Tag Archives: freshwater cryptids

#24 – The Kappa

As a general rule of thumb, if you are a small child frolicking in the local waterways without adult supervision, there’s a good chance that you’re going to die. Rivers, reservoirs and lakes have all kinds of hidden snags and currents and hypothermia-inducing temperatures that make them thoroughly unsafe places to dick about in, and every year all over the world they claim the lives of hundreds of unprepared swimmers that either weren’t old or smart enough to take those risks into account.

Not the most hilarious start to a humorous blog, I’ll admit. Tell you what – let’s lighten it up a bit with some proper comedy:

Actually, this is far worse than any number of dead kids.

Actually, this picture is far worse than any number of dead kids.

The reason I bring it up (the dead kids, I mean, not Rob Schneider’s nipple – I have no excuse for that) is that when it comes to monsters and cryptids, often the psychology behind the folklore is just as interesting as the potential existence of some weird new animal. It’s a common theory that a lot of the lake monsters and water imps from local legends all over the world are actually a psychological hangover from hundreds of years of concerned parents trying to get their dickhat kids to stop jumping into dangerous rivers. Stories of murk-lurking beasties grabbing at ankles from the riverbed form a sort of ‘don’t do that, you daft cunt’ warning from the days before those rubbish ‘no bombing’ signs by the side of the pool. Back in the halcyon years when children’s entertainment involved going outside rather than sitting on their pimply arses and trying to invent new racial slurs for Mexicans on Xbox Live, the best way to get your little bastards to behave themselves was to scare the living shit out of them – the Kappa is the Japanese method, a much-reported water monster the tales of which have been terrifying children out of the streams and ponds in that part of the world for centuries.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

The Kappa is a truly intrinsic part of the Japanese national identity, and even has its own idiom; “a kappa drowning in a river” is often used as a way of suggesting that even experts make mistakes. They’ve been blamed for all sorts of horrible crap over the years, from the drowning of children through to rape and the eating of livers and – I shit you not – the killing of victims in order to steal their shirikodama, a mythical ball that contains a person’s soul. A mythical ball that contains a person’s soul that is apparently located in your anus.

Or at least, that's what his Craigslist advert claimed.

Or at least, that’s what his Craigslist advert claimed.

At the less sinister end, they’re also said to peek up kimonos and fart loudly whenever people pass, just because hey – if you’re going to be an anus-rummaging turtle rapist, you’ve got to know how to have a good time. They’re seen as trickster spirits, and to this day a lot of Japan’s open stretches of water are signposted with warnings of potential Kappa attack rather than the sane option of “YOU MIGHT FUCKING DROWN HERE” that the rest of the world has opted for.

Obviously, should the Kappa turn out to be a real animal, you can pretty much guarantee that they don’t really fart intentionally, rape women, or speak Japanese like the mythology suggests. It’s even claimed that they’re experts in medicine, and that friendly Kappa taught the early Japanese the art of setting broken bones – presumably as an apology for all the pelvises they shattered in their frantic search for magical arse-balls.

Of course, it’s been the case for pretty much all of humanity’s time on Earth that we’ve applied bullshit magical powers to a lot of the animals we’ve encountered. Gods and monsters often have a factual basis in the animal kingdom, and the Kappa could be no different. They’re said to swim like fish but have distinct arms and legs ending in webbed hands, walking bipedally on land when they venture on to it. They also have a distinct plate on their head and monkey-like faces, sometimes with a beaked mouth and odd manes of hair, and are said to be the size of a small child. In my search for another picture to show you, I found this one, and don’t ask because I haven’t got a fucking clue what’s supposed to be going on here either:

That's one hell of a shirikotama he has there.

That’s one hell of a shirikodama he has there.

I’ve included the Kappa here because they don’t seem to be content with being confined to mythology, and contemporary accounts of real-life encounters with them still happen every now and then. In 1978 two construction workers named Makoto Ito and Toshio Hashimoto were fishing off a stone seawall in Yokosuka when a Kappa popped its head above water and looked around – Ito later described it as “not a fish, an animal or a man. It was about three feet in height and covered in scaly skin like a reptile. It had a face and two yellow eyes that seemed to be focused on us”.

From the sound of it, the two of them were lucky to get away with their tackle intact.

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#23 – Mokele-Mbembe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Africa gets all the cool stuff. Well, except maybe all the famine. And the rampant AIDS. And apartheid. And the child soldiers, and the violent civil wars, and the botflies and… still, they have cool monster stories. Swings and roundabouts and all that. I mean sure, my biggest irritant living in England is the fact that none of the idiots that live near me know how to use a communal fucking bin, but I also don’t get awesome cryptids. The best we’ve had in Manchester were the bipedal rats that United Utilities pretended were living in the sewers, in a bizarre attempt to get us to think about maybe not flushing away our tampons:

That was a genuine April Fools from 2011. Because apparently, the best way to get the message across that we should be putting our cotton buds in the bin is the threat of a sentient man-rat that might scamper up the U-bend and bite us on the labia. I don’t know who dreamt up the concept, but I want to shake that bastard’s hand. Anyway, back to Africa and its awesome monsters.

I’ve already written about the Emela-Ntouka, the horny swamp-rhino that guts elephants in the Likouala region of the Congo River basin. As a beastie it’s pretty badass in isolation, but it’s not even the biggest cryptid reported in that area. That honour goes to the Mokele-Mbembe, which translates into ‘one who stops the flow of rivers’:

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy, and much more bushmeat-oriented.

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy and much more bushmeat-oriented.

Despite how absurd and fantastical they might self-evidently seem to be, stories of surviving dinosaurs have been reported from the jungles of central Africa for hundreds of years. The first printed record of clawed prints in the jungle three feet across dates back to French missionary Abbé Bonaventure’s expedition records from 1776, and the folklore among locals goes even further back than that. A German expedition in the Congo in 1913 reportedly met a band of pygmies that gave Western civilisation its first proper description of the Mokele-Mbembe – a creature the size of a small elephant with a long, flexible neck and a tail like that of an alligator. The pygmies of Likouala to this day are even specific about the creature’s diet, insisting it essentially lives off two particular types of plant. Because hey, when you’ve apparently survived millions of years and the extinction of all your brethren, you’ve earned the right to be a fussy eater.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger and more unbelievable national headline than HOLY SHIT DINOSAURS STILL EXIST, beyond perhaps “Snooki receives string theory research grant”. Rather understandably, the Mokele-Mbembe rumours have spawned dozens of expeditions chasing the story and the resulting dollar, and some of the eyewitness accounts to come out of them are downright awesome-sauce with a side of… erm… wonder-chips?

"YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I'M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!"

“YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!”

According to the lore, the Mokele-Mbembe is not content with the inherent badassery of being a living fucking dinosaur. It also apparently hates hippopotamuses hippopotami hippopopopatamuses…. hippos, killing any and all that have the nerve to swagger into its territory. Cryptozoologist Roy Mackal looked into the idea, and found that for no good reason at all, hippos are curiously absent from the Lake Tele and Likuoala regions that spawn the most sauropod sightings. If I saw enough of my friends’ brains smashed in by a giant pissed-off Littlefoot, I imagine I’d want to move on as well.

FEAR US.

Who’s hungry hungry now, bitch?

Mackal also heard a story from Pascal Moteka, a villager who lived near Lake Tele itself. He insisted that at some point in the past his people had dammed a river with wooden stakes to snare one of the beasts, and after they’d killed it with spears had butchered and eaten the carcass. That turned out to be a bad idea, because everyone who’d apparently chowed down on dino-steak died not long afterwards. Perhaps of chronic diarrhoea? Because… wait for it… that’s what I’d call a Bronto-sore-arse.

Oh fuck the lot of you.

Oh, fuck the lot of you.

The Mokele-Mbembe continues to inspire monster hunters to this day, with the most recent failed expedition even being funded through Kickstarter (an infinitely better use for the service than Zach Braff’s latest ego-wank, by the way). Filmed from a small aircraft in 1992, one of the most popular pieces of video ‘evidence’ comes from Lake Tele and seems to show something moving across the surface before submerging:

As always, the video’s hardly conclusive, but its analysis has also yielded conflicting results. A crocodile wouldn’t produce the same protrusions above the water and an elephant wouldn’t submerge the way the object does. Critics have argued that the best visual match is two men paddling a canoe, but that doesn’t account for the speed of the object. As a criticism it also ignores the fact that most indigenous villagers don’t have canoes that also double as submarines. That’d be fucking cool, but I imagine pressurised submersibles are pretty hard to build out of wood and twine. Unless this guy’s behind the whole thing:

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

Whatever the truth behind the Mokele-Mbembe story, as acclaimed zoologist Karl Shuker notes, ‘if there’s one place in the world where dinosaurs could still exist, it’d be the Likouala region’. Or not, because y’know… it’s fucking dinosaurs we’re talking about. Still, there could easily be something big out there still waiting to be discovered, and the possibilities are pretty awesome.

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#9 – Emela-Ntouka, The Killer of Elephants

Cryptid-wise, Africa gets all the cool stuff. While over here we make do with loch monsters whose one trick is to pop their head up above the water once in a blue moon, presumably expecting a fucking ticker-tape parade for it like the diva bitches they are, the Congo gets the Emela-Ntouka. But Nessie’s still cool, right? NO ONE CARES, NESSIE. What’s the last cool thing you did? Oh, you surfaced for a bit? Maybe bobbed along in the water in front of some drunk Scottish tourist board employee who definitely didn’t just stick a bath toy in the water before filming it with his shitty camcorder? WHATEVER, Nessie. When’s the last time you killed a fucking elephant? Oh, there are no elephants in Scotland? Whatever, you whiney pussy.

Like. A. Boss.

Like. A. Boss.

Meet the Emela-Ntouka, which is Lingala for “killer of the elephants”. Said to inhabit the swamps and rivers of the Likuoala region of the Congo, the Emela-Ntouka isn’t a carnivore but is nevertheless greatly feared by the native pygmies for its tendency to absolutely and categorically lose its shit when you’re dumb enough to stumble into its territory. Wander into the home of the ‘water elephant’, as it’s also known, and the beast will go full on Christian Bale on your ass – with added gruesome evisceration and minus distracting eye-wart.

Try not noticing *that* next time you're watching The Dark Knight.

Try not noticing that next time you’re watching The Dark Knight.

At least semi-aquatic and supported by an enormous crocodile-like tail and four squat legs, the Emela-Ntouka spends much of its time grazing and chewing its way through the vegetation of the swamp, with the water supporting its enormous bulk. When disturbed it’s been reported to use its enormous ivory face-boner to disembowel everything from water buffalo to hippos and even elephants.

The animal was first described in 1954 by Lucien Blancou, who was at the time the senior game inspector in the Likouala region. He not only described it in detail but also claimed natives had killed one of them in the area sometime around 1934. Sadly the carcass was never examined or photographed; subsequent encounters and attempts to track the beast have yielded enormous three-toed footprints and describe its characteristic snorting bellow.

Described as being anything between the size of a water buffalo and small elephant, the Emela-Ntouka would certainly be the largest animal for decades yet to be described by science. There are a couple of theories for its possible origin, including the thoroughly worrying one that it’s a surviving ceratopsian like the monoclonius:

Bitch, I eat globe-killing meteor strikes for breakfast.

Bitch, I eat globe-killing meteor strikes for breakfast.

More conservative cryptozoologists suggest the Killer of the Elephants could be an as-yet undiscovered type of rhinoceros, one that’s distinctly more aquatic than its scientifically identified cousins. Only one thing’s for certain, mind – go messing about in the swamps of the Congo without paying enough attention, and you’re likely to get the horn in a manner that you’re most uncomfortable with.

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#5 – The Dobhar-Chú

Any writer will tell you that the best way to keep your reader’s attention is to build on the drama that hooked them in the first place. So far I’ve given you a wolf-demon that tore peasants limb from limb, a worm that can kill through electricity and a warning from the deep sea that we’re soon all going to be trampled into giblets by an enormous land-stomping kraken. So how do I build on that? By bringing the fear closer to home. So, dear readers, I present to you the murderous dobhar-chú, scourge of Ireland’s waters:

PREPARE TO SHIT BLOOD WITH TERROR.

PREPARE TO SHIT BLOOD WITH TERROR.

I’ll just give you all a minute to recover your wits.

Naturally, the legend of the dobhar-chú goes a little further than the adorable little bastards we’ve all seen holding hands by some kelp in that picture that made you go awwwwh for so long that you passed out through joy-induced hypoxia. Also known as the king otter or master otter, the dobhar-chú is a damn sight more murderous, which I find inherently hilarious and enough to justify its inclusion in this blog. I doubt that there were many Irish life insurance claims in 1722, but if there were, there’s a chance that one came over the desk that read “cause of death – torn to shreds by a giant fucking otter”. 

I'm not sure I can approve this one.

I’m not sure I can approve this one.

Grace Connolly was a recently-married young Irish woman, having a lovely time being Irish and doing lovely Irish things. She lived by Glenade Lake in County Leitrim with her husband Terence, who was also having a lovely time being Irish and doing lovely Irish things. One day in September 1722, Grace went down to the shore of the lake to either wash clothes or bathe, and promptly did a thing that was neither particularly lovely or Irish – she got torn to bits by a monster that rose up from the depths of the lake.

Terence came across her body later that day and was distinctly pissed off to find the murdering shit-bastard of an otter responsible casually lounging over his wife’s corpse and having a nap. Now in a thoroughly unlovely mood, Terence killed it, but not before its death cries roused a second bigger and angrier dobhar-chú from the lake; the story goes that Terence and his brother fled on horseback for as far as twenty miles with the second screaming monster in hot pursuit.  When they reached the fort at Cashelgarran their horses gave out and collapsed; placing their exhausted mounts across the entrance, the brothers waited in terrified ambush.  When the vengeful dobhar-chú attacked it did so with such force that it burst through the chest of one of the horses Alien-style, at which point Terence did the sensible thing and stabbed it in the heart.

Imagine this, but replace the door with the splayed ribcage of a horse. Then replace Jack Nicholson with a massive otter.

Imagine this, but replace the door with the splayed ribcage of a horse. Then replace Jack Nicholson with a massive fucking otter. I think Kubrick missed a trick.

The king otter is a popular part of Irish folklore, and just about every description outlines an enormous otter-like creature up to ten feet long with the powerful legs of a more hound-like animal. The story of Grace’s death might seem like little more than folklore but it’s given some credibility by the fact that both her and her husband’s tombstones are still very much intact and visible, complete with carvings of the monster that apparently killed her.

"Here lies Grace Connolly. We're serious, an otter did it."

“Here lies Grace Connolly. We’re serious, an otter did it.”

Nor are the sightings confined to County Leitrim or the 18th century. As recently as May 1968 by Sraheens Lough in County Mayo the king otter has been spotted, often running toward or into stretches of water, described with the familiar characteristics of the enormous otter-like body on four powerful legs. Some sightings even claim it to be white with a crucifix of darker fur across its back, which can presumably mean only one thing – Jesus is back, he’s pissed off, and he’s a fucking otter. 

flying otter

We’re fucked.

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