Tompondrano

Variations: Tòmpondràno, Tompon-drano, Tompoudrano

Tompondrano final

Tompondrano, “lord of the water” or “master of the water”, applies to multiple concepts within the folklore of Madagascar. For our purposes, it refers to at least two types of water snake – one which was commonly encountered in day-to-day life, and an undefined marine monster. Whales, sharks, and crocodiles are also known as tompondrano; the Sakalava proverb “the amby never leaves the master of the water” apparently refers to the pilotfish. The alternative spelling of tompoudrano is phonetically identical to tompondrano in French.

The tompondrano is a water-snake blessed by the Vazimba, a mythical ancient race that lived in the center of Madagascar. For this reason it is respected as a sacred animal. It should not be killed, and dead tompondranos are wrapped in red silk in the same way as human corpses. Tompondranos are good swimmers, often seen crossing ponds and rivers in the forest, but they are not notably large (the largest snake in Madagascar, the akoma or Madagascar ground boa, is some 2.7 meters long).

A very different tompondrano was seen by G. Petit in 1926, on the night a cyclone was announced. He describes seeing bright and fleeting lights produced intermittently every few seconds, something like a much weaker signal beacon of a ship. They were emitted by a large aquatic body rolling on its axis and leaving an indefinitely long phosphorescent trail behind it. Petit was later told by Vezo informants that he had seen a tompondrano a creature 20 to 25 meters long, large and flattened, with hard plates on its body and a tail like that of a shrimp. It is the tompondrano’s head that is luminous. Its mouth is ventrally located, and the creature turns itself upside down to attack targets on the surface. There is a retractable fleshy hood that protects the eyes. It is either legless or has appendages like those of whales. To ward off its unwelcome attentions, an axe and a silver ring are suspended at the bows of boats.

References

Birkeli, E. (1924) Folklore Sakalava. Bulletin de l’Academie Malgache, IV, pp. 185-417.

Jourdran, E. (1903) Les Ophidiens de Madagascar. A. Michalon, Paris.

Romanovsky, V.; Francis-Boeuf, C.; and Bourcart, J. (1953) La Mer. Larousse, Paris.

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

Dard

Dard

The Dard is peculiar to the department of Vienne in France, but its physiognomy recalls that of the alpine dragons – and, like them, it probably evolved from mustelid accounts. It is a serpent with four legs and a short viper’s tail. It has the head of a cat and a mane running down its dorsal spine.

Dards drink milk from cows and can produce a terrifying whistle. They are nonvenomous, but bite viciously when provoked.

Peasants in Vienne claimed to recognize the dard’s likeness in the carvings of certain churches.

References

Ellenberger, H. (1949) Le Monde Fantastique dans le Folklore de la Vienne. Nouvelle Revue des Traditions Populaires, 1(5), pp. 407-435.

Arassas

Arassas

The Arassas hails from the folklore of Lagrand in the Hautes-Alpes region of France. It is a greyish-colored animal with the head of a cat and the body of a lizard. It lives in ruined houses and old crumbling walls. Its gaze kills immediately.

Like other European mountain dragons, it is likely derived from superstitions about otters and martens.

References

van Gennep, A. (1948) Le folklore des Hautes-Alpes, Tome II. J. P. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Cathach

Variations: Cáthach

Cathach

Ireland’s three dragon sisters Dabran, Farbagh, and Cathach were the offspring of the gatekeeper of Hell and the all-devouring sow; they were nursed by the red demon of West Ireland. Cathach, the youngest of the three, made her home on Inis Cathaig (now Scattery Island).

A horrible sight she was to see, a great dragon bigger a small isle, with a back like a round island covered with scales and shells. A rough bristly mane like a boar’s covered her foreparts. When she opened her cavernous mouth filled with a double row of sharp teeth, her entrails could be seen. A cruel eye gleamed in her head. Her body stood on two short, thick, hairy legs armed with iron nails that struck sparks on the rocks as she moved. Her belly was like a furnace. The tail of a whale she had, a tail with iron claws on it that ploughed furrows in the ground behind her. Cathach could move on land and swim with equal ease, and the sea boiled around her.

Dabran and Farbagh were both slain by Crohan, Sal, and Daltheen, the three sons of Toraliv M’Stairn. When Cathach sensed the loss of her siblings, she went on a rampage, laying waste to the lands around the Shannon Estuary from Limerick to the sea, sinking ships and paralyzing commerce for a year. When the three brothers returned and saw the destruction wreaked by Cathach, they were so distraught that they flung themselves into the sea to their deaths.

Cathach herself was defeated by a far more humble and unassuming hero. When Saint Senan made landfall on Inis Cathaig, Cathach prepared to devour him whole. But the holy man made the sign of the cross in front of her face, and she was quieted. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one here or wherever you leave to”. And Cathach did as she was told. She disappeared into the estuary and went to Sliab Collain without harming anyone; and if she is still alive, she has remained obedient to Senan’s command.

The ruins of the church of Saint Senan can still be seen to this day on Scattery Island.

References

Hackett, W. (1852) Folk-lore – No. I. Porcine Legends. Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 2(1), pp.

O’Donovan, J. (1864) The Martyrology of Donegal. Alexander Thom, Dublin.

Stokes, W. S. (1890) Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Stokes, W. (1905) The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee. Harrison and Sons, London.

Watts, A. A. (1828) The Literary Souvenir. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, London.

Famocantratra

Variations: Famocantraton (Dapper)

Famocantratra

The Famocantratra (as Flacourt describes it) or Famocantraton (in Dapper and subsequent works) is a small lizardlike animal found in Madagascar. Its name means “leaper at the chest”.

The famocantratra’s back, chin, and top of its neck, legs, and tail are made of small paws or claws which allow it to adhere to trees like glue. It is almost impossible to see as it sticks to trunks. Its mouth is always open to capture insects and other small invertebrates.

It will leap onto the chest of anyone who passes by, and it holds on so fast that the skin has to be sliced off with a razor. For this reason it is feared and avoided by the natives of Madagascar.

References

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

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

Angont

Angont

According to the Huron, the Angont is the source of death, disease, and all the misfortunes of the world. It is a monstrous snake that lives in a number of dark and secluded areas, including lakes, rivers, deep woods, under rocks, and in caves.

When sorcerers wish to kill someone, they rub items – hair, splinters, animal claws, wheat leaves, and so on – with angont flesh. Any such object becomes malevolent, penetrating deep into a victim’s vitals down to bone marrow, and bringing with it agonizing pain and sickness that eventually consumes and kills its host. Only the discovery and removal of the cursed object can prevent and cure this.

References

Vimont, B. (1858) Relations des Jésuites, v. II. Augustin Coté, Quebec.

Lukwata

Variations: Lokwata, Luquata; Balukwata (pl.)

Victoria Nyanza is home to the Lukwata. The deeds and misdeeds of this great sea-serpent are told on both sides of the lake, from Uganda to the Kavirondo (Winam) Gulf in Kenya. The lukwata is commonly lumped with the dingonek, but the lukwata’s pedigree is far older. Lukwata is also the name of a Baganda clay charm which, when hidden in the king’s house, presents theft in the village, but this seems unrelated.

The lukwata has been around from time immemorial and makes occasional appearances. It is a huge and terrifying lake demon, a serpent, a cetacean, or perhaps a giant fish. It is associated with whirlpools in the lake. Ja-Luo fishermen have tales of the lukwata attacking their canoes. The Baganda, Kavirondo, and Wasoga of the north shore of lake Nyanza used to sacrifice livestock to it. The lukwata’s disappearance coincided with the sleeping-sickness epidemic, and it was believed that the muzungu (foreigners) caused the disease by killing the lukwata, thus bringing its wrath upon the people.

W. Grant, Provincial Commissioner of Jinja, saw a lukwata swimming down the Napoleon Gulf; its head was out of the water but it was too far to make out its features. Clement Hill of the Foreign Office had a far closer encounter when a lukwata off Homa Mountain tried unsuccessfully to seize a man on the bow of Hill’s ship. He saw a lizard-like head, roundish and dark-colored, on a four-foot-long neck attached to a large, rounded mass that formed the body. Some sort of tail seemed to be trailing behind.

E. G. Wayland, head of the Geological Survey of Uganda, claimed to have heard the lukwata’s distant bellowing. He was shown pieces of lukwata bone, and was told that the lukwata fought epic battles with crocodiles. Pieces of skin lost in those struggles were used for potent amulets.

The most complete account of a lukwata’s appearance is recorded by H. Bell, who shot one on the western border of Uganda near the Semliki River and Lake Albert. The creature, which was identified as a small lukwata by a native boy, was deemed to resemble Hill’s serpent. It had a snakelike head, a neck several inches long, a tail a few inches long, and flippers like a sea turtle’s. Instead of a hard shell, the lukwata had a thick, soft, rubbery carapace. Bell believed that the lukwata – evidently an odd species of turtle – would, at the surface, give the impression of a bulky, long-necked animal.

Balukwata are not particularly smart. A Baganda folktale tells of the friendship between a lukwata and a monkey. It came to pass that the King of the balukwata took ill, and his wizard told him to eat the heart of a monkey as a cure. The King offered great rewards to any of the balukwata who would bring him the heart of a monkey. So the lukwata went to the home of his friend the monkey and hailed him. “How are you? You should come visit me, my wife and sons want to see you”. “But I cannot swim”, said the monkey. “I’ll carry you on my back”, said the lukwata, and they were off. Halfway across the lake, the lukwata, having a crisis of conscience, decided to tell the monkey the truth. “I’m really sorry, but our King is sick and needs your heart”. The monkey thought fast. “You silly thing”, he told the lukwata, “I don’t have my heart with me. I leave it behind so I can jump through the trees. Take me back and I’ll fetch my heart from the branch where I left it”. Of course, the unsuspecting lukwata swam back, and the monkey escaped to safety in the trees – but not before mocking his erstwhile friend’s intelligence.

References

Bell, H. (1948) Witches & Fishes. Edward Arnold & Co., London.

Bronson, E. B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.

Cunningham, J. F. (1905) Uganda and its peoples. Hutchinson & Co., London.

Hattersley, C. W. (1900) An English Boy’s Life and Adventures in Uganda. The Religious Tract Society, London.

Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.

Hobley, C. W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts. The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp. 48-52.

Johnston, H. (1902) The Uganda Protectorate. Hutchinson & Co., London.

Pilkington, G. L. (1911) A Hand-book of Luganda. Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London.