Africa Dreaming

Terrible & Terrifying Creatures

The gloomy forests of West Africa are little studied scientifically and are home to an array of strange creatures that seem to cross the boundaries between the physical and the purely spiritual. While many of these entities are regarded as myths by Western observers, to local people they are flesh and blood creatures with the power to destroy not only the body but also the soul. Having said this, it is important to understand that in Africa the boundaries between the spirit world and the physical are vague. Human, animal and discarnate spirits freely cross these boundaries, shifting shapes, become visible or invisible at will. This very aspect makes the formal description of these creatures difficult.

Rocky hills in the Jalolonka WildernessRocky Hills in the Jalolonka Wilderness

Forest Glade
Forest glade in the Wanjilanko Canyon
The African world is filled with many dangers. These are dual dangers. Snakes that are not really snakes as well as those that are. Human crocodiles that lurk in the rivers and swamps while connected spiritually to a person in the village and giant Hyenas, which roam the night. There are numerous such entities. Some run while others fly like the Kikiyaon and the Nyakuloba, a dreadful creature adorned with huge eyes and teeth. Over a period of 25 years I have journeyed into the world of the people of Southern Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea Republic. They have allowed me to share in their culture and have led me in search of the truth that exists behind their beliefs in the terrifying creatures of the night. On several occasions we have actively tried to locate some of the creatures described in the pages of this book and during these encounters we have come close to things that have no rational scientific explanation. It is only when you are so close to the unknown and the unexplainable that the true meaning of fear becomes apparent. There is no terror like that created by the strangled cries of a creature that appears to follow you in the darkness for several miles yet cannot be seen even with the strongest torch! It is through encounters like this that I have come to a greater understanding of the traditional African world. In the end I have concluded that in the dark confines of Africa's forests there is no room for the purely rational mind. Such a mind cannot adequately describe the mysteries that lurk in the gloomy shadows. One of the most terrible of these creatures is the Kikiyaon.
Sacred Pool
Sacred Pool
Artists impression of the Kikiyaon
Artists impression of the Kikiyaon

The Kikiyaon

The Kikiyaon or soul cannibal is one of the most terrifying and at the same time one of the least seen and understood of all the forest creatures. Its very name can conjure a look of horror. It is described as resembling a large owl, especially its head. It has a huge beak and raking talons on its arms and feet. In many respects it is a mixture of bird and human. The Bambara people say it has a huge pair of feathered wings which grow from its back; the shoulder joint of which is tipped with a sharp spur, a deadly weapon if its talons fail. The most terrifying feature is the presence of razor sharp talons, much like those of a large owl, at the end of well-muscled legs. Kikiyaon is said to be covered in short greenish grey hair and some reports speak of it having a short tufted tail. The smell of the Kikiyaon is said to resemble that of a dead snake that has lain in the sun too long.


A Fearsome Sound

The call of the Kikiyaon is often heard. In fact it is correct to say the creature has several calls. The one most commonly heard is a deep throated grunting which carries for miles across the savannahs. To an ornithologist, this call could come from the giant Pel's Fishing Owl, but having twice tracked the caller to small trees; I was unable to see it. I am also very familiar with the Pels fishing owl, as were my companions. The other call, which cannot be attributed to any known owl, is the strangled cry it utters from deep in the throat. This then becomes a screaming moan that drifts in the night air. It is a terrible sound, which has been likened to that of a man being strangled slowly

Gambia River
Gambia River

Strange Habits

The Kikiyaon is the denizen of the darkest forest. It rarely ventures from the gloom and despite its ferocious appearance, it contents itself with ambushing travellers who are desperately trying to get home before darkness falls. The Kikiyaon is usually heard before it is seen and those who see it and live usually die of some lingering illness if not from shock at the time. It is a deadly adversary, being capable of outrunning a man or even swooping down on its prey. At the same time, it is an ephemeral being, seemingly able to move between the physical and dream realms with ease. It is equally feared in both spheres, though in the latter there appears to be more chance of escape. People tell of dreams where the Kikiyaon has appeared and chased the dreamer but failed to catch them. In these situations it appears unable to smell its victim, much like a bird of prey in our world.

In these pages I will describe these creatures and also the people who have described them to me. They are ordinary people, hunters, fishermen and farmers. They had nothing to gain by telling me of the creatures that inhabit their world. Through their patience and understanding I have gained a greater insight into their beliefs. Theirs is a world of beauty, music and dancing but it is also one where danger is never far away and it can come in a variety of forms.

The Wanjilanko

Gina Foiro

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