D is for Dichotomy
I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.
If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.
dichotomy n division into two opposed groups or partsCollins English Dictionary
I enjoy researching African folklore creatures, especially those that can feature in my books. This one is either an ogre or a vampire. Let’s take a look.
PSYCHIC PHENOMENA OF JAMAICA By JOSEPH J. WILLIAMS, S.J. NEW YORK 
That the Ashanti believed in a personal devil or evil spirit is evidenced by the secondary meaning of obonsam, viz. “The devil conceived to be an evil spirit reigning over the spirits of deceased wicked men.”
As a derivative of this word, we have sasabonsam who, according to Christaller, is “an imaginary monstrous being, conceived as having a huge body of human shape, but of a red colour and with very long hair, living in the deepest recess of the forest, where an immense silk-cotton tree is his abode; inimical to man, especially to the priests, but the friend and chief of the sorcerers and witches.”
Captain Rattray declares that the power of the Sasabonsam. “is purely for evil and witchcraft,” and elsewhere he declares: “The Sasabonsam of the Gold Coast and Ashanti is a monster which is said to inhabit parts of the dense virgin forests. It is covered with long hair, has large bloodshot eyes, long legs, and feet pointing both ways. It sits on high branches of an odum or onyina tree and dangles its legs, with which at times it hooks up the unwary hunter. It is hostile to man, and is supposed to be especially at enmity with the real priestly class. Hunters who go to the forest and are never heard of again–as sometimes happens–are supposed to have been caught by Sasabonsam.”
Here then we have a clear theoretical distinction between the Ashanti devil, bonsam, and this fabulous forest monster, Sasabonsam. But, just as in English the term devil represents indiscriminately either Satan or his minions, so in practice the Ashanti Sasabonsam is used as a euphemism for bonsam since it is not well to even mention names of the dead lest their spirits haunt you.
VOODOOS AND OBEAHS Phases of West India Witchcraft BY JOSEPH J. WILLIAMS, S.J. [1932
Another Ashanti proverb runs: “Sasabonsam ko ayi a, osoe obayifo fi.–When a sasabonsam (devil) goes to attend a funeral, he lodges at a witch’s house. “This Sasabonsam will be met with again in Jamaica. Rattray here remarks well to our purpose: “Sasabonsam, Deriv. bonsam, a devil, or evil spirit (not the disembodied soul of any particular person, just as the fetish is not a human spirit). Its power is purely for evil and witchcraft. The obayifo is perhaps its servant as the terms are sometimes synonymous. Sasa or sesa is the word used for a person being possessed of a spirit or devil (oye no sesa).” And again: “The Sasabonsam of the Gold Coast and Ashanti is a monster which is said to inhabit parts of the dense virgin forests. It is covered with long hair, has large blood-shot eyes, long legs, and feet pointing both ways. It sits on high branches of an odum or onyina tree and dangles its legs, with which at times it hooks up the unwary hunter. It is hostile to man, and is supposed to be essentially at enmity with the real priestly class. Hunters who go to the forest and are never heard of again–as sometimes happens–are supposed to have been caught by Sasabonsam. All of them are in league with abayifo (witches), and with the mmotia, in other words, with the workers in black magic. As we have seen, however, and will see again farther on, their power is sometimes solicited to add power to the suman (fetish), not necessarily with a view to employing that power for purposes of witchcraft, but rather the reverse. I cannot help thinking that the original Sasabonsam may possibly have been a gorilla. Under the heading of Witchcraft we shall see how the Sasabonsam’s aid is solicited to defeat and to detect the very evil with which he is thought to be associated indirectly.”
The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous
One of the largest and tallest trees of the West African forests between the River Senegal and the River Niger is the Silk-cotton tree, which is looked upon as the abode of a god or spirit called Huntin. Only some, however, of these trees are honoured by having him as a resident, such being surrounded by a girdle of Palm leaves, and are thus exempted from all injury. Sacrifices of fowls, and sometimes of human beings, are made to this god, and if necessary to fell such a tree an offering of fowls and palm oil must first be made to propitiate the spirit.
Probably this Huntin is a member of the class of Forest Spirits known to the Tschwi of the West African coast as Sasabonsum, which also have the Silk-cotton trees as their abodes. Miss Mary H. Kingsley gives the following account of this Spirit which she obtained from the Tschwi themselves:
“He lives in the forest, in on under those great silk-cotton trees around the roots of which the earth is red. This coloured earth identifies a silk-cotton tree as being the residence of a Sasabonsum, as its colour is held to arise from the blood it wipes off him as he goes down to his underworld home after a night’s carnage. All silk-cotton trees are suspected because they are held to be the roots for Duppies. But the red earth ones are feared with great fear, and no one makes a path by them or camp near them at night.
Sasabonsum is a friend of witches. He is of enormous size and of a red colour. He wears his hair straight, and he waylays unprotected wayfarers in the forest of night, and in all districts except that of Apollonia he eats them. Round Apollonia he only sucks their blood. Natives of this district after meeting him have crawled home and given an account of his appearance, then expired.”
As Sasabonsum is a friend of witches, he is able to give the power of becoming witches to those who may desire it.
*Read more in the book.
The Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane
In the folklore of the Ashanti and Tschwi people of West Africa the sasabonsam are a collection of nature spirits who live in the forests in and around the silk-cotton tree. Like the hamadryads of ancient Greek mythology the sasabonsam will protect the tree it lives in, but will do so with extreme violence; the soil around the base of a tree which is occupied by one of these fairies has turned red, because this is where the sasabonsam wipes itself clean of its victim’s blood. Appearing as a small and think humanoid, these fairies have red skin, large blood-shot eyes, and long straight hair. When walking through the forests travellers need to be weary when walking beneath the cotton-silk trees, as the sasabonsam sits in its branches dangling down its feet. When a person passes beneath the highly territorial fairy will grab them up with its legs and drain the person of all their blood.
In some versions of this myth Sasabonsam is an individual and singular being; his wife’s name is Shamantin.
In the folklore of the Ashanti and Tschwi people of West Africa Shamantin (“tall ghost”) is the wife of the nature spirit known as Sasabonsam. Like her husband, Shamantin lives in the forest and sitting in the cotton-silk tree waits for travellers to pass beneath her so she may grab them up with her legs; unlike her husband she only detains for a few months people she captures. While in her custody, Shamantin forcibly teaches her prisoners the lore of the forest. Described as being immensely tall and completely white.
*Learn more in the book.
Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology by Theresa Bane
Asanbonsam (Ah- SAN- bon- some)
Variation: Asambosam, Asanbosan, Asasabonsam, SASABONSAM
Similar to the YARA- MA- YHA- WHO of Australia, the asanbonsam terrorizes mankind from southern Ghana in Togo and along the Ivory Coast of Africa. Although it is rarely encountered, it looks like a human with hooks of iron for its hands and feet. Its preferred method of hunting is to patiently sit in a tree and wait for some luckless individual to pass directly underneath it. When this happens, the asanbonsam will use its hooks to snatch up its prey and drain it dry of blood. When times are lean, it will venture into a village at night and sip blood from a sleeping person’s thumb. Fortunately, the regular sacrifice of a goat and the spilling of its blood on the ground will keep it satisfied enough to not hunt within the village.
*Learn more in the book.
Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures by Theresa Bane
Variations: Asanbonsam, Asasabonsam, Kongamato, Obboney
In the demonic lore from the Ashanti people of Africa, as well as from the Jamaicans of their own island, comes a vampiric, demonic creature called a sasabonsam. Said to have come to the region from “another land,” this bearded man-faced demon stands about five feet tall and has a mouth full of fanged teeth, a row of scaly ridges over its bloodshot eyes, and a small horn that protrudes from the top of its head. Its very long arms are like gigantic bat wings that have a twenty-foot span. Its torso is skeletally thin, its legs are permanently bent, and there are three toes on each of its feet. The sasabonsam’s body is covered with black and white spots, adding to its camouflage as it sits in the cotton tree, dangling its stringy legs below. When a person walks underneath, if the legs are brushed against, it snatches up the person, pulling them into the tree and biting off their head, then drinking up the blood. The belief that the sasabonsam lives in the ceiba, the great silk-cotton trees, is prevailing, as can be proven by the great height that these trees grow to—everyone is afraid to cut them down. Sasabonsam, who live off fruit and human blood, are said to cause sickness in a person just by looking at them. These demons are believed to work in tandem with the mmoatia (dwarf sorcerers) and the obayifo (witchcraft experts). An article written in 1939 for The West African Review reported that a sasabonsam had been successfully hunted down and killed. The sasabonsam is similar to the Cornish myth of the “Owlman.”
*More can be read in the book.
- Sasabonsam Enforced the Rules of Renewal in West African Forests
- Sasabonsam [Ashanti/Ghanaian mythology; African mythology]
- Asanbosam and Sasabonsam
- Sasabonsam pt. I
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
This creature from African folklore terrorises humankind from Togo, Ghana to the Ivory Coast.
The Sasabonsam is sometimes seen as an evil presence lurking in forests. Some have described it as being human in shape but with a huge body, red in colouring, with long hair, and metal hooks for feet. In these tales it also usually consorts with witches of all kinds.
These creatures like to sit on the high branches of trees, dangling their feet to capture unwary hunters with it before gobbling them up. They always seem to live in huge silk-cotton trees. In some tales, they only drink the blood of their victims.
As a friend of witches, the Sasabonsam is able to awaken the powers of would-be witches.
In other tales, the Sasabonsam is likened to the dryads of Greek mythology, fiercely protecting the tree it lives in. One can easily identify the tree this creature lives in by the red staining the ground around the roots.
Sometimes the Sasabonsam is said to be a singular creature and that his wife’s name is Shamantin. She doesn’t eat or drain those she captures; rather she educates them about the forest before letting them ago. She’s described as being extremely tall and completely white.
The Sasabonsam has even been completely turned into a vampiric creature in some regions by giving it batwings, a skeletal-thin body, and the ability to bite off a human head before drinking the body dry.
Though the Sasabonsam guards their forests fiercely, they seem to be more like ogres than vampires.
Sasabonsam in Modern Culture
I’ve only found them in novels.
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Sasabonsam in My Writing
Origin of the Fae: Sasabonsam
Ogres, guardians of the forest.
They sing in the language of trees; usually melancholy songs.
They are usually peaceful, though when provoked they won’t hesitate to kill.
They keep to themselves.
They do not do things in haste. Like it takes time for a forest to grow, they take time to do what they must.
They can be found in all the forests in all of the world, though they have a special connection to forests in Africa.
They are friends to mortal magic-users.
See them in action:
Solitary Fae (Origin of the Fae #6) by Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Where did you hear of the Sasabonsam for the first time? What do you think of this creature? Any folklore about the Sasabonsam you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.
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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.