimachus

There is only one Biblical mention of the insect called chargol, in Leviticus 11:22, as one of the four insects that are safe for consumption. It has been assumed to mean “beetle” in some translations. Other identifications include a katydid or bush cricket, a species of Gryllus cricket, or the wart-eating cricket.

The Septuagint’s translators borrowed heavily from Aristotle in an effort to give names to all the animals in the Bible. An Aristotelian account of locusts fighting and killing snakes (perhaps based on stories of insects feeding on dead snakes?) gave the chargol the name of ophiomachus, “snake fighter”. This in turn became the opimachus or opimacus, described by Thomas de Cantimpré and subsequently Albertus Magnus as a worm that attaches itself just below a snake’s head. It cannot be removed and kills the snake.

By the time the opimachus or opymachus was described in the Ortus Sanitatis (citing Thomas), it had become confused beyond recognition. While Thomas and Albertus list it among the insects, it is now placed with the birds as a small fowl. It is depicted as a quadrupedal griffin with a long pointed beak and large rabbit’s ears. It has longer hind legs to permit it to jump. It may or may not be the same as the bird known as attachus.

Dapper says that the ophiomachi or ibides (ibises) are birds that live in Ethiopia and are so named because they eat snakes.

Finally, the long journey of the snake-fighter comes to an end with the opinicus or epimacus, a variety of generic heraldic griffin whose name is almost certainly derived from a Levitical insect.

References

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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

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

Harris, T. M. (1833) A Dictionary of the Natural History of the Bible. T. T. and J. Tegg, London.

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

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

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Xiao

Variations: Raucous-Bird

Xiao

The Xiao or Raucous-Bird dwells on China’s Bridge-Channel Mountain. It is a bird with four wings, one eye, and a dog’s tail. It makes sounds like a magpie. Eating it cures abdominal pain and diarrhea. The Shan Hai Jing assures us that it resembles Kuafu the Boaster, which it does not.

It shares its name with an unrelated simian creature that resembles a Yu-Ape with longer arms.

References

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

Aderyn y Corph

Variations: Aderyn y Corff, Aderyn y Cyrff, Corpse-bird

Aderyn y Corph

The Aderyn y Corph or corpse-bird chirps at the door of a dying person in Wales. Its call is dewch, dewch (“come, come”). It has no feathers or wings and can soar easily without them. When not presaging death it lives in the land of illusion and fantasy.

It is a variant of the screech owl whose call portends death. Aderyn y corph is also Welsh for the screech owl or brown owl.

References

Evan, D. S. (1858) An English and Welsh Dictionary. Thomas Gee, Denbigh.

Sikes, W. (1880) British Goblins. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London.

Bifang

Variations: Bifang-bird

Bifang

The Bifang can be found on barren Mount Zhang’e in China. It looks like a crane but has only one leg; it has a white beak and red markings on a green background. Its call sounds like its name.

A bifang is an omen of inexplicable fire starting in town. This is probably connected to its red color. It was not always an evil omen, however, as it appears as a benevolent attendant of the Yellow Thearch in the Master Hanfei, and is the divine essence of wood in the Master of Huainan.

Some sources have the bifang itself as the arsonist, using fire it carries in its beak. Mathieu equates it with the Chinese crane, whose habit of standing on one leg may have inspired the bifang’s appearance.

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.

Qinyuan

Variations: Qinyuan-bird, Yuanyuan, Zhiyuan

Qinyuan

Mount Kunlun is the Pillar of Heaven, a place of great energy and endowed of a fiery brilliant aura. Four rivers – Black, Red, Yellow, and Oceanic – flow from Mount Kunlun, and the mountain is administered by the god Luwu, or the Queen Mother of the West Xi-Wangmu in later texts.

Many wonderful birds and beasts dwell on Mount Kunlun, including the Qinyuan or Qinyuan-bird. It looks like a bee, but is the size of a mandarin duck. Its sting is venomous enough to kill other animals and to wither trees.

Despite the classification as a “bird”, Mathieu believes it to be simply a large stinging insect.

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.

Dulhath

Variations: Dulhama (al-Damiri); Duhlak, Dulhak, Dulchaph (Bochart)

dulhath

The Dulhath has had a muddled history, with authors disagreeing with each other on the exact name, let alone the appearance. It is first mentioned by al-Qazwini, who refers to the dulhath, but al-Damiri describes it under the name of dulhama, and Bochart reports on the duhlak. Here al-Qazwini’s name has been given priority.

While the original description appears to be al-Qazwini’s, the dulhath’s pedigree probably goes back to jinn who appear as animals – in this case, an ostrich jinni. This in turn led to al-Qazwini’s dulhath as a demon found on certain desert islands, and which resembles a man riding an ostrich. It eats the flesh of humans who have been cast alive or dead into its territory. A dulhath will also invade ships to seek its prey, and when attacked by sailors it speaks loudly in a boastful voice, causing them to prostrate themselves before it. Bochart believed the “boastful voice” to have been some translation error derived from tales of sirens.

The best description of a dulhath is found in the tale of Aboulfaouaris the sailor. Sadly it is all but certifiable, as the creature in question remained unnamed, but its behavior is compellingly close to al-Qazwini’s broad outline. The dulhath that plagued Aboulfaouaris looked like a man of about 40. He had a monstrous shape, a big head, short bristly hair, and an excessively large mouth filled with sharp teeth. Eyes like those of a tiger glared above a flat nose with large nostrils. His arms were nervous, his hands large, and his fingers equipped with viciously hooked claws.

Aboulfaouaris and his crew encountered a dulhath near the island of Java. They saw a naked man clinging to a plank of wood in the sea, calling for help; accordingly the sailors rescued him and brought him aboard ship, where his appearance caused much consternation. When told that he had been narrowly rescued from drowning, the odd man smiled and said “I could have stayed for years in the sea without being bothered; what torments me most is hunger. I have not eaten in twelve hours. Please bring me something to eat, anything, I’m not particular”. An attempt was made to bring him clothing, but the dulhath explained that he always went naked. “Don’t worry, you’ll have lots of time to get used to it”, he added ominously, stamping his foot impatiently. Enough food was presented to him to feed six starving men. The dulhath polished it off and asked for more; the same amount was brought to him and disappeared in short order, and a third helping was called for. One of the slaves, shocked by the creature’s insolence, made to strike him, but the dulhath grabbed him both both shoulders and tore him in half.

All hell broke loose. Aboulfaouaris, sailors, slaves, all descended on the dulhath with sabers drawn, determined to kill the monster. But the dulhath’s skin was harder than diamond. Swords broke and arrows bounced uselessly off his hide. Then they tried to drag him off the ship, but the dulhath sank his claws into the deck, anchoring himself immovably. The sailors were utterly incapable of harming the dulhath. The dulhath, on the other hand, had no such problems as he took one of the sailors and ripped him to pieces with his claws. “My friends, you had better obey me. I’ve tamed worse people than you, and I will have no qualms about having you share the fate of your two shipmates”.

With that the reign of terror began. The dulhath was in full control of the ship, and ate his fourth course while the crew stared in terrified silence. Aboulfaouaris hoped that food and conversation might cause the monster to doze off, but the dulhath smugly reminded him that he had no need for sleep, and none of the soporific tales they told him would have any effect.

All hope seemed lost until deliverance came from the sky. The sailors looked up to see a rukh soaring overhead, and they scattered in fear. The dulhath, however, was unaware of the huge bird, and was standing confidently in the middle of the deck. An easy target! The rukh dove and carried the dulhath off before he could cling to the ship. But the intended prey wasn’t giving up without a fight, and he began tearing and biting into the rukh’s belly. The rukh responded by gouging out the dulhath’s eyes with its talons, and the demon retaliated by eating his way to the rukh’s heart. As it expired, the rukh caught the dulhath’s head in its beak and crushed it like an eggshell. Both monsters plummeted into the waves and vanished.

References

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

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

de Lacroix, P. (1840) Les Mille et Un Jours: Contes Persans. Auguste Desrez, 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.

Smith, W. R. (1956) The Religion of the Semites: the Fundamental Institutions. Meridian Books, New York.