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.

Falajitax

Variations: Leile, Leile, Liwo

Falajitax

The Falajitax snakes are both violent ogres and benevolent rain-bringers. The Makka of Paraguay believe that they come from humid areas and bring the water with them wherever they go. Most falajitax live in the Chaco forests.

A falajitax has a head like that of a rhea. When it rears up with its body out of sight, it looks exactly like a rhea, and fools many hunters into coming too close. It wears earrings. Its massive serpent body is beautifully colored with eye-catching stripes. But a falajitax need not stick to one form, as it can assume any appearance it wishes, including human and equine guises. A falajitax disguised as a horse can tempt people into riding it, galloping with them into a lake where they drown.

At best, the falajitax are intelligent creatures that can be reasoned with by shamans. Falajitax often protect sources of honey in the forest, and the shaman can placate them by singing and soothing them with a sort of balm. A group of Makka and their shaman were permitted to harvest honey, and the falajitax next guided them to their secret stores of honey. The snakes finally appeared in the shaman’s dreams, telling him that they would live in peace with the Makka.

The falajitax that chased a rhea-hunter was much less friendly. With its head raised, it would beckon him to approach, then lie down and roll up as he came closer. When he discovered the deception, he rode off at full speed, with the falajitax following close behind, jumping from branch to branch like a monkey. When the hunter reached a burned field, the falajitax stopped moving, for such places are unpleasant to the snake. The man returned with other villagers and killed the helpless falajitax, taking its beautiful skin, but after they hung it out to dry it started to rain. The torrential downpour stopped only after they had thrown the skin away.

At worst, the falajitax are little more than anthropophagous monsters. They often swallow people alive, but victims can escape by cutting out the serpent’s heart from within – a difficult proposition, considering that a falajitax has multiple decoy hearts around its neck, with the real heart located in its tail. It took two days for one hunter to find the falajitax’s heart and slay it; by then, his hair and clothes had been dissolved and his skin was decomposing. Fortunately for him, his wife’s magic comb restored him to health. But if the falajitax decides to kill first, then there is no escape. The snake constricts its prey to death and then introduces its tail in its victim’s anus, making it walk like a macabre puppet.

References

Arenas, P.; Braunstein, J. A.; Dell’Arciprete, A. C.; Larraya, F. P.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1991) Folk Literature of the Makka Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Ix-hunpedzkin

Variations: Ix-hunpedɔkin, Hunpedzkin, Hunpedɔkin; Mexican Beaded Lizard, Heloderma horridum

Ix-hunpedzkinMexican beaded lizards are large, sluggish, and colorful Central American lizards. They have a venomous bite, and popular Yucatec Maya folklore has exaggerated their toxic qualities.

The Mayan beaded lizard, or Ix-hunpedzkin, is 3 to 4 inches long, with black, rose, and ash-colored bands across their bodies and a pink underbelly. It strikes with both its mouth and its tail. In fact, its entire body is virulently toxic, and it can kill a grown man if it so much as touches his clothes. Even that is not the ix-hunpedzkin’s most infamous activity.

Ix-hunpedzkins frequently enter houses and come in contact with humans. They can cause severe, debilitating headaches merely by biting the shadow of one’s head. These headaches are lethal if not treated immediately.

To heal a hunpedzkin-headache, the plant hunpedzkin or hunpedzkin-ak (or ix-hunpedzkin or ix-hunpedzkin-ak, the names are shared) must be used. It is a climbing plant found in association with Sabal japa, and its long, narrow, and yellow leaves resemble those of the henequen, except it is smaller and has soft spines. It is probably a Tillandsia. The leaves should be crushed or burned to ashes, poulticed, and applied to the patient’s head.

References

Pacheco Cruz, S. (1919) Lexico de la Fauna Yucateca. Merida, Mexico.

Roys, R. L. (1931) The Ethno-Botany of the Maya. The Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans.

Lebraude

Variations: Enfleboeuf, Souffle, Soufflet

Lebraude

Sometimes the toxicity of reptiles and amphibians was so powerful that their breath became a deadly weapon. The rarely-seen toads and salamanders in particular were blamed for all sorts of evil deeds.

The Lebraude is a sort of large lizard or salamander with black and yellow skin. It breathes once per day, and anything that contacts its noxious exhalation dies instantly. Humans perish, livestock expires, and even trees and grass wither up. In Puy de Dôme the Souffle (“Breath”) is a small snake or salamander whose breath kills anyone it sees first. Toads in Provence kill birds with their breath. In Vaucluse a salamander’s breath will cause humans to swell up until they die in their skin. The Souffle, Soufflet (“Bellows”), or Enfleboeuf (“Ox-sweller”) of Auvergne inflates and kills cattle.

Sometimes it is not the exhalation, but the inhalation that is feared. In the Cher, it was said that toads sucked bees out of hives, opening their mouths wide for the insects to come in. Reptiles born from a rooster’s egg in the Hautes-Pyrénées can inhale and swallow anything nearby, including birds and children.

References

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Huayramama

Huayramama

Huayramama, “Mother of the Wind”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She has no direct biological counterpart, but is believed to be an enormous boa with an old woman’s face and very long hair that tangles in the clouds – in comparison, her counterparts the Sachamama and the Yakumama are the boa constrictor and the anaconda, respectively.

The guardian of the air and the daughter of the red huayracaspi or “wind tree”, she is herself the mother of all the good and evil winds. Huayramama also grants power to deserving healers and shamans, giving them control over the weather.

Don Emilio Shuña was one such man. After fasting for nine days and drinking ayahuasca tea brewed from the huayracaspi, he was rewarded by the appearance of Huayramama, her long body billowing in the sky and her hair trailing behind her. She landed on his house and proclaimed “OK, man, here I am. What is it you wish?” “I want to control the wind, the rain, and anything from the sky”, said Don Emilio. Huayramama granted him his wish on condition he fasted for an additional forty-five days. At the end of that period of fasting, Don Emilio gained the magical powers he asked for, and was taught songs by the Huayramama herself. He could control weather, heal those afflicted by evil winds, return crops to life, and revitalize dying fisheries. When the Huayramama’s malevolent children tried to stir up trouble, he drove those winds under the trees through fasting, singing, drinking huayracaspi tea and blowing tobacco smoke. Huayramama would touch his head to strengthen him in times of need. He also used his powers for simpler blessings, such as preventing rain to allow local boys to play football in peace.

At the end of a long and charmed life, Don Emilio finally died. Perhaps it was rival sorcerers who murdered him, or perhaps the evil winds finally won. All who knew him wept. He was buried under the huayracaspi in the middle of the forest, for as he said, “that tree is my mother”.

References

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Yakumama

Variations: Yakumaman, Yacumama, Yacumaman; Puragua; Anaconda

Yakumama

Yakumama, “Mother of the Waters”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She is the anaconda magnified and empowered, in the same way as the Sachamama is the boa constrictor. She appears as a gigantic anaconda with blue scales and eyes glowing like the headlights of a boat. Yakumama is the same creature known as Boíuna or Cobra Grande in Brazil.

The Yakumama can often be found resting on the banks of the river, her tail trailing away into the water. She is capable of entrancing prey into immobility with her gaze and drawing victims to her like a magnet. When happy, she blesses people with plentiful rain and abundant fish. When angry – which can happen for no discernible reason – she summons storms, fogs, and whirlpools in addition to putting her enormous bulk to destructive use. Sometimes Yakumama swallows all the fish and prevents fishermen from catching them, or flies into the sky and causes downpours that ruin crops. Offerings of food and aguardiente can placate her.

After years of work in the forest, a man decided to returnt to Iquitos. He set off down the Napo River on a large boat, bringing with him his family, servants, lumber, and livestock. Soon a storm broke, and he ignored warnings from native fishermen that Yakumama was around, only to get caught in a whirlpool. Prayer to God did nothing, but tossing food and aguardiente in calmed the whirlpool. But still the man pressed on, into a sticky, bluish fog that all other animals avoided. The storm raged until an enormous wave lifted the boat and lodged it in the branches of a capirona tree. Then they saw Yakumama rise from the river, water flowing off her glistening coils as yaras rode her back and laughed at the humans. Yakumama proceeded to gobble up the lumber, the livestock, the cargo raft, several trees, and an island before going back under. The man, his life’s work obliterated, limped back to the native village with his family. He was greeted warmly and offered food and a place by the fire, and there he was told of Yakumama the ever-changing.

The presence of outboard motors and large ships have driven Yakumama away. She is hardly seen nowadays.

References

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Stiglich, G. (1913) Geografia Comentada del Peru. Casa Editoria Sanmarti, Lima.

von Tschudi, J. J.; Ross, T. trans. (1847) Travels in Peru during the Years 1838-1842. David Bogue, London.

Sachamama

Variations: Sach’amama, Sacha-mama, Sach’a-mama, Sacha Mama, Sach’a Mama; Boa constrictor

Sachamama

Sachamama, “Mother of the Forest”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She is the mythological boa constrictor, in the same way as the Yakumama is the anaconda. Sachamama is about forty meters long and two meters wide, with an iguana-like head and scales like stone plates. There is a bulldozer-like blade under her neck. Trees, bushes, vines, fungi, and all sorts of living things grow on her back, such that she never moves unless provoked.

Not that Sachamama needs to move. She has magnetic or hypnotic powers capable of drawing to her any animal that passes in front of her head. The animals living on her also have those magnetic powers. She can also cause storms, rain, and lightning, inducing fevers and headaches in anyone foolish enough to intrude in her domain. Illnesses caused by the Sachamama require shamanistic intervention to cure, usually involving chants and lots of tobacco smoke.

The plants growing on Sachamama’s back are unique – a veritable pharmacopoeia of medicinal herbs that would save countless lives if the Sachamama allowed it. There is boa huasca, a liana with healing resin. Lluasca huasca is another vine whose phlegm-like resin heals facial blemishes. Puma huasca and puma sanango are vines whose cooked stem and cooked root (respectively) cure sorcery and evil spells, and whose spirits are jaguars. Zorrapilla or shabumpilla is a herb that heals cuts and injuries. The lluvia caspi (“rain tree”), rayo caspi (“lightning tree”), or trueno caspi (“thunder tree”) is an enormous tree whose bark, cooked and eaten, grants the ability to create and quell storms.

Most encounters wth the Sachamama occurred during the rubber boom in Peru, when many rubber harvesters found themselves entering the snake’s domain. A man and his wife collecting rubber once sat by the trunk of what seemed to be a huge fallen tree. When they cut into it with their machetes, it bled; when they built a fire, the trees shook, and a torrential downpour extinguished the fire. Next day the “fallen tree” had vanished. In its spot was a wide road. The man consulted a shaman who told him what he was dealing with. “The Sachamama lives in one place but she has moved. She doesn’t like trespassers”. Despite the shaman and his wife’s advice, the man decided to follow the road and find Sachamama. He came upon the tree trunk in a meadow, in the midst of human and animal bones, and at the end of the meadow was a cave where mesmerized animals were congregating. The “trunk” was Sachamama’s tail, and the “cave” her mouth! He cut through the trance with his machete and ran for his life.

References

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Montes, F.; Harrison, K. trans.; in Posey, D. A. (ed.) (1999) Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London.

Stiglich, G. (1913) Geografia Comentada del Peru. Casa Editoria Sanmarti, Lima.