Tag Archives: folklore

M is for Mbói Tu’ĩ

Some people fear snakes; others fear birds. If both animals give you the creeps, you’ll want to steer clear of today’s creature.

M is for Mbói Tu’i.

The Mbói Tu’i is a huge snake with a parrot’s head that comes from Guarani mythology. While he’s not overly fond of humans, he protects aquatic animals, acting as a guardian of the wetlands.

Mbói Tu’i has a blood-red forked tongue and a vicious stare that frightens those who look into his eyes. While his body is covered in scales, his head is covered in feathers. His screech terrifies people from miles away.

His main role in what remains of the oral culture of the Guarani is that he protects the land. He’s a conservationist at heart, scaring away anyone who encroaches on the South American swamps. In fact, his six brothers also guard different environs.

Mbói Tu’i is the grandson of the creation god, Tupa. Tupa and his wife created the earth and all its creatures. They also bore two spirits – Angatupyry (the spirit of good) and Tau (the spirit of evil).

While Tau was eventually banished from the earth, he took with him a Guarani woman named Kerana. Seven monster-children came from this union: Teja Jagua (a lizard-dog), Mbói Tu’i (today’s creature), Monai (a horned snake), Jasy Jatere (a beautiful man with blond hair and blue eyes), Kurupi (a small, hairy man with an enormous erection that he wraps around his body), Ao Ao (a fanged sheep), and Luison (a human-dog).

450px-Mboi_TuiBecause there is little written record of the Guarani, it’s hard to tell whether they revered or feared (or both) Mbói Tu’i. My first thought upon reading up on this creature was of Humbaba in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Like Mbói Tu’i, Humbaba is a fearsome beast ordered by the gods to protect a holy land (in this case, the forest of the cedars). My students often feel bad for Humbaba when Gilgamesh kills him, as he was only doing his job by keeping men out of the woods.

There’s a clash between nature and culture that is anthropomorphized in such guardian creatures. If we are to believe cultural anthropologists, what makes Man different from the other animals is his ability to control and dominate his environment. If Man must control nature to prove his worth, then creatures such as Mbói Tu’i and Humbaba are demonized and must be destroyed.

However, as there are no extant stories of Mbói Tu’i, it’s a little hard to make this connection. Nevertheless, Mbói Tu’i is an interesting peek into Guarani culture.

Sources:“Mboi Tu’i.” Wikipedia.

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L is for Lou Carcolh

Folktales tell of many horrifying animals, but a snail?

L is for Lou Carcolh.

This mythological creature from southwest France is a mixture of a serpent and a mollusk…kind of like a giant snail, but way creepier. Lou Carcolh has many mile-long tentacles covered in hair and slime that can reach for vast distances. Thus, the beast rarely had to leave its underground cave, as the tentacles could capture its prey without being seen. It’s huge, gaping mouth swallows humans whole.

I’ve never thought much about snails and their place in mythology. Most scholars seem to lump discussion of them with sea creatures, though snails are found in dry lands as well. Hope Werness reports that different cultures interpret the creature differently – some as a symbol of fertility, and some as a symbol of sloth. But I’m not sure this particular French beast fits into either of those categories.

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If I had to hazard a guess, Lou Carcolh represents the primordial ooze (the antithesis to Culture with a capital C). Cave dwelling, open mouthed, interested only in eating ­– it literally oozes slime, leaving a wake of destruction. The Id in its pure form. Man must overcome this creature to prove his Manhood (with a capital M).

But, of course, I could be mistaken. I haven’t run across any reputable stories that go along with the Lou Carcolh, so let me know if you find one!

Sources:
Hope B. Werness. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art. (2006)

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K is for Kukuweaq

Riddle me this, bat-friends. What has one head, one tail, and ten legs?

K is for Kukuweaq.

The Kukuweaq comes from Inuit folklore. The beast is a polar bear with ten legs. Yes, that’s right – ten of them. I wouldn’t want to be chased by a four-legged polar bear, much less ten!

The bear’s ten legs help it travel long distances on both land and water. Some sources also claim that the beast is as large as an iceberg and almost impossible to kill. But in one folktale, a man does bring down one of these creatures.

Two neighbors settled in for the winter. One had stashed away a walrus to feed him during the harsh months, while the other (Kucriak) had nothing. Kucriak’s neighbor refused to share the walrus with him, so Kucriak went out in search of food. He came across the Kukuweaq’s den and killed it by stabbing his harpoon in the Kukuweaq’s eye. Unlike his greedy neighbor, Kucriak shared the bear’s meat with his entire village, saving them from starvation. Of course, his neighbor was embarrassed, since he had not shared his walrus.

I think the message in this particular folktale is clear – one must be generous towards his or her community. This is a significant cultural need, especially in isolated societies where resources are scarce. Hawaiian cultures have similar story in “The Calabash of Poi,” as do the Australians in “How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch.”

What I’d like to know more about is why the Kukuweaq has ten legs – aside from the fact that the creature can travel long distances. The scientific term for having multiple limbs is polymelia. Many cultures have mythological creatures with polymelia, such as the Hindu Kali (a goddess, not a creature) and the Greek Hekatonkeires. I’ve been looking for more information about why this is so significant, but have failed to find anything yet. Let me know if you have a hint! (And I’ll let you know if I find something.) Aside from arms typically connoting strength, I’m at a loss.

Sources:
Robert F. Spencer. The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society. (1959)

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D is for Drac

The legend of Drac comes from the small town of Beaucaire, France, which is located on the Rhone River. The myth was written in Frederic Mistral’s Poèmes du Rhône (1897).

ImageDrac is an invisible, winged sea serpent (water dragon), who emerged from the depths of the Rhone to hunt on land, killing thousands of men in the thirteenth century.

The myth tells of a young flower peddler who was abducted by Drac in 1250. Instead of killing the girl, Drac took her to live with him in the Rhone and help raise his son for seven years. At the end of seven years, the woman returned to Beaucaire, but she had the ability to see Drac when he came upon land. (How she was able to do this is a point of contention amongst folklorists.) She was able to warn the other citizens of his presence, which upset Drac. To keep his identity hidden, Drac ripped out the woman’s eye.

ImageThe citizens of France sent armies to hunt the dangerous beast, but Drac eluded them, killing many soldiers in the process. While Drac has since died of natural causes, the citizens of Beaucaire still remember the story of the beast and hold a festival in June where an effigy of Drac is constructed and paraded through town. (You can add this festival to my “bucket list,” by the way!)

Note: I don’t know where this artwork came from. I found it though a search which led me to this site: http://webhome.idirect.com/~korak/info.htm. Whether the artwork is the author’s or not, I cannot tell, but I found it stunning.

Sources:
“Drac.” All About Dragons.

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