Impundulu

Variations: Lightning-bird, Intakezulu; Chimungu; Ingqungqulu (Bateleur), Insingizi (Ground Hornbill), Inyoni Yezulu (Bird of Heaven), Isivolovolo (White-necked Fish Eagle), Izulu (Sky)

impundulu

The Lightning-bird, spirit of storms and clouds, takes a number of forms in southern Africa. Several familiar birds are associated with storms: the ground hornbill, the hamerkop, the bateleur, various birds of prey. The Amandebele refer to both the “bird of heaven” and the white-necked fish eagle as Isivolovolo, which flies at great altitude and whose droppings are potent magical ingredients. To the Baronga it is a hawk called Chimungu, which buries itself in the ground with every stroke of lightning. The Tumbuka lightning-bird is black with a curling tail like that of a rooster, scars people with its claws, and leaves little scarlet insects behind after a storm. In Buziba it is a whole flock of glittering red birds whose flashing feathers cause lightning and their wingbeats thunder.

The Impundulu or Intakezulu of the Xhosa is probably the best-known of the lightning-birds. It may appear as a human, but only women can see it in its true form, which is white with red wings, red legs, and a short red tail. Various remains have been identified as belonging to an impundulu, including a ground hornbill’s skull, a dead wandering albatross, a cattle egret, a peacock’s tail feather, and a strange avian skull with the penguinlike lower mandible protruding beyond the upper mandible. The last is not identified, but the description leaves little doubt that the African skimmer Rynchops flavirostris is to blame. Altocumulus clouds have also been identified as impundulu.

The beating of the impundulu’s wings causes thunder, although it only starts thundering after the appearance of the large mushrooms in the wet season. Lightning is caused by an impundulu rushing to the earth to lay a single large egg underground. These eggs must be found and destroyed by shamans before they hatch, lest more impundulus be brought into the world. Throwing assagais into the air also helps dissuade impundulus from landing.

Impundulus are vampiric, sucking human blood until their victims die. They will also carry off unprotected children. Milk is another substance impundulus are fond of, and poisoned milk can be used to exterminate them. Witches are believed to have impundulus who do their dirty work, sending them out to kill men; the fat of an impundulu can also be used in sorcery. Impundulus in human form will impregnate women, and their children will be birds. Tuberculosis is caused by an impundulu sucking away sufferers’ breath, and goes by the same name in West Pondoland.

A person with a nosebleed can be described: wanyiwa yimpundulu, “he has been sucked by impundulu”. Another proverb, “he/she has caught the chicken of impundulu”, refers to one having a stroke of good luck.

In more modern times impundulu has become the name of an electric tram-car.

References

Cook, P. A. W. (1931) Social Organisation and Ceremonial Institutions of the Bomvana. Juta and Co. Ltd., Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Godfrey, R. (1941) Bird-lore of the Eastern Cape Province. Bantu Studies, Monograph Series, No. 2, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.

Qasoǵonaǵa

Variations: Gasogonaga, Kasogonagá, Kasogongá, QasoGonaGa; Lightning; Owner of Storms/Lightning

qasogonaga

For the Toba of Argentina, lighning takes the form of a small, hairy creature called Qasoǵonaǵa, the Owner of Storms. It is an anteater, or perhaps an elephant, with a long snout, long rainbow-colored hair, and four tiny feet. Qasoǵonaǵa can also appear in human form, retaining a small head and shaggy body. As Qasoǵonaǵa has been referred to by both male and female pronouns, there are probably more than one of these beings.

Qasoǵonaǵa, as the Owner of Storms, lives in the skies and is responsible for storms and other meteorological conditions. Lightning comes out of its mouth, while its angry roars become thunder. It is responsible for rain, or lack thereof.

While Qasoǵonaǵa may be a mighty force of nature, it can be quite friendly and grateful for help granted it by the Toba. Often a Qasoǵonaǵa falls to the earth, and has to be returned there by human intervention, as it is too small to return there on its own. In such cases a bonfire must be built, and Qasoǵonaǵa placed on top before it is ignited. The rising smoke will carry Qasoǵonaǵa back into the sky, and the happy anteater will reward its benefactor with powerful shamanic powers. Qasoǵonaǵa will also cause or stop torrential rain if its helper requests it.

References

Cordeux, E. J.; Karsten, R.; Lehmann-Nitsche, R.; Mětraux, A.; Newbery, S. J.; Palavecino, E.; and Terán, B. R. D.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1982) Folk Literature of the Toba Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Wright, P. G. A semantic analysis of the symbolism of Toba mythical animals. In Willis, R. (Ed.) (1990) Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World. Unwin Hyman, London.

Wright, P. G. Dream, Shamanism, and Power among the Toba of Formosa Province. In Langdon, E. J. M. and Baer, G. (Eds.) (1992) Portals of Power. University of New Mexico Press.

Wright, P. G. (2008) Ser-en-el-sueño. Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires.

Tosetáx

Variations: Tsamtáx, Tsamtás (pl.)

Tosetax

According to the Nivaklé of Paraguay, dry seasons are exacerbated by the Tsamtás serpents, which lie in the middle of the sky and radiate heat. A tsamtáx will intercept and eat the Fanxás or thunderbirds flying from the south and bringing rain with them. Only the shamans can prevent this state of things by tearing down the tsamtás nest, making them fall to their death and allowing the rainy season to return.

Tosetáx is even more terrifying. He arrived after the tsamtás had been dealt with, and installed himself in the center of the sky. Tosetáx is an enormous green and red snake, with three mouths – one at the head, one at the tail, and one in the middle of his body. As with the tsamtás, Tosetáx was waiting to ambush the returning thunderbirds.

Tosetáx was defeated by five powerful shamans who turned themselves into snakes. One of the shamans coiled himself around Tosetáx and, by turning and coiling, took him to the north out of the thunderbirds’ flight path. There the shamans cut off the serpent’s three mouths and cut him in half, killing him.

References

Chase-Sardi, M.; Costa, M. M.; Mashnshnek, C. O.; Siffredi, A.; Tomasini, J. A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1987) Folk Literature of the Nivaklé Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.