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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
arrow
Medicine
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

arrow
science
Eye Doctors Still Use This 100-Year-Old Test for Color Blindness

You may have seen them at your ophthalmologist's office: large circular diagrams made up of colored dots. People with normal vision are able to discern a number among the dots of contrasting colors. People who are color blind might see only a field of spots.

These elegant, deceptively modern drawings were published 100 years ago by a Japanese ophthalmologist, Shinobu Ishihara. Thanks to the designs' simplicity and diagnostic accuracy, the Ishihara test is still the most popular and efficient way to identify patients with color vision deficiencies.

Born in Tokyo in 1879, Ishihara studied medicine at the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University on a military scholarship, which required him to serve in the armed forces. After graduating in 1905, he worked for three years as a physician specializing in surgery in the Imperial Japanese Army, and then returned to the university for postgraduate studies in ophthalmology. In his research, Ishihara focused on identifying and recruiting soldiers with superior vision, thereby increasing the overall effectiveness of the military. And that became of prime importance to Japan beginning in 1914.

As World War I spread across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, the Japanese army asked Ishihara to develop a better way to screen draftees for color vision problems. The most popular method at the time was the Stilling test, invented by German ophthalmologist Jakob Stilling in 1878 as the first clinical color vision test. (Previous tools had asked patients to identify the colors of wool skeins or illuminated lanterns—useful skills for sailors and railway conductors, but an imprecise method for diagnosing vision issues.)

"Though popular, 'the Stilling' retained a distinctly 19th-century flavor, more treatise-like and less diagnostically incisive," according to Eye magazine.


Shinobu Ishihara
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Japanese army officials requested a new diagnostic tool that was easier to administer and interpret. The test Ishihara began to develop was based, like Stilling's, on the principle of pseudo-isochromatism—a phenomenon in which two or more colors are seen as the same (or isochromatic) when they're actually different. A person with normal vision could easily see the difference, while people with red-green deficiency, the most common form of color blindness, would have difficulty distinguishing those two opposing colors. Those with blue-yellow color blindness, a less common type, would have a hard time discerning reds, greens, blues, or yellows.

Ishihara hand-painted circular designs comprised of small dots of different areas and colors so that variations in the design could be discerned only by color and not shape, size, or pattern. Hidden in the field of dots was a figure of a contrasting color that people with normal vision could see, while those with deficiencies could not. Other plates in the series were designed to show figures that would be visible only to people with deficiencies. When physicians displayed the diagrams, patients said or traced the visible figure within the circle without needing to use ambiguous color names, which standardized the possible results.

The earliest sets of Ishihara plates, produced in 1916, were reserved exclusively for the army's use and featured Japanese characters within the diagrams. In 1917, in an effort to sell the series internationally, Ishihara redesigned it with the now-familiar Arabic numerals and published a set of 16 plates as Tests for Colour Deficiency.

The tests were adopted throughout the world beginning in the early 1920s, and eventually grew into a set of 38 plates. But their popularity almost led to their undoing. Unauthorized publishers printed their own version of the plates to meet demand, throwing the accuracy of the diagnostic colors into doubt. "The plates have been duplicated along with an easily memorized key by cheap color processes in the tabloid press, and exposed in public places, reducing the fifth edition [of the collection] to a parlor game," one psychologist warned in the Journal of the Optical Society of America in 1943.

Despite those obstacles, the tests proved indispensable for both practicing physicians and researchers. Ishihara continued to refine the designs and improve the color accuracy of the images into the late 1950s, while he also served as the chair of the ophthalmology department and then dean of the medical school at Tokyo Imperial University. In addition to Tests for Colour Deficiency, he also published an atlas, textbook, lectures, and research studies on eye diseases. But he is remembered most for the iconic charts that seamlessly blend art and science.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios