Ebigane

An Ebigane, in the folklore of the Fang of Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, is an ambiguous monster that can be animal or human in form, or a mix of both. It commonly appears in legends and sagas sung by mvett players.

One such heroic tale, told by Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, tells of the hero Mefoumou Mba Foumou. When faced with a bridge made of twisted, knotted pythons, he pulled a mouse out of his satchel and spat on its head. The mouse grew in size, its ears spread out like the petals of an enormous flower, its head sprouted horns, its legs lengthened and its claws sharpened, while its great tail stretched out behind it. Now armed with sharp fangs and claws and great bat-like wings, it had become an ebigane, something like a cross between a bat, a buffalo, and a vampire.

Mefoumou Mba took a red paste crayon and drew a red mark on the ebigane’s head from the base of its skull to the tip of its nose. Then he directed its attention to the pythons. “There is enough meat there to feed you for at least two years. To work!”

The ebigane flapped its ears loudly, whinnied, and took heavily to the air, circling around like a bird of prey before diving on the bridge. It seized one python in its claws and teeth and, after overcoming its prey’s resistance, carried it off to Mount Bèghlé to devour at its leisure.

References

Ndong Ndoutoume, T. (1993) Le Mvett: L’homme, la mort et l’immortalité. L’Harmattan, Paris.

Bjarndýrakóngur

Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)

The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.

A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.

The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.

It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.

The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.

 References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Dajna

Variations: Thunder Camel

In Maltese, dajna refers to a fallow deer or an unkempt woman. It is also the name of a titanic primordial camel that lived on Malta before the Deluge.

A dajna or thunder camel had the head and neck of a camel but was ten times the size of an elephant. It could not fit into Noah’s Ark and went extinct as a result, but a population of these colossal camels survived in the netherworld.

Although a dajna is highly dangerous to human beings, the yellowish milk produced by the females is a remedy for baldness. Only heroes dare retrieve it.

References

Mifsud, S. D. (2017) The Maltese Bestiary. Merlin Publishers Ltd, Blata l-Bajda, Malta.

Lomie

Variations: Lomi, Lossie, Los, Moose, Elk

The Lomie is a beast found within the forests of Bohemia. It has a sac-like bladder under its neck. If pursued by hunters, it pauses at a nearby body of water to drink and fill up its neck-bladder. Then it runs, heating the water to boiling. When cornered by hunters and their dogs, it vomits the boiling water onto them, scalding them and making good its escape.

Heylyn merely refers to the water as boiling-hot. The Book of Marvels adds that the boiling water is incredibly toxic, causing incurable wounds and making skin and flesh slough off.

The name is derived from the Polish Lossie, the plural form of moose, while Los is singular. It is probably a typographical error on Heylyn’s part. Topsell lists Los and Lossie as synonyms for the elk or moose, and also ascribes the regurgitation of scalding water to the moose.

References

Heylyn, P. (1621) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. John Lichfield and James Short, Oxford.

Heylyn, P. (1636) Microcosmus: A Little Description of the Great World. William Turner, Oxford.

Heylyn, P. (1657) Cosmographie in Four Books. Henry Seile, London.

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

Various. (1996) Les Merveilles du Monde. Editions Anthese, Arcueil.

Ugjuknarpak

Variations: Giant Mouse

The giant mouse Ugjuknarpak once lived on an island in the middle of a long, narrow lake near the source of the Colville River in Alaska. It was like a field mouse in appearance, but it had impenetrable skin. So thick and hard was its hide that even the largest harpoons, knives, and arrows could not penetrate it. It was also armed with a long, prehensile tail that it coiled around its prey.

The Inuit traveling to Nerleq to trade with the people of Point Barrow lived in constant fear of the Ugjuknarpak. If anyone made the slightest sound in the vicinity of the island, the giant mouse would pounce upon them, grabbing and capsizing the umiaqs with its long tail before biting the people to death and devouring them.

Trade slowed as the Ugjuknarpak continued its depredations. But it could not be avoided, as the people needed to go down the river to buy blubber on the coast, and return before the river froze in order to hunt caribou.

One day a man, fearing for his daughter’s life, decided to put her on an umiaq separate from the main fleet. This one had few people and fewer dogs and babies that might make sounds. He himself took one of the more crowded umiaqs – and his fear was realized. Along the way a dog snarled a little, and the Ugjuknarpak pricked up its ears and fell upon the boats. The girl, on the other hand, had passed ahead in safety. She never saw her parents and brothers again, and she knew that the giant mouse had killed them.

In time the girl was married and had a son of her own. As soon as he could understand, his mother told him “you are now a boy, and you will become a man, but you will never be strong enough to avenge your parents and uncles”. She did this knowing that, far from being discouraged, the boy would be goaded into slaying Ugjuknarpak.

The boy grew into a tall and powerful young man and took the name of Kugshavak, “Woodpecker”. He was soon joined by his brother Hagáneq, “Fellow”, a boy with hands like the flippers of a bearded seal. He too was motivated to avenge his fallen kin.

The brothers had adventures together and performed great feats, until the day came when they set out to slay Ugjuknarpak. They set out in the early morning and reached the island silently. Ugjuknarpak was just waking up and yawning, its jaws so big the brothers could see the dawn through them. Woodpecker paddled around the island in his umiaq while Fellow swam alongside him with the ease of a seal.

Ugjuknarpak soon noticed them and set off in pursuit. The brothers led it to a plain by the river. There they dodged its every lunge and bite while studying it, and finally noticed that its skin crinkled at one place on its neck. That must be its weak spot. Armed with flint knives on long spears, they stabbed the giant mouse as its fury redoubled. The brothers pressed their attack on the weakened, bleeding monster until at last it collapsed and died. The brothers found many broken knives and arrowheads in its skin, witnesses to Ugjuknarpak’s resilience.

The head was severed along the neck’s weak spot. It was taken to Ivnaq, a place on the river where all umiaqs could see it as they passed by. The head decayed, but it is still terrifying to see; it is the size of a walrus’s head, with long fangs and a long gristly nose like that of a field mouse. It lost none of the terror it once inspired. Those paddling by it speak in whispers and tie their dogs’ noses so they make no sound.

References

Ostermann, H.; Calvert, W. E. trans. (1952) The Alaskan Eskimos as Described in the Posthumous Notes of Dr. Knud Rasmussen. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Uiluruyak

Variations: Wi’-lû-ghó-yûk, Sea Shrew-mouse, Sea Shrew

Uiluruyak is the Yupik word for the meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius). Hunters say it may be encountered on the sea-ice of Alaska. Nelson interprets the name as “wi’-lû-ghó-yûk” and describes it as a sea shrew.

When a uiluruyak sees someone, it darts at them with blinding speed, piercing through the sole of their boot and crawling all over their body underneath the clothes. If the victim stands perfectly still, the uiluruyak will leave by the same hole it entered; not only that, but those who have earned its approval in this way go on to become successful hunters.

If one should move even slightly while the uiluruyak is exploring, the rodent immediately burrows into its victim’s flesh, piercing their heart and killing them.

It is recommended that one stand perfectly quiet and still when seeing a mouse on the ice, just in case it is a uiluruyak.

References

Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Nelson, E. W. (1900) The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Extract from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington.

Sasnalkáhi

Variations: Cac na’alka hi, Bear that Pursues, Tracking Bear

The fearsome Sasnalkáhi, the Bear that Pursues, was a monstrous bear that terrorized the Navajo people. As one of the Anaye, Sasnalkáhi was born from unnatural sexual practices; in this case, his “fathers” were a smooth stone and a leg sinew. He lived in a cross-shaped mountain cave at Tse’bahástsit, the “Rock that Frightens”. Once Sasnalkáhi set on a hunt, his prey had no hope of escape.

When Nayenezgani set out to slay Sasnalkáhi, he carried yucca fruit in his left hand and hard oak twigs in his right hand. Those medicinal plants warded off Sasnalkáhi’s attentions.

Eventually Nayenezgani found the bear’s head emerging from a hole. He inspected the east, south, and west entrances; when he got to the north, Sasnalkáhi’s head immediately withdrew, and the bear headed for the south entrance. This time Nayenezgani was waiting for him, and when Sasnalkáhi stuck his head out, Nayenezgani decapitated him.

“You were a bad thing in life”, proclaimed Nayenezgani to the head. “You caused nothing but mischief. But now I will make you useful to the people; you will feed them, clean them, and clothe them in the future”. Sasnalkáhi’s head was chopped into three pieces. One piece was thrown east, where it became tsási (Yucca baccata). One piece was thrown west, becoming tsásitsoz (Yucca angustifolia). The last piece was thrown south, to become nóta (mescal). The nipples became pinyon nuts, while two pieces of fat cut from around the tail became a bear and a porcupine. The left forepaw, gall, and windpipe were taken as trophies.

References

Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.

Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.

Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.

Chipekwe

Variations: Chimpekwe

Melland gives chipekwe as referring to a one-tusked elephant in the Kaonde language of Zambia. This is probably irrelevant.

The Chipekwe is a massive, allegedly reptilian, pachyderm-slaying creature found around and in Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. Most encounters consist of unrecognizable spoors, or the noise of some large animal splashing through the water.

A chipekwe has a hairless, smooth, dark body and a single smooth horn, white as polished ivory. Chipekwes do not take well to humans invading their territory. Canoes are destroyed and their occupants are killed. Hippos fare no better – the chipekwe kills them by tearing their throats out. At least one chipekwe is known to have been slain in the Luapula, brought down by the same large harpoons used for hippo hunting.

All of the above could very well be exaggerated references to one-tusked elephants. This is probably relevant.

References

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

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

Songòmby

Variations: Songomby, Songaomby, Tsiombiomby, Tsongomby, Bibiaombe; Brech, Brek (probably); Habeby, Fotsiandre (probably); Mangarsahoc (probably); Tòkantòngotra, Tòkandìa. Tokatomboka (probably)

Songomby

The Songòmby is an unusual carnivorous animal from the folklore of Madagascar. The name may be derived from sònga, “having the upper lip turned upwards”, and òmby, “ox” according to Sibree. The word songòmby is taken to mean “lion-hearted” or “courageous”. Another name, bibiaombe , means “ox-animal”. Molet offers two derivations for songòmby:  from the Swahili songo ngomby, “snake ox”, or a corruption of the alternative name tsiombiomby (“looks like an ox”). Domenichini-Ramiaramanana gives a popular etymology as derived from the question many ask when seeing it: Sangoa omby re izany? (“Isn’t that just an ox?”), and a more serious one from songo and omby where songo refers to virgin land allowed to go wild; in this case, the reference is to a feral ox.

Consistent across the descriptions is that the songòmby is the size of an ox or a horse, exceedingly fast, burdened with floppy ears, and a man-eater. It looks something like a horse, a mule, or an ox. It has flaring nostrils and terrible incisors. Its prominent ears dangle over its eyes and can distract it at crucial moments.

Gabriel Ferrand says it has the body of an ox and a hornless horse’s head. It lives in forests and eats plants, insects, and humans. Its speed is beyond compare – a distant songòmby can reach its prey immediately. If its human prey tries to escape by climbing a tree, it will wait at the base of the tree and try to bring the human down by ruse. If that fails it directs a jet of urine at its prey. The victim loses their grip, falls, and is devoured by the songòmby.

R. P. Callet says the songòmby looks like a donkey with spots. It eats grass but if it sees people it chases them. It comes out at night to graze. When climbing mountains they are fast as horses, but when they go down they move slowly because their ears flop over their eyes.

Domenichini-Ramiaramanana describes the songòmby as white in color, very fast, like both a horse and an ox, and with a single horn. It sprinkles itchy hair (lay) from its nostrils. If its prey tries to escape by climbing a tree, the itchiness brought on by the lay will make the victim try to scratch itself, falling out of the tree. Thus, if climbing a tree to avoid a songomby, one must be sure to tie oneself to the branches with lianas. The creature is patient though and will wait till morning at the foot of the tree.

In northern Madagascar the songòmby is like the donkey or the mouflon. It has tufts of hair at its feet. It may have backswept horns or no horns at all. Its hooves are so hard they strike sparks from the ground. Most unusually of all, “it is only seen in profile and looking behind it”. This final clue suggests to Molet that the songòmby evolved from the decorative ch’i-lin on Chinese plates, which is often depicted in profile and looking backwards. The people of Madagascar would have seen those on Chinese plates brought by Arab traders – a trade which was stopped by the Portuguese, leaving the origin of the songòmby to distant history.

To catch a songòmby, a child is tied up in front of the songòmby’s den while a net is put over the entrance. The child’s crying attracts the songòmby, which is snared in the net. Worse than that, children were punished by putting them outside and telling them the songòmby would eat them. But this was not without its risks. A child was once put outside, and the parents called out “Here’s your share, Mr. Songòmby!” As luck would have it, a songòmby was passing by. “Oh, he really is here!” cried the child, but the parents ignored him, replying “Let him eat you!” thinking the child was mistaken. After a while they opened the door to find their child was gone. They followed the trail of blood all the way to the entrance of the songòmby’s cave.

Fortunately the songòmby is not invincible. A man going out by night once met a songòmby, but as he was strong and brave, fought it all night without being hurt. The hero Imbahitrila once defeated a songòmby by arming himself with two magical eggs from the angavola bird. They answered his wish to overcome the songòmby by causing it to trip and fall. Once on the ground the songòmby was easily slain by Imbatrihila’s spear.

The Tòkantòngotra or Tòkandìa (“single-hoof”) is very similar to the songòmby. It is white in color, large (but smaller than the songòmby). Its feet are single hooves, like those of a horse (but not one foot in front and one in the back, as some authors have interpreted). Like the songòmby, it is very fast, travels by night, and is a man-eater.

Flacourt describes an animal called the Mangarsahoc. It is a large beast with a horse’s round hooves and long dangling ears. When it comes down from the mountains, the ears cover its eyes and impair its vision. It brays like a donkey – and, indeed, Flacourt decides that it must be some kind of wild donkey. A mountain 20 leagues from Fort Dauphin is named Mangarsahoc after the animal. Flacourt also mentions an animal called the Brech or Brek, about the size of a goat kid and with a single horn on its forehead. It is very wild in nature. Flacourt determines that “it must be a unicorn”. Both of those seem close enough to the songòmby to be worth mentioning.

The Habeby or Fotsiandre (“white sheep”) looks like a white sheep with long, dangling ears, staring eyes, and short wool. Reclusive and shy, it is not carnivorous, but the description once again recalls the songòmby.

When the horse was first brought to Madagascar, it was believed to be a songòmby (it was eventually saddled with the name soavaly, derived from the French cheval).

References

Domenichini-Ramiaramanana, B. (1983) Du ohabolana au hainteny: langue, littérature et politique à Madagascar. Karthala, Paris.

de Flacourt, E. (1661) Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Francois Clouzier, Paris.

Molet, L. (1974) Origine Chinoise Possible de Quelques Animaux Fantastiques de Madagascar. Journal de la Soc. des Africanistes, XLIV(2), pp. 123-138.

Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.

Kuyūtha

Variations: Behemoth; Leviathan; Kuyūban, Kuyoota, Kuyūta, Kuyootan, Kuyūtan, Kuyoothan, Kuyūthan, Quyuta; Kujata (erroneously based on mistranslation from Spanish), Rakaboûnâ (erroneously based on mistranslation from Arabic)

Kuyutha

Early Islamic cosmology tells that when God created the Earth, he saw it to be wobbly as a ship in a stormy sea. To support it he created an angel who held it by the east and west. But there was nothing below the angel, so he created a red ruby rock (or a green gemstone rock, according to al-Wardi) a with 7,000 perforations in it, from each of which issues a sea whose breadth God only knows, and the angel stood on the rock.

Then God created (or brought down from Heaven) a great bull to support the rock. This bull is enormous beyond comprehension. Al-Qazwini describes the bull as having 40,000 eyes, 40,000 noses, 40,000 ears, 40,000 mouths, 40,000 tongues, and 40,000 legs. Al-Damiri’s list gives the bull 4,000 of each of these features instead. Al-Wardi refers only to 40,000 horns and 40,000 legs. The distance between each of the bull’s pairs of legs would take 500 years to cover. The spread of his horns goes beyond the boundaries of the Earth. He breathes twice a day; as his nose is in the water, this causes the tides to ebb and flow. When he shifts he causes earthquakes.

The bull held the rock on his back and horns, and he stands on the back of a great fish (with or without a layer of sand between the bull and the fish). The fish is so large that all the seas would be like a grain of mustard in his nostril. Below the fish are varying combinations of water, earth, suffocating wind, sand, darkness, and mist, and that is as far as human knowledge goes.

Spectacular as it may be, this cosmology was apparently never taken too seriously. Al-Qazwini relegates it to his section on “Differing Opinions of the Ancients on the Shape and Location of Earth”; the cosmological sections of the Wonders of Creation are much less poetic. It inspired the Persian expression az mah ta mahi, “from the moon to the fish”, i.e. the whole of creation.

What are the names of the bull and the fish? Logically, a giant land creature and a giant sea creature in an Abrahamic religion would be Behemoth and Leviathan, respectively. Indeed, Guest and Ettinghausen attribute the oldest rendition of this cosmology to Ahmad-e Tūsi’s Wonders of Creation, where the bull is Behemoth and the fish Leviathan. But textual corruption sets in around the time al-Qazwini cites Wahb bin Munabbih in his own Wonders of Creation, and by then the two godbeasts had swapped names. The fish became Behemoth (Bahamut or Bahemut in Arabic) while the bull was saddled with increasingly garbled misreadings of Leviathan – Kuyūban or Kuyūthan in al-Qazwini, Kuyūtha or Kuyūthan in al-Damiri, Kuyūthan in al-Abshihi, and so on.

Older English translations of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings incorrectly translate the bull’s name to “Kujata”. Borges apparently would have pronounced “j” as “y”, so newer editions of the Book use the more accurate “Quyuta”.

Perron gives the name of the bull as Rakaboûnâ, a hilarious but entirely understandable translation error.

References

al-Abshihi, C. (2008) Al-Mustatraf fi kul Fann Mustadhraf. Dar Al-Marefah, Beirut.

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

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

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

Guest, G. D. and Ettinghausen, R. (1961) The Iconography of a Kashan Luster Plate. Ars Orientalis, v. 4, pp. 25-64.

Lane, E. L. (1883) Arabian Society in the Middle Ages. Chatto and Windus, London.

Al-Mundir; Perron, N. trans. (1860) Le Nâċérî: La Perfection des Deux Arts. Bouchard-Huzard, 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.

Al-Wardi, S. (2007) Kharidat al-‘ajaib wa faridat al-gharaib. Maktabat al-Thaqafa al-Diniyya, Cairo.