The Nkala is one of several sorcerous familiars associated with witchcraft in Zambia. A nkala kills people by eating their shadows. Anyone in possession of a nkala, therefore, has obtained it for criminal purposes.
It takes the form of a crab, 4 feet long, almost as wide as it is long. It has a head at either end, each head resembling that of a hippo, complete with the lumps by the eyes. Sometimes those are described as “nose-like projections”. It eats shadows with both heads at the same time.
To kill a nkala, medicine is prepared from nkala remains and placed in a duiker horn sealed with wax. A second duiker horn is partially filled and used as a whistle to attract the nkala. Once the creature shows itself in response to the whistle, it is shot. The “noses”, large claws, and some of the other claws are taken for use in medicine.
Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
Turner, V. (1975) Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
White, C. M. N. (1948) Witchcraft, Divination and Magic among the Balovale Tribes. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 18(2), pp. 81-104.
of the Circhos is one fraught with misunderstandings, mistranslations, and
general confusion. It should serve as a morality tale on the importance of
accurate information transmission.
describes the habits of hermit crabs in detail. The carcinium (“small crab”) is soft-bodied after the thorax,
resembling a spider, with two red horns and forward-pointing eyes. The mouth
has hair-like appendages and two divided feet that it uses to catch prey. There
are two additional smaller pairs of feet beside them.
hermit crabs, the kind that lives in the nerita
or brita shell is unusual because its
right divided foot is small while the left one is large. It walks more on the
left foot than the right. The nerita
itself, Aristotle adds, has a large, smooth, rounded shell, and a red
hepatopancreas, as opposed to the ceryx
and its black hepatopancreas. During a storm the crabs hide under a rock, and
the gastropods attach themselves to the rock and close their opercula.
All of the
preceding information is stated consecutively. Michael Scot’s translation of
Aristotle gives the name of kiroket
to the nerita shell. Thomas de Cantimpré takes Scot’s kiroket
and his descriptions of the hermit crab and gastropod, but omits connecting
names and details to combine them into a single confused account. It is likely
that Scot’s jargon and neologisms threw Thomas off.
Thomas de Cantimpré’s
cricos (corrupted from kiroket) now has two fissures at the end of its
feet, giving it three fingers and three nails on each foot (Thomas’
“common-sense” addition). Its left foot is big and its right foot is small, and
it carries its weight on its left foot. The comparison of hepatopancreas colors
becomes the shell of the cricos, colored black and red. In good weather, the
cricos moves around; in bad weather, it attaches itself to rocks and doesn’t
Albertus Magnus takes
up Thomas’ account, but drops the confusing details of the feet. The Ortus Sanitatis,
on the other hand, creates some additional features out of whole cloth. The
circhos or crichos has the head of a man and the body of a sea-dog (i.e. a
dogfish or shark); it is healthy in good weather, but weakens and turns ill in
Olaus Magnus borrows
the circhos of the Ortus Sanitatis to populate his Scandinavian sea. The
physical description of a human-headed fish is wisely redacted. Whether it was
meant to represent an actual Scandinavian animal, or is merely plagiarism,
It is Olaus Magnus’
account that is best known today. Concept drift in modern retellings have led
to fabrications such as a limping gait that forces the circhos to move only in
fine weather and cling to rocks during storms, and even a “humanoid” appearance.
Aristotle, Cresswell, R.
trans. (1862) Aristotle’s History of
Animals. Henry G. Bohn, London.
and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell
de Cantimpré, T. (1280)
Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.
Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir,
Jacquemard, C.; and Lucas-Avenel, M. (2013) L’auctoritas
de Thomas de Cantimpré en matière
ichtyologique (Vincent de Beauvais, Albert le Grand, l’Hortus sanitatis).
Kentron, 29, pp. 69-108.
(1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI.
Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.
(1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.
(1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.
(1658) A compendious history of the
Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater,
Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York. Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.