Tag Archives: folktale

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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H is for Heikegani

Technically, today’s animal isn’t a mythological creature; it’s a folktale from Japan.

H is for Heikegani.

Image The Heikengani is a crab specific to Japan. Their shells resemble a samurai warrior’s face, so they were thought to be the reincarnated spirits of fallen soldiers.

Specifically, the Heikengani are the spirits of the Heike soldiers who drowned during the Battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. The Heike controlled Japan under the Empire, while the Minamoto were trying to destroy the empire and implement their own government. The Minamoto eventually won the war, which is how the first Shogun was put in power.

The drowned Heike samurai were transformed into Heikegani, who now patrol the ocean. Folktales say that the crab came into existence directly after the battle.

Image

An image of the battle by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The crab is seen on the far left panel in the center.

Carl Sagan popularized these crabs in 1980 when he discussed them on his television show, Cosmos. He used the Heikegani as an example of artificial selection, claiming that the Japanese would not eat the crabs. Thinking they were spirits of soldiers, the fishermen would throw them back into the water. This allowed the species to flourish. However, others have pointed out that Heikegani are too small to eat (the shell is about an inch in diameter), so Sagan’s theory has some holes. The creases in the shell are actually points of articulation for the crab’s limbs.

Seeing human qualities in inanimate objects (such as a crab’s shell) is called pareidolia. It’s believed that this trend was popular in early cultures, especially those who believed in the supernatural. It is a way of making sense out of the world and seeing connections that are easy to recognize in natural phenomena.

Sources:Andrew Kincaid. “Heikegani – The Samurai Crab.” (2013)

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