Of Things Wraithlike and Most Uncanny: Lowlands-L’s Crypt
Of Things Wraithlike and Most Uncanny: Lowlands-L’s Crypt


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the Ashanti Rainforest Monster

by Thomas Mc Rae

The Ashanti peoples of Ghana’s central rainforest area have a fascinating folklore on a par with any elsewhere in the world. Any rainforest can take on sinister aspects in the gloom under its dense canopy, and tales abound of strange inhabitants.

Ashanti lore has entities equivalent to fairies, ghosts, legendary beasts, and, worst of all, the Nsansabonsam. And monster Nsansabonsam certainly is! About three times the size of a man, with one vertical side beautiful and perfect and the other rotten, corpselike, and corrupt.

Bronze of NsansabonsamNobody is quite sure what it looks like but claims are made that it’s feet point back to front so someone walking in the dark forest and seeing those huge footprints thinks he is walking away from them when in fact he travels ever closer to the monster. Unfortunately Christian influence has made skilled local woodcarvers present the monster as the devil with horns and cloven hooves pointing in reverse.

I have been lucky enough to obtain a marvellous lost wax bronze casting, closer to the classical concepts but still with variants. My prize is endowed with wings and instead of reversed feet it has large heel spurs which wipe out its tracks completely (visible in the photo). Note corruption on left hand side of head.

Nsansabonsam loves human prey but is also a very honest hunter. There goes young Kofi into the forest gloom to check out Dad’s palm wine grove. Cautiously and a bit scared he walks ever deeper, ahead lurks his giant nemesis anticipating dinner.

Kofi walks onwards in the gloom but his progress is impeded by a massive bulk looming ahead. “Nsansabonsam!” he cringes with fear as the monster makes its awful command, “Touch me!” Well versed in forest lore, Kofi knows the deal. If he touches the corrupt rotten side of the monster he will be immediately torn into pieces and devoured. If he touches the perfect side it’s jackpot time! The monster is a fair player offering 50:50 odds.

The lad is aware that if he tries to run away he will be a goner. His only hope is to extend his hand towards the indistinct figure and hope for the best. In his case he is one of the winners as he touches the monster’s good side.

Yeah, Kofi! Nsansabosam picks him up, places him on its massive shoulder and carries him to its secret retreat in the depths of the forest. Here it spends several apparent weeks instructing Kofi in forest lore, healing powers, general magic, and how to locate gold and lost treasures. Look closely at the bronze casting and you will see him seated on the monster’s knee protected by its massive tail and with the serpent of knowledge in attendance coiled around the tree of healing.

All this plus much other knowledge is given to the boy. A few weeks pass by. Then the monster sets him on the track back to his village. At long last Kofi is home. But what’s happened? People flee from him as though he is a stranger and he can find none of his young companions.

He manages to convince people that he is in fact young Kofi but is told that this boy went into the forest 20 years ago and never came back. He finally locates his friends all grown to manhood and also his now aged parents. He looks exactly as he had when he left all those years before. With his new learning and skills Kofi becomes a great asset to his community. But deep in the forest Nsansabonsam continues to lurk in search of victims and protégées. Lucky Kofi was one of the latter but the bones of the not so fortunate remain scattered around the deep forest.

Author’s Notes: 
  • The Ghanaian one has interesting parallels with European lore, chap spending a night in the fairy hill then finding he’s been gone for many years. Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”. Even Irvings Rip van Winkle. Also reminiscent to me of the Sphinx wandering round asking its riddle then devouring all who could not answer. Collective consciousness indeed.
  • When Osei Tutu established the Ashanti Nation his fetish priest Akomfo Anokyi performed several miracles. A wooden stool descended from heaven embellished with gold ornaments, the legendary Golden Stool, throne of the soul of Ashanti on which not even the king could seat himself. And there was a leather bag sealed with complex knotwork in which the Spirit of Ashanti was sealed. Undoing the knots would release said spirit and the nation would lose its power. A third item is on a par with Arthurian and Germanic mythology. Anokye took a battle sword and threw it point downwards into the ground where it sunk in up to the hilt. He decreed that the nation would prevail until this was withdrawn. An ignorant British Governor General in the early 20th century demanded the subdued Ashanti chiefs bring The Golden Stool for him to sit on. A new uprising was the end result of that. The leather bag can be seen in the Kumasi Cultural Centre. As for the sword, there is a sturdy iron rod protruding from the ground where this was inserted. The Americans had an air base near Kumasi and they did two seriously stupid things: First off, they landed a metal seaplane on nearby Lake Bosumtwi. Placing any metal item in the sacred lake of Ashanti is taboo. Even fish hooks are made of wood or bone. Locals were affronted. Under old Ashanti laws merely swearing by Lake Bosumtwi had the swearer decapitated. For an encore they tried digging up the sacred sword with a mechanical shovel. Major rioting stopped this stupidity and locals will inform you that as the shovel dug deeper so sank the sword. The sword legend may be a later addition based on the Arthurian tale. ¿Quien sabe?

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