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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Giant snakes. Patagonia’s mythical reptiles

 

In our previous post we mentioned Maripill and the Llaima volcano monster, both seem reptilian in their appearance. Today we will look into some more mythical reptiles:

Culebrón.

Read the full long version on Culebrón with all the information Here
Click for the full report on the "flying snake"

The “Culebrón” (from the Spanish word for “big snake” or “dragon”), which the native Mapuche called “Futa Filu” (big snake) had differing appearances depending on the tribe and region.

However most agreed that it was a fat stout snake with a mane of stiff hairs along its back –notice how the rigid spiky hairs are a repeating motif among the Mapuche mythical animals. It had large cat-like eyes and a short stunted tail. Its appearance changed as it grew older, it evolved humps on its front and rear extremity, which mutated into clawed legs. Wings may or may not sprout on its head. It is a night animal and lives in caves.

In some Mapuche areas the elders told girls not to get close to certain ponds because an ugly and large Culebrón that owned it would turn into a gigantic, horrible and hairy man and trap them if they stayed to long close to the water.[1] Hairy man-like creatures are reminiscent of “wild men” and may be hominids not lake monsters.

XIXth Argentine military Commander Barbará mentioned a lake named by the Puelche “Calchá-filu” or “hairy snake”, a clear indication that the Culebrón myth extended across Patagonia.[2] More on hairy snakes Here.

But what kind of creature can be assimilated to a gigantic hairy snake? Snakes are reptiles and as such, lack hairs. The mere existence of hairs means mammal; Culebrón , if hairy is some kind of mammal.

Lampalagua

Culebrón in its reptilian facet is similar to another mythical reptile, “Lampalagua”; described as a formidable reptile with strong claws that devours all that it finds in its path. It drinks up streams and rivers and crawls across their dry beds. It eats children, men, animals and anything that it comes across. It destroys the crops and trees that lie in its path.[3]

It digs shallow underground tunnels where it lies concealed. It can also be found in lakes and streams.

Chilean folklorist, Mrs. Sperata de Saunière transcribed a tale told to her by a native woman; Eudocia Catricheo de Loncoche in the early 1900s about a mysterious animal that was eating a rich man’s sheep.

He hired an Indian to kill it and it turned out to be a “very big serpent with the head of a cat and a very sharp tongue that had a nail on its tip”. This and not the fangs held the snake’s venom.[4]

The brave Indian ambushed it cloaked in a sheep skin and grabbing it by its neck, pulled the nail out; “the snake writhed and jumped but the little Indian held its tongue and the serpent died”.[4]

The myth may be based on the real lampalagua, which though not found in Chile or in Patagonia, inhabits central and northern Argentina. It is also known as “boa de las vizcacheras” (Boa constrictor occidentalis) and can measure up to 3 m (9 ft.) in length and weigh 15 kg (33 lbs).

It feeds by seizing its prey (mice and vizcacha) in its jaws and wrapping several coils around the victim, constricting it until it has suffocated to death. This boa however is not aquatic so it cannot be the same animal as the Patagonian Lampalagua, which is more similar to South America’s anaconda –a very large aquatic constrictor snake.

Furthermore snakes lack a “clawed tongue” and Lampalagua with clawed paws is more like a reptile than a snake.

Dragon-like appearance of “Epunamun

Epunamun” was represented by some Mapuche. groups as an evil hairy elf, yet others depicted it differently: Father Ovalle mentions it in his Histórica Relación: “their Epunamon [sic] appeared to them in the form of a terrible dragon, casting fire out of his mouth, and his tail curled up”.[5]

Its tail evokes that of the Culebrón and is similar to the Llaima volcano monster and Maripill that we have mentioned in our previous post.

In our next post we will look into the Culebrón at Lake Nonthue.

For some hard science facts on fossil remains of giant Patagonian snakes, see our post Here.

Bibliography.

[1] Picasso, F., and Núñez O., L., (2004). Gigantescos Ofidios Sudamericanos. Online.
[2] Barbará, F. Op. Cit. pp. 124.
[3] Vicuña Cifuentes, J., (1915). Op. Cit. pp. 75+
[4] de Sauniere, S., (1975). Cuentos populares araucanos y chilenos: recogidos de la tradición oral. Santiago: Ed. Nascimento. pp. 163+
[5] de Ovalle, A. Op. Cit. pp. 200.




Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

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