CLOSE

11 Legendary Monsters of Africa

The legendary monsters series continues with some scary stories from Africa. There are so many nations and discrete communities in Africa that the problem here was not finding the legendary stories, but whittling down the list to a manageable number.

1. Grootslang

Grootslang is an Afrikaans word meaning "great snake." The monster of that name lives in a cave called the Wonder Hole in the Richtersveld area of South Africa. The story is that the original Grootslang was found to be too powerful, so the gods subdivided the animal into two species: the elephant and the snake. However, a Grootslang or two escaped this fate and reproduced. The monster can grow up to 60 feet long. Supposedly, its cave is full of diamonds, but no one knows for sure because the Grootslang guards it well. The Grootslang pictured was featured on the Cartoon Network series The Secret Saturdays.

2. Inkanyamba

The Inkanyamba is a huge carnivorous eel-like animal in the legends of the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa. The ancient legends say Inkanyambas can control the weather. They are said to have fins and/or flippers and grow to tremendous size. There are actually freshwater eels abundant in South Africa that grow to around six feet long, but that pales in comparison to the stories of the Inkanyamba.

3. Kongamato

A flying monster called Kongamato in Zambia, Angola, and Congo is described as a flying reptile we may recognize as a pterosaur. It was first described in English by explorer Frank Welland in 1932, although local legend goes back much further. This cryptid lives in rivers and swamps and has a huge wingspan, but no feathers. A similar creature goes by other names in other parts of Africa. Theories on Kongomato sightings range from bad lighting to the possibility that an unknown species may exist in inaccessible places. Of course, the image is familiar to us thanks to Hollywood.

4. Impundulu

The Impundulu or Lightning Bird is a supernatural bird from Pondo, Zulu, and Xhosa folklore. The South African bird is as big as a human and can summon lightning and storms, hence the name. The bird is sometimes a shape shifter that can appear as a human, and sometimes said to be a supernatural familiar that guards a witch or witch doctor. It will attack people and drink their blood. However, parts of the Impundulu or its eggs have medicinal powers. 

5. Adze

The Adze is a vampire in the legends of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It takes the form of a firefly, but if you capture one, it will revert to human appearance. This can be dangerous in itself, because in its human form the adze may attack and eat your organs, but it can be defeated. However, in the insect form, the adze will suck your blood while you sleep and spread disease, which is a possible explanation for malarial outbreaks. Its preferred victims are young children. The victim of an adze becomes a witch who is possessed by the adze’s spirit.

6. Bili Ape

There are plenty of legends of mysterious unknown ape species in Africa. Many of these cryptids are described as something between a chimpanzee and a gorilla. A ghost ape fitting this description is called Ufiti in Malawi. In other areas it became known as the Bondo Mystery Ape, leading to speculation that there was an unknown species waiting to be discovered. Reports led researchers to believe it was a large chimpanzee species that behaved more like gorillas. Various expeditions tried to find this species in Central Africa since skulls were found near the village of Bili in 1908. In the 21st century, evidence of a large subspecies of chimpanzee was found and the apes were later observed in the Bili forest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now called the Bili Ape, they are classified as a subspecies of chimp.

7. Gbahali

The Gbahali is a reptilian creature of Liberia, resembling a crocodile. It grows to 30 feet long, has a snout shorter than a croc's, and somewhat longer legs. Although this species is not confirmed by science, it is not considered a legendary monster among Liberian hunters, but a real creature they have caught and eaten. It is possible, however, that descriptions are exaggerated. Witnesses were shown a picture of the extinct animal Postosuchus, and they recognized it as the Gbahali. 

8. Ninki Nanka

Ninki Nanka is a monster that lives in the Gambia River in Gambia. It is a dragon-like creature with the body of a crocodile, the head of a horse (with horns) and a long neck like a giraffe. And it's huge - 30 to 50 feet long! An expedition in 2006 yielded an object said to be a scale from the monster, but it turned out to be non-biological - possibly a piece of celluloid film.

9. Popobawa

The Popobawa is a fairly recent manifestation reported in Zanzibar and Tanzania. The creature is a demon who appears as a normal human by day, and a one-eyed, bat-winged monster at night. The Popobawa attacks and sodomizes both men and women in the dark of night, and is particularly vicious to those who don't believe in him. Attacks were first reported in 1965 on the island of Pemba. Reports of attacks come every few years, with a large number in 1995 attributed to mass hysteria. Some think that the attacks of the Popobawa can be traced to "waking dreams" or "night terrors," in which the person experiences hallucinations somewhere in between lucidity and sleep. The name Popobawa in Swahili translates to "bat wing."

10. Mokèlé-mbèmbé

The Mokèlé-mbèmbé is a cryptid resembling a dinosaur from the Congo River region. The name means "one who stops the flow of rivers" referring to its size. Dozens of expeditions have sought to find this huge creature, but come back with only secondhand accounts and mysterious footprints. The 1995 1985 Disney film Baby is based on the legend of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

11. Tikoloshe

A Tikoloshe (or Tokoloshe) is an evil-spirited gremlin in Zulu mythology. A shaman may send a Tikoloshe to vex his enemies, causing anything from harmless fright to illness or death. Tikoloshes are described as short hairy humanoid figures that can render themselves invisible by swallowing a pebble - all the better to sneak up on their victims.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

arrow
The Body
11 Interesting Facts About Lymph Nodes

The human body is an amazing thing. For each one of us, it's the most intimate object we know. And yet most of us don't know enough about it: its features, functions, quirks, and mysteries. Our series The Body explores human anatomy, part by part. Think of it as a mini digital encyclopedia with a dose of wow.

The lymphatic system is a crucial part of your body's ability to fight off infection and viruses. It's a key player in the immune system that functions by circulating lymphatic fluid through a series of lymph vessels all throughout your body. This fluid gathers up anything foreign, such as viruses and bacteria from your body tissues and flushes them to your lymph nodes, where immune cells attack whatever isn't helping your body. 

Mental Floss spoke to Adriana Medina, an internal medicine doctor with a specialty in hematology and oncology at the Alvin and Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, about these important tissues. 

1. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF NODES.

They're about size and shape of a pea, and hundreds of them are scattered all throughout the body. In order to fight many little pathogens and clear out unhelpful debris, your body needs a lot of nodes to rally to these causes, according to Medina. 

2. LYMPH NODES ARE HOME TO IMPORTANT IMMUNE CELLS.

"The lymph nodes are in charge of harboring lymphocytes," says Medina. Your body makes two main types of these immune cells, B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes (or B- and T-cells), which are crucial to your body's ability to fight off infections of all kinds. There are many sub-classes of the T-cells because "they are very important to attack infection," says Medina.

3. LYMPHOCYTES ESCORT FOREIGN INVADERS OUT.

When your lymph nodes receive some sort of foreign debris they recognize isn't ours, Medina says, "the B-lymphocytes are in charge of making antibodies." These antibodies "leave with the toxic substance," and signal other immune cells to come in and attack the cells.

4. WHERE DO ALL THE TOXINS GO?

Once the lymphatic fluid has grabbed up its targets, most of it returns to your blood stream, Medina explains, which is why it's so important for lymph cells to do their job: kill what aims to harm you before it gets flushed back into your system.

5. THERE ARE MANY CAUSES OF SWOLLEN LYMPH NODES.

When your immune system senses a foreign invader, be it a virus, bacteria, vaccine, or even some medications, it preps the lymph nodes to make antibodies and lymphocytes to fight off the offender. This also increases the amount of lymphatic fluid in the node, which can make it swollen and tender. Most of the time swollen lymph nodes are not a big cause for concern.

6. A HARD, RUBBERY LYMPH NODE IS A PROBLEM.

A lymph node that is harder rather than soft and persists for several weeks is worth a doctor visit. While lymph nodes can be tender or swollen and mobile when infected, "when there is a [cancerous] malignance…they're hard, rubbery, they don't move, and they don't go away. The lymph nodes are always telling us something."

7. YOU ARE THE PUMP FOR YOUR LYMPHATIC SYSTEM.

Unlike your blood, which has the heart to pump it through your body, your lymphatic fluid doesn't have a pump. Instead, it relies upon gravity and pressure, which you create when you move around, as well as light massage.

8. WHERE YOU FIND VEINS, YOU FIND LYMPHATIC VESSELS.

The lymphatic system and the circulatory system are separate systems, but connected, running in tandem like underground networks of streams. "Lymphatic vessels are distributed along the body wherever we have arteries [or] veins," says Medina.

9. YOUR LYMPH NODES AND YOUR SPLEEN WORK TOGETHER.

"The spleen is like one big lymph node," Medina says of the organ that lives between your stomach and diaphragm. "The spleen is able to produce additional blood cells in case we need it to." Additionally, she explains, many toxic substances are filtrated through the spleen. However, if something happens to your spleen and it needs to be removed, you can live without it; you just may become more prone to infection and require more vaccinations to protect you against aggressive viruses.

10. STAGES OF CANCER ARE DETERMINED BY THE NUMBER OF AFFECTED LYMPH NODES.

The easiest cancers to treat are those that remain in the tissue where they first occur. However, in metastatic cancers, cancer cells migrate to the lymph nodes, which can cause cancer to spread. "When the cancer is detected in lymph nodes, we have to try to find out how many lymph nodes are involved," Medina says. "Lymph node involvements [determines] the prognosis of the cancer." When lymph node involvement occurs, "the treatment has to be more aggressive," she says, often adding radiation to a regime of chemotherapy and other drugs.

11. RESEARCHERS ARE TURNING THE BODY'S OWN LYMPHOCYTES INTO CANCER FIGHTING TREATMENTS.

Breakthroughs in immunotherapy known as Car T-cell therapy turn the body's own immune system into a weapon against cancer by engineering patients' own immune cells to recognize and attack their tumors, according to the National Cancer Institute. "What's happening—it's just beautiful—is that [researchers] are using B-lymphocytes to fight not only breast cancer, but leukemia and lymphomas," Medina explains. "The results are so good and encouraging, changing chances of survival."

arrow
History
The Man Who First Made Childbirth Pain-Free

The Wood Library Museum of Anesthesiology in Schaumburg, Illinois—a sprawling exurb of Chicago—is home to an obstetric treasure: a plaster cast of a newborn infant’s head. The bust shows the trauma of birth, the infant's head squeezed to a blunted point. The cast was made on January 19, 1847 by Sir James Y. Simpson in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a very special reason: It commemorates the first time that modern anesthesia was used to ease the pain of childbirth.

Simpson was not only a titled 1st Baronet but a gifted obstetrician. At age 28, he became Professor of Medicine and Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. Many his senior in the medical community thought Simpson was an upstart—in fact, it's said that his middle name, "Young," was originally a derogatory taunt by his elders. In response to their jeers, Simpson adopted it for good.

Simpson initially used ether as an anesthetic in deliveries, but he soon began looking for an alternative anesthetic because of the gas's "disagreeable and very persistent smell" and the fact that it was irritating to the patients' lungs. His experimentation with chloroform—invented in the United States in 1831 by physician Samuel Guthrie—began in November 1847, with a brandy bottle and some post-dinner party research. The story goes that he presented the filled bottle to his guests to inhale. The next morning, the party were all found on the floor unconscious.

Scholars say this dramatic version of events is likely overblown, but the story illustrates the dangers of discovery. As Simpson's experiments continued, one neighbor and fellow doctor reportedly [PDF] came around to his home at 52 Queen Street every morning "just to inquire if every-one was still alive."

A drawing said to depict the effects of liquid chloroform on James Y. Simpson and his friends.
A drawing said to depict the effects of liquid chloroform on James Y. Simpson and his friends.

Eventually, Simpson got the formulation right with some help from his assistants, who were also local chemists. Over time, the delivery method also improved: Instead of a whiff of fumes from a brandy bottle, doctors developed an apparatus that resembled a glass hookah with long tubes attached to a mask. Later in the century, a soft flannel-covered, metal-handled cup or pouch placed over the nose and mouth of the patient was the preferred delivery method. The doctor—hopefully competent—doled out the anesthetic drop by drop. This method sought to reduce the risk of overdose deaths, which were a significant concern early on.

Simpson was the first to discover the anesthetic properties of chloroform, and soon began to use the drug to help women in labor. The medical community applauded his achievements, as did many women of childbearing age, but some Scottish Calvinists (and members of other religions) were not so happy. Genesis 3:16 was very clear on the matter of women suffering in childbirth as punishment for eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge: "To the woman he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children." For those who took the Bible literally, easing a woman’s pain was anathema.

Some reports from the time describe the divide between medicine and religion on this issue as an all-out revolt, while other accounts claim the religious response to anesthetizing "the curse of Eve" has been overblown by history. In general, it's fair to say the church wasn't thrilled about the use of anesthesia in labor. When Simpson introduced his discovery in 1847, the Scottish Calvinist Church proclaimed it a "Satanic invention." Pregnant women were reportedly warned by preachers: Use this “devilish treatment” and your baby will be denied a baptism.

Simpson disagreed—he didn't think women should have to suffer the pain of childbirth. He made both a scientific and biblical argument for anesthesia during labor. In a pamphlet, Answers to the Religious Objections Advanced Against the Employment of Anaesthetic Agents in Midwifery and Surgery and Obstetrics, Simpson pointed to Genesis and the deep sleep of Adam while his rib was being removed as being evidence "of our Creator himself using means to save poor human nature from the unnecessary endurance of physical pain." He went further, declaring that labor pains were caused by anatomical and biological forces (a small pelvis and a big baby caused uterine contractions)—not a result of the curse of Eve.

Public opinion changed after Queen Victoria took chloroform (applied by Dr. John Snow, famous for his work related to cholera) for the birth of her eighth child, Leopold, in 1853. The queen wrote in her diary: "Dr Snow administered that blessed chloroform and the effect was soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure." Her final child, Princess Beatrice, was also born with the aid of anesthesia. Clearly, she approved.

Edinburgh is still proud of Simpson and of its special place in the history of anesthesia. From August 16 to 18, 2017, the Edinburgh Anesthesia Research and Education Fund will host the 31st Annual Anesthesia Festival, featuring lectures on anesthesia and pain medicine as well as drinks receptions, a private viewing of a Caravaggio, recitation of the works of Robert Burns (Scotland's most revered poet), and bagpiping.

According to the event website, the past success of the festival has led to moving the whole thing to a larger space to accommodate demand. Apparently there are a great number of people with a passion for medical history—or at least, a great deal of gratitude for the development of anesthesia.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios